Off the page: ‘South Toward Home’

Julia Reed

If you’ve ever read Garden & Gun magazine, you are probably familiar with the humor column “The High & The Low” written by Southerner Julia Reed. (If you haven’t read Garden & Gun, go order a subscription right this very minute because I said so.) Reed grew up in Greenville, Miss., and attended the Madeira School—an all-girls boarding school in McLean, Virginia where the motto is “Function in disaster, finish in style”—before graduating from American University, writing for Vogue, contributing to Elle magazine and publishing articles in The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler and The Wall Street Journal.

Yes, yes, her bio is interesting and applaudable, but that’s not what makes her latest book South Toward Home a must read. It’s because it is nothing less than a side-splitting page turner. Her crystal-clear perspective and her ability to find the humor in the mundane and the everyday—while recognizing the absurdities of culture—makes Reed worthy of every accolade she’s ever received as a humorist. This book is a compilation of some of her best columns published in Garden & Gun.

“The mark of a great journalist is the capacity to see what should be evident to everyone but somehow isn’t—not until a keener eye and a sharper sensibility casts fresh light on what lies before us in plain sight,” writes Jon Meacham, a former editor and vice president at Random House, in the book’s foreword. “That’s Julia’s formidable gift.”

Reed also has a gift for waxing poetic about everything from her love of Scotch whisky, her respect for the opossum, Honey Boo Boo, why taxidermy makes great party props, and how hot grits can be used as a deadly weapon. She talks politics, stereotypes, themed events, Southern food favorites and religion without holding back. She points out the funny when, without perspective, the reader simply recognizes it as everyday life. Her affection for the South rings true on every page.

“I still get mighty embarrassed by the behavior of some of the folks in my region, but it also has been my fellow Southerners who have brought me the greatest joy—on the page, over the airwaves, around the dinner table, at the bar or, hell, in the checkout line,” writes Reed. “What I love most about where I live is that my fellow residents have always had an enormous capacity for laughing at themselves—for good reason, of course, but it’s a quality we could all do with a lot more of in these fraught times.”