Saturday, April 11, 2009

Five best: books of Southern humor

Roy Blount Jr.'s books include Alphabet Juice (2008) and Long Time Leaving: Dispatches From Up South (2007).

He named his five favorite books of Southern humor for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on the list:
As I Lay Dying
by William Faulkner
Cape & Smith, 1930

People may think of Southern humor in terms of missing teeth and outhouse accidents, but the best of it is a rich vein running through the best of Southern literature. When I assembled an anthology of Southern humor, in 1994, I included selections from 114 writers. Fewer than 20 of them would ever be described as humorists. The best of Southern humor is inextricable from the blues, desperation, alligators, lust, irrational politics, whiskey and all the other basics of life. In William Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying," the members of a drastically dysfunctional family are trying to get their freshly deceased matriarch to the burial ground of her side of the family, through raging flood waters, before her body gets too unfresh. The impressionistic, disjointed story is told, dizzyingly, from the viewpoints of each family member including the corpse. It is horrifying, lyrical, intermittently comic; and it is the only modernist masterpiece I know of that ends in a jolting but altogether fitting, quietly uproarious, punchline.
Read about all five books on Blount's list.

--Marshal Zeringue