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August 2022 Reviews

August 2022 Reviews


BJU and Me: Queer Voices from the World’s Most Christian University edited by Lance Weldy. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2022. 347 pages with a Bibliography and Glossary of BJU terms. Trade paperback.

It takes guts to call any university the “world’s most Christian.” There is and has been a lot of competition for that title, but I will admit that BJU (Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina) is a contender. In the 1960s it was one of the campuses that I was kicked off of for trying to organize against the Vietnam War there. The author of this book was a queer student there and has here collected the recollections of nineteen other students at BJU who now – and for some also then – identify as queer. This book starts with an overview of Bob Jones University. Then each of five parts of this book  - for example, “Surveillance, Control, and Rumors” and “Family, Guilt, Shame,” has an introduction of a few pages, and each of the autobiographical essays starts with a short blurb that provides an introduction to its substance. “BJU and Me is such an important and timely text, one that offers a captivating read, a diversity of experiences, and an insider knowledge of a prominent, often-inaccessible context.” -- Tony E. Adams. “The text, through the various autoethnographies, clearly presents the complexities and multiple viewpoints about what it means to live under such an oppressive cloud. Most importantly, the authors tell the stories of how they became free of that cloud.” -- Stephanie Mitchem. The author is a professor of English at Francis Marion University. 

Gwinnett County, Georgia, and the Transformation of the American South, 1818-2018 edited by Michael Gagnon and Matthew Hild. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2022. 268 pages with an Index, charts, graphs, illustrations and photos. The individual essays have their own notes. Trade paperback.

Gwinnett County is the southernmost Georgia county included in the Appalachian Regional Commission. It has always been characterized by both mountain and more Southern geography, including, for example, both a Cherokee presence and the historical cultivation of cotton. From its rural beginnings, it became first suburban, and has now become a mostly-urban part of the Atlanta metropolitan area. Two dimensions of the title of this book stand out. First, it is a county history, but one that provides a state-wide and even national context. Second, the county’s history of white racist reaction to the Cherokee and to African-Americans is not exceptional, although clearly virulent. The fifteen essays collected here are all by professional historians, but represent a plethora of specializations which results in a rich tapestry. “This volume breaks the mold for the traditional history of a county by placing the story within the transformation not only of a specific region within Georgia but the South as a whole. It does so in a convincing, coherent way.” -- Paul M. Pressly. “Gagnon and Hild are to be commended for assembling such a broad spectrum of topics that offer deep insights into Gwinnett County, and frankly, Georgia, history.” -- George Justice. Co-editor Michael Gagnon teaches history at Georgia Gwinnett College and co-editor Matthew Hild teaches history at Georgia Tech.

Toward Cherokee Removal: Land, Violence, and the White Man’s Chance by Adam J. Pratt.  Athens: The University of Georgia Press, a 2022 paperback edition of a 2020 hardback. 240 pages with Index, Bibliography, Notes, and a map. Trade paperback.

“The white man’s chance” in the sub-title is the key to the distinctive contribution this book makes. The author argues that white people felt that their only chance to flourish was to remove the Cherokees. That is like today’s fear of being replaced by non-whites. And it is not just cruel, but absurd. Old white men love to watch Black women play basketball or listen to music by those who grew up poor or buy products from businesses that immigrants started. Individuals and businesses benefit from the uplifting of all people. It is not “either/or.” End of sermon, back to the book. Another dimension of this book that resonates with the present day similarly to the whole idea of “replacement theory,” is the way that vigilante violence and public policy work in an almost coordinated fashion. Furthermore, Georgia provided a more radical guidepost that was followed partially in states that were not quite so extreme and thus sparked less affront. The author, Adam J. Pratt teaches history at the University of Scranton.


Across the Blue Ridge Mountains by M.S. Marangione. Abbeville, South Carolina: Moonshine Cove Publishing, 2022. 418 pages. Trade paperback.

This novel is set in the early twentieth century in Elkton, Virginia, the closest town in the Shenandoah Valley to Shenandoah National Park, and on Hightop Mountain. That is where the protagonist, Mary Dodson, was forced to abandon her home when over a thousand families were evicted to convert traditional homesteads into a Park for tourists to enjoy. This book portrays the dramatic class chauvinism that resulted in some of those evicted being sterilized as unfit by professionals believing in eugenics.  "An ambitious, important, and beautifully written first novel by a gifted new writer. Maggie Marangione deeply knows the Virginia mountain towns she writes of and the hard lives within. In Mary Dodson, she has created a clear voiced, brave, and unforgettable heroine equal to the myriad challenges she faces. I read this book in blazing gulps, and thought about it for days after I finished the last page"-Tom Barbash. "Across the Blue Ridge Mountains paints a picture of the life and times in the Blue Ridge Mountains just before the coming of Shenandoah National Park like no other book I've read. It transports me there with accurate details in an immersive saga."-Sue Eisenfeld. The author, M. S. Marangione, left her life as an intelligence analyst to move to the Shenandoah Valley and become a professor at Blue Ridge Community College.


The Hills Remember: The Complete Short Stories of James Still edited by Ted Olson.  Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, a 2022 reprint of a 2012 release. 401 pages. Trade paperback.

James Still (1906-2001) is considered by many familiar with Appalachian short stories to be the finest practitioner of the art. Those who do not, invariably include him in their top five! Arguably, nobody has captured the cadence and idiom of old-fashioned mountain speech as well as he. Still grew up in Alabama just south of Appalachian Regional Commission counties and attended Lincoln Memorial University in Cumberland Gap. He graduated from there in the class of 1929 with Jesse Stuart and Don West, who also became outstanding regional writers. And all three went from there to Vanderbilt. Still earned his masters in library science at the University of Illinois, and, like Don West, took a depression-era job in Knott County, Kentucky. Unlike Don, he stayed there – except for service overseas in World War II – for the rest of his life. In 1941, 1976 and 1980, James Still published three short story collections. All twenty-four of the stories from these volumes are here. Also here are twelve stories he later incorporated into his novel River of Earth and the one that went into Sporty Creek, often considered a youth novel. Also included are ten additional stories published in magazines and six never previously published.

On Troublesome Creek: Stories by James Still. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, a 2022 reprint of a 1941 release. 120 pages. Trade paperback.

The ten stories here are all reprinted in The Hills Remember: The Complete Short Stories of James Still. Since it is the same price as that collection that includes all 47 of Still’s stories, this book is probably only going to go to huge James Still fans.  But they will be delighted to have it. This book has been one of the books by James Still that has been the most difficult to find in its first edition from Viking Press, and it has not been previously reprinted.


Hounds on the Mountain by James Still. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, a 2022 reprint of a 1937 release. 74 pages with illustrations by Aurora Noctua. Trade paperback.

How great it is to have this poetry book available in an inexpensive edition! Readers of regional poetry invariably consider it to be at least one of the ten finest books of Appalachian poems. Still was not “of” Eastern Kentucky. He had grown up just south of the region in rural Alabama, and he served overseas in World War II and traveled extensively, especially to sites of ancient Mayan culture. However, he lived most of his life in Eastern Kentucky and arguably was one of the closest observers of mountain speech and mountain ways ever to resettle here. His poetry is exquisite in its own right, but also stands as an enduring accounting of depression-era life in Eastern Kentucky.