Blount’s essay collection dishes up delicious humor

  • By Carole Goldberg / The Hartford Courant
  • Saturday, May 19, 2007 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

H ere’s Roy Blount Jr. on the typical table chatter at a bountiful Southern meal:

“Mm. Mmm. Mm.”

“More rolls, anybody?”

“I think this is all I can hold.”

“You better eat some more of this good chicken.”

“No’m, I got to save room for pie.”

“There’s pie? All this and pie?”

That’s pretty much how most readers will feel upon sitting down to Blount’s latest collection of essays, “Long Time Leaving: Dispatches From Up South,” which is so chock-full of interesting, provocative and downright funny material that it cannot possibly be consumed at one sitting. Or several sittings, to be truthful.

Essay collections are like that – best nibbled at over time, the better to savor the flavor and absorb all the mental nutrition.

Blount, who grew up in Georgia, has degrees from Vanderbilt and Harvard universities and now divides his time between western Massachusetts and Manhattan, so he’s nothing if not bicultural. He can talk red to blue-staters and blue to red-staters. Both would do well to pay attention.

He’s also nothing if not prolific. “Long Time” is his 20th book – the list includes a biography of Robert E. Lee, “Crackers,” “About Three Bricks Shy of a Load” and “Feet on the Street: Rambles Around New Orleans” – and he has written for just about every major magazine, not to mention for TV and films, in which he also has acted. He’s a contributing editor for The Atlantic Monthly, president of the Author’s Guild, a usage consultant for American Heritage Dictionary and a panelist on NPR’s quiz show, “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me.”

So you can understand why the man gets a little ticked off when some Northerners condescendingly tag him with the soft bigotry of low expectations, seemingly dumbfounded to find a Southerner who is liberal, literate and likable.

He describes himself as “a pre-baby boom liberal Southern Democrat residing in semirural Massachusetts” and says:

“My roots are Southern, I sound Southern, I love a lot of Southern stuff, and when my (Northern) local paper announces a festival to ‘celebrate the spirit of differently abled dogs’ I react as a Southerner. I believe I care as much about dogs’ feelings as anybody. It is hard for me to imagine that a dog with three legs minds being called a three-legged dog.”

Blount probably would get a little defensive if you told him this collection makes him sound a bit defensive, but he gives ample reason he should feel that way.

But this is no whine fest. It’s far too amusing for that, but it’s the kind of amusing that’s built on a solid foundation of serious inquiry. Blount takes us along as he examines Southern food, Smoky Mountain dialects, Krispy Kreme donuts, American politicians, the derivation of the song “Shortnin’ Bread,” the making of the movie “Nashville,” the genius of Mark Twain, the impenetrability of Wallace Stevens’ poetry and oh-so-many more topics.

He shines as he takes novelist Jane Smiley to task for saying Twain’s masterpiece, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” was inferior to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Blount not so gently mocks Smiley’s contentions, effectively taking Twain’s side in this Nook Farm Celebrity Death Match. He decides it all harks back to Twain having poked fun at a couple of characters named Smiley in “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

He explains the Methodism of his youth, but says he is now a “cumgranosalist” – “taking things literally but with a grain of salt.”

He tells us that irony is what you use to talk behind someone’s back to their face.

The book is full of such tasty morsels. It’ll fill you up for a good long time.

“Mm. Mmm. Mm.”

Talk to us

More in Life

Kotor's zigzagging town wall rewards climbers with a spectacular view. (Cameron Hewitt / Rick Steves' Europe)
Rick Steves: Just south of Dubrovnik lies unpolished Montenegro

One of Europe’s youngest nations offers dramatic scenery, locals eager to show off their unique land, and a refreshing rough-around-the-edges appeal.

Dark gray wheels and black exterior accents provide extra visual appeal for the 2024 Subaru Impreza’s RS trim. (Subaru)
2024 Subaru Impreza loses a little, gains a lot

The brand’s compact car is fully redesigned. A couple of things are gone, but many more have arrived.

TSR image for calendar
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

This weekend in Snohomish: The Snohomish Blues Invasion and the Snohomish Studio Tour 2023.

Made by Bruce Hutchison, the poster for “A Momentary Diversion on the Road to the Grave” is an homage to 1985 classic “The Goonies.” (Photo provided)
Indie film premiering on Whidbey Island

Filmed almost entirely on Whidbey Island, “A Momentary Diversion on the Road to the Grave” is set to premiere in Langley.

TSR image only
Does your elementary school child have ADHD?

It’s important to identify children with this condition so we can help them succeed in school.

This photo provided by OceanGate Expeditions shows a submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic. In a race against the clock on the high seas, an expanding international armada of ships and airplanes searched Tuesday, June 20, 2023, for the submersible that vanished in the North Atlantic while taking five people down to the wreck of the Titanic. (OceanGate Expeditions via AP)
A new movie based on OceanGate’s Titan submersible tragedy is in the works: ‘Salvaged’

MindRiot announced the film, a fictional project titled “Salvaged,” on Friday.

A clump of flowering ornamental grass or pennisetum alopecuroides in an autumn garden.
My garden runneth over with fountain grasses, and for good reason

These late-blooming perennials come in many varieties. They work well as accents, groundcovers, edgings or in containers.

This Vacasa rental is disgusting. Can I get my money back?

The vacation rental Carol Wilson books for her group through Vacasa is infested with rats and insects. Vacasa offers to refund one night, but can they get all of their money back?

A woman diverts from her walk on Colby Avenue to take a closer look at a pickup truck that was partly crushed by a fallen tree during an overnight wind storm Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in north Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / Herald file)
Storm season is coming. Here’s how to prepare for power outages.

The most important action you can take is to make an emergency preparedness kit.

Do you prefer green or red grapes? This antique Moser pitcher is decorated with enameled grapevines on shaded red-to-green glass.
Grapevine pitcher was made by renowned Bohemian company

Also, queries about grandmother’s coffee set and late husband’s Beatles records and memorabilia collection.

The city of Mukilteo is having a naming contest for its new $75,000 RC Mowers R-52, a remote-operated robotic mower. (Submitted photo)
Mukilteo muncher: Name the $75,000 robot mower

The city is having a naming contest for its new sod-slaying, hedge-hogging, forest-clumping, Mr-mow-it-all.

Death of parent with child. Piece of paper with parents and children is torn in half.
Helping children cope with the hard realities of divorce

I’s important to set aside one’s feelings and find a way to make this challenging transition as comfortable for children as you can.