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  1. Books

Rick Bragg is reading James Lee Burke, Carl Hiaasen and Southern history

Bragg is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who divides his time between writing books and articles for such publications as Southern Living, and teaching his craft at the University of Alabama. Bragg's books include It's All Over but the Shoutin', Ava's Man and The Prince of Frogtown. Bragg's most recent book is a food memoir, The Best Cook in the World: Tales From My Momma's Table. He is also a former Tampa Bay Times journalist who reminisced about his former home in a recent phone chat. "I had a little apartment near (Clearwater Harbor), and I'd love to go down to the water and just watch the mullet jump," said Bragg, 59. "My apartment was called the Venetian Gardens, and it is one of my all-time favorite places I have ever lived."

On April 9, Bragg will be in conversation with Times book editor Colette Bancroft at the Tampa Theatre. For information, visit tampatheatre.com.

What's on your nightstand?

Well, I am about a quarter-way through Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. It's a little bit of a plodder. It ain't going real fast. I just read Carl Hiaasen's Bad Monkey and James Lee Burke's Jesus Out to Sea. James Lee Burke is like pork chops and gravy. When it comes to reading, I'm at the point now that I am very selfish about it. I won't always read what people say I got to read. I wrote the foreword to Doug Jones' book, Bending Towards Justice. It is on the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing. I had read pieces of the thing in its many incarnations, and when I finally sat down and read it whole I thought it was pulled from the pages of history. Of course, we here all grew up with what happened. It is still our nightmare.

What do you encourage students to read to get a better understanding of the civil rights era?

I think that young people just need to learn their history. They need to know to get beyond the rhetoric of New Wave pseudo-history. I think they would do well by reading To Kill a Mockingbird. There is a sermon there, but I'd tell them the book is so well-written you don't mind taking it in. They also should go further. Read Ron Rash's poetry on the Appalachian South, about millworkers and the working class. Also, I just remembered that on my nightstand I also have Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans. I recommend it. It is wonderful.

Where do you think Southern literature is going in the 21st century, with so much of the Deep South's landscape changing, both physically and emotionally?

It is changing. I think there is not that string of just breathtaking book after book after breathtaking book like there used to be. There is no glorious kind of legend behind the books so much now, like there was behind, say, Thomas Wolfe and Max Perkins. With Wolfe, I'll stop and pull out You Can't Go Home Again and read a few pages and it enriches my very thought process. I don't usually say things like that. But it wakes me up. Pat Conroy was masterful. I am still sad that we lost him.

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