Shelf Life

Highway 61 Revisited: Times being what they are, Memphians may be thinking twice this summer about a vacation far from home. Solution: Don't skip the vacation, but stay closer to home, which, in the case of two handy guidebooks, means south of the city and on the trail of the blues. That's how Melissa and Justin Gage describe it in Memphis & the Delta Blues Trail (Countryman Press). Melissa Gage knows Memphis; she graduated from Rhodes College and interned for Memphis magazine. Together with her husband Justin, they know their blues sites too, from Beale Street down to Jackson: what to see, what to hear, where to eat, and where to stay. On an even bluesier note: See the updated and expanded third edition of Blues Traveling: The Holy Sites of Delta Blues (University Press of Mississippi) by performer, lecturer, and writer Steve Cheseborough. You couldn't ask for a more knowledgeable guide to the blues greats and the farms and towns they frequented or once called home.

Highway 51 Revisited: Gloria Norris left Mississippi's hill country in the 1960s and moved to New York City to enter book publishing, but she never really left the land: She set short stories and a novel in Mississippi (when she wasn't serving as editor-in-chief of the Book of the Month Club). And every time she returned to her home state, her heart went out to its landscape, its people, and its vanishing ways of life. So Norris took to photography and to the highway — the old highway she'd known all her life: Highway 51, from Memphis and 200 miles south to Jackson, for her book of photographs simply titled Highway 51 (University Press of Mississippi). The soil there is rich; the literary history is rich too, as Norris points out in her opening essay. Among the older generation of writers: William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Richard Wright; among the younger, Larry Brown, Donna Tartt, John Grisham, and Rick Bass, who has written an introduction to Norris' book. Her color images — of distant horizons, abandoned storefronts, townspeople and farmers, and a Buddhist monk at the grave of Elvis Presley — speak, poetically, for themselves. 

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