Rick Bragg grew up poor in Alabama. His daddy was very rarely in the picture and his momma did the best she could at whatever job she could find to keRick Bragg grew up poor in Alabama. His daddy was very rarely in the picture and his momma did the best she could at whatever job she could find to keep her three sons fed. She mostly did the back-breaking work of picking cotton for very little pay. It wasn't easy to be a single mother in 1960ish Alabama but she did her best. In this memoir, Rick Bragg writes with deep love and hard truths about the sacrifices his momma made for him and his brothers and the life he was able to build because of her. He left the cotton fields of Alabama to become a Puliter-prize winning journalist for the New York Times. This is their story.
All of that up there sounds deadly serious but mostly what I took away from this book is humor and grace. Somehow Rick Bragg's first memoir is the last one I've read and I have literally laughed 'til I cried in every one. I've read my family members bits here and there and retold stories I remember and made everyone listening to me laugh too. Maybe they're just humoring me, but I don't think so.
Reading the other books first, I expected this one to be more about momma. (It's impossible to call her anything else. I went to an author signing and the first question anyone asked him was, "How's your momma doing'?" We were supposed to be there for his biography of Jerry Lee Lewis. Who wants to know about celebrities? We wanted to know about momma.) Which is stupid. They're all about momma. She is the heart of all these stories. So I guess what I mean is that I expected it to tell more of momma's own life story. It does but I still just want to know more about her. She probably doesn't want anything like that written about herself though. I can just imagine if I told my Mama that I was going to publish a book about her life. She'd pitch a fit. I imagine Rick's momma would feel the same.
I love the tales of Rick growing up and the old family stories but I also enjoyed reading chapters about Rick's career as a reporter. Those could be pretty harsh. The parts about Haiti were just awful. I read about riots in Miami and asked my husband how he ever made it out of there alive, only half joking. As much as I love the humorous stories, Rick Bragg can make you feel like you're in the middle of any scene he wants, and sometimes that leads to some terrifying places.
I love reading Rick Bragg's writing. I hear it more than I read it, even as my eyes are moving slowly across the printed page, savoring the language. I don't know how it reads to anyone else, but his Alabama words read like home to me. He writes the way I talk and I love it. Apparently it's more about the Appalachians than it is about the state we're from because I'm a North Carolina girl but it all rings true. I listened to the audio version of his second memoir, The Prince of Frogtown, read by the author, and I loved it. I can't say which format I enjoy more.
Just go read this. It's a book with a lot of heart and sometimes those feel like they're hard to find. You'll be glad you took the time to read this one....more
I don't even know how to begin to describe this plot. Garnell Lee Ray is an assassin for hire. She has a grudge against greedy developers and she's taI don't even know how to begin to describe this plot. Garnell Lee Ray is an assassin for hire. She has a grudge against greedy developers and she's taking one group of particularly dirty specimens out. She likes to use gravity to her advantage. Detective Krontz realizes that Garnell is tied to these deaths in some way, but he can't quite figure out how. This Yankee cop sure as hell isn't going to let a cute little Southern girl get away with murder though.
That sounds oh-so-serious. Zany, unpredictable, and hilarious are probably the best words to describe this Western North Carolina tale. Written by 12 local authors, each getting a chapter, this seems to be a competition to see which one can throw the biggest curveball out for the next author to catch. They each did an admirable job. I would come to the end of one chapter, think, "There's no way we're working through this," and the next author would not only work through it but also raise the stakes. The story's so twisted and turned it could probably be a study in knot theory for a mathematician with time on his or her hands.
I did have to just sit back and let the story take me where it wanted though. If you have a logical, ordered mind, this might not be the book for you. But if you're willing to shut down the rational brain and enjoy the ride, it's a book that will have you laughing out loud.
I don't know how big an audience this would have outside of Western North Carolina. I think you probably have to know a little about the area and the people to really get it. I think if you're coming to visit us though, this would be a fun book to pick up while you're checking out Malaprop's (because if you're a reader, you have to stop by Malaprop's while you're in Asheville) and see what makes our corner of the world tick. It's a fun story made all the funnier with all the kernels of truth buried within the farce. ...more
Three generations of Moon women living in a small North Carolina town are trying to do the best they can in life. Grandmother Marvelle is trying to haThree generations of Moon women living in a small North Carolina town are trying to do the best they can in life. Grandmother Marvelle is trying to hang around long enough to pass on what she's learned to the next generation. Her wisdom is hard-earned and she knows the youngsters need it. Her daughters Ruth Ann and Cassandra are trying to figure out if the lives they are living are the lives they want. Ruth Ann's daughter Ashley is young but she's already old in experience. As the book opens, Ruth Ann is driving to Asheville to pick Ashley up from the rehab center where she's been staying. Ashley will be living with her now that she's been discharged. When they get back to their little town, Ashley drops the news that she's pregnant and Marvelle announces that she's moving in as well. Life is about to get interesting.
I loved this book. I met author Pamela Duncan at a book festival a few years ago and just chattered away at her. I never do that. I'm usually all tongue-tied at author signings and rarely get out more than "Please" and "Thank you." But it just felt like she was one of my kind of people and so I rattled on while she graciously listened.
This family of women felt like my family. We have a lot of women too and we love each other, irritate each other, get in each other's business, and cheer each other on. That's how these Moon women were. The story rotates between the four characters (Cassandra's part is small but she has a voice) and there was never a time when I wished I could get back to another storyline; I enjoyed them all. Each character is facing challenges that we can all relate to. I will admit that I wanted to reach in the pages and shake Ashley. "Will *shake* you *shake* PLEASE *vigorous shake* just *shake* wake *shake* up *shake* and *shake* let *shake* that *shake* sweet *shake* boy *shake* love *shake* you?!?!?" *tooth-rattling shake* I feel better for having written it out. She was stubborn beyond all reason.
Poor Cassandra. I wasn't entirely happy with her story, but there's a glimmer of hope for her. I'll have to dive into The Big Beautiful soon to see how she ends up.
For a book about strong women and their ties to each other, pick this one up. Is there higher praise than "These characters felt like my family?" I don't think so....more
Frank Locke is the son of an opium addict in the 1920s in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. He's quit school to work in a cotton mill and taFrank Locke is the son of an opium addict in the 1920s in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. He's quit school to work in a cotton mill and take care of his parents' and grandparents' farms. He's bitter about his father, but he's found a good woman to love. Then some big family drama hits the fan and he discovers a world whose existence he'd never even dreamed of.
First of all, I received this from the publicist in exchange for my unbiased review. Also, I don't know Michael Cogdill, but he is one of my sort-of-local news anchors.
Now that that's out of the way, let me try to tell you how much I loved this book. Why are the five-star reviews always harder to write than the two-star reviews?
I'm a Blue Ridge mountain girl, so I'm a little predisposed to love books set at home anyway. But this was just gorgeous, both the writing and the story. It's not a book to rush through; it's a book to take your time over, savor, and wring every last bit of meaning out of. Here, this paragraph that explains both the title and very basic premise of the book will show you what I'm talking about.
"In the rise of crickets and peep frogs, Granny spread out her mountain mystic view of things again, and the whole wagon treated it as sacred for a moment. She'd often speak of how a little scrap of fog tears from a rain cloud. Floats on the waves of blue ridge as if a wisp off a bride. Granny and others called it she-rain, I suppose for its womanly drape, white as a wedding gown. Common legend, though Granny took the vision further. Said she-rain was like us all--little scraps torn off into the world, given to the wind, and meant to find a paradise. As she saw things, no human scrap of this life is made for the trash. Even the most ragged are fit to beautify somewhere. Fit for some quilting into the finery of creation."
And that's the hope. No matter your background, no matter what you've done, its never too late to redeem yourself. When one character finally redeems himself, I was truly almost in tears.
I feel like the synopsis does this book a little bit of a disservice. I was expecting a straight-up story of a love triangle. When Frank finally meets the second woman, the story took a turn that added unbelievable depth and richness. I won't say more.
One of the many layers of this novel is about Frank becoming more than just a semi-literate farm boy living a hard life. I am so glad that some of his best teachers were natives of his community. They showed him that just because you're illiterate in letters doesn't mean that you can't be literate in love and a life well-lived.
There are so many good, true messages in here that I just sat still, mulling them over for about fifteen minutes in the lobby where I finished it. That's a huge deal because I usually finish one book and immediately reach for the next. Considering that I finished the book in goosebumps, reading through a haze of tears, I obviously had a lot to think about. One of the biggest messages was about helping each other. The author shows that we should never be afraid to ask for help when we need it, and we should always be willing to accept help when it's offered. We should also be on the lookout for people that we can help. How much better would this world be if we just looked out for opportunities to help each other, no matter how small? Whether it's money, a meal, an ear to listen, or even just a hug on a hard day, everyone has something to offer. I'm left wondering if Cogdill chose his publisher on purpose because they donate a portion of their proceeds to Habitat for Humanity.
The speech is written in our mountain accent, and the author did an amazing job pulling that off. Not an easy feat. It all flowed for me, but because that is truly the language of my heart, I can't say if it's hard for someone else to read.
Parts were emotionally difficult to read, but in a "story of hope," an author has to give their characters a reason to need hope. As you read through the darkness, keep in mind that there will ultimately be light.
I loved the simple faith that was a common thread throughout the book. The characters come from wildly different backgrounds, different Christian denominations, or maybe even no religion at all, but they all had an earnest faith in God. They had faith that if we have faith in each other, we'll help each other be all that we can.
I loved these characters. Sophia was a woman way, way ahead of her time. Mary L. has struggled through things I can't imagine and come out stronger and wiser on the other side. Preacher Lew is hilarious, blustery, and amazingly caring. Frank is open to all that anyone wants to show him. Granny may have been my very favorite though. Her time in the book is short, but her lessons are long and lasting. She reminds me of my own little Granny with her great big heart.
This is another book that I highly recommend. I have been on a roll with these lately, haven't I? Read this when you have the time to really think it over and let the important lessons sink in. You'll be so glad you did. Oh, and there's a giveaway for this going on through April 2, 2010 here on GoodReads. Go ahead and enter....more
The Cantrell family has lived in Hoot Owl Holler in the mountains of Virginia for as long as anyone can remember. They love hard, play hard, and suffeThe Cantrell family has lived in Hoot Owl Holler in the mountains of Virginia for as long as anyone can remember. They love hard, play hard, and suffer deeply. There doesn't seem to be any in-between for them. Oral History follows...let's call it three...generations of Cantrells, starting with handsome Almarine and his run-in with a witch and going on down to his grandchildren.
I loved this. I was thinking that it was my second-favorite book by Lee Smith (Fair and Tender Ladies is far and away my very favorite), but then I remembered On Agate Hill. We'll call it a tie.
I say this every time, but I love the rhythm of Smith's writing. She writes in a way that is as familiar to me as an old worn quilt. The words, the syntax, the pronunciation, I just hear every word as if a family member were telling me a story.
I loved the way the family events passed into legends in the hollers where they lived. From Almarine and his witch (was she really?) to a family curse to mysterious deaths. Smith never tells more than she should and leaves it up to the reader to decide what is "fact" and what is myth in this fictional family.
The story passes from person to person as the years roll by, but the events are never told by those living them. That helps to keep the "reality or legend?" question going. The narrators aren't always sure themselves. I followed along with it just fine but readers who dislike multiple points of view might want to steer clear.
There is a streak of something dark in some families in these mountains and I think Smith caught that feeling perfectly. I can't explain it any better that. Maybe it's just that we've all lived here so long, we expect to see family traits and find what we're looking for. But I can tell you exactly which road the Cantrells would have lived on in my little community--where that dark streak is found.
I liked seeing how the mountain people change as the years go by. They go from almost complete isolation to watching tv and selling Amway. I can't find it now, but one character comments on how the younger generations will eventually sound more like Dan Rather than their own people. It's true. The book feels a bit like a love offering to a changing way of life.
The framework of the novel is built around a great-granddaughter who grew up in "town" coming back in search of her mother's family's oral history. I didn't like it and, after reading an interview with the author at the end, I don't think it worked exactly the way she intended it to. I think it was supposed to give an outsider's look at the "quaint mountaineers" and show how the Appalachian culture is slowly dying out as young people move away. It just irritated me. There were other sections where Smith showed the same thing much better. Jennifer, the estranged great-granddaughter, just comes across as vapid after the richness of the other characters.
Those few pages aside, I loved this book. I highly recommend it....more
We first meet Crystal Spangler when she’s a dreamy twelve-year-old Virginia mountain girl, in the summer before she begins high school. We follow herWe first meet Crystal Spangler when she’s a dreamy twelve-year-old Virginia mountain girl, in the summer before she begins high school. We follow her as her dreaminess leads her to look for meaning, or for herself, in all the wrong places.
I adore Lee Smith’s work. She writes about the mountains of Virginia. I’m in North Carolina, but reading a book by Lee Smith feels like coming home. She captures the spirit of these mountains and these people perfectly. Just read this opening paragraph:
”Now the lightning bugs come up from the mossy ground along the river bank, first one, then two together, more, hesitant at first, from the darkness gathered there already in the brush beneath the trees. Crystal sits and watches, holds her breath, the Mason jar beside her knee; if she looks down, she can’t even see it now. She touches it with her finger and feels the glass with the letters raised and indecipherable in the dimness so that they could be anything, any words at all. They could be French. Suddenly out of the scrub grass at her knees comes rising a small pale flickering light, sickly unearthly yellowish green, fairy light. It is so close she can breathe on it and see the whirring, tiny wings. Crystal doesn’t move. She could catch it, but she doesn’t. Only her eyes move to follow the flight, erratic at first as if blown by wind although there is no wind in the hot still damp of early June on the river bank, then into the dark branches, away and gone. Crystal can barely see the river on down the bank, barely hear it. She looks across the river bed now to the railroad track cut into the mountain which goes straight up on the other side, almost perpendicular, impenetrable, too steep for houses or even trails: Black Mountain. Its rocky top makes a jagged black hump across the sky and it is surprisingly light that far up in the sky, but the river bottom lies deep in the mountain’s shadow and even in Crystal’s yard now and in Agnes’s yard next door and on Highway 460 in front of the house it is dark. Cars have got their lights on.”
I read that and I drifted back to endless summer nights growing up, either catching lightning bugs or sitting on the porch watching them rise from the hayfield and the trees. I can remember the sound of the creek from my parents’ house, or I can remember being at my grandparents’ house and watching the light fade behind the mountain we called Stoney Fork as full dark settled in across the hills. It might be December, but that passage transports me right into July. And I am amazed at Lee Smith’s talent.
Black Mountain Breakdown is more of a character study than a regional study and I couldn’t bring myself to like Crystal. I can’t bring myself to love a book if I don’t like the characters, so I had a problem. I can’t fault Smith on her depiction of Crystal: she perfectly described the woman who just can’t be herself without tying herself up in some other identity. She’s either Crystal the cheerleader, Crystal the beauty queen, Crystal the Christian, or Crystal the football player’s girlfriend. She’s never just Crystal. And that drives me crazy. She caught my interest at one point and I got excited that this might turn into a five star book for me, but that went away, and I’m left a little dissatisfied. There’s room to think that the book ends any way that you want it to, but I can’t really bring myself to believe that my ending is ever going to happen for Crystal.
For the right reader, I know this would be a fantastic book. It just wasn’t quite there for me....more
My family all loved this, but I remember thinking it was just okay. I think this is one of those books that appeals more to the region its set in thanMy family all loved this, but I remember thinking it was just okay. I think this is one of those books that appeals more to the region its set in than anyone else. It was a decent biography though....more
A collection of photographs that mostly captures Asheville's eclectic heart. The downtown area and Biltmore Village are well-represented. Maybe even oA collection of photographs that mostly captures Asheville's eclectic heart. The downtown area and Biltmore Village are well-represented. Maybe even over-represented. Some photos wander a little far afield for me to consider them a part of Asheville impressions; Chimney Rock and the Joyce Kilmer Forest are each over an hour's drive away. But it's still an interesting collection, and I'm happy to add it to my guest room for out-of-town guests to get an idea of what this nearby city is all about....more
You know Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk? He got up to much more than just giant-killing. If I remember correctly, Richard Chase traveled around theYou know Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk? He got up to much more than just giant-killing. If I remember correctly, Richard Chase traveled around the southern Appalachians collecting all the Jack stories that had been passed down in the oral tradition for generations and this is the result. They probably get kind of predictable, but we used to fight over who got to check this out of our school library. This book was a lot of fun....more
Ave Maria has been married for eight years now. She and her husband have a beautiful daughter, but they've also had some very difficult times. Now AveAve Maria has been married for eight years now. She and her husband have a beautiful daughter, but they've also had some very difficult times. Now Ave feels that they're growing apart. Everyday life has gotten in the way of love, and it's time for both of them to make some decisions about what they want out of life.
I like Ave a lot, I really do. So this melancholy book was hard for me to read. She is so unhappy. She has ample reason to be; she really has been through some things that no one should have to go through. But I wanted some moments of grace for her. She has some mostly carefree moments, but those felt wrong and my stomach was in knots, afraid she would make the wrong decision.
The quirky characters that I loved in Big Stone Gap do, of course, make an appearance in this book. But they aren't being all that quirky. They're mostly sticking their noses into Ave's business and giving her advice that just seems to confuse her.
Ave ends up in Italy for a while, and I did love the descriptions of the countryside there. I want to see that field of bluebells.
Ave is in a very different place emotionally than she was in Big Stone Gap. I still liked checking in on her, but other readers should be ready for this more introspective, somber book....more
In Depression-era North Carolina, a lumber baron marries Serena and brings her to the lumber camps to live. Her ambition outmatches his and she drivesIn Depression-era North Carolina, a lumber baron marries Serena and brings her to the lumber camps to live. Her ambition outmatches his and she drives him to succeed, prosper, and expand at any cost.
Wow. What a character Ron Rash has created in Serena. I detested her, but she is going to stick with me the way Macbeth">Lady MacBeth and Medea">Medea have. I had to admire her strength and ambition, but she was ruthless and proud of it. She almost seemed to see those weaker than her as prey, and she saw almost everyone as being weaker than her. There's a kind of mythology that springs up around her in the camp. She thinks of ingenious solutions to problems, such as rattlesnake bites among the loggers. She really doesn't care when loggers die though. It's the Depression after all, and for every one worker that dies or is disfigured, there are innumerable men waiting to take his place. I would have liked an explanation as to why she was the way she was. She grew up in the camps, and there's a dark past that's hinted at but never explained. Was she just born heartless or did something or someone shape her to be that way?
This book takes place practically in my backyard, and I had heard that these mountains were devastated back in the day. It's one thing to just kind of know that, and it's another to live it for two years inside a book. This one fictional camp ended in the clear-cutting of 34,000 acres. I can't even wrap my mind around that much land. I had to go Google some pictures. Look at these links. Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi, today. Mount Mitchell in 1923. I don't understand how people look at a landscape and see not beauty, but dollar signs at any human and/or environmental cost. Ron Rash didn't hit me over the head with the environmental stuff, but there is sort of a Greek chorus of workers who occasionally look around and talk about how all the animals have left and how all the cool, clear mountain streams are now muddy and empty of fish because of run-off from the denuded slopes. There's a whole sub-plot about the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I was infuriated by the roadblocks these selfish, wealthy landowners threw up in the path to creating the park. I can understand a farmer not wanting to give up the land that has been in his family for generations. It makes me angry when people who are destroying the land stand in the way of those who are trying to preserve it. I'll get off my soapbox now.
This is not the book to pick up if you're looking for a light read. But for a fascinating look into a disturbing mind and a book where the landscape is practically a character, go ahead and read it. I do recommend it. Book clubs should find a lot to talk about in this one....more