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Stretch Your Summer Reading List Into Southern Territory


If you're looking to expand your summer reading further into southern territory, we've asked Kyle Jones for some suggestions. She's with The Bitter Southerner. It's a multimedia website dedicated to southern lifestyle, culture and stories. Her first pick is "Soil" by Jamie Kornegay, a story about an idealistic scientist whose life has taken some dramatic turns.

KYLE JONES: He has been fired by the farm service agency, and so he takes his wife and his child and moves them way out in the country, and he just becomes more and more isolated and more and more paranoid, so his wife and son leave him. He's moved out there for a farming experiment that he thinks is, like, going to prepare him for the end times. And then the flood comes and it ruins his farm, so he's paddling around in a boat and finds a dead body.

CORNISH: It's interesting, it's - not a pun intended here - but a fish out of water story, right? Like, he's not really prepared for this off-the-grid life he intends on leading.

JONES: No. He's a mess, he's by himself - and as you move through the story, you are witness to his unraveling. I've compared this book to the Coen brothers meets Flannery O'Connor. It's definitely Gothic, it's definitely dark, but at the same time, it is hilarious and heartbreaking. So I won't tell you how he disposes of the body, but I'll just say that it is gruesome.

CORNISH: Well, on the other end of the spectrum, a little bit lighter is a book by the author Harrison Scott Key. Now, this one's a memoir, right? It's called "The World's Largest Man."

JONES: It is. Harrison Scott Key was a little boy living in the suburbs of Memphis, and his dad decided to up and move his family to the rural, rural South, in Mississippi - in the Mississippi Delta. The stories he weaves together to create this memoir are hilarious. You know, he moves to the country where every boy is expected to have, like, a gun and a pickup truck, and all he wants to do is write poems and draw. And it's just the combination of how he arrived at adulthood along with these childhood stories make for a very, very, very funny book.

CORNISH: I want to mention one other book that is a collection of essays, and this is by a woman named Joni Tevis. She's from South Carolina. It's called "The World Is On Fire." She's essentially writing, in a way, about the apocalypse or end times. What can you tell us about why this is a good choice for summer reading?

JONES: Well, I would say the stories are apocalyptic in nature, that most of these stories are about women who are on the verge of transformation and have a decision to make. And I think she was influenced by apocalyptic sermons of her youth, of sitting in church and hearing about the Book of Revelation. And each story is wrapped around a different place, not necessarily in the South, so it's a mashup of history, place and childlike wonder, but all of them are the strangest places that feel apocalyptic, like the Liberace Museum.

CORNISH: In Las Vegas. (Laughter).

JONES: Right. (Laughter).

CORNISH: And also ghost towns in North Dakota.

JONES: Exactly. I mean, I compared it to riding along with my grandparents in the back of their station wagon when we were little. We never knew where they were taking us, you know, to a graveyard to look at some gravestone or - Joni Tevis, I want to ride in the back of her station wagon. She goes to a lot of interesting places in this book, and primarily this book is on my list because it is beautifully written - beautiful, beautiful.

CORNISH: A lot of these protagonists, these writers, in a way they're outsiders. They're from the South, but for some reason they feel one step removed or the characters are removed in some way.

JONES: Well, isn't that the universal condition? I don't think that's a uniquely Southern thing, but it surely makes for a good story. And we all feel it, no matter where we're from. That's the beauty of being able to relate to all kinds of literature. But Southerners do it well, I'll say that. We have been doing it well for a long time.

CORNISH: Before I let you go, Kyle Jones, how do you tackle your summer reading? Do you go back to classics? Do you have a running list throughout the year? What's your approach?

JONES: You have to approach it with gusto. You have to just go for it. And this is what I do. I pick out two or three books that I'm super excited about. And once you read one, you're in the groove and you will power through the next two. I think so much of reading is just being in it. We get out of the habit. But in the summer, we have a little bit more time to dig back in and become the readers we are and we love to be.

CORNISH: Well, Kyle Jones, thank you so much for talking with us and for bringing us these recommendations.

JONES: Thank you Audie, I appreciate you all having me.

CORNISH: And you can find out more about these titles and the other books we've talked about this summer on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on our website. Visit us at npr.org/books, and once you get reading, let's chat more. Share your thoughts on social media - on Facebook and Twitter. Our handle is #npratc. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.