Monday, August 29, 2011

Ain't No Grave

 Reviewed by Jeanne

A young man from Maryville, Tennessee was browsing a record store in London, England when he realized that the music being played sounded unexpectedly familiar.  In fact, the singer sounded very much like his Great Uncle Claude Ely."  Intrigued, he went to ask the shop owner and discovered an entire display devoted to Brother Claude, the Pentacostal minister and "Gospel Ranger." Ely had recorded several albums starting in the 1950s as well as written a number of songs recorded by other artists but until that fateful day in England Macel Ely had no idea just how influential his family's faith and music had been.

Macel's research resulted in a book, Ain't No Grave:  The Life and Legacy of Brother Claude Ely. The title comes from one of his most famous song, "Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down." More than a biography, the book deals gospel music in general, a bit of music industry history and a great deal of information about religion in our area, primarily the rise of the Pentecostal-Holiness movement.  I think it's must reading for anyone who wants to understand Appalachian religious tradition.

Of course, the music which started Marcel's quest is also central to the book.  The upbeat, fast paced music influenced a number of the early "rockabilly" singers, including Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.  As a child, Ray Charles also attended at least one of Brother Claude's tent revivals.  Rock historian Colin Escott noted in his book Tattooed on Their Tongues  A Journey through the Backrooms of American Music that Elvis' "We Gonna Move" was a virtual note for note copy of Brother Claude's "There's a Leak in This Old Building." The book includes a chapter on Brother Claude's musical influence among contemporary singers and pop culture, including Robert Duvall's movie "The Apostle."

And Brother Claude's passing was certainly a Hollywood moment, one of those things which, if in a film, would cause skeptics in the audience to roll their eyes at the unlikeliness of it.  During a tent revival, Brother Claude was playing piano and singing "Where Could I Go But to the Lord?" when he collapsed and died in front of a stunned congregation.

The writing style is informal and friendly, but the research shows.  Macel interviewed many people for the book, which adds to the conversational style.  Personally, I always enjoy seeing places named that I'm familiar with, and such references abound in this book.  Brother Claude was born in Lee County, Virginia and preached through southwest Virginia and East Tennessee as well as parts of West Virginia and Kentucky.  A CD of music and sermons is included with the book.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Raven Report: The Help, Tasha Tudor, Augustine Tolton

The Nevermore Book Club discussed stereotypes in literature, from the Grapes of Wrath to Uncle Tom’s Cabin to the new film and literary sensation, The Help.  The question also arose about the author:  does it matter if the author isn’t the same race or gender or from the same culture as the characters about whom he or she writes? And how do people from different societies and times react to the books?  (The British cover of The Help depicts two African- American women cleaning and taking care of a white baby.)
Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi is a science fiction book for people who don’t really like science fiction.  Prospector Jack Holloway hits the jackpot when he finds a vein of extremely valuable gemstones on an alien planet but he finds something else, too:  small furry creatures who seem to be very bright. . . maybe even sentient beings, which would put the brakes on any mining operation there.  The book is very topical, perhaps even more so today than when H. Beam Piper wrote the original version  (titled Little Fuzzy) in 1962.  It’s a warm, sometimes funny book that can also be a bit of a tearjerker.
Tasha Tudor was a beloved illustrator of children’s books, known for her quaint, somewhat old-fashioned illustrations.  The woman behind the art was every bit as fascinating and intricate as her paintings.  She often said she believed she had lived before, in the 1830s, because she was so comfortable doing chores from that era.  She wore vintage dresses from the 1800s, ran a working farm where she milked goats, gathered eggs from her chickens, grew flax and wove linens, and cooked on a wood stove. The Private World of Tasha Tudor by Tasha Tudor and Richard Brown is a wonderful look at Tudor and her farm throughout a year.  Lovely photographs convey a woman and a place that time seemed to have forgotten.  Tudor herself is a strong, practical, no-nonsense sort who adores her Corgi dogs and is a keen observer of the natural world.  Many of her nature studies appear in this book.  The Tasha Tudor Cookbook also features her wonderful illustrations as well as practical commentary and, of course, old fashioned recipes for things like Yorkshire pudding and cornbread.  As you might imagine there’s not a single recipe that calls for margarine or egg substitute.
From Slave to Priest: A Biography of Augustus Tolton by Sister Caroline Hemsath is the inspiring story of the first American known black to be ordained a Catholic priest. (The wording is because the Healy brothers were ordained but were of mixed race and identified themselves as Irish.) As the title suggests, Father Tolton was born into slavery, but escaped to the North with his mother.  His father had already gone North and joined the Union forces. The family had been baptized into the Catholic faith and an Irish priest offered to let the boy attend parochial school, a somewhat unpopular decision with some of the parishioners.  Eventually Augustus was sent to Rome to study, which he found to be an amazing experience.   Our reviewer was quite intrigued by this biography. It’s a timely book as well, since the Catholic Church as just begun to examine Father Tolton’s life as the first step toward possible sainthood.
If you’d like to join us at the Nevermore Book Club, just be at the Frances Kegley Conference Room on any Tuesday at 11 am.  Coffee is provided and the doughnuts are from the fabulous Blackbird Bakery!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ellen Hopkins Rocks!!

Guest reviewer Miss Callie Machado gives her impressions of Ellen Hopkins's visit!

"You can't have it until I finish it first!"

"Hi!  I really had a great time at the Ellen Hopkins event at Bristol Public Library!  She is so inspiring and awesome.  I just had to read her books.  Crank is about a girl who gets hooked on meth.  The book is fiction but it’s based on what happened to Ellen’s own daughter who got into drugs.  The book looks big but it reads so fast.  And it's all poetry!   Not that moon in June stuff, boring stuff,  but free verse.  It’s direct and honest and the pages just fly by!  This book is SOOOOOOOOO good!  I give it four paws up. Can I count my tail, too? That would be five paws up!  Ellen wrote more about her daughter in Glass and Fallout.  All her books are good! They're called YA books or teen books, but grownups like them too.   If you haven’t read them, you should.  You can check them out at the Bristol Public Library!

And she's going to have a new book out in September!  It's called Perfect.    I can hardly wait!! Oh, and she's doing a book for adults, called Triangles.
There are more interesting people coming, too!  One is Bill Bass.  I really like his name.  It makes me think of fish.   He started the Body Farm at the University of Tennessee.  All the shows like CSI owe a big debt to him!  Now he and Jon Jefferson write mysteries using some of his cases.  They will be at Virginia Intermont on Saturday, Sept. 24 at 1:30 pm.  It's part of the Discovery series from the library!  If you want to know more, call 276-821-6148!"

Monday, August 22, 2011

Books in Brief: Decoration Day in the Mountains, Ain't No Grave

 Reviewed by Jeanne

For many years I assumed that everyone went to the family graveyard over Memorial Day weekend to decorate the graves of family and friends. Many families would gather en masse to clean the cemetery and have dinner on the ground. Family members who lived out of the area were at least expected to send flowers; families who graves left unadorned after the holiday were the subject of gossip. I remembered hearing too that Memorial Day was the modern name; earlier it was called Decoration Day and that flowers were homemade from crepe paper.

Family graveyards still exist, but as families move away from the traditional "homeplace" and descendants scatter more and more people are opting for perpetual care cemeteries. These cemeteries are owned by companies which will see to it that the graves are properly maintained, relieving family members of the burden. Along with this trend,   I've been seeing fewer grave decorations when I make the trek back to my home county these past few years. More and more people in the area see Memorial Day more as the start to summer than a day to remember the past.

Recently I heard a radio interview about a new book called Decoration Day in the Mountains by Alan Jabbour & Karen Singer Jabbour which discusses this very topic. Although the particular area they surveyed was in North Carolina, many of the things they discuss are customs similar to the ones I knew. They include Church Homecomings, grave inscriptions and decorations,  This book describes the history and culture surrounding the day, including photographs and interviews.  It's a fascinating look at a way of life which is fast disappearing along with the family graveyards. It's a lovely piece of nostalgia for those who remember, and a wonderful introduction to those who don't.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Raven Report: Mystery Dedications, Finding Peace , Video War and Murder at Sea

The Nevermore Book Club members were reading a wide variety of things this week, with fiction and non-fiction well represented. 
Do you ever read author dedications?  Some are fairly self explanatory, while others bring up more questions than they answer.  Once Again to Zelda:  The Stories Behind Literature’s Most Intriguing  Dedications by Marlene Wagman-Geller explores the stories behind the dedications.  Some of the stories are immensely moving; others may give you a new appreciation of the book itself.  Along the same lines is Who the Hell is Pansy O’Hara? By Jenny Bond and Chris Sheedy , which tells the story behind the story of 50 famous books.  And yes, Pansy is quite a famous character--though not as Pansy.
More and more, Young Adult books aren’t just for young adults.  The Misfits by James Howe is a YA novel  about four friends who are tired of being bullied who band together to run for student council on a no- name calling platform.  Booklist called it “a fast, funny, tender story” and it’s one that will resonate with readers young and old.
Last Cherokee Warriors:  Zeke Proctor, Ned Christie by Phillip Steele is the true story of two Cherokee men who ran afoul of the U.S. government.  Christie was accused of the murder of a US Marshall while Proctor is the only individual with whom the U.S. government signed a treaty.  Their story was the basis for the novel Zeke and Ned by Larry McMurtry.

When Captain Julian Harvey showed up in a lifeboat with the body of a child and a tale of how a sudden squall sank his boat with all its passengers, there were few who doubted him.  He was testifying at the inquest four days later when word came that there was another survivor:  the eleven year old daughter of the couple who had rented the boat.  She was found clinging to a float, and her version of events was quite different.  Alone: Orphaned on the Ocean by Richard Logan and Tere Duperrault Fassbender is the incredible and inspiring true story of a young girl who survived the brutal murder of her family and days on the ocean.
Our reviewer called Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card “a powerful book for the video game generation.” It’s considered a modern classic by many, and won the 1985 Nebula Award and the 1986 Hugo Award for Best Novel.  Ender is one of the gifted children chosen to attend Battle School  where he excels at the computer simulated war games, only to discover they aren’t games at all.
The Reading Promise  by Alice Ozma is the true story of a bond between father and daughter, forged over nights of reading together.  It started as a simple challenge for the two : to read together every night for 100 nights.  When that was accomplished, they decided to try for 1000 nights.  As it turned out, The Streak ran over 3000 nights, ending only when Alice left for college.  This lovely little memoir about books, growing up and the bond between father and daughter is a treasure.
Last but certainly not least is Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.  This too is a memoir of discovery, as one woman seeks to find contentment in her life by traveling to Italy, India, and Indonesia.  Each place contributes a piece of the  puzzle as she seeks balance in life between the worldly and the spiritual.  Our reviewer said, ‘This is a fantastic book!  Everyone on the planet should read this book!”

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Crooked Road Cooking

Grazing Along the Crooked Road:  Recipes and Stories, Past and Present by Betty Skeens and Libby Bondurant

Reviewed by Jeanne

As the title suggests, this book covers the Virginia counties which are part of “The Crooked Road Music Trail.” Of course, that means it includes a good part of our area!  The book is divided up by county, with brief interviews, tales, tips and some really nice down-home recipes.  It’s a great browsing book.  Naturally I had to start with the counties I know best and was very pleased to find both people and places I recognized. I enjoyed reading about the Moonlite Drive-In, for instance, but I’d never heard of Buffalo Mountain until now.

Given the theme of “the Crooked Road,” it’ll come as no surprise that a number of the interviews are with musicians.  Some are well known, like Wayne Henderson or Ron Short; others are known only in their neck of the woods, so to speak, but all have a love of music and of place.

The recipes are wonderful and just right for this season with all the fresh vegetables.  I spotted several good ones for tomato lovers, including “Tomato Pie” and “Tomato Dumplings” as well as some great squash, corn, beans, and pumpkin recipes.  Many are variations on recipes I knew, but with some intriguing differences.  I’d never thought about adding carrots to a squash casserole, for example, but now that I think about it that does sound very tasty.  There are the old standbys like leather britches/shuck beans, cornbread, and stack cake as well as newer fare like Taco Soup or less well known item such as Chocolate Gravy or Lady Baltimore Cake.  There are few game recipes (venison, groundhog, squirrel, etc.) too.  Most of the recipes are very easy, which is an even bigger plus in my book.

This is a great book for browsing, for reading a few pages here and there.  I found there was always “just one more thing” I wanted to read and it was easy to get distracted when looking for that recipe I saw just a few minutes ago. The 30 second look-up would turn into 15 minutes while I read Joe Tennis’ comments about fishing for bluegill or an account of the Baptists’ Big Meetings or how to make homemade yeast.  The biggest drawback is that there is no index, but they do have a list of recipes at the start of each chapter which helps.

Visit their website at

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

Reviewed by Jeanne

Walls of Water, North Carolina is a former logging town, now known for its many waterfalls. It’s the kind of place that most people pick up and leave after graduation or else they stay forever in the same place their parents and grandparents lived. Long ago, the Jacksons were the most prosperous family in town; then hard times hit, and daughter Georgie ended up working as a maid. Now the wealthy Osgoods have decided to renovate the old Jackson family mansion known as the Blue Ridge Madam into a bed and breakfast, quite literally digging up old secrets and a body in the process.

Willa Jackson, Georgie’s granddaughter, has come back to Walls of Water after leaving in such a spectacular fashion that it cost her father his teaching job. She’s running a sporting goods store with a coffee bar run by Rachel, who says she can read people by their coffee orders. Paxton Osgood, the woman behind the renovations, is the wealthy daughter still trying to break free of her mother. She’s made it as far as her parents’ guest house. She’s desperately and probably hopelessly in love with Sebastian, the former classmate she once saw kissing another boy in a mall. Her twin brother, Colin, has indeed made his escape from Walls of Water and is working as a landscape engineer. It’s his idea to transplant a giant live oak tree onto the grounds of the Blue Ridge Madam in place of an old peach tree, inadvertently uncovering a human skeleton.

As William Faulkner once said, “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.” All the characters in Peach Keeper are trying to either break with or come to terms with their pasts so they can move on. Willa and Paxton in particular discover how their families’ pasts are more deeply intertwined than they ever knew, with the repercussions lasting to the present.

This is Sarah Addison Allen’s fourth book. I’ve come to expect certain things from her:

1. A small town North Carolina setting, a bit off the beaten path, where you have a real sense of the people and the place. It feels homey, and the pace is a bit slower. There are little shops and diners, not mega-stores and fast food restaurants.

2. Food imagery. Not the sort in which the author pauses to give you a recipe every few pages and not descriptions to make you stop and raid the fridge, but descriptions that do appeal to the senses, like mixing cold mild and flour, a pinch of cinnamon and hint of vanilla, the smell of spices or the tang of barbecue.

3. Romance is in the air, even if people aren’t looking for it or it seems hopeless. Sometimes people you think should end up together at the start aren’t the ones who end up together in the last chapter, but that’s okay too. Double check! This time romance is one of the main themes, more overtly so than in some of the other books and a lot of fun to watch unfold.

4. Strong family ties, for good or ill. Characters are a product of their ancestors and their place. Some embrace that, some rebel, but they do make their own choices.

5. Characters I like. You’d think that would be a given, but there are a lot of books in which I find I would like to tell a character to shut up or grow up or, even better, do both. Allen’s characters tend to be people I know or would like to know-- with a few exceptions.

6. Strong female friendships that offer comfort and support. This is another main theme of this book, creating such friendships and seeing them in action. There is an old unexpected bond, too, one that makes a rather unsympathetic character suddenly much more understandable and admirable.

7. A whiff of magic. Not the eye of newt, cauldron bubble sort of magic, but just a little shimmer of something otherworldly, a touch of superstition mixed in with the everyday world. This time there’s a bit more with superstition, with birds fluttering at windows and pennies to draw ghosts away. There’s also a folklore motif about a traveling man that I found very satisfying.

8. At the end of the book I’ll feel happy and satisfied as if I’d eaten some lovely treat from the Blackbird Bakery except that I won’t fear the scales.

In short, Peach Keeper is a lovely summer read: sweet but not overly so, with a bit of a tang and as satisfying as the first peach of summer. Enjoy!