Julia Reed's effervescent collection of essays is an under-the-hair-dryer book (a cousin of the beach book), and even though no woman I know still sits under the dryer at the salon, a beauty parlor is the perfect place to inhale Queen of the Turtle Derby: And Other Southern Phenomena. Reed is both a senior writer at Vogue and a native daughter of the Mississippi Delta, and her voice and tone are those of your most consistently amusing girlfriend.... In the end, there's a satisfying match here between the subtext and the text. Reed embodies exactly what she's trying to convey: her tone is charming, glancing, amusing, sometimes a tad superficial, sometimes biting, but never offensive. These are captivating qualities in a storyteller, appreciated not just in the South but everywhere.
Karen Karbo - New York Times Book Review
A rambunctiously charming essay collection.... As refreshing and bracing as a mint julep.... Even the most hopeless Yankee will have no trouble getting in touch with her inner Poultry Princess.
In this engaging collection of essays, Mississippi native Reed—a writer for Vogue and the New York Times Magazine who now splits her time between New Orleans and New York City—presents a fresh and eclectic portrait of the South. Reed’s vision is both celebratory and critical, and it underscores her assertion that the South is "much more complicated and more interesting" than standard perceptions and caricatures of the region suggest. She tackles amusing topics like Southern hairdos and fashion, and the unrivaled pride Southern women take in their appearance ("I once saw three Chi Omegas jogging on the Ole Miss campus at seven-thirty in the morning in pale pink sweatsuits, full makeup and perky ponytails ties with matching pink bows"). She also addresses more serious issues, such as the area’s high rates of violence and lack of gun control. And as she renders an honest portrayal of the quirks, foibles and wonders of the region, she even pays homage to (and provides a recipe for) that Southern food staple: fried chicken.
Reed, bless her heart, has written a laugh-aloud collection of personal essays about the South. God, guns, beauty queens, fashion accessories, booze, hurricanes, and, of course, recipes are featured in these 30 previously published works by Reed, a senior writer at Vogue and contributing writer at Newsweek. Readers are sent on a roaring roller-coaster ride around Reed's childhood in Mississippi and her current life in New Orleans and New York. "Lady Killers," a prickly essay, may raise the eyebrows of unsuspecting readers with its examination of the belief that a "white, well-dressed, churchgoing" Mississippi woman can get away with murder owing to a double standard regarding capital cases. "The Morning After" explains how a good fight adds to the zest of a high-quality party. Several essays repeat the same details when describing and explaining Southern fashion, beauty, and hair styles. Satirical, spirited writing for fans of the Sweet Potato Queens who appreciate recipes for fried chicken and frozen tomatoes, this is recommended for larger regional libraries. —Joyce Sparrow, Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas Cty., FL
For a region that lives and dies by its time-honored, if tawdry, traditions and is known for its colorful, if not controversial, characters, the South has some explaining to do for its excessive eccentricities. And there is no one more capable than Reed,...[who] humorously and humbly celebrates the quirkiness that lies deep in the heart of Dixie. —Carol Haggas
In 22 lively essays, 10 reprinted from Vogue, the New York Times Magazine, etc., Reed defends, with wry humor and an agreeable appreciation of the absurd, the South's continuing distinctiveness. Some of these pieces overlap in content, but collectively they form a portrait of a region that, despite shopping malls and national chains, continues to follow its own idiosyncratic ways. The subjects are South lite, reflecting rather regional quirks than the darker history, as Reed writes of debutantes, food, and alcohol consumption in essays titled, respectively, "Debutantes," "Eat Here," and "Booze." Debutante balls in the South, Reed observes, are burdened with a whole lot of history as they try to resurrect the past by honoring old well-born families and "the myth of our cavalier past in all its full-blown weirdness." In "Eat Here," she observes that though tastes are now more sophisticated, southerners eat okra, drink iced tea (sweet or unsweet), and, unlike Yankees, when asked to name the best meal ever eaten, will recall one served at home. Mississippi, where Reed was born, kept Prohibition laws on the books until 1966 ("Booze"), but that didn't stop the state having the cheapest and most plentiful alcohol as well as more liquor retail outfits than any of the legally wet states. Other essays explain southern fashion (soft and ladylike), justice (women murderers rarely hang despite committing some pretty lurid crimes), and attitudes about life (they subscribe to an idea of living with, as John Keats had it, "uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason." The title comes from an event that began in Arkansas in 1930 and includes a 60-foot turtle race,and the crowning of a derby queen. It illustrates, Reed suggests, the South's capacity for entertaining themselves with whatever is available. This capacity is celebrated in every piece, as Reed deftly mixes personal reminiscences with facts and local lore. Engaging evidence that the South is still different.
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