One of my favorite areas of the Lemuria store is the Southern fiction section. Nestled in a corner of the fiction room behind a bust of Eudora Welty, this part of the store is one I love to explore. From Rick Bass to Alice Walker, and everyone in between, the shelves are filled with some of the best writers that speak to my southern spirit. So when I came across Margaret Eby’s South Toward Home, I was instantly intrigued.
South Toward Home, whose title is a play off Willie Morris’ North Toward Home, is a literary road map of the South. From Oxford and Jackson to New Orleans and Gainesville, Eby takes you on a tour of some sites with famous southern author connections. Eudora Welty’s garden, William Faulkner’s liquor cabinet, and John Kennedy Toole’s hot-dog carts are just a few of the places covered. Eby does an excellent job of describing each setting, drawing upon text from the authors’ works to show if and how their surroundings influenced their writing.
I love how Eby was able to tie her personal travel journey into her literary discoveries. She expertly planted me in a place by describing how it looked in the present, while also weaving in quotes from the author to create a rich history of the landmark. I enjoyed getting to travel to places near and far with Eby, in particular, Eudora Welty’s garden. I loved hearing Eby’s take on this local treasure. I learned more about the authors I’ve read and got to know the ones I’m not that familiar with. Eby’s research, as well as her own reading experiences, made me want to read more of not just the authors she mentioned, but also more southern writers in general.
I especially appreciated how Eby compared these landmarks. She discussed how one writer’s house may have been turned into a museum, while another was torn down. Some towns proudly use an author’s spot as a tourist attraction, while others are hesitant to acknowledge its existence. It was interesting to see how certain places have changed over the years and how the community has responded to them.
One of my favorite chapters of Eby’s journey was the one about Flannery O’Connor’s peacocks. It was entertaining to read about her house in Georgia where she raised all sorts of birds and where her peacocks still roam today. Having background information about O’Connor and the other southerners mentioned gives me a better understanding of their writing and what inspired them.
Whether you’re new to Southern fiction or a long-term reader of those below the Mason-Dixon, Eby’s road trip will inspire a literary pilgrimage of your own.