Roy Blount, Jr.Posted: July 27, 2007
Nothing tastes sweet,
Wet, salty and dry
All at once so well as pie.
That is an excerpt from one of the greatest poems in all of literature. (It is also approximately half the poem.) In its ability to capture the essence of a thing, it belongs up there with anything written by Milton, Shakespeare, or the guy who wrote “There once was a lass from Nantucket…”
Now the writer, Roy Blount, Jr., has a new book out, titled Long Time Leaving: Dispatches from Up South. Blount has written all kinds of books, from novel to memoir to biography to travelogue to sports journalism to poetry, but the thing on which he can hang his hat is the short comic essay, and it has been too long since the last collection of them. One of Blount’s special talents is to write not only so that you like the writing, but the man. The Blount on the page is a Blount you want to know, plainspoken, funny, a real guy, though smarter than you. (I know he’s smarter than me.) You see, right there: If he can be smarter than you, and still seem like a guy you want to hang out with, you know he’s a likable writer. This new book is about what it is to be a Southerner living in the North. (He lives in the Berkshires in Massachusetts.) As such, it has as much to say about Northerners as it does about Southerners, most especially Northerners who condescend to Southerners. Most of the pieces come from the “Gone Off Up North” columns that Blount has contributed for fourteen years to The Oxford American, “The Southern Magazine of Good Writing.”
You may know Blount as a regular panelist on the NPR comedy/newsquiz show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” If that’s the only way you know him, pick a book from his vast oeuvre. (A good place to look at them all is his website; click “Books” over on the left.) Since Blount has the ability to make everything he writes about worth reading because he wrote it, you can start anywhere, and work your way out in any direction, and be equally delighted.