Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Duality of the Southern Thing

Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz

I recently read an article that sums up pretty succinctly what the Drive-By Truckers are getting at when they talk about "the duality of the southern thing" - pride and regret.

That's what Tony Horwtiz addresses best in Confederates in the Attic, a book that I simply cannot believe I haven't read until now, given a) my kinship with Horwitz as a Yankee interloper who, for a variety of reasons, has a deep interest in said duality, and b) the fact that this book has been in my house for years.

In Confederates, southern pride sometimes manifests itself innoculously, and even humorously, in the form of Civil War reenactors so devoted to historical accuracy that they spoon one another in the mud on battlefields to stay warm, shunning the Farbs* who wear JC Penney long underwear and retreat to the local Holiday Inn when night falls.

And sometimes, it takes an uglier turn, as in Horwitz's account of Michael Westerman, a young Kentucky man who was shot by a black man after crusing down the street in a Confederate flag-adorned pick-up truck, and consequently, became a Klan martyr.

Horwitz manages to highlight the deeply ingrained racism of the South, while at the same time, giving voice to the many Southerners who abhor it. And Horwitz does one better, talking about racism as a national problem, not just a Southern one.

I don't believe that the Civil War was fought over states' rights, despite the many individuals who have tried to convince me otherwise. However, when you read about Horwitz's encounters with the many Southerners -- otherwise sane save for their obsession with the Civil War -- it must be acknowledged that there's far more wrapped up in that obsession than slavery.

A thoughtful and even-handed book - I've got to take my hat off to Horwitz for interviewing researchers, writers, truck drivers, booze hounds, factory workers, college professors, and Klansmen alike with a shockingly consistent professionalism and courtesy.
* the shortened form of "far be it from authentic"; one can be a farb, farb out, or behave farbily.

1 comment:

Gwen said...

You need to create a separate label for books about the South, to make it easier for me to find them.

I can't wait to read this book, btw.