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Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, December 9, 2001

Southern Book Fair Is Perfect Resolution for 2002

It's never too early to start thinking about New Year's Resolutions. If you're a reader (or a writer), consider putting a trip to the 2002 Southern Festival of Books at the top of your list. This annual three-day fair draws hundreds of authors and thousands of readers to downtown Nashville, Tennessee every October.

In addition to strolling among the outdoor booths and food stalls, come prepared to move quickly to catch your favorite authors discussing their new books as well as autographing them. What makes the weekend event an incredible bargain is that there aren't any registration or admission charges.

Most of the 250 authors on the 2001 program were either born in the South or relocated there.

Their topics and themes ran from issues of class and race to mysteries to humor to history.

Lake Wobegon: Summer 1956 by Garrison Keillor (Viking Press, 2001).

I'm cheating on this one because I haven't read the book. But I did laugh and even sing along with Garrison Keillor as he returned once again to the Nashville stage to give a delightful stand-up reading from his latest novel.

Nowhere Else on Earth by Josephine Humphries (Viking Press, 2000).

This wise and lyrical novel received the 2001 Southern Book Award at the Festival.

Prepare to be immersed in the teeming turpentine-producing swamps of Civil War North Carolina, in an Indian settlement known as Scuffletown.

But don't expect despair or resignation as the impoverished residents fight to keep their sons from being conscripted into forced labor in the Confederate forts and salt works. Instead enjoy the richness of narrator Rhoda Strong's life, including her early years reveling in nature, her strong love for her family and community, and her attachment to the local Scuffletown hero who ends up always on the run from the law.

Vernon Can Read by Vernon Jordan (Public Affairs, 2001).

Vernon Jordan is a highly successful investment banker and lawyer in Washington, D.C., as well as a veteran of the civil rights Movement.

Born in Atlanta in 1935, his upbringing was typically middle-class. After achieving success as a speaker in high school, Vernon shocked his friends by attending DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. rather than one of the black universities in the South.

One of four black students, he nevertheless found DePauw a welcoming environment, where he learned to live in a white world. Among his instructors was Wallace Graves, who later became President of the University of Evansville.

Vernon moved on to Howard University Law School, then executive positions in the NAACP, the United Negro College Fund, and the National Urban League before joining the private sector. His memoir is down-to-earth as well as inspiring.

The book's title refers to the feigned surprise of a Southern scion when he discovered Vernon in his fine library curled up with a book during a break from his summer job chauffeuring.

The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall (Houghton Mifflin, 2001).

A parody of Gone With the Wind, this book almost didn't make it into print when a trust for Margaret Mitchell's heirs filed an injunction to stop its publication as a violation of copyright.

Fortunately, the Courts ruled in the book's favor. Only 200 pages long, you can read it quickly, but you might want to find a plot summary of Mitchell's novel on the Internet to refresh your memory.

Cynara, Scarlett O'Hara's half-sister, tells of a life very different from that lived by her spoiled Southern belle counterpart.

Sky of Stone by Homer Hickam (Delacorte Press, 2001).

If you liked the book Rocket Boys and/or the movie October Sky, you'll want to read Hickam's latest memoir.

Reading like a mystery screenplay, this tale covers the successful NASA scientist's stint in the mines of Coalwood, W. Va., on his first summer vacation from Virginia Tech.

He rises to the physical and mental challenges of working under a "sky of stone" as he investigates the charges facing his mine foreman father due to a death in the mine. I wouldn't be surprised to see this on the big screen, also.

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.