5 Reasons We Love The Secret Sisters

We first discovered The Secret Sisters at our hometown music festival, Forecastle, many years ago. We ventured onto the grass by the Bourbon Lodge (yes, that’s a thing we have in Kentucky — a lodge just for bourbon) during a lull in our schedules, and lucky for us, we happened to witness Laura and Lydia Rogers do their thing. They’ve featured on many a Zelda & Scout playlist (most recently our Southern Gothic-themed October playlist). We loved their debut album and their sophomore effort. We love their style and their wit. We love them. Here are five reasons why.

1.  Rich Musical Heritage: The Secret Sisters grew up just outside historic Muscle Shoals, Alabama. In the 1960s, Muscle Shoals was home to  two studios — FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio — that hosted some of the most famous names in music: Aretha FranklinOtis Redding, and Bob Dylan, just to name a few. Spending their formative years in the shadow of some of the most important music of the 20th century, it’s only right that the sisters’ sound pays homage to that history.

2. Old School Southern Sound, with a Modern Twist: The Secret Sisters’ self-titled 2010 first album puts a modern lady twist on a lot of  traditional country classics, from old ballads like “Why Baby Why” and “Do You Love an Apple” to jazz standards like Frank Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid.” The classics are deftly mixed in with a couple original songs (“Tennessee Me” and “Waste the Day”). They established their sound by paying tribute to the genre’s history before venturing into more songwriting on their sophomore album. And on Put Your Needle Down, their 2014 follow-up record, they brought the same old school sound, but with their own twist, on originals like the deliciously dark “Iuka” and the cheeky “Good Luck, Good Night, Goodbye.”

3. Sisterly Love: We love nothing more than a family affair when it comes to music. Zelda’s own family is all about music bringing the family together, after all. And in a world that often pits women against each other, even sisters, we’re happy to see two ladies embracing their love for each other and creating as a team.

4. Enviously Cool Vintage Style: Okay, this is seriously one of our favorite things about The Secret Sisters: They’ve brought their vintage sound over into their wardrobe. From state fairs to Letterman, they always look like they walked out of an early episode of Mad Men, or are doing an exceptional job channeling our favorite Marvel heroine, Peggy Carter, with their dresses and hair in victory rolls and pin curls. Most of all, they are big proponents of body positivity, which is nice to see from anyone in the entertainment industry.

5. Humor: Perhaps not evidenced simply through their music, Laura and Lydia are funny. Their live shows are full of jokes and stories that make us downright guffaw. Their show at City Winery remains one of our favorites that we’ve seen in the city in these last three years, a perfect mix of beautiful tunes and down-to-earth banter, such as you only find between sisters.

The Rogers ladies are between labels at the moment (a tragedy, in our opinion). So until they drop another album, you can feast your ears on their self-titled debut and their amazing second album, Put Your Needle Down.

Photos via: The Secret Sisters and The Southern 

February Round Up

February may be the shortest month, but it managed to cram  a whole lot into its 29 days (Happy Leap Year!). The weather flip-flopped from balmy spring to frigid winter and back again. Scout left one job and started another (her first real, honest-to-god, 9-to-5 gig — having weekends off is crazy, guys). Zelda upped her culture quotient and went to several museums, took in some films, and of course consumed some great food. We celebrated the wonder of lady friendship with a squad sleepover: dinner, a show, and then falling asleep on the couch among your besties. All in all February was a great month, but we’re looking forward to the bounties of spring: outdoor eating and theater for all!

What We’re Doing: We started the month with a playlist all about love, to celebrate a month dedicated to l’amour in all its forms.  Zelda outlined her checklist of Southern books to read in a lengthy Required Reading post. We moved quickly into a week-long celebration of everyone’s favorite Southern holiday — Mardi Gras — with some NOLA-themed inspiration on the festive day itself, followed by a GRITS profile on the one and only Reese Witherspoon, native Louisianan and celebrater of all types of love. We changed up this month’s Eat This, Drink That: Zelda cooked up something, while Scout shook up something. Finally, Zelda brought you her list of 20 emojis that every New Yorker absolutely needs. We’re starting a petition now.

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What We’re Listening To: We may be single this Valentine’s season, but that doesn’t mean we’re immune to the powers of a great love song. For this month’s playlist, we compiled some of our favorites, from the classic to the corny, indie to Disney. Some of these songs make us want to dance around our kitchens in our underwear, other ones make us want to sit in our bed crying into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, but they all remind us to appreciate the love the brims through our lives, whether it be romantic, familial, or forged in the fiery cauldrons of female friendship (and blogdom).

We also love: We were blessed this month with a new album from our favorite peddlers of retro cool, Lake Street Dive. Side Pony is full of all the fun and funk we’ve come to expect from this quartet, and the title track has become our new “ain’t got a care in the world” commuting jam. We also love this video from Crackerfarm, featuring Langhorne Slim and our favs The Avett Brothers covering the Everly Brothers classic, “Bye Bye Love.”

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What We’re Watching: Our favorite under-appreciated science fiction show, The 100, came back in late January, and the first five episodes of the season already have us on an emotional and moral roller coaster. The recent vacancy on the Supreme Court had us (and the rest of the internet) queuing up every Supreme Court-related episode of The West Wing for a much-needed re-watch. And we even managed to make it to the movie theater more than once; Zelda loved How to Be Single and The Danish Girl, while Scout took in the Coen brothers’ latest, Hail, Caesar!

We also love: Favorite celebrity couple Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell’s only goal for their final trip before having kids was a fitting tribute to Toto; they were in Africa after all. The video for T-Swift’s Out of the Woods is probably our favorite from the 1989 album, but this behind-the-scenes is just as great. This interview with Ben Schwartz on being the voice of the most lovable character in Star Wars: Episode VII, BB-8, is delightful. And Lin-Manuel Miranda and the whole cast of Hamilton accepting their Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album made us feel all warm and fuzzy — the first of many awards this year, we’ll bet.

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What We’re Reading: This hilarious reinterpretation of “The Princess and the Pea,” if the pea were a small piece of mild criticism (The Toast). This interview with one of our favorite GRITS, recent Grammy-winner Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes (NPR). This delightful ode to Southern road trip staple and rocking chair mecca, Cracker Barrel (The New York Times Magazine). This oldie but goodie, an explanation of how “y’all” is in fact the most enlightened, equal opportunity, and feminist of the English pronouns (Brooklyn Magazine). This portrait, part of a series, of a Syrian refugee family learning to make our hometown of Louisville their new home (The Courier-Journal). This break-up letter from an exasperated Netflix account (The New Yorker). These gorgeous photographs (and the interview that comes with them) of Misty Copeland recreating Edgar Degas’s classic ballerina works (Harper’s Bazaar). This incisive look at what would happen if male characters were introduced in screenplays like their female counterparts — we laugh because otherwise we’d be crying (Slate). This peak behind the scenes of some of the newest shows opening on Broadway this spring (The New  York Times). This essay, which speaks to our hearts, on female friendship and platonic romance and the beauty that is Broad City (The Atlantic). And last but not least, Grace and Style, the second book from hilarious lady, awesome human, and the chicest sweatpants-wearer we know, Grace Helbig!

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What We’re Eating: We switched things up for this month’s “Eat This, Drink That.” Zelda put on her apron, broke out the food processor, and got back in the kitchen to whip up some rosemary shortbread, with a recipe courtesy of NYT Cooking’s Melissa Clark. They were oh-so-easy and oh-so-delicious, just the right balance of sweet and savory with a melt-in-your-mouth consistency. The perfect treat for a frigid Galentine’s Night! And definitely going in her recipe box.

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What We’re Drinking: On the drink side, Scout took hold of the shaker this month and tackled the Salty Dog. With balanced flavors of rosemary, grapefruit, gin, and, of course, salt, these babies brought a touch of sunshine to our cold February night, and their rosy pink hue was very on trend for a Valentine’s weekend. In the non-cocktail world, we are loving Westbrook Brewing’s Siberian Black Magic Panther, a bourbon-barrel aged imperial stout that is spicy, rich but not heavy, and so goddamn delicious. Dear Sampler, if we’re good, will you stock us some more? Please and thank you.

What’s On Our Wishlist: There’s a beloved Brooklyn tradition called Punderdome, in which, as one might guess from the name, contestants try to out-pun each other (Hannah Hart, eat your heart out!). But now even Hannah, way out in California, can own the tabletop card game and compete in her very own Punderdome. We of course need a copy: It’s available for pre-order now and will be released in July.  We’re also into these wares from the Louisiana-based Red Arrow Workshop (thanks to Zelda’s former roomie for bringing it to our attention!), because, though it’s a stiff competition, moonshine beats sunshine, and we’re all assholes in the morning.

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images via: FILSON HISTORICAL SOCIETYROLLING STONE, TV FANATICHARPER’S BAZAARTHE SAMPLER, RED ARROW WORKSHOP

20 Emojis Every New Yorker Needs

Every year, the English-speaking world waits with bated breath to learn which lucky word has been selected by the Oxford English Dictionary as Word of the Year. The choice is usually representative of the collective zeitgeist, large-scale shifts in the cultural landscape that will change the texture of the human experience for generations to come. In 2005, it was “podcast.” In 2012, it was “gif.” And in 2015, it was…[face with tears of joy emoji].

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That’s right, the most recent Word of the Year is not, in point of fact, a word, but a cartoon yellow face with its eyes crinkled in mirth, tears bubbling over from its pixelated ducts. The emoji, lingua franca of the 21st century, has become the vocabulary in which the human story is told. You can tell a lot about a person from their oft-used emojis — a thumbs up for the optimist, a smiling pile of shit for the cheeky teen, a flamenco dancer for the greatest people you’ll ever meet. But emojis, like humankind’s ability to communicate and empathize, has its limits. And there is no pain so acutely frustrating as the discovery that the emoji you desire, that little cartoon that will express the truest song of your heart and the very fiber of your soul, is not available on your keyboard.

Now the emoji vernacular is expanding every year (we’ve heard rumors of a bourbon glass, coming soon to your iPhone and immediately to every conversation Zelda and Scout share). And so we’d like to put in some particular requests to the keepers of the cartoon keyboards. One’s emoji choices are personal, and regional, specific to the particular fabric of an individual life. And so these, in Zelda’s humble opinion, are 20 emojis every New Yorker needs. Like, now.

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Subway Car: There are three gondolas, two trolleys, seven long-distance trains, and three commuter rails. But none of them are as personal, as ubiquitous to our lives as the MTA. How are we supposed to properly rage against train traffic if we don’t have the right tools?

“Showtime!” Dancer: Like a student during a tornado drill, you know what those cries mean. Time to duck and cover, lest you lose your hat to a rogue sneaker spinning around the pole.

Pizza Rat: He has been a meme, a Halloween costume, and nominee for New York Today’s Person of the Year. Is emoji status next? We think yes.

Bagel and Lox: The New Yorker’s bread and butter. It ain’t worth it, my dear, if it ain’t got that schmear.

Black and White Cookie: Is it a cookie? Is it cake? Whatever it is, it’s delicious, and the rest of America doesn’t know what it’s missing.

To-Go Coffee: Bonus points if it comes in one of those classic, blue and white Greek Anthora designs.

Cash Only Sign: A.K.A. the red eye of doom standing between you and your Diet Coke. It is the obstacle between our brightest dreams and the crushing defeat of reality, as you scrape for change in the linty abyss of your bag.

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Brooklyn Hipster: Complete with handlebar mustache, big glasses, and even bigger privilege. Preferably customizable with a rainbow of hair options.

Tourist with Selfie Stick: The bane of every New Yorker’s existence. It used to be the biggest hazard to your commute was being stopped to take pictures of tourists in front of every hot dog truck on your block. Now you could lose an eye.

Pedicab: How do so many of these people exist? Does anyone take them up on their rides? Are their calf muscles spun of steel and magic? So many questions, no cartoon answers.

Standing in Line: The most quintessentially New York of all the items on this list. To live in the city is to wait, always, for something. Sometimes without knowing what it is you’re waiting for.

Shake Shack Milkshake: Maybe this one is just me, but one of the first (and most delicious) New York treats I ever enjoyed was one of these babies, and my love affair with their frozen goodness hasn’t stopped since.

Slush Puddle: Lying flat, in wait/You anticipate hard ice/Get icicle foot

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Seamless Delivery Guy: A small army, single-handedly responsible for preventing the mass death by starvation of the majority of the city. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift delivery of their appointed dumplings. (The same, it should be noted, can not be said of the Brooklyn Postal Service, even if it is THEIR MOTTO).

Chinese Take-Out Box: It feeds us, it sustains us, it hides in the back of our fridge unnoticed for weeks until its contents no longer resemble edible material.

Playbill: There are many parts of living in New York City that we complain about. The theatre scene is not one of them. These are our mementos, our souvenirs of all the times we got off the couch and saw some art. Bonus points if they’re autographed! #stagedoornerds

Hamilton logo: The symbol of all our unachieved hopes and unattainable dreams. At the rate tickets are going, by the time I see the show, current toddler Sebastian Miranda will be following in his father’s footsteps and playing the lead role.

Grocery Cart: I’m not talking about one of those gleaming numbers you see wheeling through the capacious aisles of a suburban Kroger. I’m talking the dinged up, wonky-wheeled, loaded-to-the-gills chariots that get everything from paper towels to Pinot Noir from Key Food to your fourth-floor walk-up.

Duane Reade Bag: It could contain lipstick. It could contain Christmas lights. It could contain a cream for that skin condition you don’t like to talk about. Nobody knows, because Duane Reade holds all.

Chrysler Building: Sure, there are generic skyscraper emojis to be had, but the Chrysler is no ordinary building. It is the prettiest chorus girl in the New York kick line, a shining Art Deco beacon guiding us home.

images via: BUSTLE, GAME SOLVER, LIVE 4

Eat This, Drink That: Rosemary Shortbread and Salty Dogs

This month for Eat This, Drink That, we are switching things up! Scout was hankering to make a cocktail, and Zelda was ready to get back to her love of baking, so we decided to pull a blog Freaky Friday and go back to our comfort zones for a post. Scout picked up the shaker, Zelda put on her apron, and we settled on a rosemary-themed combo. Then, this past Saturday, on a positively Arctic Galentine’s Day evening, we turned on What’s Inside and got to cooking.

Zelda fell for rosemary shortbread cookies when her boss brought them in a few weeks ago. One bite of the flaky, melt-in-your-mouth, herbal goodness, and she was hooked. Luckily for her, her editor informed her that the recipe was not only super easy but also available on her employer’s very own web site. Weekend plans, made.

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This recipe comes to us courtesy of NYT Cooking and Melissa Clark, and really is absurdly simple, provided you own a food processor (which Zelda does! Like 99% of her kitchen equipment, it’s a hand-me-down from her mama). Preheat your oven to 325 degrees (while not a conventionally recommended method of temperature control, this does also help keep your kitchen from turning into an igloo). In your handy-dandy food processor, put two cups of all-purpose flour, ⅔ cup of sugar, one tablespoon of finely chopped fresh rosemary (stems and all), and one heaping teaspoon of salt (this is how Zelda interpreted Clark’s vague “one teaspoon and a pinch”). Pulse to combine. Add one cup (two sticks) of cold unsalted butter, chopped into 1-inch chunks (that cold part is important, and will be key to the flakiness-level of your final product), and one to two teaspoons of honey. Pulse to fine crumbs, and then continue pulsing until the mixture starts to come together. You don’t need a smooth dough, and it is important not to overmix, so don’t put off if the whole thing is still a bit sandy.

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Take your dough and press it into an ungreased 8- or 9-inch cake pan (a pie tin will also do). Prick the dough all over with a fork. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until golden brown. If you’re Zelda, this translates into happily drinking wine and watching The West Wing, suddenly crying out “Shit! Oh shit!” and rushing over to your oven to rescue your shortbread from ruin just in the nick of time. As it is, the cookies were a tad over-baked for her taste, just a hair too brown and tough around the edges. Scout and her roomie declared them perfectly done, however, and all three gals dug into the cookies with gusto, declaring them an oh-so-savory, oh-so-buttery, perfect-for-tea-time Galentine’s Day treat.

While the shortbread was a-baking, Scout got down to business with the cocktails! We’re big believers in simplicity when it comes to crafting drinks, so we went with Food & Wine’s easy twist on the Salty Dog — basically gin, grapefruit juice, and a salted rim (or, a Greyhound but with salt). This version adds a little rosemary for a fun kick (and a tie-in to the baking portion of the evening).

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To make your delicious Salty Dog, muddle a one-inch sprig of rosemary and a half teaspoon of sugar in a cocktail shaker. Add two ounces of grapefruit juice and an ounce and a half of gin, throw in some ice, and shake well. Strain over into martini glasses with salted rims (if you have martini glasses — we didn’t, and improvised with what we had, namely wine glass and rocks one for good measure).

The verdict? While not all of us are grapefruit enthusiasts, we did all agreed that the salt and the rosemary really added a good kick. An herby garnish is always a good way to make a simple drink look fancier. Plus, it was pink! So it was on theme for Galentine’s/Valentine’s weekend.

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So while Scout normally ventures into the fearsome kitchen to try and conquer another dish on her list and Zelda goes behind the bar to attempt a new fancy cocktail, this was a fun switch-up of our normal protocol.! We’re both more comfortable in our respective eating/drinking, baking/shaking zones. It was, overall, a less stressful situation than our normal ETDT ventures, in which Scout is running around the kitchen like a headless chicken and looking to Zelda for guidance (Zelda is better composed behind the bar, but she really shines when it comes to baking). So while we love (and plan to continue) learning new things, it was nice, for a spell, to go back to our roots. Plus, we accomplished a tasty treat for ourselves and friends on a cold Saturday — just the right thing to warm us up.

GRITS: Reese Witherspoon

This article is part of our series “GRITS: Girls Raised in the South,” in which we profile some of our favorite Dixie ladies and the things that make them awesome. Got an idea for a fabulous femme we should feature? Shoot us an email at zeldaandscout@gmail.com! (Alliteration optional.)
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Name: (Laura Jeanne) Reese Witherspoon

Born: March 22nd, 1976, New Orleans, Louisiana

Profession: actress, producer, clothing designer, philanthropist, mama of three, unabashed Southern gal

Reasons she’s awesome: Reese is what we think of when we think of the modern Southern belle. The daughter of two medical professionals (Scout can relate), she grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. A book lover and a nerd, and proud of her definitive Southern upbringing, we identify with her here at Zelda and Scout. There’s just something about a down-home girl who stays true to her roots. She began acting at a young age, her first major role being in The Man in the Moon. She attended an open call for a bit part but ended up being cast as the main role. Even as a child star, she stayed down to earth. She attended Stanford University for a year before leaving to pursue acting further. And throughout her extraordinarily successful career, she’s taken on beloved Southern roles as well as cult favorites.

Witherspoon first won our hearts as Tobey Maguire’s sister in Pleasantville, as a naive and virginal Annette Hargrove in Cruel Intentionsand alongside Matthew Broderick as the ambitious Tracy Flick in Election. But she really got our attention as Elle Woods in Legally BlondeThe character spawned a sequel, a spinoff, and a kick-ass musical, and is one of our favorite feminist characters of all time. Elle showed us that being girly doesn’t mean being weak or dumb or giving up on any dream you might have. She taught us that we can do whatever we put our minds to, and to never let anyone tell you you’re not good enough or smart enough, because you are. We’ve got Reese to thank for that.

Witherspoon went back to her roots in Sweet Home AlabamaAs Melanie Carmichael, she played an up-and-coming fashion designer who left behind her small Alabama town (and her small-town Alabama husband) for a more glamorous life in the big city. She lies about her upbringing, painting herself as a demure Southern belle instead of the twangy backwoods gal she really is. We know it’s hard to wiggle out of the stereotypes sometimes, and we appreciate Sweet Home Alabama’s ability to paint a picture of many different types of Southerners: the one who got out and went to the big city, the one who stayed at home to raise a family, the one who made a traditional craft into a legitimate business, and most of all the one who realizes you can go home again. Plus, we’re not ashamed to admit that there’s a New Yorker or five we’ve wanted to punch in the face: We’ll live vicariously through Melanie for now. She stretched her Southern muscles again in Walk the Line, playing country icon June Carter Cash and singing up a storm with Joaquin Phoenix (and winning an Oscar in the process). We love Reese for embracing her heritage, and we love her for being a role model for women and their many, varied stories — goals she embraces even beyond her acting career.

See, Reese is far more than just our favorite Southern actress. Tired of being offered one-dimensional roles playing second fiddle to the dudes, she started her own production company, dedicated to telling stories for, by, and about ladies. She produced the hit adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and produced and starred in the adaptation of our fave Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.  She was honored as one of Glamour’s 2015 Women of the Year in recognition of this work. A busy gal, in 2015 she also started Draper James, a clothing line inspired by her Southern heritage. Named after her grandparents, Dorothea Draper and William James Witherspoon, the line embraces Southern tradition and hospitality: a place where craft matters and everyone belongs. Witherspoon can next be seen in the upcoming HBO comedy series Big Little Lies, alongside Nicole Kidman, Adam Scott, and Alexander Skarsgard, among others.

Favorite Videos:

Photos via OmnivoraciousGlamour, DVDizzy, the telegraph

Inspiration Tuesday: Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Happy Tuesday, and a very happy Mardi Gras to you all! Zelda’s Southern heritage comes steeped in Tabasco and chicory coffee, bred in the mud of the bayou, so she is particularly fond of this festive day. For the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, her kitchen table back home is watched over by two straw crawfish, affectionately named Alphonse and Gaston, who hang from the light fixture like Cajun mistletoe. Some years her parents would have parties and the house would echo with saxophone strains from her grandpapa’s old speakers and the eager shouts of witches and mermaids and lions and clowns all jockeying for the most promising slice of King Cake. When the lucky winner bit into his or her slice to find the plastic baby, a coronation would immediately take place, complete with a sparkly crown and many reminders that the winner was now obligated to host next year’s shindig. 

Zelda's Grandpapa, Mama, Dad, and friends, Mardi Gras 1993

Mardi Gras 1993, Chez Zelda

It’s a holiday about food and family and finding joy in everyday moments. Life in the bayou is hard, subject to the whims of nature and circumstance, but Mardi Gras reminds us to let loose every once in a while. So let’s raise a glass to family trees and French Quarter streets. Get yourself a steaming bowl of jambalaya and a melt-in-your-mouth praline, enjoy these thematic bits of inspiration, and laissez les bon temps rouler, y’all.

Art: “Thalassa,” Swoon (New Orleans Museum of Art, 2011)

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Poem: “Going Home: New Orleans,” Sheryl St. Germain

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Book: Zelda’s dad swears by De Bonnes Choses à Manger by Mrs. J. Berwick Duval of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana 

(Also acceptable: Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen by Paul Prudhomme and Talk About Good! Le Livre de la Cuisine de Lafayette by the Junior League of Lafayette, Louisiana)

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Song: We couldn’t pick one song this month, so instead we have a mini playlist filled with jazz, zydeco, and good times!

Video: “Formation,” Beyoncé

Quotation:

“I’m not going to lay down in words the lure of this place. Every great writer in the land, from Faulkner to Twain to Rice to Ford, has tried to do it and fallen short. It is impossible to capture the essence, tolerance, and spirit of south Louisiana in words and to try is to roll down a road of clichés, bouncing over beignets and beads and brass bands and it just is what it is.

It is home.”

Chris Rose, 1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina

images via: SWOON, zelda’s mama

Required Reading: Volume Seven

Happy Friday, and welcome to a (slightly different) edition of Required Reading! We’re still at the beginning of this year of 2016, and so in the spirit of resolutions and goal setting, I thought that this week instead of sharing some of my favorite works of Southern or New York literature that I’ve already read, I thought I would compile a literary to-do list of books that have been sitting on my shelf or my floor, in my Goodreads queue or my Amazon cart, for far too long. I may not hit all of these this year, but it’s a worthy goal. And even if I don’t make it all the way down the list, I’ll still get to experience some fascinating, thought-provoking, imagination-consuming stories in the process.

Now my original plan was to make a list of both Southern and New York books for this post, but there were just too many great options to choose from — this whole post would have been a novel in and of itself. So instead, here are a dozen of the Southern works I’m most eager to read. New York edition coming soon!

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A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson: I’ve been a big fan of Bill Bryson for years, ever since I read Neither Here nor There as a study abroad student in Paris. His razor sharp observations and wry sense of humor never fail to leave me chortling out loud, often to the amusement of my fellow subway passengers. This book, about his experience hiking the Appalachian Trail, has been recommended to me by family members and friends alike, and it’s high time I took them up on it.

All Over But the Shoutin’, Rick Bragg: Rick Bragg was a dirt-poor kid from northeast nowhere, Alabama, who grew up to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New York Times. This book, consistently named as one of the best memoirs about the Southern experience, spins the tale of Bragg’s childhood — booze and cotton fields, joy and bitter heartache — with incredible compassion and unflinching honesty. I received a copy for Christmas and can’t wait to crack it open!

A Death in the Family, James Agee: I read Agee’s non-fiction tome, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, my last semester of college, and was blown away by its searing look at the oftentimes bleak but still richly human lives of Southern sharecroppers in 1936. In this novel, published posthumously and largely autobiographical, Agee turns his pen to the experiences of loss and grief as a Tennessee family grapples with the sudden death of Jay Follet.

The Color Purple, Alice Walker: Yes, I realize it is a crime that I have not yet read this essential member of the American literary canon. Winner of the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, this epistolary novel weaves together the stories of several women of color living in the South (mostly in rural Georgia) in the 1930s. As someone whose own (white) grandmother lived in Atlanta during that very period, I’m particularly eager to read this one.

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Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston: Another classic still missing from my library, this novel follows 16-year old Janie through three marriages and a murder trial in the town of Eaton, Florida. It has been deemed a favorite novel by numerous people whose literary opinions I trust (John Green and Zadie Smith among them). It’s high time I took my own crack at it.

The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor: Maybe I won’t get through every single one of Miss O’Connor’s stories — 576 pages is a lot in one go — but as a master of the form, and one of the preeminent voices of the Southern Gothic movement, she indisputably deserves a spot on this list. In her 39 years on this earth, the Savannah, Georgia, native managed to produce an incredible body of work including novels, letters, and essays, but short fiction is where she thrived. The 31 tales in this book spin stories of love and loss, flowers and hellfire, suspicion and lust and hope.

All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren: In this completely bananas election year, full of bombast and farcical characters who would be uproarious if they weren’t so terrifyingly real, fact can seem to verge on fiction. Better, it seems, to stay in the satirical world of power and corruption in Depression-era Louisiana, and to remember that this too shall pass, like the Huey Long’s that came before. Hopefully we at least get a great book out of it.

Bastard Out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison: A coming of age story about the indomitable Ruth Anne Boatwright, otherwise known as Bone. This is also a family saga in the Southern tradition, set in the wilds of Greenville County, South Carolina, and a particularly honest look at the often hard and violence-strewn lives of Southern women, particularly in the poor, rural corners of the region.

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Men We Reaped, Jesmyn Ward: I absolutely adored Ward’s novel Salvage the Bones, and her memoir, centered around five men in her life who she lost to drugs, accidents, murder, or suicide over the course of four years, is no less gripping, or so I hear. Ward takes the searing humanity and beautiful prose that made her tale of Esch and her family so engrossing and turns them to her own life, grappling with love and loss and the painful legacy of systemic racism and disenfranchisement in her hometown of DeLisle, Mississippi.

A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole: a mad-cap comedic classic, this is the story of Ignatius J. Reilly as he traipses from mishap to adventure. Brimming with the kinds of colorful characters that make both the fiction and the reality of the South, and particularly in a city like New Orleans, so delightful (and debauched): Miss Trixie, Myrna Minkoff, Patrolman Mancuso, Darlene, etc., etc., etc.

Coming Through the Slaughter, Michael Ondaatje: Speaking of New Orleans, I’m dying to get my hands on this fictionalized account of the life of Buddy Bolden, a New Orleans trumpeter and one of the unsung godfathers of ragtime and jazz music. I’m a big fan of Ondaatje’s memoir Running the Family, about his childhood in Sri Lanka, so this novel, which combines Ondaatje’s experimental style with Creole culture and jazz history, seems like it could be just my cup of tea (or chicory coffee, as it were).

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell: Last but not least, I am ashamed to admit that while the movie version of Scarlett O’Hara’s triumphs and tribulations is one of my favorite films of all time, I have never actually read the novel on which it is based. A travesty, I know. This year, I plan to stop thinking about it tomorrow and just read the damn thing, today.