|TL v65n3: Book Reviews|
Beard, J. C. (2014). The history of human error by Jerry
Hughes, C. L. (2015). Country soul: Making music and making race in the American South
Knipple, P. & Knipple, A. (2015). Catfish
Simpson, J. A. (2013). Hub Perdue: Clown prince of the mound
Van Willigen, J. (2014). Kentucky’s cookbook heritage: Two hundred years of southern cuisine and culture
Wall, M. (2014). Madam Belle: Sex, money, and influence in a southern brothel
Beard, J. C. (2014). The history of human error by Jerry. Hoffman Reference Press. 118 pages. ISBN 9780986048814.
Jerry, a potential music scholar and seventeen year-old, ponders the odd situation of his life: his father’s death several years ago and his mother’s current boyfriend, Charles. As a teenager, he also fantasizes about girls and fitting into the right group. One day, Jerry decides not go to school. Instead, he drives to Connecticut where Charles lives. After an overnight pit stop at his grandmother’s house, Jerry arrives at Charles’ house. Upon arrival, Jerry decides to explore inside, in hopes of finding damning evidence about Charles. He easily finds a hidden key and lets himself in. Jerry has not been searching long when he finds himself at the police’s mercy. He calls his mother to post bail but she believes he must remain in jail overnight.
Fortunately for Jerry, things work out with the district attorney. The court decides to send Jerry to a psychiatric hospital. An intern here gives an appropriate name for Jerry’s situation: “history of human error.” Jerry explains in an epilogue that his jail and hospital visits were years ago as he now ponders volunteering with the military. Two strangers who Jerry sees in the elevator seem to know Jerry but Jerry’s fate is left more to interpretation.
Jerry’s unsympathetic mother and his immature perspective make it somewhat challenging to feel empathy for him. Perhaps in the hands of Buck Henry and Mike Nichols, Jerry’s story might make an amusing contrast to Benjamin Braddock’s story in the movie, The Graduate, albeit with a younger and less-fortunate protagonist. More humor about Jerry’s circumstances would definitely help sustain interest and sympathy for his circumstances. The novel’s writing style and the use of Jerry’s omniscient voice allow for much discussion.
Jerry’s story is an interesting but somewhat hopeless take on a prodigy’s only son. In spite of an almost non-existent support system, Jerry has an active imagination and initiative. He does not rely on drugs, alcohol or contemplate suicide in spite of his grim circumstances. The ambiguous ending allows room for contemplating Jerry’s future as do his circumstances in the psychiatric hospital and jail. Academic and public books clubs can appreciate the book’s brevity and first-person writing style. Public library audiences may also enjoy it but could become impatient with Jerry’s narrow viewpoint and the ambiguous ending. Perhaps a future novel can tie up the loose ends. If not, at least it might provide for a brighter or more certain future in spite of Jerry’s human error.
Hughes, C. L. (2015). Country soul: Making music and making race in the American South. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press. 264 pages. ISBN 9781469622439.
In Country Soul, Hughes adds a new perspective to the conversation on race and music in the American South during the 1960’s and 70’s. The book focuses on recording industries in the “country-soul triangle” made up of Memphis, Nashville, and Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Hughes notes that many writings on the subject of race and music in the South during this time period are based on two assumptions: “the first is that southern soul helped redeem the white South from its racist past” and “the second is that southern studios were a transcendent space in which racial conflict or even identity did not exist…” (5).
Hughes introduces a more nuanced narrative, highlighting the complicated relationships between whites and blacks; country and soul music, during this time. He asserts that whites were the primary beneficiaries from the popularity of soul music, and debunks the myth that southern recording studios were somehow immune to racial tension and inequalities. Hughes draws on the experiences of session musicians, producers, and songwriters to illuminate the realities of the day. He offers the complex relationships observed in the “country-soul triangle” as a metaphor for the state of the nation during this time of change.
Hughes is an assistant professor of history at Oklahoma State University. The bibliography reveals a lengthy list of sources, ranging from rarely-used archival materials to interviews with behind-the-scenes players. This well-researched yet readable book is highly recommended for academic libraries and public libraries in Tennessee.
Knipple, P. & Knipple, A. (2015). Catfish. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press. 140 pages. ISBN 9781469621302.
Paul and Angela Knipple, authors of two books and numerous articles about Southern foods, have added to the “Savor the South” cookbook series with their new book Catfish, about the whiskered fish that is found all over the world.
The introduction, "Zen and the Art of Catfishing," gives some background on the fish and acknowledges the special place it has in the South. From catfish festivals to songs and sports teams named after the fish, the authors explain the catfish in American popular culture. There is also some catfish folklore from the Zuni Indians, from Japan and from Europe. The introduction also includes information about how to pick and prepare catfish, the sustainability of catfish farming and notes on deep frying the fish, including safety suggestions.
Catfish is divided into five sections. Fried Catfish, of course, is the first section. It has five fried catfish recipes, and six recipes for the necessary sides to go with the fish, including Pickled Green Tomatoes. The Cajun Cabbage, made with andouille sausage, is easy to make, and a nice change from the usual coleslaw with the Fried Catfish Fillets. The other sections are Appetizers, Soups and Stews, Salads and Sandwiches and Entrees.
Some of these 56 recipes are familiar, but use catfish instead of the usual meat or fish--such as Smoky Catfish Brandade Spread, using catfish instead of salt cod. (This recipe uses an interesting technique to get the smoky flavor in the fish. The fish is simmered with smoked bacon. The bacon infuses the cooking water, and then is discarded when the fish is done.) Nashville-Style Hot Fried Catfish is a take on Nashville’s famous Hot Chicken, and last but not least Beer-Battered Catfish and Chips, my favorite. (The beer batter is excellent.)
There are also other international recipes. Obe Eja is a spicy Nigerian catfish stew. The Coriander Catfish Rolls, a popular appetizer from the Hong Kong House in Knoxville, Tennessee, were easy to make and a nice change from the usual restaurant egg rolls. Vietnamese Caramelized Clay Pot Catfish, Thai Green Curry Catfish, Columbian Catfish Pie from South America and Moroccan Catfish Tagine are a few more recipes from around the world. Each recipe has notes, offering a background of the dish, cooking and serving tips.
Paul and Angela Knipple live in Memphis. They are the authors of Farm Fresh Tennessee and The World in a Skillet: A Food Lover’s Tour of the New American South, and contribute articles to magazines, including Edible Memphis. Catfish is a nice addition to the growing body of work about Southern foods. Libraries with an interest in Southern culture or cookbooks in general would find this book a good fit.
Simpson, J. A. (2013). Hub Perdue: Clown prince of the mound. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. 292 pages. ISBN 9780786472253.
By the beginning of the 20th century, baseball had become a popular past time, and even small rural towns had teams. Hub Perdue, a product of Sumner County, Tennessee, spent 19 years playing professional ball for teams in both the minor and major leagues from 1905-1923. He had a strong arm, a weak swing, and was known for his comedic antics on the field. He had a lot of potential but was never able to develop into a solid, steady player. After his brief major-league baseball career was over, Perdue returned to Sumner County where he successfully served as the County Clerk from 1934 until 1946.
In his new book, John Simpson, a retired high school teacher with a Ph.D. in American History from the University of Oregon, explores the career of baseball pitcher Herbert Robert (Hub) Perdue. While the bulk of the book is devoted to Perdue’s playing career, other chapters are devoted to his brief stint as a manager and his life pre- and post-baseball. A concluding chapter offers statistical data of Perdue’s baseball career and draws conclusions from that data.
Perdue was hardly a superstar, but given the dearth of biographies of Southern baseball players from the early twentieth-century, his story helps to shed light on the history of Southern minor league baseball during the Deadball Era. Games during this time period were low scoring in part due to the overuse of balls and the use of pitches, such as the spitball and emery pitch, which are illegal today. The switch from rubber balls to cork-centered balls in 1911 and the ruling that teams had to change balls as they became dirty was the beginning of the end of the Deadball Era as game scores increased and players began to hit more home runs. Following Perdue’s career, the reader will learn how baseball changed into the game as it is played today.
The book is not without flaws. While Simpson discusses many games, Perdue himself remains elusive—a serious flaw in a biography. In one section, the author notes that a contemporary of Perdue, Honus Wagner, wrote a newspaper article that “acknowledged the importance of funny men and their use of humor in the game of baseball” (240). While the author could have used this quote as a jumping off point to discuss Perdue’s sense of humor and wit, he chose not to do so. Simpson mentions Perdue’s antics and “Hublore” often, but does not include enough examples to illustrate why the pitcher was so popular with fans. The author mentions that Perdue was a shrewd man who was also a players’ union representative, but fails to devote a lot of space to this activity. Perhaps many of these details are not available, but the book does suffer for this lack.
Although this book is not a necessary purchase, it will be of interest to public libraries in middle Tennessee, as well as other libraries serving diehard baseball fans.
Van Willigen, J. (2014). Kentucky’s cookbook heritage: Two hundred years of southern cuisine and culture. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky. 299 pages. ISBN 9780813146898.
One thing Southerners dislike more than mosquitoes in the summer is to be dolloped into an agglomeration of the same culture. From our distinctive southern accents, to our southern fried food, it can feel the world considers we Southerners are all the same.
In some ways that may be true, but our local food is a staple each southerner is proud of and in John Van Willigen's Kentucky's Cookbook Heritage, he proves just this. Van Willigen is the first to focus on and analyze the significance of the cookbooks of Kentucky. Through these cookbooks, he traces the changes in Kentucky culture and history through the way people treated the food they ate and how that impacted one’s life.
The author, Jon Van Willigen, is a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Kentucky and is also the author of several books dealing with food culture and Kentucky history. He is clearly an expert on this topic.
The book begins with an introduction to cookbooks as the key to Kentucky foodways and culinary history. It is then followed by eight chapters detailing cookbooks in chronological order, beginning with the earliest, published in 1839. Acknowledgements, notes, references, an annotated bibliography of Kentucky cookbooks, and an index comprise the end.
Interspersed throughout the narrative were sample recipes from these cookbooks which I found to be a pleasant surprise. This helps broaden the audience. It could be read not only by a scholar but a home cook as well.
I think Van Willigen’s book opens up the field of study for other states to study their culinary evolution and how it shaped their culture. This is a book that would appeal not only to major libraries but to rural as well. Many of the people reading this book still celebrate their culinary heritage. After all, this is the South.
Wall, M. (2014). Madam Belle: Sex, money, and influence in a southern brothel. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky. 190 pages. ISBN 9780813147062.
Pop quiz: How many famous brothel owners can you name from your hometown? I can name one: Belle Brezing. Yet for all of our fascination with Madam Belle, or “infatuation” as Wall writes, referencing renowned Kentucky historian Thomas D. Clark (vii), we really know very little. This only contributes to her status as a local legend. We know just enough to pique our interest in her, yet not nearly enough to satisfy our curiosity. Maryjean Wall writes the most thorough biography of Belle Brezing while acknowledging there likely cannot be a comprehensive work on her life given the sources available.
Belle Brezing makes for a difficult subject. She did not give interviews, nor did she keep a diary (vii). Most of what is known is from the height of her career up until her businesses closed during the First World War though she did not pass away until 1940 (ix). What Wall does brilliantly is write a biography of Madam Belle by placing her life in context, piecing together a jigsaw puzzle of what is known specifically about Brezing with what is known about Lexington and her many acquaintances at the time. There are pages, even chapters, where Brezing is barely mentioned, if at all. What we are presented with is a narrative interweaving Ms. Brezing and “Lexington as she knew it” (vii). Madam Belle is as much a biography of one of Lexington’s most infamous residents as it is a history of Lexington, Kentucky. It is also a work about the history of horse racing and the horse economy of Kentucky, the moral attitudes in the Gilded Age South, and social reform in the Progressive era that brought an end to red-light districts.
The author does an excellent job writing a scholarly historical work on such a prurient topic and credit should be given to Wall for avoiding any temptation to stray too far into the realm of sensationalized historical reporting. Not that any such reporting is needed in this book: truth, after all, is more interesting than fiction. Even with our 21st century sensibilities, or more likely because of them, much of Brezing’s life will still seem shocking. However, her life seems less scandalous because of the way Wall presents Brezing: Central to the narrative is the theme that Brezing was first and foremost a shrewd business woman with a love for horse racing (ix) who accumulated wealth and real estate.
Including the short preface and even shorter epilogue, the remaining 158 pages make for a quick, fun, and revealing read. The endnotes, bibliography, and index will help any scholar delving more deeply into the related topics, but the casual reader will do just fine without flipping to them. Madam Belle could fit in a public or academic library with a need for interesting biographies from the post-Civil War to early 20th century, but keep in mind that this book has a laser-like focus on Lexington, Kentucky, which may limit its broader appeal.
Anthony H. Prince, Jr., MLS, MPA