A Hometown Story (Weekly Geeks 2009-18): Walking in Memphis – with books

This week’s Geekery comes from Softdrink (Jill) of Fizzy Thoughts:

Take us on a literary tour of your hometown!

Share your fun literary facts about the town or area where you live. You can talk about famous (or not so famous) authors who live there, novels that have been set in your area, or any other literary facts that you know about where you live. Feel free to embellish with pictures of places and/or authors, maps of the area, and fun facts about the authors.

As usual, feel free to personalize this. Don’t like your hometown? Pick another! Do you live in a literary wasteland? Feel free to expand and discuss a region. Feel like returning to a place you lived 20 years ago? Go for it!

I was born in New York City, whose literary history runs very deep and can be done justice far better by other people. I currently live in Los Angeles, which is more quickly associated with TV shows and movies than it is with books, but has starred in quite a lot of written fiction as well (not all of which is noir detective novels either, just for the record), which can also be done justice better by others. But when I think “home,” I still tend to think of the Southern city where my son grew up. Memphis is “The Home of the Blues and the Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll” (making it Tennessee’s other “Music City”), but not all of its stories have been told in song. I’d like to mention a few of those that weren’t.

Memphis may be best known among readers these days for its part in John Grisham’s early fiction. Grisham is originally from the northwest Mississippi area that bumps up against the Memphis city The Rainmaker by John Grishamlimits, and he began his legal career there before he became a writer. His breakthrough second novel, The Firm, tells the story of a young attorney who discovers that the downtown-Memphis firm he joined right out of Harvard Law School is actually involved in some very illegal doings. (Prior to The Firm, the “Memphis Mafia” referred to some of Elvis Presley’s closest associates.) I read this one around the time I moved to Memphis myself, and was excited to identify places from the book in real life – and vice versa – as well as to quibble over inaccurate geographic details. Grisham’s sixth novel, The Rainmaker, is also set in Memphis and concerns a young lawyer, but Rudy Baylor’s degree comes from Memphis State (now the University of Memphis) rather than Harvard, and he knows some of the city’s seedier areas far better than Mitch McDeere ever will (especially considering that Mitch and his wife Abby disappeared into the Caribbean after they busted Bendini, Lambert, and Locke, and probably haven’t been back to Memphis since).
A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor
In a completely different vein, Peter Taylor’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel A Summons to Memphis is a story of family drama, in which a son is called back to his hometown by his sisters in an effort to intervene with their father’s planned second marriage. This is a character-driven story, but the local details establish a sense of place.

One of my favorite Memphis novels concerns a community that one wouldn’t readily associate with the city. The Ladies Auxiliary (Ballantine Reader's Circle) by Tova MirvisDriving through East Memphis, between Poplar and Walnut Grove, Mendenhall and Yates, on a Saturday morning, one might see nicely-dressed families out walking. Memphis’ long hot summers and year-round humidity tend to make walking an unpopular activity (no matter what the song says), but these families are belong to Memphis’ Orthodox Jewish population, and it’s Shabbat. Tova Mirvis‘ memorable first novel, The Ladies Auxiliary, takes the reader into this community as it – in a story told by the community itself, narrating as “we” – is shaken up by an unconventional new arrival from New York City. Mirvis’ second novel, The Outside World, also concerns this community (which happens to be where Mirvis grew up herself), but from the new-arrivals’ viewpoint. I enjoyed that one as well, and am hoping that Mirvis will publish a third novel one of these days.

There is one disadvantage to visiting Memphis through books, though – you miss out on the food, especially the world-famous barbecue! It may be just as well, though, since it’s hard to read neatly while eating ribs.

Has your hometown, or favorite city, played a starring role in any of your favorite books?

*** I brought quite a few things from Memphis with me when I moved to SoCal, but my favorite is my dog Gypsy. Please visit A Novel Menagerie and vote for her in the “Beautiful Baby Contest!” We would both appreciate it.***

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  1. Chris – I’m sure there are more that I didn’t mention :-).

    Susan – Thanks for stopping by and leaving the link to your post – very interesting!

    Tracy (Gentle Reader) – Thanks! I wasn’t about to take on L.A. in literature; I wouldn’t even know where to start! Memphis was a much more manageable subject :-).