There’s a good argument to be made that the greatest gift we can pass on to someone we love is a book. Books feed our spirits and take us to places we could never go on our own, and they bring us wisdom that stays with us for a lifetime.
Salvation South editor Chuck Reece gives us his pick for the best Southern novel of 2022 in this week's commentary.
Chuck Reece - Salvation South Editor: We’ll start our lesson today in the second chapter today of the late, great Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. In that chapter, Lee’s narrator, a small-town tomboy named Scout, says this: “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
Scout is telling us that reading is — to our minds, hearts and souls — what oxygen is to our bodies. It’s not just critical; it’s essential. So maybe the greatest thing people can do to feed the minds, hearts and souls of those we love is to give them a book.
So today, that’s what I’m going to do for all y’all. I want you to read a book called Lark Ascending. It’s by a Kentucky writer named Silas House. Silas has been publishing novels for two decades now, but Lark, the book he released in 2022, was, in my view, the greatest Southern novel of the year.
In these times, we all live with fear. Our politics have become so divisive, we worry about whether our nation will hold together in the future. The changing climate threatens the homes and livelihoods of many Americans.
And in Lark Ascending, Silas House writes directly into that fear. And somehow, he pulls off a huge magical trick. Although he sets the book in a dystopian future, in which wildfires have destroyed most of America’s land and evil forces rule the country, courageous resisters, people whose hearts overflow with love and hope, propel the story. A young man named Lark and his family hear of a sanctuary in rural Ireland, and board a ship headed there. But by the time they reach Ireland, only the young man remains alive. The rest of the book follows his search for sanctuary. Along the way, Lark meets a dog — a stray beagle — who accompanies him on his journey.
As they travel, we feel Lark’s emotions burning inside him — his anger at what’s happened to the world, his desire to find a new home. And he never gives up the hope that he can.
I will not tell you whether Lark and his beagle, Seamus, find their desired sanctuary. No spoilers from me. We all have struggles like Lark as we try to find our places on this Earth. We all journey through years and thousands of miles trying to find the places we call home. And what Lark Ascending tells us, ultimately, is that the journey — and the people we travel with — actually matter more.
“I’ve burned, and that’s what I wish for all of you,” young Lark says in the book. “To burn with anger, desire, joy, sorrow. All of it.”
I hope you enjoy this book. And I hope you burn — in all the very best ways.
Come read more about Silas House at SalvationSouth.com.
Salvation South editor Chuck Reece comments on Southern culture and values in a weekly segment that airs Fridays at 7:45 a.m. during Morning Edition and 4:44 p.m. during All Things Considered on GPB Radio. You can also find them here at GPB.org/Salvation-South and now on your favorite podcast platforms as well.