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By Sylvia Weiss Sinclair
Vanguard Press, 2022
Paperback: $12.99
Genre: Fiction; Southern Gothic
Review by Brianna Carnley

As a native Alabamian that grew up around the Mobile and Bay Minette area, it was a little surreal to read a story set in my hometown. Sinclair’s language and descriptions accurately capture the area and the people in it, from the warm vignettes of Southern cooking, to “the dirt [roads], tall pines on either side… [made of] soft red clay.” The way the characters discuss and groan about the relatively fast development of the area reminds me of conversations I've heard in my own family (that still occur to this day during Thanksgiving and Christmas) who have lived in the area since the early 1900s. The environment is crafted in such a way that, reading, I feel like I have stepped back into my hometown, though now I live four hours north. It is obvious that Sinclair is a native Alabamian due to the loving gaze through which the readers are given a glimpse of this storied state.

By Kari Frederickson
The University of Alabama Press, 2022
Hardcover: $39.95; E Book: $39.95
Genre: Southern History
Review by Edward Journey

Most contemporary Alabamians know the Bankhead name from the eponymous tunnels, bridges, highways, national forests, and buildings found throughout the state and beyond. Tallulah Bankhead, a daughter of the Bankhead dynasty, was a talented actor who became a household name in the mid-twentieth century for her liberal politics and her frank, often ribald, personal style.

Perhaps fewer remember the details of the immense political influence of the Bankhead family, which began after the Civil War and spanned well into the twentieth century.

By Barry Marks
Brick Road Poetry Press, 2021
Paperback: $15.95
Genre: Poetry
Review by Edward Journey

My Father Should Die in Winter, a new book of poetry by Barry Marks, is a work of grief, transcendence, enduring memory, and memory lost. The reader gathers morsels of information in the book’s progression after an opening page that simply lists names and dates for three individuals – Asher, Leah, and Noah. A blurb on the jacket informs us that Asher is Barry Marks’s father, who died in 2017 “after a long, debilitating illness.” Leah is the author’s teenaged daughter, whose life “was ended by a drunk driver in 2007.” Noah, born the year Leah died, is his son. Knowledge of these things is not essential to appreciating the poetry, but it adds depth to understanding the motivation for the plaintive and longing tone.

By Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Berkley, 2022
Hardcover: $27.00, Kindle Edition: $14.99
Genre: Southern Fiction
Review by Laura Platas-Scott

Dolen Perkins-Valdez’ Take My Hand is a portal to that emotionally charged era with a fresh story based on true events—medical racism and the forced sterilization of poor, young Black girls. The novel opens in 2016 when the protagonist, Civil Townsend, a sixty-seven-year-old doctor in Memphis, decides it’s time to journey to Montgomery, Alabama to visit a family she first met in the early 70s as a nurse for a family planning clinic. But before Civil makes that journey, she wants to tell her daughter Anne the sequence of events that still haunt her. With the car gassed up and packed for the journey, Civil beckons to Anne to join her from her perch on the screened-in porch, inwardly thinking, “I’m not trying to change the past. I’m telling it in order to lay these ghosts to rest.”

By Randall Horton
Northwestern University Press, 2021
Paperback: $22.95
Genre: Memoir; Essays
Review by James Cherry

After finishing the final page in Randall Horton’s Dead Weight: A Memoir in Essays, one word resonates: survivor. What would have killed the average person—premature birth, drug addiction, drug smuggling, homelessness, incarceration—he has outlasted. With Dead Weight, Horton has put those experiences into perspective and is now determined to outlive them.

By Elizabeth Hughey
Sarabande Books, 2021
Paperback: $15.95
Genre: Poetry
Review by H.M. Cotton

Poet Elizabeth Hughey welcomes a new collection into the world with her Kathryn A. Morton Prize winning White Bull. This collection lands like a hammer on an anvil: forceful but with a delicate musical ringing. A note before the table of contents indicates that the poems within White Bull “are composed entirely of words taken from the letters and public statements of Theophilus Eugene ‘Bull’ Connor.” Connor was a formidable segregationist and Birmingham’s Public Safety Commissioner during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. He’s the one responsible for the violent assault with firehoses and dogs on peaceful protesters, many of whom were children. His brutality is preserved in the heavy pall he left lingering over Birmingham.

By D.B. Tipmore; Photographs by Frank Williams
NewSouth Books, 2021
Hardcover: $25.95
Genre: Nonfiction; Memoir
Review by Edward Journey

D.B. Tipmore, an Indiana native whose widely-published journalistic career was launched at New York’s The Village Voice, has lived and traveled around the globe, in far-flung locations including London, Morocco, Paris, Saudi Arabia, South Florida, and Venezuela. He moved to Marion, Alabama, and took an administrative position at Marion Military Institute. While in Marion, he collected the material he includes in My Little Town, a collection of pithy essays focusing on various aspects of life in “Lovelady."

Edited by Tori Bush and Richard Goodman
University Press of Florida, 2021
Hardcover: $45.00
Genre: Nonfiction
Review by Edward Journey

I lived on Galveston Island, Texas, for a couple of years in the 1990s. On trips to and from Galveston to Alabama, I always looked forward to the crossing of the Atchafalaya Basin on an eighteen-mile stretch of I-10 between Baton Rouge and Lafayette, Louisiana. I would often schedule my travel so that I would hit the Atchafalaya at sunrise or sunset, when its magnificence was most apparent at 70 mph.

By Ben Raines
Simon & Schuster, 2022
Hardcover: $27.99
Genre: Nonfiction
Review by Frye Gaillard

On April 10, 2018, Ben Raines, in scuba gear and a wetsuit, slipped into the murky waters of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta. Spring floods had stirred the muddy bottom, and the water, he remembered, “looked like chocolate milk.” Even with his mask he was diving blind. Soon, his foot brushed against what felt like a wooden plank, and Raines reached down and began to tug. The plank came loose and he rose to the surface with a five-foot piece of what turned out to be the Clotilda, the last slave ship to arrive in America.

By Richard Rhodes
Doubleday, 2021
Hardcover: $30.00
Genre: Biography; Nonfiction
Review by Edward Journey

When author, biologist, ecologist, and naturalist E. O. Wilson died in December 2021, Alabama lost one of its most significant native sons. Wilson was born in Birmingham, grew up around Washington D.C., the Alabama and Florida Gulf Coast, and points in between, and made his initial reputation in myrmecology, the study of ants. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees in biology at the University of Alabama and his Ph.D. from Harvard, where he spent most of his professional teaching career. Known as “Darwin’s natural heir,” Wilson was ranked by the Britannica Guide to the World’s Most Influential People as one of the most influential scientists of all time.

By John Dersham
NewSouth Books, 2021
Hardback, $40.00
Genre: Photography; Art
Review by Ryan Meyer

John Dersham is in love. His romance sprouted over sixty years ago. Since then, it has only grown. His new book is an autobiographical love story that chronicles the majority of his personal and professional life as a master photographer. Changing Moods: Sixty Years in Black and White shares six decades of black and white photographs with an emphasis on images produced by large-format film cameras.

By T.K. Thorne
NewSouth Books, 2021
Hardback, $28.95
Genre: Nonfiction; Southern History
Review by Harvey H. Jackson

Growing up in Deep South Alabama, I knew little of what had been going on in “The Magic City” when I arrived there in the fall of 1963 to begin my junior year at Birmingham Southern College. I had followed the Civil Rights Movement through newspapers and television, but it all seemed so far away. Now it wasn’t.

I had to learn quickly. Arriving on campus, students were given advice and cautions – when it was safe to leave campus, where it was safe to go, which gatherings should be avoided. It was not like we were cloistered on a hilltop retreat; we came and went pretty much as we pleased. Yet in our minds was planted the warning – things were going on “down town” and we should be on our guard.

By Susie Paul
Finishing Line Press, 2021
$14.99 Paperback
Genre: Poetry
Review by Jennifer Horne

By happy accident, the kind that comes to poets who are alert to possibilities, Susie Paul learned of a nineteenth-century woman named Mary Paul. Although there is no genealogical relation, the poet clearly felt a relationship of affinity with the young woman whose voice she inhabits so effectively in these poems.

By Brandon Taylor
Riverhead Books, 2021
$18.59 hardcover, $15.26 paperback, $13.99 Kindle
Genre: Short Fiction
Review by Jace Rose Malmquist

Taylor was born and raised in Alabama with that fiery Southern warmth present in his writing. When NPR’s Sam Sanders asked him what the collection in Filthy Animals was about, Taylor said that it answers questions particularly relevant right now, like, "How do I interact with other people? How do I go to parties? How do I figure out how to socialize and connect with people again?” And his stories do answer these questions; they answer them in the forms of eyes looking and mouths moving; in the way people come to you, leave you, and circle back to you again.

By Ed Southern
Blair/Carolina Wren Press, 2021
Hardcover: $25.95
Genre: Nonfiction; Sport History; Sociology
Review by Edward Journey

About midway through Fight Songs: A Story of Love and Sports in a Complicated South, Ed Southern states that he’s “working on making [Wake Forest] every Alabama fan’s second-favorite team.” I might be an easy convert; a Baptist-affiliated university whose athletic teams are called the “Demon Deacons” will always garner my attention. Southern, a Wake Forest graduate with strong ongoing ties to his alma mater, tells a compelling story of how he also became a staunch fan of Alabama football. Fight Songs is a challenging must-read for all fans of Southern collegiate athletics with some Atlanta Braves and NASCAR sidetracks thrown in for good measure.

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