Alabamians know how to tell stories. Looking through history, one of our country’s most beloved storytellers, Harper Lee, called Alabama home. Among living authors, Alabama native Rick Bragg is one of the South’s most renowned, and the movie, “Forrest Gump,” based on Winston Groom’s novel of the same name and set in this great state, was one of the largest grossing movies of its time.
What draws readers to Alabama authors and stories?
“Quite simply, Alabamians make good storytellers,” says Jake Reiss, owner of Alabama Booksmith in Homewood. “We have grown up sitting on porches, listening to our grandparents tell stories. And if you sit with your mouth shut long enough, you’re bound to pick up something,”
Reiss opened the Alabama Booksmith in Birmingham in 1990, originally under the name The Highland Booksmith. Through the years, the store has evolved and now only sells signed books, often first and limited editions. Reiss is a wealth of literary knowledge and offers his summer reading picks, all titles by Alabama authors or with ties to the state. And where better to sit back and relax with a good book than by the lake?
“13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey”
— Kathryn Tucker Windham and Margaret Gillis Figh
“Kathryn Tucker Windham was a beloved storyteller in this state and this was her best known book,” says Reiss. First published in 1969, “13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey” offers tales of fact and folklore about Alabama history and the Old South.
“All Over but the Shoutin’”
— Rick Bragg
“Without question, Bragg is the most popular and best-selling living Alabama author. This was the Pulitzer Prize winner’s first book and to date most successful,” says Reiss.
Published in 1998, “All Over but the Shoutin’” tells the story of Bragg’s childhood in Alabama. Reiss sells a collector’s edition of the book with only 150 copies available in the world.
“All the Governor’s Men – A Mountain Brook Novel”
— Katherine Clark
“This is part of Katherine’s four-part novel series – all based in Mountain Brook. She was an Altamont graduate and brings a lot of familiarity about the state to these books,” Reiss says.
Clark’s second novel in the series is set in the summer of George Wallace’s last run for governor of Alabama in 1982. “In this book, Clark does for Alabama politics what Robert Penn Warren does in “All The King’s Men” for the Louisiana of Huey Long,” says Rick Bragg in his foreword to the novel.
— Condoleezza Rice
“Condoleezza is one of the most kind and generous people you will ever meet. It’s an honor to be able to have her as an Alabama native and to see all she has done for our country,” says Reiss. The former secretary of state and best-selling author offers a sweeping look at the global struggle for democracy and why America must continue to support the cause of human freedom. She is the second woman and first African-American woman to serve as a national security adviser.
— Winston Groom
“Everyone knows Forrest Gump. We brought this book back to print in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the movie,” says Reiss. Originally published in 1986, fictional Alabama native Forrest Gump travels through the football dynasty of Bear Bryant to the Vietnam War to Harvard University and even to a Hollywood movie set. “Everyone who reads Forrest Gump – or sees the movie for that matter – comes away with a different take than the next person, which is, perhaps, to say that there’s a little bit of Forrest in us all,” says Groom in the 2014 reprint foreward.
— Lucy Buffett
“Did you know LuLu’s serves 1 million meals a year? Lucy has recipes in here that everyone will love,” says Reiss. The owner of LuLu’s in Orange Beach, Lucy Buffett combines over 100 new recipes with old favorites, all with a connection to the Gulf Coast. “Every passage of my life has been marked by food. Every twist and turn in my personal story has been a leg of my culinary journey,” says Buffett, who opened her first LuLu’s Sunset Grill out of a modified bait shop café in Weeks Bay.
“Half- Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life”
— Edward O. Wilson
“Wilson is the only Alabama author to have won two Pulitzer Prizes. He is from Mobile, and was a University of Alabama graduate who has written 20 books and is one of the world’s most respected naturalists,” says Reiss.
In “Half-Earth,” Wilson proposes an achievable plan to save our imperiled biosphere: devote half the surface of the Earth to nature.
“Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper Lee”
— Wayne Flynt
“This is our book of the year and is such a unique book. Wayne was Harper Lee’s best friend and the person she designated to give her eulogy at her funeral,” Reiss says. In “Mockingbird Songs,” Flynt gives an account of his friendship with Lee, primarily through letters they exchanged over decades. “I loved and respected her for her fierceness and her commitment to singing the songs she wanted to sing the way she wanted to sing them,” says Flynt in the book’s foreward.
“The Muscle Shoals Legacy of FAME”
— Blake Ells
“FAME Studios put Muscle Shoals on the map, so many musicians have passed through those doors. Blake Ells is a music buff who gives the inside story of FAME Studios and this book is a huge seller,” says Reiss. A native of Muscle Shoals, Ells gives a historical account of FAME Studios, which opened in Florence in 1959. The studio moved to Muscle Shoals in 1961, helping make that city the “Hit Recording Capital of the World.”
Find more authors and books at alabamabooksmith.com.