DEEP SOUTH. Traveling with a fellow booklover: Paul Theroux covers it all, from God to guns to poverty.


“Reading made me a traveler; travel sent me back to books.” DEEP SOUTH is the tenth travel book by Paul Theroux. He has been around the world; this is his first travel expedition into the deepest parts of the United States’ rural south. He carefully, and often colorfully, describes such events as driving by the Family Dollar, noticing the “support coal” signs, stopping in to craft shops and budget hotels. His stops are disparate: often covering common themes, yet wide-ranged in their stories.

This book is much more than just about travel.

Theroux captures the events shaping a country, from the Indian doctors in Appalachia on H-1B visas, the voter ID bill, the waving the confederate flag, and the burning of churches. Keep in mind, he wrote this before Obama won his second election. Theroux’s observations and predictions continue to reverberate throughout the land today.

His travel log includes four separate trips to the south, in four different seasons of the year. Spaced between his trips are three interludes of his reflections, covering everything from the “n” word to Faulkner and the misnomer of Southern Fiction (include “gothic”). He’s both a well-read and a well-traveled man. We as readers are benefited from both.

deep south routes


“And even in the poorest places in America, where there are shacks and rotting house trailers, the roads are wonderful.” One of the major themes of Theroux is the paradox of the South. The people are friendly, yet cautious. The churches are burnt, yet come back stronger. Colleges abound, yet racism is far from gone.

Theroux is timely poignant. He carries these paradoxes and waves them as flags of mystery. In one meeting, he talks about a lady whose daughter just earned her law degree. That ladies church in Greensboro was burnt down by the Ku Klux Klan. Yes, was around 2012, not the mid-1900s. Harvard Magazine states that there are “several dozen church-burnings per year”.

Not only is Theroux observant, he presents everything with documentation and examples from either literature or studies.


While most of Charleston’s tourists make their way to plantations or Fort Sumter, Paul Theroux goes to the Gun and Knife Expo. “No one on earth—none I had ever seen—is more polite than a person at a gun show…more eager to smile, more accommodating, less likely to step on your toe.” Here, though he is a stranger from out-of-state, he can buy an AK-47 for $1,500. A private sale.

Along with guns, God is prevalent. He is a driving force, a local passion. “What made a Sunday in the South complete was a church service, a gun show, or a football game.” Right up there with the passion for church was the passion for the pigskin. “Tuscalooga was in the grip of something more intense than a carnival.” “A riotous hooting tribal rite possessed the whole town…”



Theroux writes there is a Gullah expression, “Nu man, yanna weep-dee we dan-ya!” Meaning, “No man, you’re up there and I’m down here.” What is the most disheartening of his travels is the disparity of the land. He writes that there are 1 in 4 children in Arkansas considered “food deprived”. He points out that while groups like the Clinton Foundation sends hundreds of millions to Africa, Latin America, and India, not much gets funneled to help those in need in the South.

“When I checked, the figure for food insecurity in Arkansas was exactly the same as that for Sri Lanka, an island that was struggling to overcome the effects of a recent and long-lasting ethnic war.”

There’s a lot of overlooked history of the South. Such as Denmark Vesey, a slave who won the lottery and bought his own freedom in 1822. He led a slave revolt in South Carolina, larger than that of Nat Turner’s. Or that of the police shooting three black students dead as they ran away from their peaceful protest—just three years prior to Kent State. Orangeburg’s South Carolina State University’s protest was of racial discrimination (still persistent after the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act); Kent State’s protest was against the war.



“Want some deep-fried pie?”
“Never had it.”
“You’ll love it. Chocolate pie. We wrap it in pastry and deep-fry it crispy. Why are you smiling sir?”

I really appreciated my time with Paul Theroux. Though I grew up near parts of the South and lived and taken trips there, I have not ventured nearly into the depths of Theroux. In retrospect, I would have loved an index. His stories are so disparate, including times where he would revisit locales. An index would have helped me go back and find what I was curious about. Footnotes would have been sweet, too. He often quotes from incredible sources, including many books I want to follow-up and read.

Books are for our adventure and fascination. Theroux fulfills their greatest promises in DEEP SOUTH.

DEEP SOUTH is already generating some great coverage:

NOTE:  Steve McCurry took many pictures of Theroux’s trip that are in high-quality glossy pages in the back of this book. The reverend’s Bible and the home with no plumbing or running water are both McCurry’s pictures from this book.

Finally, here’s a quote from the book. Theroux about his travels to the South:

“What inspired my trip through the Deep South was the notion that as a traveler the people I had been meeting in Africa and India and elsewhere were more and more familiar to me. I am not speaking about the common humanity but their circumstances. Many Americans were just as poor as many Africans, or as confined in rural communities as many Indians; they were as remote from anyone caring about them, too, without access to decent housing or medical care; and there were portions of America, especially in the rural South, that resembled what is often thought of as the Third World.”

**Yes, those are MY FEET in the first photo.

Follow me on Instagram for more picture of my feet. Follow me on Twitter for Karate Kid GIFs and book talk.

Friendship Friday: How to create book reviews that write themselves.

Last week I created a post about getting free books from big publishers, including links on contacting them. This week, I’m making things easy for you: creating reviews that write themselves (almost). Granted, this won’t turn you into Ron Charles, but maybe someday…or even better!


I’ve run into several people who are nervous about writing a good review because they got a free book from a publisher. Two things:

  1. The publishers rarely read your reviews.
  2. Everyone else rarely reads your reviews. says that only 2 out of 10 people that click on your posts actually read them. If you don’t believe me, let’s take two quick tests. First, here’s my review of Jonathan Franzen’s PURITY. Did you click the link? No? Point proven. You did? But you didn’t read the whole review, right? Point proven. Second, have you ever hit “like” on a Facebook post that your friend posted of their 3-year-old daughter in a ballet recital (but you didn’t really watch the video)? Point proven.

Here’s a great comedy sketch from comedian Louis CK about that same thing:

In my review of SUPERBETTER, Jane McGonigal says that we can reprogram our brains by telling ourselves that our nervousness is energy. It works! I’ve also found that having a plan helps, too.


I love book quotes. Warning: sometimes book quotes can bog you down. Capture your favorites and log them. If you want to be really lazy (aka cheating) you can go to Goodreads and see some of the best quotes from your favorite book, selected by the community.

If you followed the advice I gave last week about getting free books, you may have discovered that many publishers include press releases or publicity sheets. These may include anything from a longer version of the book’s description to copies of news coverage. It’s awesome! Some people may balk at possible “spoilers”, but I prefer to call them a roadmap of what you’ll be reading. They help you read faster and retain more.


In one sentence (come on Twitter users!!) come up with the one thing you want to tell other people about the book. The more salacious or captivating, the better. If you want to tell us about the sex scene with the Martian queen, awesome!

This may be the most difficult part of writing the review. That’s a good thing. This exercise will inspire you and set a direction for the rest of the review. The co-founder of Twitter said that confinement inspires creativity. Give yourself one sentence to get our attention; you’ll be amazed at how everything flows from this.


Book reviews are like the cheesy movie trailers from the 80s. The best reviews give a flavor of the book with a bit of commentary. Like those trailers from yesteryear, you’ll get scenes from the movie/book and you’ll get narrative that tells you what to expect. Look back at the headline you wrote and now write down three or more bullets that capture the main themes from the book.

Let’s pretend we’re going to review THE KARATE KID, the book. The headline may be: “Can a kid find love and win the karate championship?” Your subheadings might include:

  • Bullied in L.A.
  • Karate fixes all
  • True love (note: ALWAYS have a subheading about love)
  • Wax on, wax off


Remember your bucket of quotes that you collected? Dump them out! Give your subheadings some space and put the quotes in, under the appropriate subheading.

Let’s go back to THE KARATE KID for example:

  • Bullied in L.A.
    “Friend? Oh, yeah, those guys.”
    “No the problem is, I’m getting my ass kicked every other day, that’s the problem.”
  • Karate fixes all
    “Go, find balance….Banzai, Daniel-san!”
    “Karate come from China…hundred year later, Miyagi ancestor bring to Okinawa.”
    “I thought it came from Buddhist temples and stuff like that.”
    “You too much TV”
  • True love
    “Hey, you got a name?” “Ali…with an I. Hey, what’s your name?”
    “Why next time?” “Because we didn’t bring a bathing suit!”
  • Wax on, wax off
    “Make block. Left, right. Up, down. Side, side. Breathe in, breathe out. And no scare fish.”


You don’t have to be a grammar wiz to string this together. Say something you like or something you don’t like about the book, and then lead to a quote. Say something about the book’s premise or happenings, then lead to another quote. Bounce from quote to quote until you feel you’ve completed the picture.

Don’t feel like you have to use all the quotes. Don’t use any if you don’t want. They are there to help you if you want them. Make sure there’s plenty of YOU in the review. Talk to ME. It’s a conversation of you, telling me, about the book. These are tools to help you.


As you can tell, I enjoy a good GIF image. I’ve also been known to include links to other reviewers, outside sources, and my own, horribly drawn pictures. It’s all about telling the story. The more pictures and media you include, the less people read, the more people say “great review”. Read that last sentence again. It’s true. (Admit it: you do it, too.)

For example, here’s my favorite music from THE KARATE KID. No, it’s not “you’re the best…there is….”. It’s the beautiful song that plays as Daniel practices his crane kick on the beach in front of the setting sun.

Fast forward to about 1:20 into the video for the MOST BEAUTIFUL music and scenery you’ve ever witnessed.

Indie Thursday: Battle of the Bulge

Last week I started a segment reviewing indie, self-published, small publisher books. Remember: THE MARTIAN was originally self-published! Fellow book bloggers, take heed of those emails in your inbox, you may have the next Matt Damon on your hands. Or something like that.

BTW: here’s Andy Weir’s “ask me anything” on reddit today.




Glenn Livingston must have seen my review of The Tapping Solution for Weight Loss (for women). This book is a more machismo, more demonstrative approach to weight loss. He determines that “ALL of your fat thinking shall be deemed “the Pig!”” and that you have to learn “to cold-heartedly ignore its squeals.” This book isn’t about acceptance or comfort, this is a book about taking control. Like a man.

Livingston takes the approach like The Diet Fix, where he doesn’t create a diet for you, but “cementing our ability to stick with the Food Plan of your choice.” He uses the metaphor of “the Pig” throughout, looking at food outside of your plan as “That’s Pig Slop…and I will Never Eat Pig Slop Again!” He wants there to be no ambiguousness in your plan. He wants to know that you will, not that you can. He wants you to “cage the Pig and let it suffer!”

He does have a section that is optional reading where he offers his learning. Mainly, “whole, unprocessed, organic plant foods–and a modest amount of organic animal protein.” Again, this is able to be skipped and not part of the theme and function of the book.

Livingston is also very generous with the plans and worksheets and extras that he offers for free on his site While I typically like the softer, more gender neutral approach to weight control and health, his techniques do prove useful for controlling my inner pig.

Though there are many days when I just want to celebrate who I am:


Philip Caravella’s book is cut-and-dry. He’s been a doctor for a long time, specializing in weight loss, health, fitness, and diabetes management. He takes all of his findings and puts them in a book. The chapters are topic to topic. There are bullets and underlines and everything is easy to digest. There’s just no pizazz. You won’t find this on Oprah.

From my research on weight loss and management, his ideas are on par. Much of the same in what I found in EAT MOVE SLEEP. The basics are:

  • Eat fewer calories than you need, or
  • Increase your current activity and eat the same, or
  • Decrease your current calories and exercise more.

Straight forward. “Moderation is key in nearly all aspects of a healthy and useful life.” He has the typical provider approach to saturated fats and carbs, despite some of the recent evidence found in books like The Big Fat Surprise. It’s all even keel.

The only thing I noted about this book is that the chapters seemed out of order. The first chapters talked about dietary options in schools and control of diabetes, then he spoke about exercise, then toward the end he talked about diet and controlled eating.

Short version: don’t over do it (even mindlessly).

Why is Margaret Atwood one of our most relevant authors? A book review of THE HEART GOES LAST

When death’s poison courses through its victim: the body twitches, the breathing stops, the brain shuts down…the heart goes last. Margaret Atwood is the master of poignant tales. The foolhardy believes this just a story; the wise take note of her warnings.

THE HEART GOES LAST is not driven by characters; it is driven by simple twists of fate. A few screws tightened differently. Atwood’s machine looks real—the scariest version of dystopian literature.


Stan and Charmaine were the perfect newlywed couple with stable jobs and a beautiful house. A few bumps in the internet-driven economy turned their life around. Stan now felt his life was “pursued by bad luck, as if bad luck is a feral dog, lurking along behind him, following his scent” His wife, comforted by her grandmother’s nostalgic advice tried to hold onto the belief that “most people are good underneath if they have a chance to show their goodness”.

Those beliefs are hard to hold onto after “another midnight, another parking lot.” Fearful of having their last possessions stolen and their own bodies vandalized, the stressed couple sought refuge in the Positron Project. Together they could live in the Town of Consilience, where there’s a restaurant called Together, just down the street from Harmony Hotel.

Of course they longed for Happy Days.


“It’s a long time since Stan has encountered that muffling layer of smiling and nodding.” For an exchange of prison living, which was more like a work camp, Stan could usher his bride into a 1950s style neighborhood. Bright, cheerful, uncompromised.

“The main deal is the prison. Prisons used to be about punishment, and then reform and penitence…” National debts overflow, school loans go unbound, and prisons are run for profit. Keep in mind: this is the book. Sound familiar? Atwood even addresses our—I mean, her world’s—healthcare system, “Grandma Win refused to go to the hospital…She said it would cost too much.”

The future seemed so bright and full of potential. How could it get much worse? The project had a plan. Oh yeah, and “full production has begun on the new and improved sexbots.”


“They wanted her to use her head and discard her heart; but it wasn’t so easy, because the heart goes last.” In typical Atwood fashion, relationships are tested and the future goes awry. “Everyone has a shadow side, even fluffpots like her.”

The keys to Atwood’s kingdom is to realize the potential and the power, both in marriage and relationships as well as society and governments. Her advocacy on Twitter is evidence to her passion for being on guard, but if anything else: aware. Like HANDMAID’S TALE, Atwood shows in THE HEART GOES LAST the relevance of current issues and what lies beneath.

Margaret’s notes:

Be sure to check out LitHub’s selection from THE HEART GOES LAST, where Atwood annotates many parts, including about the rich affording police and the poor not having access to healthcare.

Also, Open Culture has a cartoon version of Atwood talking about how technology is shaping the modern writer.

And thanks to Bloomsbury UK for sharing the percentiles of elements in this book:


Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Reasons I Love the Fall Season

I’ve fallen accustomed to these Top Ten Tuesday posts. There’s a lot more bumping around in my head than book reviews. It’s still mostly books, though. Here’s my 10 reasons to love the Fall season.

1: New Book Discoveries

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have already come across these excellent lists of Fall books:

Amazon’s Fall Review Preview
Goodreads Picks Fall’s Biggest Books
Vulture’s 46 Books to Read This Fall

For me, some of the new authors & books I’ll be discovering are THE SECRET CHORD, AND WEST IS WEST, ALL THE STARS IN HEAVEN, and THE WITCHES. And that’s just some of the books I’ll be reading is just October! (If you haven’t already, check out Lisa See’s review of THE WITCHES on Traveling with T’s site as part of #30Authors.)

2: Books With Diversity!

Two books came out today featuring LBGTQ protagonists: UNDER THE UDALA TREES and AFTER THE PARADE. One is set in 1968 Nigeria where the punishment for having a same sex partner is punishable by stoning–or worse! The other is set in modern day, where a man who has never been alone in 40 years of life sets off on a journey of self discovery, leaving his longtime partner.

3: Stephen King

His writing kicked-off my voracious reading habit; he also celebrated a birthday yesterday. He’s been pumping out two books a year lately, too. The Spring book series is part of a crime phase he’s in; the Fall books brings back classic King. 11/22/63 is my favorite of his latest batch of books. This Fall, we’ll see a new collection of short stories.

4: Halloween

You can’t think of Stephen King and the Fall without thinking of Halloween! My kids have already drawn maps of the neighborhood, strategizing the best routes for candy collection. It’s no wonder this holiday is the second highest spending holiday outside of Christmas. People love the crunching leaves, the spookiness, the dark nights, the scary movies and books.

5: Margaret Atwood

Last year was my first Atwood novel! It was a collection of short stories. This year, her new book THE HEART GOES LAST is about to release (expect a review this week). I’m also listening to Claire Danes narrate A HANDMAID’S TALE. On my shelf is a copy of THE BLIND ASSASSIN. All good!

6: Anthony Marra

One of the best books I read last year is Anthony Marra’s A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA. I’ve read part of his next book THE TSAR OF LOVE AND TECHNO and so far it is incredible! Starting in Stalin’s Soviet Union, a man is tasked to erase any history of art or media that conflicts with the regime. The stories build from there in typical Marra style. Like I said, incredible!

7: Fall Fairs

I grew up in Ohio and enjoyed the county fairs. Anywhere I’ve moved in the United States, I’m enjoying the fairs: from Washington State to Connecticut. This year: the Big E! They have everything from 2-foot-long corn dogs to fried butter. Yes, butter that is fried. There’s animals and crafts and rides, too, but lots and lots of food. Don’t worry, no fried butter for me.

8: The Fall Weather

Halloween and the fairs wouldn’t be the same without the cool, sometimes windy, weather. There’s just something about the crispness of the air that adds to the season. Pumpkin-flavor everything and warm spice seasonings add to the traditional Fall foods. The kids’ activities are in full swing: Scouting to ballet.

9: Thanksgiving

There’s plenty to be thankful for this year. Here in the states, it is a special day to connect with family and remember the great year.

10: David Mitchell

Last, but certainly not least, is David Mitchell. No stranger to the Man Booker list, his novels span from CLOUD ATLAS to THE BONE CLOCKS. He has even translated a book from Japanese about autism. This Fall, SLADE HOUSE is due to arrive: spooky house, mysterious timeline. Looks like an excellent addition to the Mitchell lineup.


Note: Don’t forget to enter my contest giving away UNDERMAJORDOMO MINOR!

My review is here.
The contest details are here.

AFTER THE PARADE by Lori Ostlund – A Celebration of Life’s Lonely Misfits – A Book Review

The dwarf with the tusks tells Aaron, “I have little interest in the unbullied masses.” AFTER THE PARADE is a celebration of the bullied minority. It is a celebration of those whose stories are sometimes painful to tell. It is a story of beauty. It is a story of truth. That’s precisely why I love Lori Ostlund’s AFTER THE PARADE.


This book is a celebration of life’s misfits: the foreign, the overweight, the gay. This book is a love letter of understanding for those that have been misunderstood, bullied, or cast aside. This book is for those that understand that “fear…is nothing but a stand-in for prejudice.” Some of the most endearing characters come from the stories of such people like the rapture-obsessed Aunt and the morbidly obese misanthrope (a word that Aaron loves).

What Ostlund writes makes my heart swell with pride and emotion. For the lonely, she understands. “He felt oddly liberated by his loneliness.” Aaron, the book’s protagonist, had never been alone in his 40 years of life. Raised in a small Minnesota town, “Mortonville had existed in a racial vacuum, its citizens not just white but primarily northern European.” At 5, his dad died. At 17, his mom vanished along with the town’s minister. Aaron had spent all of his adult life with his partner in Albuquerque. At page 1 of the novel, Aaron leaves alone for San Francisco.


This is a book that gives you permission to explore who you are and to move and to change. Forgetting the past, finding the future. “It was all a matter of perspective: whether one was focused on leaving or arriving, on the past or the future.”

Aaron’s father died during the town’s parade. His mother was confined to the parts of town no longer crossing the intersection of her husband’s death. Even in the symbolism of a story about a house cat, not allowed to go outside, there is talk of confinement and familiarity: ”There’s no opportunity for how to get lost…You know, there’s something to be said for the security of the familiar, in all its confining glory.”

“Why were they scared?”
“Because people feel scared sometimes when they have to think about the world.”

What happens after the parade? In this book, Aaron’s trip of discovery takes him to San Francisco. For you, Author Lori Ostlund invites you to reach out of your confinements and seek your own discovery.



Ostlund draws upon her own experience as an ESL teacher, making her character Aaron the same. She loves to play with the various meanings of words from Draft Dodgers to the permanence of death–or, more specially, the word “hope”. Hope is a word meant for the future that can often act as a past tense verb. We hope that certain things didn’t happen; we hope that certain things were not true. We hope for a better future.

Aaron loved grammar “the way one loved the uglier child because it required more effort to do so.” Even from childhood, he had an Amelia Bedelia level of fascination with words. Certain words play into different meanings, have different effects. There’s a power in language, both native and foreign, both spoken and non. Ostlund takes every advantage of such.


The Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo says, “Lori Ostlund’s wonderful novel AFTER THE PARADE should come with a set of instructions: Be perfectly still. Listen carefully. Peer beneath every placid surface. Be alive to the possibility of wonder.”

I couldn’t agree more! I love to write down quotes as I read books, but I had to force myself to stop. There are so many layered meanings, so many rich qualities to each story. Don’t expect a point A to point B travel: expect to explore alongside Aaron as he visits his past and moves into his future. There’s so much to love and adore about Aaron and all of his acquaintances. There’s so much to apply to everyday life.


What’s a good story if it doesn’t talk about love? Ostlund explores beyond just parental and marital love: she wants us to examine love of self. You are worthy. You have permission. This is your life. What tragic thing happened during your parade and what are you going to do now that it is over?

“Perhaps that was the nature of love: either a person was not in it enough to care or was in it too deeply to make anything but mistakes.” No matter your situation, I encourage you to read AFTER THE PARADE and discover all of its caveated and deepest of meanings.


If your bookish appetite has yet to be whetted, be sure to check Dead Darlings’s interview with Lori Ostlund. I’m sure you’ll be unable to resist this book after reading through the author’s perspectives.

5 Ways UNDER THE UDALA TREES Tore Apart My Heart—A Book Review


“E’li, E’li, la’ma sab ach tha’ni? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is the question Ijeoma asks in the novel UNDER THE UDALA TREES by Chinelo Okparanta. The year was 1968. Her father was killed in Nigeria’s violent assimilation of Biafra, her mother—at the end of her wits. Tears will fall from your eyes as Ijeoma prays, “Dear God, I want to be happy. Please help me to be happy.”


Not knowing what to do, Ijeoma’s mother sent her away, to be properly cared for and taught. During this separation, Ijeoma fell in love with another girl. This girl: a Hausa girl, someone Ijeoma’s Igbo people would never associate. This girl: a reader of the Koran. All things: an anathema.

We witness Ijeoma’s struggle in finding love, eventually succumbing to the heart-wrenching persuasion of man-woman marriage. The pages are near-impossible to read as the husband struggles to find his love; the pages even more difficult once Ijeoma’s child Chidinma is born.


Punishable by death—stoning—still today in the northern states of Nigeria: loving someone of the same sex. “There’s nothing more important now than for us to begin working on cleansing your soul,” says Ijeoma’s mother. “Nwoke na nwunye. Adam na Eve. Man and wife.” Ijeoma feels of her mother: “In this moment, she felt more like another warden than my own mother, more like a husk—more an emblem of motherhood than motherhood itself.”

It’s not just about a love between two girls: it is about love. “Maybe love was some combination of friendship and infatuation. A deeply felt affection accompanied by a certain sort of awe. And by gratitude. And by a desire for a lifetime of togetherness.”

Two men found naked: beaten to death. A woman: burned alive. “If you set off on a witch-hunt, you will find a witch.”


Author Chinelo Okparanta expertly mixes in her vast knowledge of the Bible, verses all included, as she tells the story of struggle and of love. The mother, Ijeoma, the people all around, each coming to a realization of who God is, where He abides, and the trueness of their hearts.


This is the third book I’ve read that is based in Nigeria. The latest being the multi-award-nominated THE FISHERMEN. I am honored and humbled to be back in Nigeria. Okparanta’s pictures are clear and beautiful. She has a way of relaying the old folk tales that make you a witness to the grandness and simplicity of Nigeria’s finest and scariest elements. It’s mesmerizing.

“The saying goes that wood already touched by fire isn’t hard to set alight.” Aside from the tales are the sayings, each with special, driven-deep meaning. One after another, they sink into your soul.


Okparanta is another gifted author to arise out of the Iowa’s Writing Workshop. Her craftsmanship is evident in her spare and lyrical prose. The short chapters tempt you to flip from one page to the next. The story and the elements all play together, scratching your mind and tearing your heart.

“Sometimes it is hard to know to whom the tragedy really belongs.” UNDER THE UDALA TREES will cause me to ponder this question a long, long time.