THE POTLIKKER PAPERS: A Food History of the Modern South By John T. Edge
I have always said, not that anybody has cared, that in some ways the South won the Civil War. It is, for all intents and purposes, a separate country with a favorable trade agreement with the North, and has retained a charm, rhythm and distinctive culture, particularly culinary, that may as well be foreign to the rest of the nation. The now increasingly circulated notion of a “modern South” is a sort of belated recognition of that.
John T. Edge is the best food writer in America, by a wide mile and has been for a long time, so this is not a hasty coronation post Jonathan Gold’s passing. Edge has the spiritual touch of a literary master who happens to chronicle people and places through the lens of what we eat, or could be eating if we went where he ever so reliably suggests. Honestly, you should get all his books, but let’s start here because its his most recent.
The title comes from the famous dish made from the leftovers that slave owners would give to the slaves, erroneously thinking they had kept the best and most nutritious part of the meal. It’s also an origin-story metaphor for the evolution of Southern society and politics. This book, related in Edge’s signature lighter than air prose, intertwines how the food culture shape-shifted from the start of the farm to table movement in Tennessee in the seventies, arriving decades later at the ingenuity of folks like Sean Brock and some of America’s greatest restaurants, with the successful Civil Rights movement and the cultural blossoming of the South and the unshackling of many of its most restrictive prejudices.
One reviewer questioned if this was a book about Southern history told through food stories, or the other way around, concluding, smartly, that it was both.
— Bob Guccione, Jr.
RUSH By Lisa Patton
St. Martin’s Press
Lisa Patton’s new novel tackles an impossible subject that most writers wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole: Oxford, Mississippi and Ole Miss sororities. It’s got everything — the five-digit designer decorated dorm room, the girl from a small town you’ve never heard of, the legacy potential new member, the parents with the chandelier in the Grove on game day and the staff of the sorority houses who make sure your precious perfect baby girls are taken care of. It’ll draw comparisons to that other book about race and class in Mississippi, but instead of drawing on the overplayed trope of the 1960s, it brings modern day injustice to the forefront in a way that hasn’t been done before. As someone with firsthand experience of being an Ole Miss sorority girl, I can tell you it’s never been portrayed so accurately, and with such poignance and heart. A definite winner.
— Emily Gatlin
FRENCH EXIT By Patrick deWitt
What a wonderfully weird book. Frances Price — widow, overbearing mother, Upper East Sider — is on the verge of bankruptcy and ruin. Her adult son, Malcom, is practically a waste of air and is suffering from a bad case of arrested development. Their cat, Small Frank, houses the spirit of Frances’s late husband, Frank, who was no gem of a guy. Frances and Malcom decide to cut their losses and make an actual French exit to Paris, where Frances plans to leave everything behind and spend her remaining money.
This definitely isn’t a book for everyone, but it is so fresh, darkly funny, and full of wit. The most likeable character is probably the cat, or Malcom’s secret fiancée (who you also kind of want to punch in the face). It seems like it was written just for Wes Anderson to adapt to screen, and I’m willing to lead the charge to make that happen.
CATFISH DREAM: Ed Scott’s Fight for His Family Farm and Racial Justice in the Mississippi Delta By Julian Rankin
The University of Georgia Press
Ed Scott Jr. was a prolific farmer in the Mississippi Delta and the first ever nonwhite owner and operator of a catfish plant in the nation. Not only that, but his catfish was the best. He pioneered a cleaning technique that produced a better tasting fish than the other guys, and his facility was on track to be the premier operation in the Delta.
That is, until he must contend with the bureaucracy of racism, alive and well not only in Mississippi, but with top government agencies meant to help farmers, decades after the civil rights movement. He was treated systematically unfairly compared to white farmers and ultimately it left his business in financial ruin. Although it is an absolutely heartbreaking story, it is also very necessary. Mr. Scott’s legacy and impact will prove to be much larger than his plant ever would have become.