Known for his historical novels like 7,000 Clams and The Up and Up, Irby changes course with Unreliable, a dark comedy that, well, you're not sure you can trust. Irby, a professor of history at Eckerd College, is a native Virginian raised in Richmond. He graduated with degrees in English and history from the University of Virginia. Unreliable is set in Richmond and just happens to focus on the city's well-known statue of Robert E. Lee.
"I started writing about the Lee statue three years ago. People have actually said to me, 'Wow, your book seems to be coming true,' " Irby said. "Of course, it's not, but artistically for me it has been interesting. The recent events in Charlottesville, as a Southerner, have to me been sickening.''
Irby will be a featured author at the 2017 Times Festival of Reading on Nov. 11.
What's on your nightstand?
If you caught me in the summer it would have been different, but now it is The Legacy of Luna by Julia Butterfly Hill. She is the young woman back in the 1990s who protected and sat in a redwood tree for a few years. It's a look at how she was dealing with a polarized world. They wanted her down from the tree. They sent helicopters after her. She was trying to find common ground. She tried to connect through music, through family.
It's interesting also to be reading about this event before social media existed. It showed how important radio was to get the word out. Now there would be something like the Facebook Tree Group page set up for her, or something like that. I'm re-reading it, and it is still very compelling.
I am also reading Personality: What Makes You the Way You Are by Daniel Nettle. It's part of the Oxford Science Series. It's a great book, and I'd recommend it. It's based on science and research and talks about how homo sapiens seem to aggregate around five personality traits. It's not new-agey.
So two topics you know much about: Virginia and the country's struggle with racial history, and Florida and environmental issues. What would you encourage people to read concerning these two topics?
For the environment, the best book I have read recently was Jack Davis' book, The Gulf. (Davis will also be at the Festival of Reading.) If you are going to live on the Gulf of Mexico or near it, it will change your perception on just about everything. It's just such a masterful book. It will help you understand the dynamics going on.
As far as race, How Free Is Free: The Long Death of Jim Crow by Leon F. Litwack. For today's conversations we are having, it's very useful. It is a readable work by a major historian.
Contact Piper Castillo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Florida_PBJC.