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January 2019 Reviews

January 2019 Reviews


Everything Has Its Place by Howard J. Mize. Terra Alta, West Virginia: Headline Kids, 2019. 32 pages illustrated on every other page in color by Nadeem Jones. 9” X 6” trade paperback. $12.95.

This is a fun little book to read to youngsters or for beginning readers. It tells of the positive purposes of even the yuckiest creepy crawly, bugs and frowned-upon creatures. “As an author, parent, and former science teacher, Everything Has Its Place works for me on every level. It pairs solid science with endearing illustrations in a way that will entertain while informing and opening discussions that will surely be carried over into everyday observations long after the book is placed back on the shelf. Best of all, it will help kids (and perhaps even parents!) overcome the "yuck factor" that too often inhibits a child's natural curiosity by showing how interconnected creatures are with one another, and thus with us. It even has a fun summary and lists references, elements all too often missing in children's books. This one will become a favorite.” --Danny Kuhn. The author, Howard Mize, lives in Charleston, West Virginia, where he is a science teacher and nature lover.


Sabrina’s Book by Sabrina Runyon. Terra Alta, West Virginia: Headline Kids, 2019. 30 pages illustrated on each page in full color by Ashley Teets. 10” X 7” trade paperback. $16.95.

This book is based on the personal experience of the author, Sabrina Runyon. She grew up in Mingo County, West Virginia, in a family without much formal education buffeted about by the exigencies of the coal industry. When Sabrina Runyon was three years old, someone gave her mother a book which she read to Sabrina over and over again until Sabrina had it memorized and could “read” it back to her mother. This was the only book she had access to until she went to elementary school. Although Runyon dropped out of high school, she went back and kept pursuing education until she earned a doctorate. She is now an educational administrator in her home county.


Hopping to America: A Rabbit’s Tale of a Wedding by Diana Pishner Walker.  Terra Alta, West Virginia: Headline Kids, 2019. 32 pages illustrated in full color on each page by Ashley Teets. 8.75” X 8.75” hardback with pictorial cover.  $16.95.

In this book, the author, Diana Pishner Walker, celebrates her West Virginia/Italian heritage by telling a love story between a man who moved from Italy to West Virginia as a boy and his childhood friend, still back in Italy, who corresponds with him and then immigrates to West Virginia to marry him. The characters are drawn as bunnies to add a little whimsey to the tale. “Growing up in a loving and caring Italian family taught me ethics, principles and traditions I value today. Through my Italian grandparents, parents and family, my life has been truly enriched. Diana Pishner Walker captures the essence of one of the most sacred Italian customs, the sacrament of marriage.” --Roman W. Prezioso, Jr. “This is a book for all ages that will most definitely appeal to children, as well as adults. For many years, animals, such as the Riepule family, have told stories through literature. Diana continues this practice of telling her story to the reader through the eyes of bunnies...while promoting a love for reading.” --Mrs. Donna Metz. The author, Diana Pishner Walker, was born and raised in Clarksburg, West Virginia. She now lives in Fairmont, West Virginia. This is her third book.



A Knife’s Edge by Eliot Parker. Terra Alta, West Virginia: Publisher Page/Headline Books, 2019. 320 pages. Trade paperback, $19.95.

This is Parker’s fourth book and second to feature Ronan McCullough, a Charleston, West Virginia, policeman.  McCullough is deep into investigating a drug cartel when he finds the body of an acquaintance, Sarah Gilmore, in the trunk of a burning car. The more he learns about her background, the greater the danger to him and those close to him. "This book was a gripping, and gritty police thriller that kept me rapt in its pages until the end." --Lisa Brown-Gilbert."Ronan McCullough is an interesting protagonist, and you will want to keep on reading after the intriguing beginning." --Peter Senftleben. The author, Eliot Parker, is a West Virginia native who teaches at Mountwest Community College in Huntington, West Virginia. He earned an M. F. A. in creative writing at Eastern Kentucky University.


The Risen by Ron Rash. New York: Ecco/HarperCollins, a 2017 paperback edition of a 2016 release. 253 pages. Trade paperback, $15.99.

“Mr. Rash is one of the great American authors at work today.” – Janet Maslin in the New York Times. Only a handful of Appalachian writers have experienced anywhere near the success that Ron Rash has. Two of his novels have been made into movies, including Serena which was a New York Times best seller and a PEN/Faulkner Finalist, as was his story collection, Chemistry. Burning Bright, another story collection, won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award as the best collection of the year from anywhere in the English-speaking world!  This is his sixth and latest novel to go with The Ron Rash Reader and six story collections and five poetry collections. Unquestionably, Ron Rash is a literary writer as opposed to a popular author. Although accessible - not obtuse or obscure - his works have deep themes, unsurpassed authenticity, and poetic phrasing. This novel beings in 1969 in the North Carolina mountains as two brothers encounter a girl about their age who they’ve never seen before. She disappears, but their reactions to her contribute to a growing rift between the brothers. The story picks up again decades later when there is an unmistakable class divide between the brothers. Ron Rash grew up in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, where his father, a mountaineer who migrated to the South Carolina mills, had painstakingly completed the education to become a college professor. Ron Rash holds an endowed chair in creative writing at Western Carolina University.



Rufus: James Agee in Tennessee by Paul F. Brown. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2018. 422 pages with an Index, Selected Bibliography, Notes and 75 photographs. Hardback with pictorial cover. $34.94.

This is a wonderful book, and I love the fact that this richly researched and well-written biography of Agee’s youth was created by an independent scholar who teaches music at the Coalfield School in Morgan County, Tennessee. James Agee (1909-1955) along with Cormac McCarthy, also from Knoxville, are the only Appalachian authors to have ever been awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.  The author of this book, Paul Brown, provides outstanding context for understanding Rufus Agee’s family, his father’s people in LaFollette and Campbell County, Tennessee, St. Andrews School in Sewanee, and Knoxville early in the 20th century.  I didn’t realize, for example, that St. Andrews was a school for mountain boys, not Southern Episcopalians, at the time that Agee enrolled there.  75 – count ‘em – photographs in this book really helped give me a feel for Agee’s youth.  I found this to be one of the most fascinating books I’ve encountered in a long time. Bravo!


Reformers to Radicals: The Appalachian Volunteers and the War on Poverty by Thomas Kiffmeyer. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, a 2019 paperback edition of a 2008 hardback release.  284 pages with an index, Bibliography, Notes, and photos.  Trade paperback. $25.00.

The Appalachian Volunteers (AVs) started in 1964 as a program of the Council of Southern Mountains under the leadership of Milton Ogle, a staff member who supported Barry Goldwater in the Presidential election that year. The program began by enlisting college students to renovate and run enrichment programs at one and two-room schools in Eastern Kentucky. The next year the Office of Economic Opportunity, a part of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty gave the AVs  grants of $300,000 and $139,000 to hire a full-time staff in support of the federal Community Action Program that was at the time devoted to “the maximum feasible participation of the poor.”  By 1966 the combination of emboldened local people and the influence of nation-wide student movements convinced both Milton Ogle and most of the staff that band-aid efforts could not achieve the systemic change needed in the region, and the AVs split from the Council. At its height, the AVs employed 500 workers in four Appalachian states. The following year, national politicians rolled back the mandate of “maximum feasible participation of the poor” and replaced it with greater power for local politicians and power structures. The AVs came under attack for supporting citizens groups opposed to strip mining and AV staff who became Vietnam War resisters. By 1967 Louie B. Nunn, a Republican, had been elected Kentucky governor, and the next year he created a Kentucky Unamerican Activities Committee and held hearings attacking the AVs. By 1970 government funding ran out, and the program closed its doors. Yes, this is quite a story, and Kiffmeyer, a history professor at Morehead State University, tells it very well. "Thoroughly researched, well-written, and judicious in tone, the enduring contribution of Reformers to Radicals is in delineating the limits of liberal reformism in a region like Central Appalachia where inequality is so entrenched that only a thorough political restructuring will bring about democratic change."―Ronald L. Lewis. "Kiffmeyer deepens our understanding of Appalachia's history during the 1960s, when the region was on the front line of the War on Poverty. His succinct, dynamic account of the Appalachian Volunteers highlights the multilayered, powerful challenges facing antipoverty warriors both within and outside the mountains and reveals yet another dimension of the unanticipated consequences of liberal reform during a tumultuous era in American history."―John Mathew Glenn. "Reformers to Radicals provides a valuable contribution to Appalachian and American historiography. It is necessary reading for anyone interested in understanding modern Appalachia's struggle with indigence or the War on Poverty's inability to provide solid and lasting solutions for such a persistent and pervasive problem."―Jinny Turman-Deal.

 Unwhite: Appalachia, Race, and Film by Meredith McCarroll. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2018. 159 pages with an Index, References, and Notes. Trade paperback, $29.95.

This is not at all a book about Blacks, or other racial minorities, in Appalachia. Instead it is a book about stereotypes of Appalachians, in the context of racial stereotypes, particularly in films. As Meredith McCarroll, the author, states in her Introduction, “There is now, in your hands, a book about the stereotypes used to represent Appalachia in Hollywood because, as the mainstream culture industry has shown with African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans, it believes that it knows well enough how to portray these types.”  Her chapters are, “Hillbilly as American Indian,” “Appalachian Woman as Mammy,” “Mountain Migrant as Mexican Migrant,” and “Appalachian Documentary,” with an “Appendix: Appalachian Types in Cinema.”  In her Introduction, McCarroll is explicit “that white privilege pervades even in situations of white poverty,” and that she resists “the notion that [similar stereotypes] make Appalachians similar to those who have been systematically and legally oppressed because of race.” Hopefully, those who continue to read the book will keep that in mind. The danger is that some will conclude that mountain people are just as oppressed as people of color or, worse, that it is racism that makes mountain people so resentful of sharing stereotypes with people of color. Meredith McCarroll grew up in the North Carolina mountains and, after several years at Clemson, she now teaches at Bowdoin College in Maine.


Young Washington: How Wilderness and War Forged America’s Founding Father by Peter Stark. New York: HarperCollins, 2018. 514 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, maps, and 16 pages of photos in full color. Hardback in dust jacket, $35.

In 1748, at the age of 16, George Washington (1732-1799) first crested the Blue Ridge as part of  a surveying mission into the Shenandoah Valley.  in 1753, at the age of 21, he traveled over 500 miles west from the Virginia coastal settlements on a mission for Governor Dinwiddie of Colonial Virginia to contact the French rulers of interior America. Many wilderness journeys followed, including military missions during the French and Indian War and expeditions for land speculators. This book closely examines these travels and their impact upon the man who would become the first President of the United States. “Peter Stark has a remarkable ability to combine brilliant storytelling with thoughtful analysis. Young Washington is a wonderful book—as engrossing as it is informative.” - J. William T. Youngs. “A thrilling adventure that vaults the reader into the dangerous and volatile frontier world that indelibly shaped Washington’s life and leadership.” - David Preston. “A provocative, inspiring, and disarmingly honest examination of how the character of America’s greatest general and president was forged, tempered, and polished inside the crucible of what defined America during its dark and promising moment of emergence: the wilderness, the land itself.”- Kevin Fedarko. This is Stark’s fourth book. He lives in Montana with his wife and their children.


Beyond the Mountains: Commodifying Appalachian Environments by Drew A. Swanson. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2018.  264 pages with an Index, Notes, photos, and a Foreword by James C. Giesen. Trade paperback. $32.95.

This book is a real tour-de-force. Note that the title employs the plural, “environments,” to emphasize the diversity of environments within a region that is defined by its singular topographical environment. Then, the author, Drew Swanson, overlays this with the broad sweep of regional economic history – note the word “commodifying” in the title!  Swanson takes different unique environmental dimensions and shows how they each contributed not only to the diversity of the region, but also to its economic development. He begins with the economic role of deerskins in the economy of the region as Europeans and their African slaves first penetrated the lands of the native people. From there he surveys the roles of the botanical collectors and then jumps to the effects of the discovery of gold in the region; the importance of regional salt during the Civil War; the development of the railroads, both following and conquering the topography; the impact of scenery as a commodity; and tobacco as a crop well-suited to the region, and then water power as a driver of economic development in particular in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The final chapter deals with coal as a developer and destroyer of the Appalachian environment and economic potential. Few books contribute substantially to a single field of study. This book contributes mightily to both regional environmental history and economic history. Drew Swanson grew up in the hill country southeast of the Blue Ridge in Virginia and teaches history at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. This is his third book.


Powerhouse for God: Speech, Chant, and Song in an Appalachian Baptist Church by Jeff Todd Titon. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, a 2018 second edition of a 1988 release. 549 pages with an Index, References Cited, 5 Appendices, Tables, Figures, a new Foreword by Ted Olson, a new Afterword by the author, and 76 photos. Trade paperback, $39.95.

The Fellowship Independent Baptist Church located in Page County, Virginia, in the valley just west of Shenandoah National Park, is given a very thorough treatment in this extraordinary book. The author, Jeff Titon, worked with this community for more than ten years to complete the impressive first edition of this book, a record album of its music, and a film about it. Then he kept in touch for three more decades to create this second edition of the book! Don’t tell me you want to understand “fundamentalist” religion – or regional religion - without reading this book. It is that essential. Be sure to check out the bibliographic note above – 549 pages, 76 photos, tables, figures, 5 Appendices! The new 25-page afterword has its own new two-page bibliography.  Jeff Titon is Professor Emeritus at Brown University.


To Live Here You Have to Fight: How Women Led Appalachian Movements for Social Justice by Jessica Wilkerson. Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 2018. 255 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes and photos. Trade paperback. $27.95.

This is a book that really needs to be out there, and I commend Jessica Wilkerson for doing the work to make it available to all of us. It focuses on poor and working-class women activists in Eastern Kentucky during the 1970s. They certainly deserve the attention she gives them. The greatest contribution of the book is how it lifts up the ways that the women covered here saw themselves primarily as care-givers. It was from this foundation that they worked hard to foment the kinds of social changes that would make their whole world more caring and make it easier for the care-givers. And Wilkerson cites this basic value as central to the contrast between working-class feminism and middle-class feminism, a topic she addresses clearly, constructively and in some depth. The book begins with an overview of women activists in Eastern Kentucky before the 1970s, and then focuses in on two women who created brick-and-mortar venues for social change work in the 1970s: Edith Easterling’s Marrowbone Folk Center in Pike County and Eula Hall’s Mud Creek Health Clinic in Floyd County. From there it considers welfare rights organizing, the Brookside Strike in Harlan County and the Coal Employment Project. This book is especially important because in the 1970s, Appalachian activists were responsible for an arguably unprecedented array of victories for working class mountain people on the national stage: Federal compensation for Black Lung victims, Arnold Miller’s successful grass roots reform campaign for the Presidency of the United Mine Workers, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, and the Mine Health and Safety Act.  "Essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the War on Poverty in Appalachia, this book documents the central role of working class women in Appalachian resistance movements in the 1960s and 1970s. Drawing on a tradition of family care giving and community support, mountain women brought to their activism an awareness of the profound connection between environmental, health, and economic justice that redefined class and gender issues in America and offered an alternative vision for their communities and our capitalist nation. Based upon extensive oral history research, To Live Here, You Have to Fight challenges many of our contemporary assumptions about Appalachia and is an important book for our time."--Ronald D Eller. Jessica Wilkerson grew up in East Tennessee on land her grandparents had farmed.  She teaches history at the University of Mississippi.



Otherworld, Underworld, Prayer Porch by David Bottoms. Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 2018. 69 pages. Trade paperback. $16.00

David Bottoms was born in 1949 in Canton, Georgia, the county seat of Cherokee County, and raised there. His very first book of poetry – Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump (1979) - received the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets judged by Robert Penn Warren! He has subsequently won a vast array of awards for his ten poetry collections, two novels, and a book of essays. He was Georgia Poet Laureate from 2000 until 2012. Bottoms currently holds an endowed chair in English Letters at Georgia State University where he has taught since 1982. The poems in Otherworld, Underworld, Prayer Porch illuminate the poet’s youth in Cherokee County, growing up the son of a registered nurse and a father who took over his own father’s grocery store and later became a funeral director. Bottoms has said that there were only two books in his home growing up – a King James Bible and a Billy Graham book“David Bottoms is brilliant in the clarity and richness of his language, profoundly humane in the breadth and compassion of his vision. He is quite simply one of the best poets writing today.” -Jane Hirshfield. “Bottoms’ poems do what the best poems have always done: They compel us to reread them. They linger in our minds. They alter our perception of the world.” —Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “[He] makes astounding leaps of both faith and doubt, and does so with insight, honesty, and flashes of anger – all characteristic elements of his work.” -The Southern Review.