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Long Time Leaving: Dispatches from Up South
Roy Blount Jr.
400 pp., $25.00
Dream Not of Other Worlds: Teaching in a Segregated Elementary School,1970 (Sightline Books)
University Of Iowa Press, 2007
276 pp., $24.95
Betty Smartt Carter
How would you feel if your 12-year-old ran around the house singing, "I'm Selling My Pork Chops, but I'm Giving My Gravy Away"? Personally, I'm a little nervous about it, though I admire a child with entrepreneurial spirit. It seems to me that a pork chop is only a pork chop until it shows up in a song by Memphis Minnie, the Mississippi-born blues singer who belted out double-entendres before Little Richard was a twinkle (or a leer) in anybody's eye. If Minnie had been a Girl Scout, she'd have sold a lot of cookies.
Well, I have only myself to blame for the musical happenings around here. Myself and Roy Blount, Jr. Reading his new book, Long Time Leaving: Dispatches From Up South, gave me an appetite for the music he describes so deliciously in essays like "Good Gravy," "Memphis Minnie's Blues: a Dirty Mother for You," and "Love Those Bozzies." So, by the miracle of iTunes, I dredged up songs by the Boswell Sisters and the metaphorically vivid Minnie, along with my own all-time favorite, Fats Domino, who has recently resurfaced in New Orleans. You can't keep music like this to yourself; actually, you can't keep from yelling it out in the shower at the top of your lungs, which is why even the dogs next door to us are now howling about pork chops.
Blount is such a good writer that I almost—ALMOST—paid $35 to go see him at a fundraiser in Birmingham. Most writers have to pay other people to come to their book signings, but Mr. Blount lends his amiable Southern voice to the NPR show Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me, which makes him a celebrity, at least among the kind of people who go to book signings. If I had gone, and had the chance to shake the author's hand, what would I have said to him?
I probably would have said, "Mr. Blount, nobody's worth $35, but you're a heck of a writer. I don't write as well as you do, but I think I could—if my life were so full of ironies."
OK, it's not true that I could ever write as well as Roy Blount, Jr., but it is true that his ...