|TL v65n2: Book Reviews|
Atkins, R. L. (2014). Sweetwater Blues
Atkins, R. L. (2014). Sweetwater Blues. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press. 340 pages. ISBN: 9780881465075
In Sweetwater Blues, Raymond Atkins introduces readers to Palmer Cray, a teenager who is about to embark on the journey of life, but whose life takes a different turn when tragedy strikes on high school graduation night. Palmer Cray and his best friend Rodney Earwood are high school graduates out cruising the back roads of their hometown in North Georgia to celebrate their success. When Palmer wakes up in the hospital, he has to face the reality that he killed his best friend. He is tried and then sentenced on his nineteenth birthday to ten years in Sweetwater Correctional Facility for the vehicular homicide of Rodney.
Atkins leads the reader through the normal hardships of prison life as well as those extra hardships that Palmer faces as the son of the head guard at the prison. He introduces a colorful assortment of characters who all play a large role in Palmer’s time in prison as well as his life after prison. Atkins also provides a unique look into the main character’s mind by providing Palmer’s journal entries at the end of each chapter.
Atkins skillfully incorporates humor and suspense as he weaves Palmer’s story. It is a tale of survival and redemption that captures the readers’ imaginations and propels them into Sweetwater Correctional Facility beside Palmer Cray in his cell.
Raymond Atkins, an instructor of English at Georgia Northwestern Technical College, resides in Rome, Georgia. He is the two-time recipient of Georgia’s Author of the Year for Best Fiction for Camp Redemption and The Front Porch Prophet. Atkins has once again been nominated for a Georgia Author of the Year award for Sweetwater Blues, his fourth noveli. This novel will appeal to a wide audience—ranging from young adults to the general public—who appreciate Southern fiction. While I do not suggest the purchase of Sweetwater Blues for elementary school libraries, it should be considered by high school libraries as well as public libraries.
Bridges, A., Clement, R. & Wise, K. (Eds.). (2014). Terra Incognita: An Annotated Bibliography of the Great Smoky Mountains, 1544-1934. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. 440 pages.
According to the publisher, Terra Incognita is the most complete bibliography of the Smoky Mountains available today. Edited by librarians from the University of Tennessee who worked with a group of thirteen annotators, this volume contains annotations to 1,299 items dating from 1544 until the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934. The scope of Terra Incognita includes “books, periodical and journal articles, selected newspaper reports, government publications, dissertations and theses, and maps published before 1935” (xii).
Terra Incognita is divided into thirteen chapters: Early Great Smoky Mountains Bibliographies; The Cherokee in the Great Smoky Mountains; Early Travel and Exploration in the Great Smoky Mountains; History of the Great Smoky Mountains; The National Forest Movement and the Formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; Maps of the Great Smoky Mountains; Life in the Great Smoky Mountains; Horace Kephart; Literature of the Great Smoky Mountains; Music of the Great Smoky Mountains; Recreations and Tourism in the Great Smoky Mountains; Natural History of the Great Smoky Mountains; and Natural Resources and Development of the Great Smoky Mountains. Each chapter is introduced by a map, photograph, or book illustration and includes an introductory essay. Annotations summarize the articles “by using a descriptive/critical note combined, when appropriate, with content information” (xviii). The authors of the essays and annotations are identified by their initials.
The editors have added a number of useful tools. For example, the endpapers include a map of the Great Smoky Mountains Region so that readers will know the exact geographic area that is covered in the book. The volume also includes a chronology of the Great Smoky Mountains from the pre-1500s through 1940 and a short reading list of sources published after 1934. An online index, Database of the Smokies, is being compiled and will contain citations to items published post-1934 along with citations to older items that were not identified in time to be included in Terra Incognita.
Anne Bridges and Ken Wise are co-directors of the Great Smoky Mountains Regional Project. Both Bridges and Wise are associate professors at John C. Hodges Library at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Russell Clement retired from Northwestern University, where his most recent position was head of the art collection. Their collaborative effort is a one-stop volume for early sources of information on the Great Smoky Mountains and should be consider for inclusion in academic and larger public libraries’ collections.
Donnelly, K. (2009). Three Days Dead. Gatlinburg, TN: Hummingbird Books. 300 pages. ISBN: 978089873729
Donald Youngblood returns for a second time in Keith Donnelly’s Three Days Dead. Despite a pledge to never take another missing person case, the former Wall Street broker turned private investigator relents when a young teenager shows up in his office with a request to find her missing mother. Lacy Malone is worried that her mother, an exotic dancer at a club in Knoxville, is back on drugs and needs help. Thus begins a mystery that has the investigator traveling from Mountain Center to Knoxville, Las Vegas, and Green River, Utah in his quest to find the missing mother.
While the heart of the story is the missing person search, there are also side stories. Youngblood’s old girlfriend calls him for help when she is stalked by a persistent ex-boyfriend. He’s also working with local law enforcement to bust a meth lab in East Tennessee. All of this insures that there will be plenty of action, and readers should not be surprised to discover that they are having trouble putting this book down.
Youngblood is assisted by many well-drawn characters, and while most were introduced in the first book, there are several new ones as well. Billy Two Feathers, Youngblood’s quiet but capable assistant, is back with a few surprises of his own, while T. Elbert Brown, Big Bob Wilson, Roy Husky, Scott Glass, and Raul Rivera return to aid in the search. Mary Sanders returns as well, and there is a switch in roles from the first book when Mary has to help Youngblood recover from a brutal beating. In the course of searching for Lacy’s mother, Don reconnects with an old college acquaintance, Bruiser Bracken, who not only provides invaluable aid, but also proves to be a good friend. And then there is young Lacy—a smart girl who helps the investigator connect with his paternal side.
Keith Donnelly was born and raised in Johnson City, Tennessee, graduated from East Tennessee State University, and currently resides in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Once again, he has succeeded in penning a fast-paced book set in East Tennessee that will appeal to fans of mysteries. Because of its setting and appeal, Donnelly’s book can be heartily recommended for public libraries as well as academic libraries with popular reading collections.
Gritter, E. (2014). River of Hope: Black Politics and the Memphis Freedom Movement, 1865 – 1954. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. 353 pages. ISBN: 9780813144504.
River of Hope: Black Politics and the Memphis Freedom Movement, 1865 – 1954 is part of the series, “Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the 20th Century,” which focuses on publications dealing with the struggle of African Americans to find political, social, and economic equality. Not only do the books in the series focus on the history of past movements, but they show the continuing influence of these movements on race and society today.
Author Elizabeth Gritter is an assistant professor at Indiana University Southeast where she specializes in the African-American freedom struggle. Her book was thoroughly researched, and includes thirty-three oral history interviews with Memphians and a very detailed bibliography of primary sources.
Gritter discusses the period in Memphis after Reconstruction through the start of the civil rights movement. She does an excellent job of chronicling the struggle of African Americans in Memphis to achieve equality, both politically and socially. Readers might be surprised to discover that Memphis was unique in the segregated South due to its large number of African American voters.
The author also writes about the influential men of the period, such as Robert R. Church, Jr. and Edward H. Crump. Church, Jr., a remarkable African American businessman and political activist, founded and financed the Lincoln League in Memphis, which organized African-American citizens to register and vote. On the other hand was Edward H. Crump, the political boss who ran Memphis for most of the first half of the 20th century. Gritter uses these men to demonstrate the political influences for this time period and how the African-American community viewed them.
River of Hope includes an introduction by the author; five chapters, written in chronological order; followed by the Conclusion, Acknowledgement, Notes, Bibliography, and Index. Interestingly, the publisher included an eight page insert of black and white photographs in the middle of the book, instead of dispersing these as individual photographs to follow the narrative
I would highly recommend major public and academic libraries in the South to consider adding River of Hope to their collections. I would also recommend this to book to any academic library with an African-American studies program. It may also be of interest to libraries to purchase other books in this civil rights series. The book makes an important contribution to the understanding of politics in the civil rights movement.Laura Cunningham, Memphis and Shelby County Room
Memphis Public Library & Information Center.
Mainfort, R. C., Jr. (2013). Pinson Mounds: Middle Woodland Ceremonialism in the Midsouth. Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press. 270 pages. ISBN-13: 9781557286390
When Robert Mainfort, a freshly minted PhD, first took a job in Nashville in 1976 with the Tennessee Department of Archaeology, he did not expect to become the national authority on the Pinson Mounds. At that time, the State of Tennessee wanted to develop an archaeological park at the site ten miles south of Jackson in West Tennessee. By 1980, when the park was completed, the State funded three more years of archaeological work to provide information for programs and exhibits. Mainfort chose the excavation sites in order to answer key questions being asked by both professional archaeologists and the public: how old were the mounds, what were the mounds used for; and where did the people who built the mounds come from?
With the help of field students from Memphis State University, his team began excavating the Ozier Mound. He moved on to Mound 10, unearthing a remarkable concentration of artifacts. The Twin Mounds excavation uncovered stratigraphy and burial facilities previously unreported in the Midsouth. With funding from the National Geographic Society in 1989, he uncovered nonlocal artifacts that placed Pinson Mounds in a regional archaeological context with excavations in northeastern Mississippi. The landscape study linked Pinson Mounds to the Eastern Citadel. In 1993 he took a position with the Arkansas Archeological Survey and currently also serves as a professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas.
This book represents a comprehensive overview and reinterpretation of Mainfort’s earlier work concerning the largest Middle Woodland mound complex in the Southeast. Pinson Mounds comprises the ruins of an ancient walled city with outer defenses measuring six miles in length and elaborate inner and outer citadels. The complex comprises at least thirteen mounds, including five large, rectangular platform mounds from eight to seventy-two feet in height. Around A.D. 100, Pinson Mounds was a pilgrimage center that drew visitors from throughout the Southeast and accommodated people from numerous cultural and socioeconomic classes.
In the first chapter, Mainfort describes the geologic study of Pinson Mounds. In the second chapter, Mary Kwas, park administrator, outlines the antiquarians’ perspective, of particular interest to historians and cultural anthropologists. The third chapter focuses on cartography. The next three chapters examine the excavations in detail of the Western, Central, and Eastern Ritual Precincts. Chapter 7 discusses the calibrated radiocarbon chronology for Pinson Mounds and related sites. The final chapter explains the role of Pinson Mounds in the Middle Woodland period in the Midsouth and lower Mississippi Valley. Appendix 1 catalogs ceramics. Appendix 2 provides another satisfying article by Kwas on politics and prehistory, including specific Tennessee history associated with the park.
The volume contains extensive references and a sufficient index. The organization of the book flows logically. The writing is clear and scientific for archaeology aficionados and scholars, yet understandable for the amateur scientist and historian. There are abundant maps, photos, drawings, charts, tables, and other illustrations.
This book is highly recommended for academic libraries, for public and secondary school libraries who serve regional researchers, and for special libraries holding regional or archaeological studies. Mainfort’s work contributes significantly to the body of work related to ancient Tennessee and answers the three questions that Mainfort first addressed about the people and history of the site.
Pugh, T. (2014). Truman Capote: A Literary Life at the Movies. The South on Screen. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press. 328 pages. ISBN: 9780820346694
Truman Capote was a man of contradictions—an openly gay man in a time when most gay men were firmly in the closet; a serious writer who was a shameless self-promoter and gossip; a Southern writer who did not want to be considered a Southern writer; and an ardent movie fan who thought that novels and stories should not be made into movies. In a new book, Tison Pugh, a professor of English at the University of Central Florida, explores how Capote “truly lived in and through the movies.” (1) Part of the South on Screen series, Truman Capote: A Literary Life at the Movies discusses elements of cinema in Capote’s story stories and novels; his screenplays; adaptations of his works for film and television; and his role as a celebrity.
According to Pugh, Capote’s writings explored several recurring themes: childhood sexuality, homoeroticism, and criminal behavior. Despite his feeling that books should not be made into movies, Capote, motivated by financial gain and the chance to gain a larger audience for his works, wrote screenplays and allowed several of his short stories and novels to be filmed. One of the challenges for directors when filming Capote’s screenplays and stories was how to make a movie that would pass the scrutiny of the Motion Picture Production Code (also known as the Hays Code, this code served as the moral compass for what content was acceptable for inclusion in movies shown to the American public) while remaining true to the intent of the original story. For example, Capote was pleased with the movie adaptation of his nonfiction novel, In Cold Blood, but he was very unhappy with Breakfast at Tiffany’s, calling it, “…a mawkish valentine to New York City and Holly” (p. 107).
An interesting chapter explores the portrayal of Capote in film and television. “Given his distinctive appearance and mannerisms—short of stature, wispy-voiced yet acid-tongued, openly gay—playing Capote invites the actor either to parody the author through excessive exaggeration, or to perform him by embodying but not overemphasizing his famed traits, or to mix the boundaries between these two modes” (p. 219). Whether parodies or serious cinematic attempts to understand the man and his motivations, the attention that comics and filmmakers pay to Capote attest to his importance in the popular culture of his time.
Pugh does an admirable job of writing about Capote’s relationship with Hollywood and movies without getting caught up in celebrity stories concerning this opinionated author. Well written and thoroughly researched, Truman Capote: A Literary Life at the Movies will be a worthy addition to literature and/or theater collections in academic and large public libraries.
Spira, T. P. (2015) Waterfalls & Wildflowers in the Southern Appalachians: Thirty Great Hikes. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press. 304 pages. ISBN: 9781469622644
Waterfalls & Wildflowers in the Southern Appalachians is a good starting point for anyone interested in exploring the wilderness of Southern Appalachia. Part hiking guide, part flower identification manual, this book not only provides information about where to hike but also what flowers you will enjoy on your journey. Covering Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, a large portion of the Southern Appalachians is explored within the book.
The guide is divided into four parts. The first is a general introduction providing general information about how to use the information as well safety tips for hiking and common rules for not disturbing nature while hiking. The second section examines the different types of ecosystems found in Southern Appalachia and lists various types of plants and herbs that can be found in each.
The heart of the guide really begins in the third section which contains the hiking narratives. Organized by state, the book details thirty hikes in the Southern Appalachian region. Information provided for each hike includes a beautiful color photograph of each waterfall, trail length and difficulty, elevation, directions, and what flowers can be seen. Each species of flower has a corresponding page number in the fourth section where the reader can look up identification information. Section four of the guide contains color photographs of 125 different plants organized by flower color for quick reference. Within each color, the plants are arranged sequentially by flowering time which makes quick scanning of what flowers might be seen on a hike at different times of the year an easy process. General information including description of leaves, flowers and fruit, habitat/range, and interesting notes are included for each plant.
While there are a plethora of books on hiking and flower identification out there, the beauty of this book lies in the author’s ability to combine the two into a very accessible, quick reference guide. The one drawback to this is that this book is by no means a comprehensive resource on either waterfalls in the Southern Appalachians or wildflower identification. However, it would be a great general resource that would fit easily into a hiker’s back pack for those times when she or he wanted to plan a weekend hike or ran across wildflowers on a trail and wanted to be able to make a quick identification.
Due to the generalized and easy to read nature of the information, this guide would be a good starting point for anyone gaining an interest in botany or exploring the region. Waterfalls & Wildflowers in the Southern Appalachians would be a great resource book in both academic and public libraries, especially within the Appalachian region.
Vandana Shiva. (2014). The Vandana Shiva Reader. Forward by Wendell Berry. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press. 376 pages. ISBN-13: 9780813153292
Conventional assumptions in the Western world maintain that the Green Revolution, which established modern methods of farming in India, has greatly improved the lives of its people by providing increased agricultural yields through new chemical fertilizers and durable, genetically modified crop strains. In this volume, anti-agribusiness activist Vandana Shiva offers a wealth of statistical evidence suggesting the tremendous harm that global corporations continue to inflict on farmers in India and throughout the third world. Three-fourths of India’s population are farmers, and Shiva argues that corporate encroachment has robbed them both of sustainability and biodiversity, leading to dependence on foreign multinational companies.
The core of Shiva’s arguments rest on the claim that large corporate interests have “hijacked” Indian agriculture by transforming its farmers from producers of traditionally developed, diverse crops into consumers dependent on genetically-modified seed and fertilizers purchased annually from foreign companies. Many Indian farmers have transitioned to growing wheat, cotton, and other crops for export to Western markets. The problem, according to Shiva, is that the dependence on export crops leaves little for the producers themselves, creating widespread food shortages among Indian famers who often cannot afford to buy sufficient quantities of the food they produce, especially after paying their rent or mortgages and purchasing new seed and fertilizer from corporate interests. Unlike traditional seed, which is harvested each year from one’s own crops, genetically-modified strains must be purchased yearly because they do not produce viable seeds. Farmers thus become dependent consumers, rather than independent producers. Shiva supports her claims with a wealth of statistical data, including an extensive section of tables demonstrating the financial and ecological impact of agribusiness in India.
The Vandana Shiva Reader is a thought-provoking challenge to the notion that modern methods and technologies of farming are helping feed people around the world. While people in the United States, Europe, and other industrialized regions enjoy a tremendous abundance of food, their prosperity comes at the expense of the rural, agriculture-dependent farmers of the third world, many of whom become locked into dependence on corporate products, leaving little for their own livelihood. This book would make a fine addition both to academic and public libraries, as readers seeking information on the global impact of agribusiness will find much of interest here. Though her arguments are steeped in a wealth of scientific data, Shiva’s writing is clear and accessible to the non-specialist. As a native of India, Shiva is unapologetically passionate in her condemnation of predatory corporate practices. Wary readers may question whether her personal feelings have affected her interpretation of the situation, but her thorough and effective use of data to support her claims should lead many to consider seriously whether corporate encroachment on third-world agriculture has done more harm than good.
Aaron D. Horton