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Today is December 12, 2018

Our summer reading list has a Mississippi accent

By Debbie Stringer

Our summer reading list has a Mississippi accent

The dog days of summer are the perfect time to explore Mississippi’s history, environment and culture—in the comfort of your own home. Here are some recent nonfiction titles to consider:  

Southern Splendor: Saving Architectural Treasures of the Old South
By Marc R. Matrana, Robin S. Lattimore and Michael W. Kitchens; $40, hardcover

Only a small percentage of the South’s antebellum homes have survived more than 150 years of decay, neglect and loss. In this new book, historians Matrana, Lattimore and Kitchens explore nearly 50 houses built before the Civil War that have been authentically restored or preserved.

The authors examine the restoration efforts that preserve not only the homes and other structures but also the stories of those living in or occupying the homes. They also discuss challenges facing specific plantation homes and their preservation.

Homes in nine southern states are depicted in more than 275 color photographs, historic and contemporary, of interiors, exteriors and architectural details. Featured historic properties in Mississippi are Beauvoir, in Biloxi, the last home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis; the house on Ellicott Hill, in Natchez, where U.S. Maj. Andrew Ellicott took possession of the city from the Spanish in 1797; Waverly, near West Point, which was abandoned for 50 years before its complete restoration; and Hollywood Plantaton, in Bolivar County, which served for a time as a Confederate hospital.

“Southern Splendor” is a coffee table book whose production quality reflects the elegance of its subject matter.


Southern Writers on Writing
Edited by Susan Cushman; foreword by Alan Lightman; $28, hardcover

We all know the South has long been fertile ground for yielding great literature. But what forces drive southern writers and shape their literary imaginations?

For this new anthology, Jackson native Susan Cushman collected essays from 26 writers in nine southern states, including Mississippi. They discuss a vast range of topics inherent in their writing, from race, politics and family to landscapes, voices and the craft of writing.

Among contributors are Michael Farris Smith, Jim Dees, Julie Cantrell, Cassandra King and Clyde Edgerton.

In his essay, Smith recalls the two books by Mississippi authors that ignited his desire to write fiction, and his struggle to become a novelist: “Through all the rejection and frustration, one thing remained constant. I kept writing I kept working. There is no substitute. You have to do the work and believe in yourself when no one else does.”

“Southern Writers on Writing” offers an instructive, thoughtful and entertaining look into the lives and work of these successful southern writers.

General Fox Conner: Pershing’s Chief of Operations and Eisenhower’s Mentor
By Steven Rabalais; $34.95, hardcover

History seems to have forgotten north Mississippi native Fox Conner (1874-1951), whom Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1964 called “the oustanding soldier of my time.” Yet Conner served as an intellectual inspiration and role model to the officers who led the U.S. Army through World War II.

Rabalais’ detailed and interesting biography of Conner opens with his youth on a cotton farm in rural Calhoun County. His father, blinded by a shot to the head while a Confederate soldier during the Civil War, shared with his son stories from the Battle of Shiloh in 1862, and other war stories. These stories fueled in Conner a longing to lead men in battle, and in 1898, upon graduating as a second lieutenant from the United States Military Academy, embarked on a military career that led to his becoming one of Gen. John J. Pershing’s top advisors during World War I.

Rabalais details Conner’s life and career through the Great War and subsequent years, including his mentionship to Eisenhower, George Marshall and George Patton—the high command of the US Army during World War II.

In 1934 President Roosevelt offered to appoint Conner as army chief of staff—which he turned down.

Conner took a medical retirement from the army in 1938, three years before the nation officially entered World War II, though Eisenhower later credited Conner’s influence in part for his success in achieving unity among the allied nations.

Stories Unfolded
Two Mississippi Museums: Museum of Mississippi History, Mississippi Civil Rights Museum; $16, softcover

The first temporary exhibition to open at the Two Mississippi Museums—the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum—showcases the skill and artistry of Mississippi quilt makers from the 1830s to 2014. Encompassing 38 quilts and two quilt tops, “Stories Unfolded” depicts life in Mississippi through the art of quilting.

The exhibition catalog features each quilt in a large color photograph, accompanied by information on the maker (if known) and details about the quilt’s construction and history.

The earlier quilts were made by necessity, pieced from scrap fabrics and quilted with raw cotton, as an economical means to keep household members warm.

Beyond basic piecing, some of the makers employed applique to depict people, birds, flowers or animals, adding a storytelling component to their work. A quilt made in 1902 by Sallie Miller of Yazoo County features a state map with all the counties (75 at the time) individually hand appliqued in constrasting colors of silk fabric.

While most of the quilts in the exhibit are based on traditional block patterns precisely cut and pieced, a few are original designs made from a more freeform cutting of fabric strips.

Regardless of style, each quilt is evidence of its maker’s desire for beauty and individual expression, as well as utility.

The catalog is sold in the Mississippi Museum Store. Call 601-576-6855 for information.

Roadside Geology of Mississippi
By Stan Galicki and Darrel Schmitz; $24, softcover

Why is the Mississippi River at Vicksburg flanked by tall bluffs on our side but flat delta on the Louisiana side?

How did an eroded hillside in Marion County come to be known as the “Grand Canyon of Mississippi”?

Is there really an ancient volcano beneath Jackson?

Mississippi geologists Galicki and Schmitz answer these and other questions while leading a guided tour of our state’s geological history in the Mississippi volume of the state “Roadside Geology” series of books.

Color maps, graphics and photos illustrate 63 “road logs” representing every region of the state, from the barrier islands to the Tennessee border.

The authors point out the geologist’s version of roadside attractions: unusual rock formations, oxbow lakes, the topography of a cotton field and remnants of the last ice age.

Specific locations are given for sites that can be viewed from public roadways.

Also included are profiles of local museums, parks, an oil field, a lignite mine, a petrified forest, Native American sites, waterways and even kudzu.

Anyone remotely interested in Mississippi’s ancient past or curious about the natural forces behind its ever-changing landscape will enjoy “Roadside Geology of Mississippi.”

Campaigns and Hurricanes: A History of Presidential Visits to Mississippi
By John M. Hilpert and Zachary M. Hilpert; $40, hardcover

In 1901 William McKinley became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Mississippi, his first stop being Corinth. Since then there have been 45 presidential visits to the state, accounting for 69 stops in 33 communities.

One visit was made in secret: In 1942 Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Camp Shelby, near Hattiesburg, as part of a wartime inspection tour.

In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt’s bear hunting trip in the Mississippi Delta inspired the creation of the Teddy bear.

The primary purposes of presidential visits in Mississippi have included recreation, disaster recovery, college commencement addresses and campaigning.

“[Presidential visits to Mississippi] are always impactful events freighted with significance regardless of their scheduled purposes,” they write.

Which president visited most often? George W. Bush traveled to Mississippi 19 times, 14 of those during the Hurricane Katrina recovery.

Father-and-son authors John and Zachary Hilpert trace Mississippi presidential visits from McKinley to Barack Obama. They go far beyond mere itineraries, however, to tell stories enriched with historical context, presidents’ remarks, interactions with citizens and behind-the-scenes details.

“Campaigns and Hurricanes” presents an entertaining, readable and revealing way to experience both Mississippi and U.S. history through these presidential encounters.

Discovering Cat Island
By John Cuevas; photographs by Jason Taylor; $40, hardcover

One of the most significant historic sites along the Mississippi Gulf Coast lies just offshore. From land it appears as a dark smudge on the horizon. Up close, however, Cat Island is a stunningly beautiful wilderness with a colorful history that dates back centuries.

“Discovering Cat Island” explores that history and beauty, starting with the first sighting by French explorers in 1699 (who mistook the raccoons for wild cats, hence the name) and continuing through the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.

There are stories of pirates and buried treasure, mutiny, pioneer families, Al Capone’s rumrunners, Pineywoods cattle, military attacks, fishing, flying saucers, lighthouses, a top-secret dog training camp during World War II and much more.

The island’s diverse landscapes, animals, birds and marine life come alive in the book’s 160 black-and-white photographs.

“Discovering Cat Island” is a high-quality coffee table book that will appeal to those interested in Mississippi history, gulf island natural history and fine photography.

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