Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads (Paul Theroux, 2015)

deep south

Why did you choose this book?

The answer to this question is twofold.  First, as part of our Reader’s Advisory group at work, I was required to read a nonfiction book published in either September or October of this year.  Second, I have read Theroux’s work in Smithsonian and really enjoyed his travel writing, so I thought I would read one of his books.

What’s it about?

Theroux is an accomplished travel writer, but had not traveled through the southern part of the United States.  He drove through Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Arkansas, stopping in small towns and meeting folks along the way.  He recounts his adventures as well as the landscape and personalities he encounters over the course of four roadtrips (one for each season of the year).

Categories

Armchair travel, nonfiction

Other recommended reads?

I haven’t read much armchair travel literature, but Theroux has written a dozen other travel books, as well as plenty of fiction.  I’ve also read Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams, and really enjoyed it, though it is half travel and half history.

Final thoughts?

There were things I loved about this book, and others I didn’t.  I love Theroux’s writing style, particularly this quote about the Ozarks: “The Ozarks are mountains in the Deep South sense of the word, not pyramidal peaks or potential ski slopes or alpine crags, but irregular elevations, a succession of low, deep green ridges, a sea of long, lumpy hills to the horizon in a dramatic panorama.  That there is an identifiable and sundown-framed horizon in their midst gives the Ozarks their uniqueness: mountains that allow a great, gaudy, and effulgent sunset.  No single Ozarkian topographical feature is apparent, but the whole of it – the broad shifting vista of elongated hills – appears like flattened and thickly forested mesas.  And the view is especially moving because it seems unpeopled, the isolated communities hidden in hollows and behind the slopes, some of which are bunchy with old-growth trees, still remote and beautiful (page 409).”  I was born in the Ozarks and that language, and the landscape, speak to my soul.

The books was 440 pages long, which I felt was stretching my attention span to the max.  I probably would have liked the book even more had it been closer to 350 or even 300 pages in length.  I also failed to understand Theroux’s definition of Deep South.  To me, the Deep South should include Texas and Louisiana and possibly even South Carolina.  I also struggled to remember characters between sections.  Theroux revisits some of the same people on each seasonal trip and I sometimes had difficulty remembering what had happened with each person in the previous trip, or even who they were.

I loved his trip to the grocery store where the Emmett Till situation came into being.  This is the only book I’ve ever seen that includes a picture of that store.  I found it very moving.  Overall, I thought it was a good travel read.

Up next?

Home is Burning: A Memoir by Dan Marshall

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