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The Road Less Traveled

For my thirteenth Christmas, my parents gave me a copy of travel writer Richard Halliburton’s Complete Book of Marvels which ignited my young imagination like nothing before or since. I was gobsmacked by Halliburton’s global exploits and stunning photography, not to mention a man daring (or foolish) enough to scale the Matterhorn off-season, leap 70 feet into the Mayan sacrificial pool at Chichen Itza and swim the Panama Canal! Such derring-do made headlines around the world and had special resonance because Halliburton, like myself, was a native Tennessean. His tantalizing adventures transported me to worlds well beyond my backyard and set me on a path continuing to this day. Born into a well-to-do Memphis family in 1900, Halliburton took a hiatus...

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The Wild Man, The Goat Woman & the Mississippi Miser

Southerners didn’t write the book on eccentricity, but we’ve certainly supplied literature with more than our share of audacious characters and plots. From the Lesters of Tobacco Road and Boo Radley, to Ignatius J. Reilly and the denizens of Yoknapatawpha County, Dixie has produced a bumper crop of picaresque folk. Fiction, however, rarely eclipses fact. The real-life 1932 Goat Castle Murder in Natchez, Mississippi, was the perfect paradigm, screwy and sensational enough to demand, for the first time in American history, two special tourist trains to a crime scene. It seemed few could resist murder mixed with madness, wealth, incest and dizzying falls from grace, not to mention the quirky charms of the Wild Man, the Goat Woman and the Mississippi Miser, plus a...

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King Author

Late author Florence King (1936-2016) was Fredericksburg’s most famous resident and the neighbor I most wanted to meet. I’ve been a fan since 1975 when I found her book Southern Ladies and Gentlemen as tangy as a bowl of perfectly seasoned Hoppin’ John. Her adroitness at simultaneously celebrating and vivisecting herds of sacred cattle left me reeling, and, as a fellow Southerner sharing Virginia roots, she also had me laughing my ass off. That book was followed by Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady which convinced me that this shamelessly rowdy misanthrope was Dixie’s answer to Dorothy Parker. Defining herself as “slightly to the right of Vlad the Impaler,” Miss King (as she preferred to be called) spent over four decades skewering anything and...

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