Shannon Ravenel is the co-founder of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. In 2001 she inaugurated her own imprint for Algonquin Books. Currently she is editing Algonquin’s annual anthology New Stories From the South, the 18th volume of which will be published in July.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Penguin, $6). My American-lit professor said it was a masterpiece, and I didn’t understand why. Forty years later, having just reread it and then listened to an unabridged recording of it, I finally do. Twain juggled at least four levels of narrative and meaning without once dropping the ball. Plus he’s very funny.
A Family’s Affairs by Ellen Douglas (Louisiana State University Press, $19). I read this great Southern novel in manuscript in the 1960s when I was on the lowest editorial rung at Houghton Mifflin Co. in Boston. As the only person with a drawl in those august Yankee offices, I was uncertain of my worth. Douglas has no such uncertainty, and her book showed me how to acknowledge the strengths of my own Southern raising and roots.
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Wolf Whistle by Lewis Nordan (Algonquin, $10). Nordan, who is white, was a teenager living near Money, Miss., when the black teenager Emmett Till was murdered for allegedly having wolf-whistled at a white woman. This novel, a marvel of Southern magic realism, tells a strange and monumentally moving version of that terrible story.
Victory Over Japan by Ellen Gilchrist (Little, Brown, $14). There is nobody who understands the advantages of short fiction better than Gilchrist. I have read every short story she’s ever written (there are lots), and I think this particular collection brings together the best of them.
Atonement by Ian McEwan (Knopf, $14). Who can top this one for sheer storytelling power, for character creation, for emotional depth, for fullness of time and place? This is a novel that repeatedly surprised me by keeping up an extraordinary literary suspense right to the very end. A great novel, one that makes you want to kneel and bow down before the author.
Truman: A Biography
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