I’m not a regular reader of “Southern Living” magazine—save the occasional recipe for shrimp and grits if I’m feeling homesick—and I don’t believe I’ve ever picked up an issue of “Garden & Gun.” But the magazine pieces that make up Rick Bragg’s latest book make me want to buy a subscription.
Where I Come From: Stories from the Deep South is a collection of personal columns by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, who is probably best known for his memoir, All Over but the Shoutin’. Bragg grew up dirt poor among the ridgelines of northeastern Alabama, and his love for the place shines through in this collection, which sparkles with the wit and tenderness of a Pat Conroy novel.
Topics range from Harper Lee to hot chicken, fire ants to Fat Tuesday, and “grandmothers with their arms full of fat babies and their giant purses stuffed with butterscotch candies and Juicy Fruit.” He recalls the perils of trying to travel in winter—“You do not really fly out of Birmingham,” Bragg writes. “You just drive there so someone can tell you why you can’t”—and the thick summer heat you can’t wave away with a cardboard funeral-home fan.
Most of the pieces are only a couple of pages, which makes it the perfect book to savor in little bites, like the bread pudding souffle at Commander’s Palace. But the longer essays showcase Bragg’s stellar writing and his ability to describe a scene so vividly, you can almost smell the summer rain in the pines. Among my favorites are “The Dancing Skinny,” a heartfelt tribute to a beloved hound, and “Why I Write About Home,” which describes Bragg’s book in a nutshell: “I write about home,” he writes, “so I can be certain that someone will.” We should all be glad he did.