The Shelf: Philip Lee Williams, The Clinton Tapes, and Hands Me My Travelin’ Footwear


The Shelf: Philip Lee Williams, The Clinton Tapes, and Hands Me My Travelin’ Footwear

October 1, 2009Teresa WeaverComments

Philip Lee Williams

Athens resident Philip Lee Williams writes fiction with the authority of a historian, the ear of a poet, and the eye of a journalist. The author of ten novels, three books of creative nonfiction, and a volume of poetry, Williams spent a decade researching the Civil War for his magnificent 2004 novel, A Distant Flame, then spent two more years delving into the topic of entertainment during the conflict. The result is The Campfire Boys (Mercer University Press, $26), a richly comic tale of three brothers who are born entertainers and exceptionally bad soldiers. The fictional “celebrated Blackshear Boys”—Jack, Michael, and Henry—grow up performing skits and songs for all their neighbors in Branton, Georgia. When Confederate duty calls, they take their show on the road with Cobb’s Legion Infantry: “The night was cold and windy after it had rained the evening before, but starfields swept over the Peninsula, constellations shaped to Classical stories. War—what war? Hundreds of campfires marked messmates, but they were dying before the roar of five huge bonfires around the place where the Blackshear Boys set up to play.”

The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President

Simon & Schuster, $35

During Bill Clinton’s administration, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and Atlanta native Taylor Branch were built with a secret project: recording extensive conversations using the president about daily occasions (even a few of the sordid ones). It makes sense an amazing conglomeration of quotes and findings that never quite gel like a book. Still, The Clinton Tapes can serve as an unfiltered, unparalleled glimpse in to the presidency. In a single scene, Clinton plays location of the 1996 Atlanta Braves, discussing his ideas around the impact from the relatively small foul territory within the club’s publish-Olympic stadium. “Clinton didn’t be prepared to win many votes within the wealthy dugouts and locker rooms of contemporary sports,” recalls Branch, “but he did appear very happy to impress associates about baseball.”

Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell

Chicago Review Press, $26.95

Michael Grey, a music historian from England, is really a breathless outsider within the exotic American South within this thoroughly researched exploration in to the existence from the great Georgia bluesman McTell, who died in obscurity in 1959. Part travelogue, part detective story, part social history, this unconventional biography has wit and insight, that is sometimes place-on, sometimes annoying, and from time to time both. Here’s Gray’s critique of small-town Southern cuisine: “Everything’s big and brown and high, except when it’s big and lurid red and high.Inches Grey turns the dearth of documentation on McTell’s existence into an entertaining story concerning the search itself.

Also New

The Million Dollar Demise
Simon & Schuster, $24
Atlanta author RM Johnson wraps up his soapy trilogy (The Million Dollar Divorce and The Million Dollar Deception) with this tale of backstabbing, sex, revenge . . . the usual.

The American Civil War: A Military History
Alfred A. Knopf, $30
John Keegan, renowned military historian, focuses on the impact of geography on the war. “It supplied the South with its most formidable ally and the North with its most unyielding opponent,” Keegan writes.

Mama Dearest
Karen Hunter Publishing, $25
Atlantan E. Lynn Harris died unexpectedly in July while on the West Coast. The popular, prolific author’s final novel, Mama Dearest, revives the character of singing diva Yancey Harrington Braxton from Any Way the Wind Blows.



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