“And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

And satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

Then your light will rise in the darkness,

And your night will become like the noonday.”

— Isiah 58:10

The setting of Desperation Road is a short stretch of highway in Mississippi between Magnolia and McComb near the Louisiana state line. It is a rural area and other than the Fernwood Truck Stop and the Armadillo bar, there is nothing of interest ... just closed stores, a bus station and a half-way house. This is where Michael Farris Smith’s characters spend their time in a desperate search for peace or redemption. They are all defeated and bear the scars of their encounters.

In Charles Martin’s novel A Life Intercepted (Center Street Publishers, 2014, 326 pages), college senior Matthew “the Rocket” Rising has everything going for him. He’s one of the best college quarterbacks the gridiron has ever seen, the NFL has made him the number one pick in the draft, and various sports companies are salivating to have The Rocket endorse their products. Best of all, Matthew is married to Audrey, his high school sweetheart, his helpmate and anchor whose love for him seems bottomless. 

In 2011, William Forstchen’s apocalyptic novel, One Second After, appeared on best-seller lists. After reading for review this story of an EMP strike on the United States and the struggles of the residents of Black Mountain, North Carolina, to survive in a world without electricity, my first impulse was to rush to my neighborhood Ingles Market and fill my car with canned goods, dried foods, and medical supplies. This vivid account of death, destruction, and suffering in One Second After scared the hoot out of me.

In Jennifer Frick-Ruppert’s statement of intent at the back of her book, The Legend of Skyco, she states “While this is a story of fiction, I have adhered to the factual information that is available about the Carolinian Algonquins — the names, the cultural customs from historical records and natives of the Southeast, as well as accurate biological detail.”

Just after I bought The Weight of the World, I ran into an old friend of mine who is extremely well-read, and since I knew that he had already read the book and since I value his opinion, I asked, “So, what did you think?”

Having given up listening to the dreadful music and talk shows available in my car radio, last week I popped the first disc of Pat Conroy’s South Of Broad into my CD player. Since that auspicious moment, I have driven around town and countryside besotted by words, loop-legged with sentences, schnockered by syntax, blasted, blitzed, bombed and blotto with language. Were a state trooper to pull me over and administer a roadside test for verbal inebriation, nightfall would find me sleeping off my drunken spree in the local slammer.

You’re stuck. 

It’s your boss’ birthday, your nephew’s graduation from high school, your cousin’s promotion at work, and you need to buy a gift. You enjoy reading and books, and want to give them a present in line with your own interests.

In The Jealous Kind (Simon and Schuster, 2016, 400 pages, $27.99), novelist James Lee Burke drops his readers into Houston, Texas, in the 1950s: drive-in restaurants, jukeboxes, duck-tailed punks, jacked-up cars, and teenagers discovering the tangled moral code of the adult world into which they are about to enter.

Readers of this column know I am a sucker for books about books. Novels like The Little Paris Bookshop, collections of reviews by such notables as Michael Dirda and Nick Hornsby, books touting other books like Book Lust, memoirs like The Reading Promise: My Father And The Books We Shared, all reach out from the shelves of bookstores or libraries, grab me by the shirt collar, and demand to be taken home, read, and reviewed.

“Casablanca.”

For some, that name evokes a city in Morocco, an urban center of four million people quartering one of the more important economies in all of Africa.

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