Best Southern fiction: Where's Portis? | Arkansas Blog

Monday, August 31, 2009

Best Southern fiction: Where's Portis?

Posted By on Mon, Aug 31, 2009 at 12:12 PM

Warwick Sabin, now devoting full time to publishing the Oxford American, says if we're having a slow day (and we are) perhaps readers would like to join in the fray in this month's magazine on the best works of Southern fiction and non-fiction, as chosen by a distinguished group of authors, professional Southerners, etc.

This link takes you to the 10 best Southern novels of all time,  with "True Grit" or "Norwood" nowhere to be seen. (Though it might be in the expanded list.)

"Absalom, Absalom!" is No. 1?

On the jump: Favorite Little Rock son writer Kevin Brockmeier adds some thoughts and reassurances about Charles Portis.




Portis will definitely make the expanded list. True Grit was on my own ballot---which I've copied below, in case you're interested---and I'm sure it was on a few others, as well.
Kevin Brockmeier
Please list up to ten Southern novels that you consider to be “the best.”
1. A Death in the Family by James Agee
2. The Sharpshooter Blues by Lewis Nordan
3. The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys by Chris Fuhrman
4. The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis
5. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
6. The Cockroaches of Stay More by Donald Harington
7. Jujitsu for Christ by Jack Butler
8. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
9. True Grit by Charles Portis
10. Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse

Comments: I ran into trouble with this list almost immediately: Which books qualify as Southern? If an author was born in the South, are his books Southern? What if he was not born in the South, but lived much of his life there? What if he was born in the South but did not remain there, such as the brilliant Lucius Shepard, whose The Scalehunter's Beautiful Daughter would surely have made this list if I thought I could justify including a fantasy novella about the interior geography of a dragon? What if his books are completely divorced from the Southern landscape? I love Ann Patchett, for instance, and she's from Tennessee, but my favorite of her books, Bel Canto, takes place in South America.

And not that I would list one of my own books, but are they Southern? I've spent nearly my whole life in Little Rock, but you couldn't tell that from reading my fiction.

In any case, I decided to limit my selection to books (1) with recognizably Southern landscapes (which meant, for instance, that Walter Tevis's exemplary science fiction novel The Man Who Fell to Earth was out, but his Kentucky-based chess novel The Queen's Gambit was in) and (2) whose authors were either born or lived in the South.


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