Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Tales They Told Me by Jim Lewis

I was looking for my Chicago Manual of Style this morning (I probably should look for it more often) and came across my copy of The Tales They Told Me: Short Stories About Mississippi, by Jim Lewis. I met Mr. Lewis one day not too long after this book came out. I was in a Mississippi Credit Union trying to figure out how to get a loan for a vehicle as I recall. He was standing by the door working as a guard. Mr. Lewis was a powerful looking older man, and his gun belt, uniform and stetson made him look even more so. Somehow he knew I was a writer, and we struck up a conversation. It surprised me when he told me he'd written a book. He looked more like a cattle drive trail boss than a writer. We shot the breeze a few minutes and parted friends.

The next time I was in the place he pulled me aside. "I want to give you one of my books," he said. We went to the trunk of his vehicle and he handed me a paperback. It was short. Only about a hundred pages. I thanked him and drove home, occasionally glancing at the cover and not expecting much. That evening I picked the book up, grabbed a glass of iced tea, and settled down on the back patio next to my springer spaniel. I put on my specs and began to read.

I was mesmerized from the first paragraph.

The Tales They Told Me is one of the best books I've ever read--and I mean including ALL the books I have ever read. These short stories grab you by the lapels just like any writing by Faulkner, Willie Morris, Eudora Welty, and John Steinbeck. Some are funny. Some rip your heart out like "Ray Myer's Story." I'm not ashamed to say I cried a tear or two reading that one. If that had been the only tale in the book, it would have been worth the read, but all of the tales are great.Some of the stories would make a fine movie in the vein of "To Kill a Mockingbid," or "My Dog Skip."

People make fun of Mississippi. I lived there for nearly ten years, and there is a lot to make fun of. But I'll tell you one thing. There are more fine writers per square foot than anywhere else in the country. Look 'em up. Jim Lewis was one of them. I think Jim has passed on by now. I looked on line for him and his book and just saw a few used copies for sale. Take my advice. Get one before they are gone. I bought several for friends and each one treasures their copy. If you don't purchase one, you will miss a real treat. Rest in Peace, Jim, and thanks for the stories. I hope someone will have the wisdom to get this book back in print. It would make a fine ebook, come to think of it. I plan on reading it again tonight.


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