Away Down South by Jim Cobb and some urban ethnography
I've been meaning to read Away Down South by Jim Cobb for years, but had never gotten around to it. I have loved a lot of the books I've read for comps so far, but Cobb's book almost creepily articulated many of my positions on the south. The book starts off with reconstruction era lost cause ideology and goes through the present day, discussing such diverse forces as literary figures, historians, the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Nascar, etc. I thought for sure that a book so devoted to the study of Southern culture and identity would be Southern exceptionalist, but I was pleasantly surprised that much of Cobb's argument focused on the way's the south has developed as the North's scapegoat. In less "serious" matters, cultural phenomena often associated with the south are actually national in scope (Nascar being the big example here).
So much scholarship and writing on the South equates southerner with white. But Cobb takes pains to focus on the ways in which African Americans identity as southern and the important cultural production of Southern African Americans. I think, even now, when people ostracize the south, they are thinking almost exclusively about the white south, not the African American and increasingly latino elements of the South.
So much of Cobb's book focused on the ways Northerners constructed and perceived of the south, instead of the identity of Southerners themselves. This was facinating, but it also made the stakes of southern identity for the nature writ large evident.
So anyway, even though I knew much of what I found in this book, I love it a lot anyway. Most of the books I have been reading have been for my Southern comp, so I decided to switch gears and read some Urban Ethnography. I read Elijah Anderson's A Place on the Corner, which follows his experience in a southside Chicago bar. In some ways, it's age shows tremendously in the language, theories, etc used. But in other ways, I think a very similar book could be written now. I always enjoy reading ethnography, almost in the same way I enjoy reading journalism and travel literature (I think I am really a frustrated ethnographer in a history department, but whatever). I've read both Code of the Street and Cosmopolitan Canopy and the kind of intellectual lineage between the books is clear, although I found Code of the Street to be the superior book.
But anyway, I love reading for comps.