The United States of America. Fifty states divided in so many ways: north, south, east, west, midwest, northwest, northeast, mid-Atlantic, Alaska, Hawaii, mountain states, TEXAS! You get the idea: it’s unlikely I will get to visit many of the areas that fascinate me – like the south.
Two Great Travel Writers To The Rescue!
Lucky for me, there are two new books that capture life today in the south, beginning with my favorite Travel Writer of all, the brilliant Paul Theroux.
Theroux has written dozens of books over his career, both travel memoirs and fiction like “The Mosquito Coast” – and his latest work takes him to the deep south four times over the course of a single year…
“Deep South: Four Seasons On Back Roads”
This new memoir sees the Author travel along lonely back roads in the “deep south” – a place of long-lasting traditions, culture, and deep-seeded poverty….
“As thoughtful as it is evocative, the book offers insight into a significant region and its people and customs. An epically compelling travel memoir.” — Kirkus Reviews
The book is a compelling read, as Theroux, who lives in Cape Cod, sees just how different the American South is…but don’t be fooled: Theroux loves the people he meets, and isn’t trying to slam the region, just trying to understand their past, present and future…
Here is an excerpt from a terrific NY Times book review, which explains the goal of this book:
“Theroux himself has summarized the appeal of books like his: “Most travel narratives . . . describe the miseries and splendors of going from one remote place to another. The quest, the getting there, the difficulty of the road, is the story; the journey not the arrival matters, and most of the time the traveler — the traveler’s mood, especially — is the subject of the whole business. I have made a career out of this sort of slogging and self-portraiture, and so have many others in the old laborious look-at-me way that informs travel writing.”
“In ‘Deep South’, Theroux set out to do something different. This time, he would travel within his own country, through some of the poorest sections of the rural South — the Lowcountry of South Carolina, Alabama’s Black Belt, the Mississippi Delta and the Arkansas Ozarks. Instead of climbing aboard a train or pushing off in a kayak, he would drive, and rather than pick a destination, he would meander, visiting and revisiting the same “smaller places and huddled towns” through four seasons. A road trip in America is a “picnic,” he writes. “In the travel narrative of struggle, I was not the struggler. I was the bystander or the eavesdropper, recording other people’s pain or pleasure. I knew very little discomfort, never sensed I was in any danger. No ordeals, few dramas.”
Terrific photos in the book by Steve McCurry capture the rural, the stately, and the decay that is the modern American south.
“Some days in the Delta,” he writes, “the river was the only vivid feature in a landscape that seemed otherwise lifeless — no leaves stirring, no people in motion, cattle like paper cutouts, hawks as black as marks of punctuation in the sky; the monumental stillness of the rural South in a hot noontime, all of it like a foxed and sun-faded masterpiece of flat paint, an old picture of itself.”
“Deep South” is subtitled “Four Seasons On Back Roads”, and that is just what you get: the view of the south from the country, two lane highway – NOT the interstate.
That view gives the Author a chance to meet the real people of the south – mostly old, mostly poor, with stories that capture the overall struggle of our country as times change and this unique part of the U.S. that hasn’t kept up with the times. It’s a great work from a great Author.
I spent some time in Jackson, Mississippi as well as rural Oklahoma, and I plan to share some of those stories soon, because some mirror what Theroux experience.
“Deep South” is just one new book to tell the story of the southern US:
“Dispatches From Pluto!”
British Travel Writer Richard Grant spent a year living in Pluto, Mississippi – and he wrote a terrific book all about his experiences…I posted about this book before, but click here to see all about Grant’s adventures in the deep south as well, including his encounter with Morgan Freeman!
I have shared many of Grant’s terrific books, including this one about his wild adventure in the heart of Africa:
Grant is a great Travel Writer, and here is a look at all of his books, including his gun battle with poachers in Africa:
And finally, Paul Theroux also has written about Africa – extensively in fact, and his latest book is one of his most harrowing:
I call this travel memoir Theroux’s personal “heart of darkness” – as someone who has been to Africa for decades, the Writer uses his latest trip to see just how badly the continent is suffering:
This book is a sobering look at just how desperate Africa has become – it is a powerful book that you can see here:
Thanks to both Paul Theroux and Richard Grant for their illuminating look at the American south!