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Book Reviews

Wendy Doucette, Book Reviews Editor


Avery, N. (2014). Orphan in America: A novel. 

Davis, J. (2014). Music along the Rapidan: Civil War soldiers, music, and community during winter quarters, Virginia.

Ferris, W. (2016). The South in color: A visual journal.

Guthman, J. (2015). Strangers below: Primitive Baptists and American culture.

Miller, P. Z. (2016). The quickest kid in Clarksville.

Netherland, R. G. (2016). Southern Appalachian farm cooking: A memoir of food and family.

Smith, R. L. (2016). The story of the dulcimer (2nd ed).

 

Avery, N. (2014). Orphan in America: A novel. [n.p.]: CreateSpace Publishing. 628 pages. ISBN: 9781495433405

Following three generations of a family, this novel examines a neglected area of American history. Based on a true event, even though all characters are fictional, it spans from rural England to the cities of the United States and across the American Midwest. “Orphan trains” operating between 1854 and 1929 relocated about 200,000 children from the eastern cities of the United States to the mostly rural areas of the Midwest. Enacted by The Children’s Aid Society and notable philanthropists of the day, this project, called the Orphan Train Movement, was designed to improve the lives of orphaned and homeless children, but also tore apart families.

Orphan in America is the story of a young boy, Alex, taken away from his parents and the squalor and poverty of the slums of 1859 New York. Even though Alex was not an orphan, local authorities were concerned about his well-being and were certain in their zeal that they knew what was best. Accordingly, Alex was seized and carried away from his father.

Alex is adopted by an older childless couple who are corn farmers on the Missouri prairie. As he attempts to make sense of his new life and adapt to the hard life on a farm, he deals with extreme loneliness as best a child can. He develops a closer relationship with farm animals and with other farm children rather than with adults.

Over time, his life becomes linked a multitude of other characters including his father, Will Piccard, and the wealthy Cambridge family of Baltimore who, unknown to Alex, will cause great sadness in his life. Intrigue and murder complicate a father’s search for his lost son. Mrs. Avery vividly describes places and events; I can almost see and feel the sights in the story. Her use of sunlight, shade, and wind help build suspense and perspective. Although most characters were very believable and interesting, at times it was difficult to see how it all tied together until the end. My one drawback is the remarkable string of coincidences in the final chapters. Ultimately, the many storylines do resolve into a believable but slightly disappointing ending. At times there seemed to be side characters acting without much impact on the story. However, this abundance of characters suggests there are more stories to tell in the future.

Mrs. Avery is a writer and educator. This is her sixth book. I recommend this title to all public libraries and schools with young adult collections. I believe this book would help readers understand life on a 19th century prairie farm.

Richard Griffin
Library Director
Washington County Library System

 

Davis, J. (2014). Music along the Rapidan: Civil War soldiers, music, and community during winter quarters, Virginia. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. 360 pages. ISBN: 9780803245099

The American Civil War, while often remembered as our country’s most militarily gruesome period, can also be discussed in terms of extensive cultural interchange. Music was one of the most visceral and emotive cultural expressions commonly shared throughout the war. From livening fiddle tunes to somber a cappella dirges to emboldening brass bands, daily life for the Civil War soldier was elementally influenced by music. In Music along the Rapidan, Davis mines a trove of Civil War diaries, letters, memoirs and printed music showing the settings and means in which music was shared during the war.

Davis’ book presents analyses of particular “musical communities.” These separate discussions of music-sharing situations and musical impact leave the reader with a better understanding of the levels at which music was exchanged during the war. Davis’ writing style and ability to effectively interweave his points with primary source snippets is approachable and persuasive, although his arguments are often repetitive between chapters.

James Davis is Professor of Musicology and Chair of Musicology at The State University of New York at Fredonia School of Music. His collegiate career has consisted of musical studies focused on scoring, arranging and composition, culminating with a Ph.D. from Boston University in music history and theory. He is also the author of Bully for the Band! The Letters and Diary of Four Brothers in the 10th Vermont Infantry Band. His expertise on the latter topic shows itself prominently in Music along the Rapidan’s detailed discussion of the repertoire, duties, and significance of brass bands during the Civil War; points that are rarely examined in detail. Regarding informal music, the book can leave the reader desiring more in-depth discussion and less conjecture. In Davis’ defense, little tangible evidence survives of undeniably prevalent folk music like balladry or fiddling during the war. Often those leaving behind written musical accounts had more formal musical training and interacted in more formal musical settings.

Music along the Rapidan presents what is likely the most thorough collection of personal musical accounts from the Civil War. However, its title can be rather deceiving. By geographically specifying one particular time and place, readers may expect a focused analysis of one individual musical community. Instead the book discusses multiple communities or distinct personal intersections at which music was shared through accounts that span the entire war and nation. Readers may find works such as R. Murray Shafer’s The Soundscape and Mark Smith’s Hearing History beneficial supplements for understanding better some of Davis’ assertions and the natural or physiological influences that made the music and musical communities that Davis discusses so powerful. However, this book is a worthy read and a useful supplement to the realm of music and music sharing during the American Civil War.

Corbin Hayslett
Graduate Associate of Appalachian Studies
East Tennessee State University

 

Ferris, W. (2016). The South in color: A visual journal. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. 144 pages. ISBN: 9781469629681

Acting almost as the first volume in a trilogy of sorts to William Ferris’ other two previous books containing his original photographs—Give My Poor Heart Ease (2008) and The Storied South (2013)—The South in Color details the beginning of Ferris’ career as an artist, photographer, and writer. Within this book, his art is not a glossy, self-selective, vetted history; these images are the beginning of what Ferris first experienced growing up in the Mississippi Delta. These pictures, or “snapshots,” of his family and his family farm’s workers document those who were the cement in a small community that could be found in front of the local feed store every morning and entering church every Sunday night.

The photographs are more than documentary. When turning through the pages, the book feels more like a family album containing intimate portraits of Ferris’ own family: his sisters on a picnic; those who assisted with work on their farm in Warren County, Mississippi; and the small towns and corner stores that Ferris passed by every day. Centering around his own life at a time when Ferris was maturing and learning more about the world around him, these pictures are taken exclusively from the 1960s and ‘70s and are of the small towns and farms around the Mississippi Delta. Though shot in color, these images can easily be re-imagined existing in black and white, such as those shot by Welty in the 1930s or even in the words of the Delta’s own sacred son, Faulkner. As with both Welty and Faulkner, such everyday issues such as race, labor relations, class, and poverty are never kept out of view for the unassuming sake of art.

In these deceptively simple snapshots, Ferris captures a world that seems so distant in comparison to the current urban landscape and constantly active on-line lives that are reality for many of us. Readers who are casual pursuers of art photography might not be overly impressed by the aesthetic effort. For those who have been immersed in Southern culture and history, these shots of the Delta’s landscape, its people, its unstaged realism will only add to the passion and knowledge of reliving these same memories.

Ferris’ The South in Color might not be the best addition for a public library’s art collection, especially ones geographically far from Memphis and the end of the Delta. Academic libraries might consider this book as an addition to their cultural studies and Americana programs.

Amy Stedman
Collections Manager, Reece Museum
East Tennessee State University

 

Guthman, J. (2015). Strangers below: Primitive Baptists and American culture. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press. 219 pages. ISBN: 9781469624860

Joshua Guthman, Assistant Professor of History at Berea College, first became curious about the Primitive Baptists as he listened to a recording of them singing, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” in their slow tempo, nasal style. He wondered at their mournful sound, who they were, and what made them “primitive.”

In his Introduction, Guthman describes his book as a series of essays with chronological jumps and an emphasis on what the Primitives reveal about the American story. Guthman draws upon religious studies, history, and American studies to answer questions about what the Primitives believe, how they began, and how they influenced society. Guthman’s poetic writing style is engaging.

Chapter 1 explores the church histories of the competing Baptist sects, Missionary and Primitive anti-missionary. Each side drew its idealized self-portrait from the negative caricature of the other during the late stages of the Second Great Awakening, competing for the future of the faith. The Primitive Baptists, as they called themselves for their claimed association with the primitive church of the New Testament, split in reaction to the evangelical Baptist fund-raising appeals for missions, colleges, and Sunday schools. Missionary Baptists regarded Primitives as backward. Chapter 2 examines the establishment of the Primitive Baptist self at the level of the individual through the review of journals and letters. The heart of Primitive Baptist religious experience was uncertainty, which drove individuals to find other like-minded Calvinists. Chapter 3 looks at two extended case studies during the antebellum period with focus on how each sect used opportunities to strengthen their bases, with the Primitives becoming increasingly identified with poorer classes. Chapter 4 follows African-American Primitives from emancipation through the founding of the National Primitive Baptist Convention in 1907. Chapter 5 leaps ahead to the music of Roscoe Holcomb, mid-century folk revival artist, and Ralph Stanley. In the Epilogue, Guthman discusses that after 9/11, Stanley’s high lonesome sound, drawn from the past, communicated mood, metaphor and grace, regardless of religious affiliation, for those seeking solace in a period of uncertainty. The sound of American Calvinism thriving for two centuries continues to influence American culture.

The appendices add to the scholarly value. The Notes section is extensive, organized by chapter, and footnoted with relevant chapter pagination. The Bibliography includes reference to Guthman’s website (http://strangersbelow.net), as well as manuscripts organized by location, library, and collection; newspapers and periodicals; sound recordings; films; primary sources; and secondary sources. In the Acknowledgements, he notes the assistance of librarians.

This book is highly recommended for academic libraries, especially those supporting Religious Studies, American Studies, and history, and for any library with collections focusing on Southern regional history, music, and culture. Guthman’s book provides an important and unique contribution to Southern religious history.

Martha Earl
Preston Medical Library
University of Tennessee

 

Miller, P. Z. (2016). The quickest kid in Clarksville. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books LLC. 40 pages. ISBN: 9781452129365

Everyone knows that Alta is the quickest kid in Clarksville, Tennessee. In a new book, The Quickest Kid in Clarksville, this likable girl makes a disturbing discovery: she has competition! There’s a new girl in town, Charmaine, and she has a brand new pair of shoes! Will Alta become the second quickest kid in Clarksville? Do shoes make the kid? Or is it heart? In this engaging picture book, Pat Zietlow Miller shares the story of two would-be rivals who become friends after they work together to transport a welcome banner to a parade honoring Olympic gold medalist and hometown girl Wilma Rudolph.

Both girls long to follow in Wilma Rudolph’s footsteps when they grow up. Charmaine’s new shoes are just like the ones that Wilma wore during the Olympics, while Alta’s shoes have holes. Alta does not have a daddy who can buy her new shoes, and her mother tells Alta that the shoes will have to last. Instead of complaining about the situation, Alta realizes that she has to overcome obstacles just like her hero, Wilma Rudolph.

Energetic illustrations by Frank Morrison speed the story along to its satisfactory conclusion. Readers can almost feel the tension in the air as the girls size each other up; their concentration as they race; and their awe when they finally see Miss Rudolph.

While Miller focuses on the rivalry and growing friendship between Alta and Charmaine, her author’s note fills in the details of this extraordinary event. Children may be surprised to discover that the parade to honor Wilma Rudolph’s victories in the 1960 Olympic Games was the first major integrated event to be held in the segregated town of Clarksville, Tennessee.

Pat Zietlow Miller is the author of several picture books including Sophie’s Squash, Wherever You Go, and Wide-Awake Bear. Among the books that Frank Morrison has illustrated for children are Sweet Music in Harlem, I Got the Rhythm, and Stars in the Shadows. The Quickest Kid in Clarksville has been selected as a Junior Library Guild selection. It would be a welcome addition to public and school libraries, as well as academic libraries with education departments.

Kathy Campbell
Student Success Librarian
East Tennessee State University

 

Netherland, R. G. (2016). Southern Appalachian farm cooking: A memoir of food and family. Knoxville, KY: University of Knoxville Press. 234 pages. ISBN: 9781621902232

Growing up on a family farm in Central Ohio with a paternal grandmother who taught me almost everything I know about cooking, I jumped at the chance to review Southern Appalachian Farm Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Family by Robert G. Netherland. I wondered if Midwestern food and family life would be vastly different from—or unusually similar to—our brethren to the south.

Robert G. Netherland is a retired healthcare executive whose passion for food began by helping his grandmother in her kitchen. Netherland has been all over the world experiencing various cuisines, but always comes back to the home cooking of his Southern Appalachian Roots. The Preface gives a very brief overview of his family’s history in East Tennessee and their ownership of the Netherland Inn in Kingsport, TN, from 1818-1906. It is the only stage-stop inn with a tavern and boatyard in Tennessee and is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

The Introduction tells the story of the generations of Netherland’s family who lived on the family farms and depicts what life was like growing up on a farm in East Tennessee in the middle part of the 20th century. Netherland details, along with nineteen pictures, the look and feel of living on a farm.

Southern Appalachian Farm Cooking is truly a memoir and cookbook. Other “memoir-cookbooks” I have read have been heavy on the memories and lacking on recipes or contained too many recipes, but no true memories. What makes this cookbook different from many others is that each chapter has an introduction or interesting tidbit, such as the importance of biscuits, iron skillet cooking, and sharecropping tobacco. The memoir is divided into 15 chapters of recipes, with the first being dedicated to that Southern staple, the biscuit. The last chapter discusses preserves and canning. Many of the recipes themselves have their own story. A few of the chapters have small essays of farm life, like being in 4-H Club, included at the end.

These recipes require simple, farm-to-table ingredients. They do not include pictures, so if you are one of those who likes to see what you are making before creating it, this book is not for you. Of the eight biscuit recipes, I made the Angel Biscuits (we do not have them in the Midwest) and they were heavenly, very light and flaky. I was not brave enough to try the Souse Meat, made from hog’s head. Many of the recipes are ones you may already have tried at church potlucks, family reunions, and summer picnics. Netherland also provides a list of suggested menus.

There is nothing fancy about this cookbook; I recommend it to anyone who has a passion for good, stick-to-your-bones food. Any library in the Appalachian region, be it academic or public, would benefit from purchasing this title. My only complaint is that the recipe steps and directions are in paragraph form and not listed separately, which gets complicated when they are long.

Joanna Anderson
Distance Education Librarian
East Tennessee State University

 

Smith, R. L. (2016). The story of the dulcimer (2nd ed). Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. 102 pages. ISBN: 9781621902386

In the late 1940’s, the well-known regional author Rebecca Caudill was writing a children’s book in which a child possessed a dulcimer. Caudill was unable to find any information about dulcimers, although she had checked with the reference librarian of a major library. The librarian wrote to the editor of The Dictionary of Musical Terms, asking why the Kentucky mountain dulcimer was not listed in the volume. The editor replied, ‘The Kentucky mountain dulcimer is not a musical instrument. It is a regional curiosity’” (p.1). It would not be until the folk singing 1960’s when Jean Ritchie’s haunting voice and fretted dulcimer accompaniment gained nationwide public attention that the dulcimer came into its own as a recognized musical instrument.

Ralph Lee Smith’s “definitive” (p. ix) first edition, published in 1986, has now been enhanced by 30 years of additional research. Mr. Smith covers three major areas in the history of the dulcimer: 1) its place in “American folk craftsmanship” (p. xxii); 2) its place in music performance worldwide; and 3) its place in the history of the Appalachian Mountains region.

The narrative in this volume is easy to read and the many photographs (with provenance) bring the text to life. The appendices are excellent and provide additional information on technical aspects of the dulcimer. This reviewer wishes there was an index which would facilitate finding the types of instruments, makers, and owners discussed in the text and photographs.

In 1985 this reviewer inherited an hourglass dulcimer (often called an Appalachian, or mountain, dulcimer) from a maiden aunt. She loved to play it and sing songs that she learned as a child in the hills of Middle Tennessee. I recall that she purchased it in the 1970’s somewhere in North Carolina, but other than the “SAMS” initials carved on the bottom, I know nothing of its maker. Mr. Smith’s book has renewed my interest in the instrument, providing information on the history of this type of dulcimer; the type of strings used; how to tune it; and how to play it.

This book is recommended for academic libraries in support of the music curriculum and for public libraries, especially those in the Appalachian region.

Annelle R. Huggins
TLA Executive Director
academic librarian (retired)


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