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March 2017 - Reviews

March 2017 - Reviews

NON-FICTION

The Bloody Seventh: West Virginia’s Banner Regiment of the Civil War, From Antietam and Gettysburg to the Surrender at Appomattox by Matthew A. Perry. Kenova, West Virginia: self-published, 2017. 276 pages with photos, maps, charts, notes, and bibliographies. Trade paperback. $15.00

 

After publishing two books last year on the Civil War in West Virginia, one on a Union unit and another on a Confederate force, Perry here tackles the West Virginia regiment that fought for the Union that is widely considered the most active during the war. This regiment consisted, as was the standard practice, of ten companies, each of which comprised 100 men. Most were recruited in Wheeling and Grafton, West Virginia. The first Governor of West Virginia, Francis Pierpont, made James Evans, a politician from Monongahela County, the Colonel in charge of recruiting and leading the Seventh late in 1861. They were attached to the Army of the Potomac in the 1st Brigade in the Division led by Brigadier General Frederick W. Lander. This book is intended to provide an overview of the service of the Seventh, a task it performs admirably. The author, Matthew A. Perry, teaches history at Ceredo-Kenova Middle School. His teaching degree is from Marshall University, and he received a Masters in American History from the American Military University.

 

Carrying Coal to Columbus: Mining in the Hocking Valley by David Meyers, Eise Meyers Walker & Nyla Vollmer. Charleston, South Carolina: History Press/Arcadia: 2017. 174 pages with an index, bibliography, notes, and appendices, plus many photos. Trade paperback, $21.99

Coal was first found in the Hocking River Valley in 1755, and first shipped from there to Columbus in 1830. The United Mine Workers was founded in Columbus in 1890. By the turn of that century more than 50,000 miners and their families lived in the Hocking Valley counties of Hocking, Athens, and Perry, all now considered Appalachian counties by the Appalachia  Regional Commission. Arcadia Press is best known for its pictorial treatment of a variety of communities, but their History Press imprint reverses the standard of many photos with captions to much text with pictures. Although not professional historians, all three co-authors have immersed themselves in local history. Meyers is a board member of the Hocking Valley Museum of Theatrical History; Walker is a board member of the Columbus Historical Society, and Vollmer is a board member of the Hocking County Historical Society.

 

Early Native Americans in West Virginia: The Fort Ancient Culture by Darla Spencer. Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2016. 158 pages with a Foreword by Bonnie M. Brown, an index, notes, bibliography, and Glossary of Archaeological Terms. Trade paperback, $22.00

From approximately 1000 A.D. until 1700 A.D., a people who archaeologists call Fort Ancient lived in what is now Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia. In West Virginia, evidence of their culture has been found in the valleys of the Kanawha, the New, and the Guyandotte. In Bonnie M. Brown’s Foreword, she states, “Spencer is able to articulate complex matter with her trademark fluid objective writing style. Her characteristic attention to detail and ability to weave a multidimensional chronology make Early Native Americans in West Virginia a pleasure to read and ponder.” Spencer is a Registered Professional Archaeologist who lives in Charleston, West Virginia, where she was born. Although she is retired, she now teaches online in the Native American Studies Program at West Virginia University.

 

Mount Le Conte by Paul J. Adams. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, a 1916 reprint of a self-published 1966 release. 110 pages with an introduction and A Note on Sources by the editors, plus photos. Trade paperback. $25.00

 

A companion volume to Smoky Jack: The Adventures of a Dog and His Master on Mount LeConte, this book focuses on people and nature during the time that Paul J. Adams (1901-1985) spent on Mount LeConte in 1925 and 1926. LeConte, with its three peaks, is an iconic mountain, clearly visible from numerous Tennessee ridges that have Smoky Mountain vistas. “The general reader will enjoy the colorful stories of the early days on the mountain, and the scholar will find Adam’s work to be a first –person recollection of the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and a fascinating study of some of the personalities involved in that movement.” – Arthur McDade.

 

Protectors of the Ohio Valley: A Short History of the Fifth West Virginia Volunteer Infantry and the Town They Called Home by Matthew A. Perry. Kenova, West Virginia: self-published, 2016. 97 pages with photos, charts, notes, and references. Trade paperback, $10.00.

Ceredo, West Virginia, is located in Wayne County, which is across the Big Sandy from Kentucky and across the Ohio from Ohio. It was founded in 1857 by Eli Thayer, a Republican Congressman from Massachusetts and a land speculator. In 1854, Thayer founded the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company that established anti-slavery communities in Manhattan, Lawrence, Topeka, and Osawatomie, Kansas, at the time when pro-slavery immigrants were also settling “Bleeding Kansas” and often clashed with those who wished it to become a “Free” State. In hopes of establishing an anti-slavery community in Virginia, to show that free labor could thrive in a slave state, he created Ceredo. He named the town after the Roman Goddess of agriculture and fertility, Ceres. Thayer recruited Z. D. Ramsdell, a fellow abolitionist, who moved to Ceredo and established a shoe and boot factory there. This book is an introductory history of Ceredo and the Fifth West Virginia Infantry, the Union Regiment that protected Ceredo and the surrounding area. The author, Matthew A. Perry, is a native of Ceredo and the descendent of soldiers in the Fifth. His book provides a solid introduction to a fascinating story.

 

Smoky Jack: The Adventures of a Dog and His Master on Mount Le Conte by Paul J. Adams. Edited by Anne Bridges and Ken Wise. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2016.

179 pages with photos and a Selective Bibliography. Trade paperback. $25.00 Smoky Jack was a German Shepherd who was trained by Paul J. Adams to walk, by himself from the top of Mount LcConte, elevation 6594, to the nearest town, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, elevation 1,289, and there to pick up supplies and walk back to the LeConte Lodge, a distance of more than 20 miles. Adams was the custodian of the Mt. LeConte Lodge in 1925 and 1926 years before 1934 when the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was created and took over the Lodge and the mountains around it. The Lodge is still in operation for those who wish to take a long hike and have a somewhat primitive restaurant and hotel, supplied by pack animals, for the overnight stay http://www.lecontelodge.com/. The family of Paul Adams moved from Illinois to Burnsville, North Carolina, when he was 13, and to Knoxville four years later, affording him ample opportunity to extensively explore the area that became the National Park before he worked at Mt. LeConte. Adams and Jack visited the Smokies often after their short tenure at Mt. LeConte. Smoky Jack died in 1935 while Adams was living in Crab Orchard, Tennessee. UT Press issued a companion volume, Mount LeConte, also this year. Both books are edited by Anne Bridges and Ken Wise who both work at the John C. Hodges Library at the University of Tennessee.

 

The Story of the Dulcimer, 2nd Edition by Ralph Lee Smith. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2016. 102 pages with a Foreword by Ted Olson and photos, appendices and notes. Oversized trade paperback, $25.00.

The first edition of this book was considered the definitive work on this subject, so it is a cause for celebration that Ralph Lee Smith has updated it to incorporate contemporary scholarship. What a fitting tribute to the late pioneer in the academic study of country music, Charles K. Wolfe, that this book is part of a series named in his honor. This book not only answers many questions about the dulcimer, especially its origins, but it also illuminates migration patterns, material culture, and the history of Appalachia. Ralph Lee Smith is the author of seven collections of folk songs related to the dulcimer as well as a memoir.

 

West Virginia Dark Tourism by Tony Urban. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 2016. 144 pages with full-color photos. Hardback with pictorial cover, $22.

The author of Hell on Earth, Road of the Damned, A Bad Place, and Travelogue of Horror, Tony Urban is a writer from Pennsylvania who says of himself, “I’m something of a Halloween addict.” Of his research for this book, Urban states, “During my weeks in West Virginia, I was overwhelmed by the unchanged nature of its landscape, the kindness of the population, and the abundance of monsters and macabre mythology.” Frankly, I do have problems with this book, although I realize it could be a whole lot worse. I do object to the title because I don’t like this use of the word “dark.” Urban explains in his Preface that he is featuring 61 sites in West Virginia that he considers “kooky” and “offbeat.” Most are places he considers “creepy” or associated with the supernatural or murder and death. Many are cemeteries, some with no particular connection to the supernatural. In fact, Urban casts such a wide net that among his 61 sites – he includes #48 the Rocket Boys of Coalwood, high school kids who won the National Science Fair in 1960 for their display of the rockets they created. I fear that Urban sees this site as strange because he cannot imagine people in West Virginia being smart. Another site that does not meet his own stated criteria in my mind is #17 Jolo, the site of a snake-handling church. I see those whose faith allows them to handle snakes as superior to me, not inferior. I also have a problem with #13, The Whipple Company Store, because to me it only seems strange to those not familiar with company towns, and Urban fails to mention that it was a location where women whose husbands had died in the mines were offered the choice of either eviction or prostitution. #22, “Darkey” Knob, not in quotation marks in the book, does mention that the place name is “politically incorrect,” apparently not offensive to him. Furthermore, he seems not to notice that he refers to the woman whose story he tells as a slave “girl.” #30 focuses in on John Brown, and #36 is a Hari Krishna community. I’ll end with a positive. Urban does characterize West Virginia as “extremely diverse.”

 

A West Virginia Rebel: Albert Gallatin Jenkins and His Border Rangers by Matthew A. Perry. Kenova, West Virginia: self-published, 2016. 128 pages with photos, charts, endnotes, and sources. Trade paperback, $10.00.

This book provides an introduction to the life of Albert Gallatin Jenkins and the Border Rangers he mustered to fight for the Confederacy. Jenkins was born in 1830 on his father’s plantation, Green Bottom (currently open to the public as a museum) in Cabell County, West Virginia, near Huntington. He was serving in the United States Congress when the Confederacy was formed but chose to resign his position and take up arms against the country he had been serving. This book provides an interesting introduction to an important topic but could have benefited from collaboration with Jack L. Dickinson of the Marshall University Library who has published previous books about Jenkins.

 

POETRY

 

The Tornado Is the World by Catherine Pierce. Ardmore, Pennsylvania: Saturnalia Books, 2016. 75 pages. Trade paperback, $16.00.

In late April of 2011, the United States experienced a tornado “Super Outbreak” that spawned 362 tornados in 21 states. It was the largest, costliest, and one of the deadliest ever recorded, resulting in 348 deaths, 328 of which occurred in Alabama. Nationwide, damages totaled 11 billion. April 27th was the worst day of this outbreak resulting in 218 tornado touchdowns. That afternoon an EF4 tornado tracked a 47-mile damage path directly through downtown Cullman, Alabama. 867 residences and 94 businesses were damaged or destroyed, and six people lost their lives in Cullman. Catherine Pierce, a poet from Delaware who co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University, survived the Cullman tornado in a guest room at the Day’s Inn cowering in the bathtub with her husband Mike and their young son, Sam. The Tornado Is the World, her third poetry collection is her exploration in verse of this experience and its meaning. “With empathy, dazzling insight, and dexterity, Pierce sings in the voice of the tornado and the terrified.” – Simone Muench. “Here menace is a muse, and Catherine Pierce a rousing poet.” – Bob Hicok. “With a jeweler’s eye and an uncanny knack for embracing devastating truths and desires, Pierce rewrites what it means to sift through wreckage of both heart and land. This book is, simply, exquisite.” – Aimee Nezhukumatathil.

 

Unquiet Things by James Davis May. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2016. 92 pages. Trade paperback, $18.00

James Davis May is a Pittsburgh native who now lives in the Georgia mountains. “The late Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Claudia Emerson, chose Unquiet Things as the second volume in her poetry series. Emerson’s taste in poetry was impeccable, and this collection is extraordinary: intimate and wide-ranging, sweet as air and tough as leather, humorous and deadly serious. I was stunned by it.” – Kelly Cherry. “This is a book that will wake us up to the real world and the miracles therein. This young writer is certain to become an important voice in American poetry. Unquiet Things rests comfortably among the finest books I’ve seen in the last twenty years.” David Bottoms.

 

 

FICTION

 

The Barrowfields by Philip Lewis. New York: Hogarth/Crown, 2017. 348 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $26.00.

Seldom are first novels published with the kind of raves this book has engendered. “A novel this good is a rare thing. Elegiac and timeless.” – David Gilbert. “Majestic and rich with the textures of life, Phillip Lewis’s The Barrowfields is one of the great discoveries of the year. This is a debut so assured in its sense of place and history that it will leave you in awe of what Lewis has accomplished here: a sorrowful, beautiful ode to the bond of family, the ghosts that haunt us, and the stories that shape us. – Paul Yoon. “A beautiful, evocative novel with an amazing sense of place and an understated, dark sensibility. A brilliant debut.” – Jenni Fagan. A native of Ashe County, North Carolina, Lewis is a graduate of the University of North Carolina who works in Charlotte as a lawyer.