Winter reads focus on the South, Mississippi authors

If cold temperatures and gray days are keeping you inside this winter, there are several books with an emphasis on our region to take your mind off what's outside.

'Southern Living 50 Years: A Celebration of People, Places and Culture' (Oxmoor House, $40)

OK, so this coffee table-sized book isn't the easiest to curl up with, but for fans of the iconic magazine, this is an exciting release. It's not an exhaustive collection of articles, but a combination of photography, essays, a nostalgic glance at past covers, and, of course, some of the most popular recipes published over the past half century -- including the recipe for sweet and rich Hummingbird Cake. A celebration of the South is a good description. Essays are by Southern writers such as John Currence, Julia Reed, John Huey, Bobby McAlpine and April Reynolds.

'Uniting Mississippi: Democracy and Leadership in the South' by Eric Thomas Weber (University Press of Mississippi, $20 paperback)

Fixing Mississippi's poverty problem starts with education, but improving the education system in the poorest state in America is equally a challenge -- an apparent dilemma the author says can be overcome. Weber sees a caste system in education and says applying good leadership in general and democratic leadership in particular is needed to raise Mississippi's education and economic levels. Four social virtues -- wisdom, courage, moderation and justice -- are used to address particular problems. Former governor William F. Winter has written the foreword.

'Black Wings Has My Angel' by Elliott Chaze (New York Review Books, $12.95 paperback)

Elliott Chaze (1915-1990) has a small but loyal cult following, not only in the crime noir genre but also among Mississippi residents. Chaze was city editor of the Hattiesburg American from 1970 to 1980; wrote for magazines such as Collier's, Redbook and The New Yorker; and wrote several novels. Many of his books' characters were thinly disguised Hattiesburg-area people, and regional readers enjoyed guessing who was who. One of his most-respected works, "Black Wings Has My Angel," first published in 1954 with the Gold Medal books imprint, has been reissued with an introduction by screenwriter and novelist Barry Gifford. Tim Sunblade, a prison escapee, is planning a heist, which needs a second person. Enter Virginia, a "ten-dollar tramp" whose main interest is "drifts of money, lumps of it." This surprisingly well-spoken partner in crime could make or break him.

'It Was the Bottom of the Fifth and the Bassist Was Loaded: A Collection by Timothy C. Lockley' (The Merry Blacksmith Press, $12 paperback)

Tim Lockley, Sun Herald columnist and cartoonist, offers a fifth collection of punny cartoons, sight gags and just plain laughs. To wit: A groom carries his golf club bag over the threshold of the honeymoon suite while his bride follows; bottles and jars of ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard hover over a man's head, with "For the rest of his life, Vern would swear that he had seen flying sauces..."; two cows chew on grass as one asks, "We got any more of that ranch dressing?"; an obviously inebriated man asks the bartender, "Do I come here often?" There are more than 300 one-frame cartoons in the latest collection.

'Mississippians in the Great War: Selected Letters,' compiled and edited by Anne L. Webster (University Press of Mississippi, $65)

World War I often gets overshadowed by its younger relatives. Anne Webster, retired director of reference services at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, has scoured the "Letters Home" section of several Mississippi newspapers of the period and collected letters from sailors, soldiers, aviators and relief workers. Spelling and punctuation as well as grammar have been left as they were printed in their local papers. The letters include one from Randolph William Nicaise (sic) to the editor of the Bay St. Louis Sea Coast Echo in 1918 and one from Theodore J. Ames to the editor of the Ocean Springs Jackson County Times in 1918; most of the letters come from newspapers in Natchez, Greenville and Pontotoc. They provide fascinating insight into the lives of ordinary people serving in what became known as The Great War. The book also could be of interest to those involved in genealogical research.

'Right to Revolt: The Crusade for Racial Justice in Mississippi's Central Piney Woods' by Patricia Michelle Boyett; University Press of Mississippi, $65

Patricia Boyett is a visiting assistant professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, where she teaches courses in comparative studies of oppression and resistance. In "Right to Revolt," she uses

the 1966 Vernon Dahmer case to argue that Forrest County was not a moderate haven in a state with a reputation for extreme racism. Klansmen murdered Dahmer, a civil rights leader who was active and vocal in voter registration. Local authorities, who had attempted to maintain their moderate reputation for years, emphasized the killers were not from Forrest County. Boyett's book links Klan activities in both Forrest and Jones counties.

'Hanging Bridge: Racial Violence and America's Civil Rights Century' by Jason Morgan Ward (Oxford University Press, May 2016, $29.95)

There's a bridge in Clark County known as The Hanging Bridge. In 1918, four young blacks -- two brothers and two sisters -- were hanged there by a white mob. Almost a quarter century later, two black teens were hanged there after a white girl accused them of rape. In "Hanging Bridge," Ward, an associate professor of history at Mississippi State University, says the violence didn't end with the last lynching at The Hanging Bridge, in 1942. "We find a narrative more complicated than a steady march toward freedom," he writes. "That story allows us to see more clearly black protests across generations, the connection between racial terrorism and subtler forms of repression, and a more truthful, if less triumphant narrative."

'By Accident of Birth' by Thomas E. Simmons. TouchPoint Press, $17.98

This novel by Gulfport resident Tom Simmons tells the epic story of Beverly Bethany Quinn. In 1915, she receives a call from the British Crown saying she is in possession of a cache of arms stored in her sugar mill warehouse in Cuba, where she was raised by her Uncle Jonathan. In preparation for the trip to Cuba, she re-reads diaries kept by her mother and a Dr. Perkins of Vicksburg, who kept a secret about her mother, Annielise Quinn, ever since the siege of Vicksburg in 1863.