In the run up to Literacy Month in September, Soirée champions the best books by Arkansas authors.
1. True Grit
Charles Portis, 1968
Argue about what books should be on the list and what books should be at the top of the list, but this classic American western belongs in any discussion.
Portis, born in El Dorado and educated at the University of Arkansas, gave us not one but two iconic characters — spunky, independent 14-year-old Mattie Ross and crusty, one-eyed Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn, who embark together on a journey of vengeance and justice intertwined.
Best quote: “That’s bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.”
2. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West
Dee Brown, 1970
A landmark book changing the way people viewed the plight of Native Americans, Brown’s story captures the destruction of the country’s indigenous civilizations in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Brown, a transplant to Arkansas from Louisiana, allows the great chiefs and warriors to describe the various, systematic betrayals and massacres in their own voices.
Best quote: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it.”
3. A Time to Kill
John Grisham, 1989
Jonesboro native John Grisham, lawyer turned writer of best-selling legal thrillers and youth-oriented fiction, has given us characters who have taken on big tobacco, the death penalty and the Mob.
In this gritty and alarming first work, a young lawyer battles the lingering and violent spectre of Southern racism as he defends a black man for killing the whites who sexually assaulted his daughter.
Best quote: “Now imagine she’s white.”
4. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou, 1969
The multi-talented Angelou, born in St. Louis and a transplant to Stamps in southwest Arkansas, became the first African-American woman to publish a nonfiction best seller.
Her autobiography entails her escape from the emotional imprisonment caused by her troubled childhood and harrowing life events and is a testament to the power of love and kindness, with an assist from great authors.
Best quote: “I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare.”
5. My Life
Bill Clinton, 2004
At 1,008 pages, it’s wordy, but then the 42nd president gave long speeches too.
However, for a history of Arkansas and its politics in the postwar years, you couldn’t ask for a more consummate insider to guide you along the state’s winding and bumpy back roads, from coon suppers to the statehouse.
Best quote: “Even when I wasn’t sure where I was going I was always in a hurry.”
These great summer reads are available at River Market Books and Gifts in downtown Little Rock.