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Rheta Grimsley Johnson inspired by Frye Gaillard’s Books That Mattered

Fire AntsTwo NewSouth Books authors came together recently when syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson (Hank Hung the Moon, 2012) attended writer Frye Gaillard’s April 10 event at Eclipse Coffee and Books in Montevallo, Alabama. Gaillard was there to talk about his new book The Books That Mattered: A Reader’s Memoir.

Johnson, writing about the event and the book in her recent column “The Books That Rocked Your World,” said that “in writing compellingly about some of his favorite books and authors, the ones that moved and shaped him, Gaillard has produced another book that matters.”

In The Books That Mattered, Gaillard relates the books that shaped his life, from Esther Forbes’s novel Johnny Tremain that first sparked Gaillard’s interest in reading, to classics by Charles Dickens and Mark Twain and the work of Harper Lee, Robert Penn Warren, and John Steinbeck; to newer books by Rick Bragg, Sena Jeter Naslund, Geraldine Brooks, and others.

After Gaillard spoke, the audience took turns relating some of their favorite books and authors, and how those books had shaped them. and the audience took turns describing their favorite books and books that had influenced their lives, as Gaillard does in his memoir. “Fourth grade,” Johnson notes, “seemed to be the most popular year for life-altering trips to the library. Gaillard’s talk inspired Johnson to muse about her own life-changing reads.

She valued many of the early books she read, or that were read to her, for their illustrations, including Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings “done in nuanced charcoal” and the Homer Price series with “McCloskey’s attention to the detail of gears and switches and Rube Goldberg-type design of a fantastical doughnut machine.”

“I started thinking about how illustrations always influence my reading,” Johnson writes, “from the freckles on Anne of Green Gables’ nose to Beautiful Joe’s fathomless eyes, from steamy scenes on the covers of James M. Cain paperbacks to, well, the perpetual virgins on Louisa Mae Alcott’s novels. Maybe you can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can sure buy one because of it.”

Johnson concludes that while she agrees with many of the choices Gaillard mentions in The Books That Mattered, she recognizes Frye’s “hope … not that we will adopt the same favorite books, swayed by his elegant telling of their back stories, but that we will ‘create an equally personal list,'” as Johnson did.

Read Rheta Grimsley Johnson’s full column, “The Books That Rocked Your World.”

Frye Gaillard’s The Books that Mattered is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.