Wait, we need a Brooklyn-based writer to guide us through the swamps, thickets and kudzu of Southern literary haunts? Not to worry—Margaret Eby may live in the borough, but she grew up in Alabama and is on familiar turf in South Toward Home, a highly readable literary tour of the region that gave us Faulkner, O’Connor and Lee (Harper, not Robert E.).
The title is a nod to Eby’s Southern roots but also an homage to North Toward Home, Willie Morris’ 1967 memoir of growing up in Mississippi and moving as an adult to New York. Eby reverses his course, with a simple conceit: Pick a writer and visit the city, town or site associated with him or her, mixing literary primer with historical background and some good old-fashioned reporting. It’s not a new formula, but it requires an expert’s touch, and Eby displays that as she makes the obligatory pilgrimages to places like Oxford, Mississippi, and Monroeville, Alabama, and the not-so-expected detours to a Memphis library or Florida backwoods.
The itinerary is by no means comprehensive: Eby doesn’t go looking for Robert Penn Warren on the Tennessee-Kentucky border or Alice Walker in rural Georgia. Still, readers will feel fortunate that, while not overlooking the obvious choices, Eby includes Harry Crews—not exactly on every high school reading list.
Feel free to skip around—especially if you’re eager to get to the chapter on Harper Lee and Truman Capote, or the fascinating account of John Kennedy Toole (A Confederacy of Dunces) and his native New Orleans. But if you read even one of the chapters, you’ll want to make sure you take the entire tour.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Margaret Eby about South Toward Home.
This article was originally published in the September 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.