Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Nevermore: Hill Women, Professor and the Madman, Mrs. Wiggins


Reported by Garry


The first book this week was Hill Women: Finding Family and a Way Forward in the Appalachian Mountains by Cassie Chambers.  Our reader said that this book is a wonderful refutation to Hillbilly Elegy.  This biography follows the lives of 3 generations of women from Owsley, KY, one of the most impoverished counties in the country, less than a four hour drive over the mountains from Bristol.  The author examines her own family and tells the story of her Granny, a child bride who worked tirelessly on the tobacco farm and would not hesitate a moment to help a neighbor in need.  Cassie’s mother, Wilma, was the first child in the family to graduate high school, and Cassie herself went to Harvard for a degree in Law, the gilded Ivy League halls a world away from the hollers and tobacco farms of Appalachian Kentucky.  Our reader highly recommends this insightful, heart-felt book about resilience and power of women in Appalachia today. 


The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford Dictionary by Simon Winchester is something we don’t usually get:  A biography of a book.  The Oxford English Dictionary is arguably one of the most influential books ever published, and the story behind its publication reads like wild fiction.  The overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray collected definitions and spellings for words from around Britain – a process that had started in the 1850’s, and continued into the early 1900’s. Late in his term as Editor, Murray discovered that one of the most prolific contributors was William Chester Minor, a US Army Surgeon imprisoned in a mental asylum in Broadmoor for killing a man who he wrongly thought had broken into his home. Confined to prison, but with access to thousands of antique books, Minor became one of the most reliable, voluminous contributors to the dictionary.  Our reader really enjoyed this book, and highly recommends it.


Our next book this week was the surprising Mrs. Wiggins by Mary Monroe.  Our reader was not expecting this tale of small-town 1930’s era Alabama to get so dark.  Maggie Franklin is the daughter of a prostitute mother and alcoholic father who knows that the only way out of her situation is to marry into a prominent, wealthy family, and that is precisely what she does.  Hubert is the most eligible bachelor in Lexington and the son of one of the most prominent preachers.  But Hubert has a secret, one that Maggie helps hide in order to preserve the edifice of her life.  Things start to unravel once their son, Claude, becomes engaged to the worst possible fiancé in the world, and Maggie decides to step in to make “corrections.”  Our reader, once she got over the shock of this book NOT being as light-hearted as she was expecting (don’t judge a book by its cover, dear reader!) thought that this was one of the fairest books she has ever read as far as the depiction of people.  This book is highly recommended for those who like a bit of darkness.


Also mentioned:

New York by Edward Rutherford

Beautiful Things by Hunter Biden.

The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin

The Three Mothers by Anna Malaika Tubbs

The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

The Pillars of Hercules by Paul Theroux

Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson

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