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Summer reading


Birney Imes



So tell me, what are you reading this summer? If you were going to recommend a book to a stranger or friend, what would it be? This was a question I put to half a dozen or so local readers. 


Two are published writers, who have new books coming out in upcoming months. 


Michael Farris Smith's "Rivers" is a spellbinding story, a post-Katrina apocalyptic thriller set on the rain- and hurricane-ravaged Mississippi Gulf Coast. I was fortunate to get an advance copy, and once I started reading it, I was captivated. I couldn't put it down. A creative writing instructor at Mississippi University for Women, Smith has published short stories and a critically acclaimed novella, "In the Hands of Strangers." I can't imagine "Rivers" not being a blockbuster movie. Look for the book in September. 


For a summer read Michael recommends "The Illustrated Man," a collection of Ray Bradbury stories. 


"Bradbury's sci-fi short stories are always filled with great images and stories of other worlds but told with the human condition at the forefront," he writes. "The story 'The Long Rain' had a particular influence on me when I was working on 'Rivers.'" 


"What I get most from reading is a separation," he says. "It feeds my imagination and takes me away from the white noise of the world. I also find that stories and novels I enjoy prod my own ideas for my writing." 


Deborah Johnson's second novel, "The Secret of Magic," will be published by G.P. Putnam in January. Her first, "The Air Between Us" (2009), is a story that examines the complexities of race relations in a small Southern town with an uncanny resemblance to her present hometown, Columbus. For her forthcoming book Johnson is working with super editor Amy Einhorn, whose publishing debut sold 10 million copies. You may have heard of it or seen the movie: Kathryn Stockett's "The Help." 


"I just finished a book I LOVED," writes Deborah. "'Angel' by Elizabeth Taylor -- but not that Elizabeth Taylor. This one was born in the early part of the last century and wrote most of her things immediately after WWII. I guess she is what is called 'a writer's writer' in that she is not well known but lots of other authors adore her."  


Deborah's third novel is going to be a ghost story, so she's reading lots of them. Her favorite so far: "The Little Stranger" by Sarah Waters. 


"Although I once preferred novels, over the past few years, I have become more interested in reading history, published diaries and biographies, particularly those related to women's lives," says Bridget Pieschel, a department head at MUW. 


Pieschel and her husband, Steve, both enjoyed Giselle Roberts' new edition of a Lowndes County woman's journal and letters: "A New Southern Woman: The Correspondence of Eliza Lucy Irion Neilson, 1871-1883." 


Bridget has just finished Joyce Carol Oates' "The Accursed," about which she says, "is a mixture of history and biography interwoven with a gripping supernatural Gothic plot. The story is so skillfully told, and the historical references so accurate, that I found myself believing the weird tale set against the backdrop of Princeton, N.J., at the beginning of the 20th century." 


Learnard Dickerson has vowed to finish "The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates" this summer. The book is the story of two men with the same name who grew up in the same inner city neighborhood, whose lives have very different outcomes. One of the Wes Moores becomes a Rhodes Scholar, the other charged murder. 


Says Learnard, "the book is very personal and meaningful to me because I, too, like both Wes Moores can relate to being raised by a single mother (widowed) in inner-city housing projects. 


Dickerson, who has a marketing company with offices in New Orleans, Gulfport and Columbus and is an organizer of Dream365, says the book has inspired him to get involved with the lives of youth. 


"I could have just as easily been the other Wes Moore," he says. 


Kim Whitehead loved Sebastian Barry's, "The Secret Scripture," about which she writes: 


"In County Sligo, Ireland, mental hospital patient Roseanne McNulty writes her life story as she approaches her 100th year, while her caregiver slowly uncovers the truth about her past. A mesmerizing tale of rural Ireland and how Catholicism restricted women's lives. Barry's lyrical prose is nothing short of breathtaking. I teach literature for a living (at MUW), but still turn to literary fiction for pleasure reading, hoping to be surprised and moved. "The Secret Scripture" is a rarity -- when I finished it, I immediately started reading it again." 


When she's not reading Amelia McPherson is styling hair at Fin's Bobby Pins in downtown Columbus. Amelia recommends "The Forgotten" by David Baldacci. 


"This is a great read if you like thrillers," Amelia writes. "A school-age girl has parents who are drug addicts. She has been in and out of foster care for years. The foster parents that she's living with are abusive so she runs away and sneaks into the house her parents are living, only to find her parents murdered." 


"It's hard to pick just one," writes Kendall Dunkelberg, who teaches Creative Writing at MUW and directs the Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium. He then goes on to name three (Michael Farris Smith's as yet unpublished "Rivers" being one of them): 


"'The Next Time You See Me'" by Holly Goddard Jones. Set in a small Kentucky town, this novel has been described as a Southern thriller you won't want to put down. Jones will be in Columbus in October for the Welty Writers' Symposium (which Dunkelberg directs) 


"And finally, as a poet, I can't help but recommend some summer poetry for Southern literature fans. One of my many favorites is Rodney Jones.  


Originally from Alabama, Jones brings an authentic Southern voice to his down-to-earth poetry." 


Birney Imes is the publisher of The Dispatch. Email him at [email protected]


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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