Mississippi Books and Writers

August 2002

Note: Prices listed below reflect the publisher's suggested list price. They are subject to change without notice.

The Roadless YaakThe Roadless Yaak: Reflections and Observations About One of Our Last Great Wilderness Areas

Edited by Rick Bass

Lyons Press (Hardcover, $22.95, ISBN: 1585745456)

Publication date: August 2002


This collection of essays—twenty-seven in all—about the Yaak Valley of northwestern Montana brings to life the wilderness and isolation, exhilaration and trepidation that visitors (and residents) encounter here. The half-million-acre Yaak Valley is home to only 150 people but untold numbers of elk, deer, grizzly bears, cougars, and other critters, big and small. An astonishing 175,000 acres remain roadless in this remote area near the Canadian border. Read about a mother who spends Thanksgiving weekend in the Yaak with her children. “…the Yaak is where my children and I together, have fallen headlong into the glory of the unfamiliar, into the last of the planet’s wilderness, the unpredictability of the natural landscape, the authentic hush possible only away from the clamor” (“Traveling Close to Home,” Debra Gwartney).

You will learn about a teacher who is torn between the world beyond the Yaak and the life he has come to know: mountains, thick forests, snow, and bears. And you will learn why we as a people must protect wilderness like this for future generations.

Contributors include Todd Tanner, Bill McKibben, Gregory McNamee, Jeff Ferderer, Amy Edmonds, Scott Daily, John Lane-Zucker, Sue Halpern, Time Lenhan, Debra Gwartney, Bob Shacochis, Doug Peacock, Annick Smith, William Kittredge, Jim Fergus.

Last Scene AliveLast Scene Alive

By Charlaine Harris

Minotaur (Hardcover, $22.95, ISBN: 0312262469)

Publication date: August 2002


In the first installment of the Aurora Teagarden series, Real Murders, the small town of Lawrenceton, Georgia, was beset by a series of horrific murders. Librarian Aurora “Roe” Teagarden teamed up with true crime writer Robin Crusoe to catch the killer, and the results of their investigation have gone down in Lawrenceton history.

Now Robin is back in town, set to begin filming the movie version of the terrible events of so many years ago. Of course he’s not alone—he brings with him a cast and crew the size of which nearly overwhelms the tiny excitement-starved town. Roe is disturbed to discover that the film’s crew includes her stepson, who despises her, as well as an actress set to play her in the film. Everyone in Lawrenceton suddenly goes movie crazy, mentally composing awards-acceptance speeches while prancing around the fringes of the set awaiting discovery.

Roe’s not so crazy about the whole thing … and neither is a secret, vicious murderer. When bodies start dropping, it’s up to Roe to reprise her role as amateur sleuth and stop the carnage before it gets out of hand. It’s no problem for the beloved small-town librarian in this wonderfully cozy installment in the adored Aurora Teagarden mystery series.

Faulkner and the Politics of ReadingFaulkner and the Politics of Reading

By Karl F. Zender

Louisiana State University Press (Hardcover, $29.95, ISBN: 0807127612)

Publication date: August 2002

Description from the publisher:

With this study Karl F. Zender offers fresh readings of individual novels, themes, and motifs while also assessing the impact of recent politicized interpretations on our understanding of William Faulkner’s achievement. Sympathetically acknowledging the need to decenter the canon, Zender’s searching interrogation of current theory clears a breathing space for Faulkner and his readers between the fustier remnants of New Criticism and the excesses of post-structuralism.

Each chapter opens with a balanced presentation of the genuine gifts contemporary theory has bestowed on our understandings of a particular novel or problem in Faulkner criticism and then proceeds with a groundbreaking reading. “The Politics of Incest” challenges older psychoanalytic interpretations of Faulkner’s use of the incest motif, and “Faulkner’s Privacy” defends the novelist’s difficulty or “reticence” as an aesthetic resistence against the rude candor of depersonalized culture. Subsequent chapters take up the volatile issues of Faulkner’s representations of women and of African Americans, and the current tendency to blur the concepts of patriarchy and paternity. In the elegiac final chapter, Zender shows that Faulkner’s stylistic withdrawal in his later novels attempts to “transform into beauty” his alienation from the postwar world and his fear of aging.

That Faulkner and the Politics of Reading itself recovers and gives new luster to Faulkner’s beauty will surely please, in the author’s words, “those readers … for whom literature is less a mechanism of social change than a source of pleasure.”

Karl F. Zender is professor of English at the University of California at Davis and the author of The Crossing of the Ways: William Faulkner, the South, and the Modern World.

The Heaven of MercuryThe Heaven of Mercury: A Novel

By Brad Watson

W.W. Norton (Hardcover, $23.95, ISBN: 0393047571)

Publication date: August 2002

Description from Publishers Weekly:

Watson traces a dark but resonant journey through the world of the Southern gothic in his bleak, touching debut novel (after his hailed collection, Last Days of the Dog-Men), set in tiny Mercury, Miss., in the first quarter of the 20th century. He takes some risks in employing genre cliches, starting with the romantic triangle in which young, sensitive Finus Bates watches the girl of his dreams, Birdie Wells, marry a more determined suitor, the shallow but ardent earl Urquhart. That leaves Bates to marry Birdie’s best friend, Avis Crossweatherly, and both marriages fail miserably as Watson tracks his two would-be lovers through the years. At 16, Birdie is a victim of her slick husband’s infidelity, which starts when he finds her sexually inadequate and turns his attention to other women, until he finally falls in love with a woman living in a nearby town.

Bates, meanwhile, realizes that Avis has engineered Birdie’s marriage, leaving Bates vulnerable to her own rapacious pursuit. To escape his shrewish wife, he immerses himself in his work on his smalltown newspaper, where he pens eloquent obituaries (“Disappointments flock to us like crows,” he writes in one). Watson’s subordinate characters—including the compassionate town mortician, whose first experience of death involves necrophilia; former slave, medicine woman and midwife Aunt Vish, who knows all the dark secrets of the community; Creasie, a taciturn maid—are observed with cool irony and invested with humanity.

Several deaths punctuate the narrative, and casual, virulent racism is rampant, sometimes balanced by a grudging interracial respect. Watson’s prose is lush and sometimes a bit too orotund and faux-Faulknerian, but it fits the narrative theme of metamorphoses from one life to another, from earth to a land beyond. —Copyright © 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Back to MississippiBack to Mississippi: A Personal Journey Through the Events that Changed America in 1964

By Mary Winstead

Hyperion (Hardcover, $22.95, ISBN: 0786867965)

Publication date: August 2002

Description from Publishers Weekly:

Although Winstead was born into “a family of storytellers” and possesses a promising tale, the pedestrian style and rickety structure of this memoir defuse what could have been a riveting and revealing historical account. The story concerns her discovery of her father’s cousin’s involvement in the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers in rural Mississippi. Amid the ragged juxtaposition of bits of research with unabsorbing details of daily life, Winstead’s periodic sketches of the victims (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner) are often more intrusive than significant. This is also the case with her depiction of cousin Edgar Ray “Preacher” Killen, who coordinated the killings and was released in 1967 by a deadlocked state jury. (According to Winstead, his case will be tried again soon, and Mississippi’s attorney general has named him as the state’s main suspect. He did not talk to Winstead for this book.) Winstead’s colorless retelling of growing up in Minneapolis during the 1950s and ’60s, with occasional trips to visit her father’s Mississippi family, suggests comparison with Diane McWhorter’s Carry Me Home (2001). Alas, writing one’s life does not always mean examining it. Winstead’s acceptance of the notion that “most people in Philadelphia [Miss.] believed that the whole thing was a hoax” calls for greater scrutiny of her source, the Meridian [Miss.] Star. Andrew Goodman’s mother tells Winstead the event was a very important time in the nation’s history, and that for a long time not much was said about it at all. Winstead adds little to that record. —Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Forty Acres and a GoatForty Acres and a Goat: A Memoir

By Will D. Campbell

Jefferson Press (Paperback, $15.95, ISBN: 0971897409)

First published in 1986

Publication date: August 2002


Describing himself as a “steeple dropout” and a “bootleg preacher” who also works as a “freelance civil rights activist,” Will D. Campbell has earned a notable place among America’s favorite storytellers. Detailing his harrowing exploits during the racially charged 1960s as a liberal white man of God, this memoir brilliantly describes Campbell’s attempt to live a spiritual life in a time of mistrust, racial intolerance, and violence. Despite such a dire backdrop, Campbell serves as a guide through the events with his patented humor and poignancy. In one instance he notes that black Muslims protected the grand dragon of the KKK in an upstate New York prison, demonstrating the contradictions and strange circumstances that bring people together.

Visible SpiritsVisible Spirits: A Novel

By Steve Yarbrough

Vintage Books (Paperback, $13.00, ISBN: 0375725776)

Publication date: August 2002

Description from Publishers Weekly:

The South depicted in Steve Yarbrough’s haunting new novel irresistibly calls to mind Yeats’s famous lines, “the best lack all conviction, while the worst / are full of passionate intensity.” The best and worst, in this case, are brothers who, despite their common upbringing, are diametrically opposed on issues of race. Tandy Payne, who returns to Loring, Miss., in the early 20th century after squandering his inheritance on gambling, whores and liquor, has absorbed all the hypocrisy and racism of the old South. Loring’s mayor, Tandy’s brother, Leighton, stands 6'5", harbors liberal opinions and is handicapped by a perpetual awkwardness. He runs Loring’s newspaper and uses it as a platform for moderation.

Yarbrough divides his story between the Payne siblings and Seaborn and Loda Jackson, who are black. Loda is the town’s postmistress, the only African-American in the state with a government appointment. Tandy covets her job, and he decides to steal it by starting a race-baiting campaign, claiming Loda encouraged a black laborer to behave insolently. To prevent conflict, Loda resigns, but Theodore Roosevelt’s administration decides to make a civil rights stand by not accepting her resignation. In the escalating dispute, Leighton becomes a pariah for siding with Loda.

Connecting Loda, Tandy and Leighton is their common father, Sam, a plantation owner who massacred a group of black men and women who tried to escape the Delta in the 1880s. Based on a real 1902 incident, Yarborough’s sad, elegantly wrought story proceeds like a mesmerizing lesson in the skewed logic of violence, and it builds to a powerful ending, a tragic testament to the dark heritage haunting the South. Yarbrough, who earned critical kudos with The Oxygen Man, has again written a novel that resonates with understanding and compassion.

While his subject matter is somber, Yarbrough’s restrained narrative pulls the reader into its time and place with beautifully calibrated suspense. Critical recognition that he’s a writer to watch should bring attention to this novel. —Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Holt CollierHolt Collier: His Life, His Roosevelt Hunts, and the Origin of the Teddy Bear

By Minor Ferris Buchanan

Centennial Press of Mississippi (Hardcover, $30.00, ISBN: 1893062376)

Publication date: August 2002


November 14, 2002, marks the 100th anniversary of the world famous Teddy Bear. The origin of the Teddy Bear stems from an occasion when President Theodore Roosevelt visited the wilderness of Mississippi in hopes of killing a black bear. He was guided on this hunt by Holt Collier, a former slave, Confederate veteran (yes—amazing though it sounds), Texas cowboy, Mississippi lawman, and noted pioneer. He is known to have killed over 3,000 bear in his lifetime, more than Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett combined. Roosevelt, who also hunted with Collier in Louisiana in 1907, called him “the greatest hunter and guide I have ever known.”

Collier killed many white men, several in Mississippi. One exciting incident in his biography is a detailed description of the gunfight at Washburn’s Ferry where Collier out-drew the notorious Louisiana outlaw Travis Elmore Sage. He was prosecuted only once—for the murder of a Union captain after the Civil War—but he was acquitted. Collier was famous nationally during his lifetime, but the racial atmosphere in Mississippi for the last eighty years kept his remarkable story from being told. There is no detailed and authoritative work on Holt Collier or the origin of the Teddy Bear other than this book.

Minor Ferris Buchanan is a native Mississippian. He graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1973 with a degree in History and English, graduated from Mississippi College School of Law in 1978, and has been a litigation attorney for twenty-three years. He has researched the life of Holt Collier for a decade over archival collections through much of the country.

On the RecordOn the Record

By Joe Lee

Dogwood Press (Hardcover, $19.95, ISBN: 0972161104)

Publication date: August 2002

Description from the publisher:

Maureen Lewis is a powerful force in Mississippi State government. Already the Consumer Protection Director for the Attorney General’s Office at age 34, her Consumer Protection Act is signed into law and gives her department real firepower in fighting con artists and fraudulent business practices around the state. What Maureen doesn’t know is that Attorney General Frank Cash and several other influential people are embezzling from the office and prepared to frame her if the scheme goes awry. One runs a car dealership which is scamming thousands of dollars from customers in its service department. The car dealer—who is in on the scheme—is Maureen’s first target after the bill becomes law.

Angry when she is pulled off the case and suspicious when she is forced to transfer to a position she doesn’t want, Maureen and a fellow employee stage a risky break-in and retrieve crucial e-mail correspondence from the computer of the woman chosen to replace her. She not only uncovers evidence of the scam, but clues that point toward a web of corruption originating from the office. She resigns and makes her concerns public through the media, which results in a series of anonymous e-mails sent to her home. Now convinced that her safety as well as her reputation is in danger, Maureen enlists the aid of two friends and conducts her own investigation—with terrifying results.


By Greg Iles

First published in 2000 under the title 24 Hours

Signet (Paperback, $25.95, ISBN: 0451207505)

Publication date: August 2002

Description from Kirkus Reviews:

A tepid thriller from bestselling Iles (The Quiet Game, 1999, etc.) in which an upscale family falls victim to a not-so-typical kidnapping masterminded by a psychopath with more than money on his mind. Dr. Will Jennings is on his way from Mississippi to a medical meeting in New Orleans, leaving behind his loving, if somewhat resentful, wife Karen, who quit medical school when she became pregnant, and their precious, precocious five-year-old daughter, Abby. Life is a mixed bag for the doctor. He’s flying his own plane to the convention where he’s presenting a breakthrough anesthesia drug that could make him a very wealthy man. But he suffers from debilitating arthritis, and Abby is a juvenile diabetic who requires insulin injections. The whole house of cards comes tumbling down when the child is snatched by kidnapper extraordinaire Joe Hickey, assisted by his abused spouse, a former drug-addicted lap dancer, and his devoted, mentally challenged, 300-pound cousin Huey. The devious trio’s carefully orchestrated plan, which they’ve refined over five previous capers, divides the story into three scenarios, each redneck villain paired with a member of the genteel Jennings family. Hickey’s motto, “The kid always makes it,” is endangered by Abby’s insulin needs, the Type-A personalities of the Jennings clan, and the search for revenge. Should Will call in the authorities? Should he and Karen submit to the kidnappers’ bizarre personal demands? How far will they go to save their daughter and still keep their self-respect? And by the way, have they missed the truly important things in life? The clever plot generates some heat, but veteran Iles’s clunky prose (“Hickey’s words cut to the bone, but something more terrible struck Will like a hammer”), hackneyed psychological “insights,” and tedious medical details send this thriller into a tailspin. Literary Guild/Doubleday Book Club alternate selection. —Copyright © 2000 Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Stories from the Blue Moon CafeStories from the Blue Moon Cafe

Edited by Sonny Brewer

MacAdam/Cage Publishing (Hardcover, $25.00, ISBN: 1931561095)

Publication date: August 2002

Description from Publishers Weekly:

Of the 30 short stories featured in this quixotic and eclectic collection, the most notable are perhaps the refreshing, well-chosen selections by lesser-known voices of the New South. Still, an impressive lineup of brand-name authors including Rick Bragg, Pat Conroy, William Gay, W.E.B. Griffin, Winston Groom, Melinda Haynes, Silas House, Brad Watson and Steve Yarbrough round out the mix. The common bond and creative wellspring of the collection is the annual gathering of authors called Southern Writers Reading, held the weekend before Thanksgiving in the artsy town of Fairhope, Ala. Local bookstore (Over the Transom) owner Sonny Brewer is the originator and driving force behind the loosely organized writers conference, and editor of the anthology. The addition of local luminaries W.E.B. Griffin and Winston Groom, and the inclusion of other locals C. Terry Cline Jr. and Judith Richards, was a natural extension of the idea. As the project took shape, like a snowball rolling downhill, it picked up other deserving writers in its path.

If the stories (mostly previously unpublished) have anything in common, it is their brevity. But in the space of a few pages each, they range widely in setting and subject matter: from Griffin’s “Going Back to the Bridge in Berlin,” about an ex-serviceman’s return to his post-WWII posting, to Richard Shackelford’s “From Tucson to Tucumari, from Hatchabee to Tonopah,” about an old trucker’s death. The true accomplishment of this freespirited venture is the discovery of such gifted voices as Jennifer Paddock and local bookstore clerk Jim Gilbert. This collection may well become a yearly objet d’art. —Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Grits 'n Greens and Mississippi ThingsGrits ’n Greens and Mississippi Things

By Sylvia Higginbotham

Parlance (Paperback, $19.95, ISBN: 0972103201)

Publication date: August 2002


Not a cookbook, nor a history book, nor a travel book, Grits ’n Greens is a combination of all these. The book takes readers on a regional tour of Mississippi and features the people, places, legends, lore and favorite foods that are uniquely Mississippi.

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