Sunday, August 19, 2012

Appalachian Stories - Recommendations Wanted!

I recently read another book by Silas House which reminded me of how much I connect with his settings.  Eli the Good wasn't quite as Appalachian as his others, but Nature still weighs heavily in the story.

In addition to being his first foray into young adult literature, this book also happens to be great Independence Day reading.  It takes place in 1976, and follows 10-year-old Eli through the course of one summer.

Although the setting felt thoroughly American, the themes are universal.  What defines family?  Why is honesty a vital component of communication?  How do we show—or feel—love and concern?

Absolutely recommended, (although the epilogue didn't quite feel organic to the story,) especially for those who enjoy the coming-of-age aspect.  My enjoyment of the story ended up leading me to a book of short stories that has been on my shelf since August 2004. (Crazy, that.)  Chris Holbrook's Hell and Ohio: originally acquired because I'd enjoyed Silas House's other books.  At that time, newly entrenched in caring for a new infant (for the 4th time, hello) and therefore lacking in extra brain cells, I read only the first story and felt that it was a little slow.  Nothing special.  Reading it again 8 years later, I am entranced.  (I'm guessing that at least part of the reason is that I've taken measures to appreciate short stories, so I simply have more familiarity with the form.)

In the nine stories, coal mining (land development/destruction) is a common theme, as are manners, alcohol, religion. All themes that rang true to me...perhaps because I grew up in a small mountain town (admittedly it was in Northern California's Sierra Nevadas as opposed to the Appalachians, but the lumber mill and logging industry had a similar heavy presence in some respects to the coal mines).  I grew to enjoy feeling "a little closed in by all the trees and mountains on every side."

All the stories are wonderful, skillful, and worth reading.

(As a side note - I had the most visceral reaction (to The Lost Dog) I've ever had to a written work.  My first thought after reading the story was that it didn't say anything, but then immediately I was flooded with memories from my childhood that mirrored the story, and began to get choked up (something I don't often do, especially to the extreme I did) thinking about the fact that somebody else understood, perfectly, those feelings. I just had to stop and cope for a few minutes, I couldn't think about or look at anything else until I'd taken a few deep breaths. Pretty crazy experience!)

Recommendations?
I'd like to put a few books on my wishlist that would be good places to go from here.  Any suggestions?  I think I might have a copy of River of Earth by James Still from back in 2004 when I was on the hunt for Appalachian stories.  I enjoyed Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies a couple years back...that's all I've got.  What've you got?  Recommend me!

10 comments:

  1. Bloodroot by Amy Greene and anything by Wilma Dykeman. Dykeman wrote and published in the 1960s and it might be hard to get a hold of her works. Paula (Learning to Trust) and I both loved The Tall Woman.

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    1. Thanks Belle! I've added both to my wishlist.

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  2. Even though I've lived int he Appalachians nearly all my life, I've only ever read a few books set here. I remember really liking The Education of Little Tree when I was younger. It's a lovely story of a Cherokee boy's coming of age in the hidden valleys and woods near what is now Cherokee. It's been maybe 10 years since I've read it, so I can't exactly vouch for it now, but I remember loving it then.

    I also remember reading Cold Mountain, which is set in partially in North Carolina. Again, I don't remember much of it, but from the quotes I've read from it recently it sounds like the writing is very good. It's pretty popular I think, so it must have something going for it.

    More recently, I read and enjoyed If You Want Me to Stay by Michael Parker. It isn't quite set in Appalachia, but it does include parts of the North Carolina foothills, which are similar. It has a truly lovely sense of setting that really worked for me. It also touches on many of those universal themes like family, love, and the nature of home, so you might like it.

    If you're interested in a short story, I really liked "When The World Is All On Fire" by William Sanders. It's set in a future where global warming and overpopulation have ruined most of the world. The Cherokee reservation is one of the only places of forest left because they keep everyone else out. It's really an interesting story, and it's set like 20 minutes from where I used to live. If you can find it anywhere I'd recommend it.

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    1. I forgot about Cold Mountain - I did read that and remember enjoying it. Mountains and lyrical writing and I'm sold. ;)

      Thanks so much for your other recommendations, I'm going to spend some time looking into them! Sounds like some really interesting perspectives on the area.

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  3. Barbara Kingsolver's new book this fall, Flight Behavior, is set in Appalachia.

    Also, I think Wiley Cash's debut novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, is set there.

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    1. ooo, I didn't know about Barbara Kingsolver's new release - I'll be looking forward to that one. I'll look into the other...thanks for the suggestions!

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  4. It's a shame that those of us who still study American literature do not get a taste of native American stories (or, to put it simply, white/East coast literature). I had never heard of "Appalachian literature" although this seems like a great start. Thanks for sharing this!

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    1. I think it's fascinating to me because there is something Old World about it. In a country where recorded history is very new, I look for roots wherever I can find them. :) But yes, I agree, a study of American Literature should include something Appalachian!

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  5. Robert Morgan - Gap Creek fame. Oprah loved that book. You should check out his site. He's a complete Appalachian writer. I think The Hinterlands would be a good one and he's also done short stories and poetry.

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    1. I forgot about Robert Morgan! I remember liking Gap Creek, but it was in my pre-blogging days so I don't remember any of it. :/ I didn't even think to see if he had other works. Thanks for jogging my memory!

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