If you've read the About Me section of this site, you know that I share destinations and experiences that highlight how Atlanta can show anyone a good time without costing a lot of money. I attend a lot of the events that I feature in the Weekly Hook-up, but on any given night, you're just as likely to find me at home with a book as you are to find me out and about.
For me, reading is a source of entertainment and a means to experience situations, places, and connections that might otherwise be off limits because of physical, temporal, or even financial constraints. With that in mind, I had the idea to create and share an Atlanta-themed summer reading list as yet another illustration of how this city can show anyone a good time for very little money (i.e., through its stories).
I did some crowdsourcing and internet searches to identify books that had some tie to Atlanta - author, setting, characters, etc.. My only other criteria were that the books had to be new to me and accessible to everyone through the local public library systems.
I eventually settled on five books:
1. Bleachy Haired Honky Bitch by Hollis Gillespie
2. Atlanta's Ponce de Leon Avenue by Sharon Foster Jones
3. The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall
4. Ballplayer by Chipper Jones
5. Intersections by Nicki Salcedo
Once I started reading, I realized I could add another dimension to the project by using each book to highlight a physical location or "cheap date" option within the city. So... I did it, I took the pictures to prove it, and you can check out the recap below.
Bleachy Haired Honky Bitch by Hollis Gillespie
This book was first on my list, and you know how some people suck at writing? Well, Hollis Gillespie isn't one of them. In Bleachy Haired Honky Bitch, she tells a series of stories that start out like random journal entries and then morph into figurative expressions of introspective revelations and universal truths.
There are tons of references to Atlanta neighborhoods, landmarks, and notable personalities. Her friends are essentially a who's who of Atlanta artists and business owners, but her stories about them don't come across as a practice in namedropping. Instead, they serve to humanize iconic institutions like Sister Louisa's Church, The Vortex, and Paris on Ponce. As entertaining as it was thought provoking, this book was a solid start. I laughed. I cried. I cringed.
Because Hollis Gillespie previously worked as a flight attendant for Delta, I decided to feature the Delta Flight Museum as the physical destination associated with this book. It's a nicely curated space, much more interesting than you might expect. Docents offer free overview tours (after paid general admission) on Tuesdays at 1 pm, and the museum also hosts an annual after hours beer tasting event called "Hops in the Hangar." Check the museum website to find out when special events are happening or subscribe to the Weekly Hook-up to get reminders from me.
Atlanta's Ponce de Leon Avenue by Sharon Foster Jones
If streets could talk, I feel like Atlanta's Ponce de Leon Avenue would get paid to show up at parties. There's no doubt this street has some interesting stories to tell, so I had high hopes for this book. Unfortunately, the angle taken by Sharon Foster Jones was not what I expected. I'm not really interested in the spatial dimensions of a building, the fact that it sits on 4.2 acres of land, or the revelation that the windows are made of 20,000 panes of glass that utilized one pound of putty per pane. Seriously, those are the kinds of details that comprise about 80% of this book. There are brief mentions of some of the great spots on Ponce like Plaza Theatre, the Majestic Diner, and Clermont Lounge. However, I knew about these places before I read the book, and it didn't really tell me much about them other than their geographic locations. A few moments did hold promise, like when she mentioned that a murder took place in one of the houses on Ponce, and I was like:
"Wait, what? A murder? Can we talk about that for a bit?"
"No, you want to talk more about brickwork and domes on the building?"
She also mentioned that the land that now houses the Alexander on Ponce apartments was formerly the site of a hospital where conditions "reached horror movie levels." Now, I want to know if anyone who has lived at the Alexander on Ponce apartments has any interesting ghost stories.
Despite the fact that this book wasn't particularly enjoyable for me, one thing I took away was a quote from Ferdinand McMillan who built Fort Peace, better known as The Castle:
"Half the world lives a lifetime without ever doing what it wants to. Men and women become so used to imitations or so afraid of ridicule that they live out their lives borrowing ideas and expressions and habits, which before had been borrowed."
On that note, I have to give props to Sharon Foster Jones for doing what she wanted to do and getting this book published. I do think that documenting even the most minute details pertaining to history and architecture serves a purpose. It's just that for a summer read, I like to take my facts with a heavy dose of folklore.
I could have used this book to highlight any of the many interesting establishments along Ponce de Leon Avenue, but I ultimately landed on Three Taverns Brewery because of their A Night on Ponce IPA and because I've never had a bad time there. The beer selection is respectable, there's a photo booth upstairs, and they host a comedy night every 4th Wednesday of the month.
The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall
I didn't read Gone with the Wind until I was an adult living in Atlanta, but I feel like it found me at the right time and immediately claimed a spot among my top 5 favorite books. That said, I wasn't sure how Alice Randall's "unauthorized parody" would sit with me. Still, I decided to give it a read because I wanted to include some fiction in my summer reading list. And honey, The Wind Done Gone was good!
It's not a retelling of the story of Gone with the Wind. Cynara, the main character and love child of Mammy and Planter (Gerald O'Hara), has her own story to tell. She references many of the same characters and some of the events from Gone with the Wind, but the names have been changed for legal reasons. Cynara's story also goes beyond the events of the original story through times when R. (Rhett) is old, Tata (Tara) is crumbling, and Other (Scarlett), well... I'm not going to spoil that one for you. It's a creative take on a classic that left me satisfied, hopeful, and reflective on the notion of sonder.
The choice to feature Margaret Mitchell House with this book was obvious. Margaret Mitchell was a brilliant lady who was seemingly ahead of her time, and the factual accounts of her life are just as fascinating as her fiction. Margaret Mitchell House is the actual location where Margaret Mitchell lived when she wrote Gone with the Wind, and the tour of the house and museum is well worth the small price of admission whether you're a fan of the book or not.
Ballplayer by Chipper Jones
I have been a fan of Chipper Jones since he first emerged on the major league scene. I have his rookie card. I played third base on my high school softball team and wore number 10. When PowerPoint was new, I had a class assignment to prepare a presentation on a topic of my choice, and my presentation was on Chipper Jones. Needless to say, I've wanted to read Chipper's book Ballplayer since it hit the shelves. I just didn't get around to it until now.
Ballplayer took me on a nice jaunt back through my childhood with stories involving David Justice, Marquis Grissom, Javy Lopez, and so many others. It also introduced me to some mental imagery involving Greg Maddux that I now wish I could unsee.
I already knew that Chipper was a phenomenal player, but after reading the book, I have a new respect for him - not because of his athletic prowess or because he expressed remorse for the indiscretions that led to some bad press, but because it seemed that his decisions during his major league career were driven largely, if not solely, by his true love of the game.
If you've driven along Howell Mill Road, you may have noticed a lovely mural painted by Sanithna that depicts Chipper Jones holding up his iconic "I love you" in sign language. (There's a story about that in Ballplayer.) This mural inspired me to highlight the self-guided walking tours featured on The Atlanta Street Art Map as the cheap date option for this book. Taking one of these tours makes for an amusing solo, group, or romantic outing, and the tours are totally free thanks to the awesome folks who created this website and the talented artists who generously share their work with us.
Intersections by Nicki Salcedo
The last book on my list was Intersections by Nicki Salcedo, and it was fitting given that I used my summer reading list to look for intersections between the books I featured and physical destinations in the city. Nicki Salcedo also finds intersections between seemingly unrelated people, places, things, and concepts. Her tendency to do so has provided insights for her weekly column for Decaturish.com, and Intersections is a collection of 70 essays that were published in this weekly column of the same name.
I really enjoyed Nicki Salcedo's writing style and found a lot of common ground with her. Our shared love of baseball and our reluctance to discuss politics are just a couple of examples. She also introduced me to some new ideas... like the idea that I need to check out Star Trek because Uhura sounds like #goals.
Before I read this book, I knew that I wanted to use it to feature the most iconic street intersection in Atlanta - Headland and Delowe. I headed out to the East Point location referenced in OutKast's "Elevators" to get my picture, but the street signs were gone. I wasn't feeling creative enough to come up with an outing featuring the gas station, pawn shop, and Family Dollar that are still at the intersection. Luckily, Big Boi hooked me up with his own guide to Atlanta, which includes some affordable date options like cheap eats from WaHo and bowling on a budget. You can read all about it here.
If you're not using your local public library, you're really missing out. In addition to all the great books, audiobooks, and movies you can check out for FREE, the Dekalb and Fulton library systems host events like movie screenings, lectures, and painting nights for adults. Make plans to visit your local library branch or at least check out their online events calendar to explore more options for quality, free entertainment.