Friday, March 15, 2013

Tracy Thompson

Tracy Thompson is a reporter and essayist who has written about subjects ranging from psychiatry to law to the Civil War. She is the author of The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression and The Ghost in the House. Her new book is The New Mind of the South.

Late last month I asked Thompson about what she was reading.  Her reply:
At the moment, I am reading 1861, by Adam Goodheart, a book I picked up on a recent trip to Washington College on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where the author teaches. I usually avoid Civil War books that focus on battles and politics and grand strategy; what I hunger to know about that time is what ordinary people were doing--what they wore, what they ate, what they read, how they perceived events, and how they lived through them. I am a sucker for diaries, old letters, memoirs and photos; I'm a would-be time traveler who wants to step through the frame of those old images and catch a glimpse of another reality. Goodheart's book is a great find in that respect: he's a storyteller as much as a historian, and his characters live. I am loving it.

Why the Civil War? As a person who grew up in the South in the 1960s, I am forever stamped with the Civil War as the defining event of American history. Some of the war happened just outside the bedroom window of the house where I grew up, just south of Atlanta. At the same time, I was always vaguely conscious of the fact that the version of history I grew up with didn't quite fit with reality I saw playing out all around me; if history had really happened the way white people in the South said it did back when I was a kid, the civil rights movement simply wouldn't have happened. But it did. White Southerners of my generation are like kids who grew up in a family with a lot of secrets; hence my fascination with history in general and the Civil War in particular.
Visit Tracy Thompson's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue