This book came out not too long after I started my new job in a more rural area of Northeast Florida, and once I saw that it existed I knew I had to read it. Jacksonville is pretty Southern (I tend to think of it as the last Southern city on I-95), but there are enough transplants that it’s not all ma’ams and grits. But in Callahan? Even grown adults are deferring to their parents and there is sweet tea at every big event. So I needed to brush up on my Southern.
This book covers all manner of Southern, from Virginia down to Florida and over even as far as Texas, and it covers it in handy bite-sized essays from various authors, so you can, if you want, pick and choose what things you want to know more about. I chose to read it straight through and learn all the things, albeit over the span of a few months, and that worked okay for me!
The most useful chapters (where chapter equals group of essays) for me were the ones about food, drink, and arts and culture, since those are the ones I certainly participate in most.
In the food chapter, I learned about the two million styles of barbecue that exist in the south, what cookbooks I need to obtain pronto, and even picked up some decent recipes for things like biscuits and grits. I’ve yet to try them out, but it’s just a matter of time. In the drinks chapter I found out that I have indeed been making proper lemonade this whole time, so props to me!, but also that my knowledge of fancy Southern cocktails and bourbon in general is severely lacking. Similarly, the arts and culture section has added about a dozen authors and even more books to my Southern TBR list.
The other chapters, on style, sporting (read: hunting and fishing, mostly), and gardening were also super interesting, if less applicable to my tiny little porch garden or my office attire. I do want to obtain a sassy trenchcoat, though, for wearing in the two months of the year that I won’t die of heat exhaustion while wearing it!
A lot of the essays are sort of straightforward, “here is a thing that exists”, but more than a few of the essays are of the humorous variety, including some from delightful Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me panelist Roy Blount, Jr., and a new-to-me essayist called Allison Glock, who is from Jacksonville and so gets plus two points from me — not that she needs them. I, unsurprisingly, liked the funny ones the best.
Although the book is called The Southerner’s Handbook, I feel like it’s only really a handbook for us non-Southern types who are trying to figure out what everyone else is on about. If you are a born-and-bred Southerner this is probably more like a Southerner’s No-duh-book, but that is not a terrible kind of book by any means.
Recommendation: For Southerners new and old, for different reasons. Possibly not for Northerners?