A book to boost Alabamian pride

Hearts of Dixie

Writing about a former employer can be tricky and a little intimidating. But when he contributes regularly to the avid reader (such as myself) and does so well, it would be selfish of me not to share his creativity with others. So here it goes. James L. Noles Jr. is a resident of Birmingham, Alabama, and a partner in the Environmental & Natural Resources section at Balch & Bingham LLP. But beyond his title as an attorney, he is also an author–and a brilliant one at that.

As his former legal secretary, I had the privilege to observe (and at times be part a of) the writing process from idea to publishing. Now, I’ve always had a passion for writing and language so, I have to admit, I felt like I was mixing business with literary pleasure!  I had eyes on the inside. I saw the magic happen. My first and most memorable impression of his work, however, was for his book entitled Hearts of Dixie: Fifty Alabamians and the State They Called Home (Will Publishing LLC, 2004), which was published before I worked for him.

As a foreigner and new to Alabama, I did not initially have a full appreciation for what the state had to offer. I was oblivious to the many names and faces that had walked its grounds and ultimately influenced the very history of our nation.

I wanted to know more about my new boss and I believed that reading one of his books would be the quick fix. What I didn’t expect was the “wow” factor and an immediate sense of pride for not only working for an accomplished author but also living in the great state of Alabama.

And this is why:

As a foreigner and new to Alabama, I did not initially have a full appreciation for what the state had to offer. I was oblivious to the many names and faces that had walked its grounds and ultimately influenced the very history of our nation. Now though, my knowledge and outlook have both greatly improved to be sure. And I didn’t read a state history textbook to find this out. I didn’t breeze through cliff notes. Hearts of Dixie itself managed to fix my attitude. It took the blank canvas that I personally saw as Alabama and painted a radiantly colorful story of its accomplishments, heroes and influences. Hearts of Dixie provides the reader with an engaging and fascinating narrative that shines a spotlight on the state of Alabama as a whole and its people.

Organized in biographical chapters, Hearts of Dixie presents to the reader 50 Alabamians of remarkable accomplishments. The book is easy to read and to the point. The format of the biographies alone makes the information appealing–as if it weren’t a history lesson, but a series of short stories instead. Which then makes the realization that these people actually lived even more powerful.

Sure, we all know of Truman Capote, but have you heard his whole story? Did you know he was from Alabama? But the selection of these fifty Alabamians is not focused strictly on the people we all know well. Hearts of Dixie cleverly includes men and women from, what it seems like, literally every walk of life.

Are you a football fanatic? Read about Coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant. Are you a theater lover? Read about Actress Tallulah Bankhead. Are you a Rocket Scientist? Read about Dr. Wernher von Braun. I could go on, but I won’t as an incentive for you to get the book and find out for yourself the complete list of profiles! I must add, however, that as a French native, I personally enjoyed the chapters on Jean Baptiste Le Moyne and William Rufus DeVane King.

And what, you ask, is the one beautiful commonality of each chapter? These influential men and women all called the state of Alabama their home. Some of you may read Hearts of Dixie and assert that you were already privy to this information. But I wasn’t. And even if you were, do you fully appreciate it?

Another appealing feature of Hearts of Dixie is the chapter introductions. Each biography is introduced by another distinguished Alabamian, who describes the influence received from the featured person–whether it be through a personal bond or a reflection of admiration. So you really get a snapshot at an additional fifty remarkable Alabamians of our present day. Talk about a treasure trove of historical experience rising right up from your home state!

The introductions compel you to think in the present tense. But then in the actual biographies, Hearts of Dixie has a fluidity that takes you back in time to when these people were still alive, when their personalities were still forming, and these influences brand-new. You flip each page expecting, wanting, to read more. You wish you had personally known these people–to have been influenced in some way by them. And then you realize that you have been touched–because you are an Alabamian yourself, and Hearts of Dixie just revealed the historical and cultural significance of the state these people (and now you!) called home.

I highly recommend that you add Hearts of Dixie to your collection. Besides owning one great book, a portion of the sale proceeds is donated to the Alabama Humanities Foundation to help fund the Jenice Riley Memorial Scholarship. For more information about Jim and his other books, please visit his personal website.

Written by: Béverly B.