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March 2020 Reviews

March 2020 Reviews


Juanita & the Frog Prince: Fairy Tale Comix by Ed McClanahan. Lexington, Kentucky: South Limestone Books/University Press of Kentucky, 2020. 48 unnumbered pages with an introduction by Bob Levin, illustrated by J. T. Dockery. 9” X 12” hardback with a pictorial cover, $24.95.

This comic book adapts a tale already told by McClanahan in A Congress of Wonders into a format that is particularly appropriate for his prose. It is set in the 1940s – when Ed was growing up – in Kentucky – where Ed grew up. The protagonist is the two-nosed Luther Jukes who is jailed for murdering a man who insulted his appearance. In addition to Juanita and Luther, the characters include a preacher and a rich boy. Ed McClanahan joined Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters and later taught creative writing in Montana and Kentucky. This is his eighth published book. In his case, publishing a comic book while in his late 80s is the kinda thing we have come to expect from Ed.



Not Even Immortality Lasts Forever: Mostly True Stories by Ed McClanahan. Berkeley, California: Counterpoint Press, 2020. 177 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $25.00

If all this is new to you, notice that this book was published in Berkeley, California, and that the press is named “counterpoint,” implying the opposite of mainstream publishing. For those of you who do not get the title: Don’t feel bad; neither do I. For those who do not know Ed McClanahan: I’m sorry. You are missing out. Ed is a delightful human being. Stop reading, turn your eyes away if you don’t want to hear a story about Ed that is a little scatological, because if you do mind, you don’t want anything to do with this book anyway. Go on to the next review. I promise the rest of the reviews this month will be totally gentlemanly. O.K. now for the story for the rest of you: It was 2005. A group of Kentucky writers had been on a two-day tour of mountain-top removal sites in Eastern Kentucky to solidify our opposition to the practice and give us some practical know-how to beef-up our writing about it. We had arrived at Eastern Kentucky University for our final public panel discussion, and I headed to the men’s room. Two other participants arrived at about the same time. One was an older gentleman, since deceased. He shuffled in, leaned his head upon his forearm which he placed on the wall above the urinal and gingerly unzipped and let it dribble. Then Ed McClanahan arrived, and the contrast could not have been greater. He pranced up to about two feet from the urinal, unzipped with a flourish, unleashed it, and aimed his blast at the urinal. Ta Dah!  Actually, the old gentleman was only three years older than Ed! Ed McClanahan was born, in 1932, and raised in Brooksville, the county seat of Bracken County, Kentucky, in northeastern Kentucky. He was one of four Kentuckians who received a prestigious Stegner Fellowship to study creative writing at Stanford during the 1960s along with Wendell Berry, Gurney Norman, and the late James Baker Hall. There Ed became close friends with Ken Kesey and unleased his hippie persona as “Captain Kentucky” and joined Kesey as one of the “Merry Pranksters.”  Later, Ed taught writing at the University of Kentucky, the University of Montana, and Northern Kentucky University.  He published his only novel, The Natural Man, in 1983, followed by Famous People I Have Known in 1985, and seven subsequent volumes, including this one, all of which are really memoirs which sometimes tame down and other times exaggerate his exploits – not that The Natural Man is all that different except as the way it was published. And eight volumes are perfectly appropriate given the quantity and quality of Ed’s exploits and associations. “How much is fiction? How much is memoir? Who cares: It's joyous." ―Kirkus Reviews.  “Has McClanahan led a more colorful life than the rest of us? Or does he paint the ordinary life with technicolor details? Either way, you will laugh." ―Lizz Taylor. “McClanahan’s rich material, ready wit, and unique turns of phrase hold interest.” ―Publishers Weekly. “Never again can I say that I don’t laugh out loud―or walk around reciting to the closest human―while reading a book.” – George Singleton. “His conversational style and frank humor imbue these pieces with wisdom and charm." ―Booklist. “From tall tale to artful hyperbole, the verbal wizardry in this fabulous book is tops. McClanahan always has a blast with words, running the language around in circles. He can’t just say 'a humble abode' when 'a humble ensquatment' will do. So much here is fresh and invigorating―and often tender and sweet. His portrayal of his father is especially touching. And there are dogs. I will treasure this memoir forever. It’s immortal!" ––Bobbie Ann Mason.



Speed Bumps on a Dirt Road: When Old Time Music Met Bluegrass by John Cohen. Brooklyn, New York: powerhouse Books, 2019. 224 pages. 8.75” X 11” hardback with a pictorial cover, $45.00.

The founding mothers and fathers of country music are the subject of these 140 black-and-white photographs with brief captions. That means the book is mostly about Appalachia. The author, John Cohen, started taking pictures of these grass-roots pioneers back in 1961, when a whole lot of them were still alive, and living in the southern mountains. What was happening was not just an intersection of old time and bluegrass, but also of traditional and folk music which all blended together to make country music. “Like a good country song, John Cohen’s photos tell a powerful story—illuminating the emotions and experiences of Americans who too often felt left out and looked down upon. This is photography as documentary, and photography as art.” — Ken Burns. “A surprise one might find in these intimate photographs—is that photographs of people playing are far more interesting than photographs of people singing. That, John Cohen shows us, is because there you can see people reflecting, making choices, confronting doubts, thinking it all over. The way people in these pages hold their instruments tells you as much as any words could say.” — Greil Marcus. “John Cohen’s brilliant black and white photographs capture iconic portraits of Appalachian musicians Roscoe Holcomb, Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Hazel Dickens, Doc Watson, and Ralph Stanley at home, and on stage at the Galax Fiddlers Convention, Union Grove, Oak Ridge Festival, and Carnegie Hall.  Cohen also chronicles the discovery of these artists in the 60s by aspiring folk musicians like Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger, Bess Lomax, Alice Gerrard, and himself. . . .The book is a treasure that music and photography lovers will treasure. Walker Evans would be so very proud to see these amazing photographs published with such care.” — William Ferris. “His photographs capture, for example, Mr. and Mrs. John Sams surrounded by their children and grandchildren, sitting on the front porch of their home in Combs, Ky., as Mrs. Sams sings a gospel song while strumming her guitar. . . The most spellbinding shots capture audience members, many of whom appear enthralled with the music. Cohen’s moving photos serve as a time capsule of what was once a remote, regional music genre." — Publishers Weekly. The author, John Cohen, was a founding member of the New Lost City Ramblers and made 20 albums with them between 1958 and 2008. He made nine field recordings of traditional music, including of Roscoe Holcomb. His photographs are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other fine venues; he has published numerous books, and made 17 music documentary film. He is professor emeritus at SUNY Purchase College where he worked from 1972 until 1996.


The Damnedest Set of Fellows: A History of Georgia’s Cherokee Artillery by Garry D. Fisher and Zack C. Waters. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2020. 300 pages with maps, illustrations, an appendix, Bibliography, and Index. Hardback in dust jacket, $35.00.

The Cherokee Artillery was composed entirely of white men, and had nothing to do with Confederate military forces that recruited Cherokee men. It was organized in Floyd County, Georgia, in northwestern Georgia in August of 1860 as a Confederate Unit, five months before the state seceded from the Union but when that outcome was considered likely. This book does not state how it got that name, but a few of the soldiers came from adjoining Cherokee County in Alabama, and, certainly, Cherokee people had lived in Floyd County before the removal. The name took on a new meaning as they first went to Canton, Georgia, in Cherokee County, the home town of the Georgia governor, where they obtained their first artillery and were officially made a part of Georgia’s Confederate Army, although still led by Floyd County men. Originally 42 men joined the Cherokee Artillery, but about 200 were involved at one time or another. They fought first in Tazewell, Tennessee, then in the Vicksburg, Mississippi, campaign, and then back close to home at Tunnel Hill and Missionary Ridge and Atlanta and then in Nashville and to Salisbury, North Carolina, three days after Lee Surrendered in April 1865 where most of the remnants were captured and sent to Camp Chase in Ohio where they all eventually signed the loyalty oath and were permitted to return home. This book covers not only their war activities but their annual reunions after the war. An appendix does give the entire roster, but the authors never provide a summary of their fates. Just a quick perusal demonstrates that many returned to Floyd County or home elsewhere, but a high percentage of the men whose fate is known died in battle, died of disease, were imprisoned, or deserted - some of whom joined the Union Army.  


“Better for Being with You”: A Philosophy of Care by Bernadette Kenny with Tauna Gulley. Washington, D. C.: Pacem in Terris Press, 2019. 156 pages with a Foreword by Adriana Trigiani and a Bibliography. Trade paperback, $16.00.

Sister Bernie Kenny, a nurse practitioner with the Medical Missionaries of Mary, arrived in Appalachia in 1978 to work with Project Health in Dickinson County, Virginia. In 1980 she created the Health Wagon that took a re-fitted recreation vehicle from St. Mary’s Hospital in Norton, Virginia, to make house calls in the surrounding region. After twenty-five years, the Health Wagon became its own organization. Today it has clinics in Clintwood and in Wise and has four mobile van units, a staff of about a dozen, including a dentist, and an annual budget of over a million dollars. It makes monthly stops in nine communities in Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott and Wise Counties. It accepts donations, but does not charge for its services. This book, as the sub-title makes clear, is mostly about her philosophy of care. It includes testimonials by her patients and co-workers.   The author, Sister Bernie Kenny, was born in 1938 and grew up in a Boston area family of Irish immigrant parents. Her father was a factory worker, and they did not own a car. After joining the Medical Missionaries of Mary, she worked in Ireland, Tanzania, Ethiopia and California before coming to Appalachia.



The Rebel Bride by Shannon McNear. Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Books, 2019. 254 pages with a bibliography. Trade paperback, $12.99.

This historical novel opens at the conclusion of the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863 on a small Georgia farm near the battle. The MacFarlanes are Confederate sympathizers, but, against the instincts of his daughter, Pearl, Mr. MacFarlane’s deep Christian convictions lead him to allow Union soldiers to use his farmhouse as a place to recover from their battle wounds. This is the tenth Christian romance in the Daughters of the Mayflower series, that together tell the story of American history through the stories of the members of  one family. They start in 1620. Four are set in the 1700s, and this is the 5th set in the 1800s. “Shannon McNear has once again pierced through history, bringing the Civil War to life with accuracy and authenticity. The story of Pearl and Josh will haunt you like a melody carrying through time.” – Denise Weimer. “The Rebel Bride is deftly woven with strands of dignity, thoughtfulness, and grace. With admirable attention to historical detail, Shannon McNear has given us a story of quiet determination set to a backdrop clamoring of war. Lovers of Civil War–era novels will appreciate the depth of character explored within these pages.” – Jocelyn Green.  The author, Shannon McNear, grew up on a Midwestern farm, but lived in the South before settling in North Dakota. She is a military wife and the mother of eight.