Read Locally 

Nashville writers harvest a varied late-season crop

Anderson Design Group, Anne Byrn, Craig Havinghurst, and more

ANDERSON DESIGN GROUP Many of the posters featured in The Spirit of Nashville: The Art and Soul of Music City (Anderson Design Group, 120 pp., $34.95) will be familiar to readers, and not only because they celebrate the places—universities, museums, music venues, eateries and parks—most emblematic of Nashville. Since first appearing on a promotional calendar for a local design firm, the posters have gone on to a life of their own, gracing postcards, T-shirts, magnets and mugs, in addition to being displayed at various places around town, including the airport and library. For this new book, series creator Joel Anderson teamed with local journalist Angela Patterson to relate the history and significance of the posters’ subjects. Aside from appealing to fans of such icons as the Country Music Hall of Fame, Ryman Auditorium and The Hermitage, the posters are also examples of good design. Using simple concepts and compelling images, they range from an intricately detailed pen-and-ink drawing of Union Station to a sweetly retro singing bird for the Bluebird Café. The Parthenon is rendered in a manner reminiscent of a 1920s travel poster, and a sublimely simple chocolate milk shake on a deep-brown background is a perfect reminder of the now-closed Vandyland—and the craving it once inspired. —MiChelle Jones

ANNE BYRN Southern grannies may believe that potluck meals have no place outside church socials and Fourth of July picnics, but Anne Byrn knows that if people today refused to entertain till they had the time to put a home-cooked, multi-course meal on a beautifully decorated table, they’d die friendless and unmissed. Known to shortcut-loving bakers all over the country as the Cake Mix Doctor, Byrn now turns her culinary eye to make-ahead main courses and portable side dishes, all created with the same spirit of effortlessness and pleasure she enlisted to make it so much fun to cheat at baking. Designed for today’s informal entertaining, in which dinner guests often bring at least part of the dinner, the What Can I Bring? Cookbook (Workman, 528 pp., $14.95) could save many a holiday party. If you’ve ported seven-layer dip to every neighborhood gathering since Clinton was inaugurated, try Can’t Eat Just One Spinach Balls or Mary’s Baked Boursin in a Roasted Red Pepper Sauce instead. And if you’re lucky enough to be assigned dessert, the warm, buttery, won’t-spill-in-the-backseat cranberry tart is alone worth the price of the book. —Margaret Renkl

CRAIG HAVIGHURST For Nashvillians more concerned with the value of HCA stock than the state of country music, here’s a look at the city’s musical heritage that might finally draw some attention. Air Castle of the South: WSM and the Making of Music City (University of Illinois Press, 272 pgs., $29.95), by Craig Havighurst, is an in-depth look at the radio station and its origins with the National Life and Accident Insurance Company. In 2002, when proposed format changes at the station elicited a public outcry accusing WSM of betrayal and heresy, Havighurst saw how intimately country music was tied to the station: “Nashville and WSM shaped each other profoundly, as they traded information, values, money, power, and—most seductively—music.” Havighurst tells the story with well-handled ease, and he’s done his research. Swan Ball attendees, for instance, provide as much insight into the story as people making records on Music Row. It takes a special book to quote from both Ridley Wills II and Ralph Emery, from both John Seigenthaler and Cowboy Jack Clement, but this kind of dichotomy underlies the narrative. For Nashville, “this transition from religious and academic bastion to show town took place over eight decades, in a dance between station and city.” Nashville “didn’t easily welcome or adapt to its new image and industry,” Havighurst writes. “But therein lies a tale.” —Lacey Galbraith

DENISE HILDRETH Four less-than-lovable siblings serve as the protagonists of Denise Hildreth’s latest novel, The Will of Wisteria (Thomas Nelson, 320 pp., $14.99). James, one of Charleston’s most successful plastic surgeons, is on wife No. 3 and rarely thinks about his children. Spoiled Mary Catherine doesn’t notice her new husband is mainly interested in her money. Will is in his fifth year of college majoring in alcohol, fraternity pranks and coeds. In other words, this is not the large quirky family so common in Southern chick-lit novels. As one loyal family friend says to Elizabeth, the uptight lawyer of the bunch, “I’m letting you go to be bitter, to be angry, and to be whatever else it is you want to be. I can’t spend another day...praying that you will come to your senses and realize you don’t need to throw away any more of your life.” Their father, who experienced a spiritual renewal before his death, has given this unattractive crew one last chance at redemption. His new will stipulates that each child must work for free under someone else’s direction for an entire year or give up their inheritance. Hildreth obviously believes in the possibility of change, and it’s hard not to root for the siblings as the pain behind their selfishness becomes apparent. —Faye Jones

DONNA VANLIERE Franklin author Donna VanLiere took a break from her annual Christmas Hope novels last year with The Angels of Morgan Hill. Now she’s back with the fourth in the series, The Christmas Promise (St. Martin’s, 206 pp., $14.95). As a way of communing with her lost son, Matt, protagonist Gloria Bailey helps people find jobs, housing or the strength to get out of bad situations. Snowballing coincidences lead to a tidy ending for everyone as “Miss Glory” touches more and more lives, including those of her snooty neighbor, a pregnant runaway and a young boy who manages to retain his innocence in spite of his mother’s troubled relationships. As with the other Christmas Hope novels, a cameo appearance by someone from the first book comes just when a character thinks there’s no hope left. —MiChelle Jones


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