West Virginia Book Festival

Pearl S. Buck revisited

“Between Two Worlds: A Biography of Pearl S. Buck” is a timely work – and not just because Buck’s birthday is Saturday. In our ever-shrinking world, the book helps readers learn to read and speak more than one language and manages to connect two cultures with a topic of interest to both. Let me quote the publisher:

“Between Two Worlds: A Biography of Pearl S. Buck offers a fresh new account of this famous woman born of two nations. It is a multicultural effort that Buck would surely approve. Written by an American author and a British author, about an American author living in China, it is translated by a Chinese man living in America, for Chinese readers who want to study English!”

The American author living in China is the Nobel Prize-winning Buck, born in Hillsboro, Pocahontas County. In another wild and wonderful connection, the American author is a West Virginian, Edwina Pendarvis of Huntington.

The 2009 biography captures the spirit of Buck’s life as well as its dichotomies: her love of China and her love of America; her life as a missionary’s daughter and her doubts about mission work; her position as a wife and mother and her burning need to write.

The book’s cover is attractive: an appealing black and white photograph of the young Buck. The pages feel like rice-paper and are suitably bordered in soft tones of lavender and gray. It looks reader-friendly, and it is. Its goal is to enable Chinese students to learn English, Buck’ s mother tongue, just as she learned theirs so many years ago.

The format of the book makes it easy to use. The top of each page is in sixth- and seventh-grade level English and the bottom in high school-level Chinese. Sidebars explain words such as Confederate, Union, alma mater, and zodiac for the new reader of English. The two hundred eight pages are divided into twenty short chapters. It is a book students will not find daunting due to size or language.

The text uses interesting concepts and comparisons to illustrate Buck’s double heritage – a heritage she grappled with from her birth in 1892 to her death in 1973.

“The day was June 26. The year was 1892, year of the dragon.
According to the Chinese zodiac, babies born in the year of the dragon grow up to be high-spirited, big-hearted, and bold. Most people in the town of Hillsboro hadn’t heard of the Chinese Zodiac. Those who had heard of it didn’t pay much attention to it. True, they planted by the seasons and sometimes by the phases of the moon. They even read horoscopes in the newspaper occasionally; but they didn’t really believe the stars affected anyone’s destiny.”

As is conventional in biographies for young people, the authors dramatized incidents in Buck’s life by adding dialogue. For details of incidents, they drew on Buck’s accounts of her life in her autobiography and in the biographies she wrote of her mother and father, as well as her sister’s account of Buck’s life.

The authors, West Virginia’s Pendarvis and Kentucky’s Christina St. Clair (formerly a Brit), show how this great author became inspired to write great literature and what inspired her to work for racial and gender equality. She was shaped by both her Appalachian heritage and the China in which she grew up, a tumultuous country changing from imperial dynasty to a republic.

According to Pendarvis, the co-authors hope readers come away from the biography intrigued by Buck’s humanitarian efforts and her civil rights activism, as well as the variety and quality of her published work. Hopefully, new readers will be eager to read some of the fascinating books and stories written by her, the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and the first native-born West Virginian to have her novel — in this case, “The Good Earth” — named an Oprah’s Book Club selection (2004).

West Virginia celebrates Pearl S. Buck’s birthday each year on June 26 at her birthplace in Hillsboro. The 2010 celebration includes a tea, music, and a visit from Dr. Peter Conn, author of “Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography,” and much more. For information, visit the website or call 304-653-4430.

At least one former West Virginia Book Festival presenter will be part of Charleston’s FestivALL this weekend, and it’s not someone whose primary fame comes from his writing.

David Selby, a Morgantown native best known for his acting gigs on the vampire soap opera “Dark Shadows” and the 1980s drama “Falcon Crest,” will read from his new play, “An Appalachia Tragedy,” on Saturday at the Walker Theater at the rear of the Clay Center. Several local actors will also take part. Admission is $10.

Gazette writer Doug Imbrogno did a Q&A with Selby earlier this week.

In 2005, Selby came to the Book Festival to talk about his book “A Better Place,” which he described as part memoir, part social commentary.

Irene McKinney returned to rural Barbour County when she was in her 40s on a six-month sabbatical to write – a temporary move, she thought. More than 25 years later, she’s still living on land that’s been owned by her family for 150 years. She took a teaching position at West Virginia Wesleyan College and eventually was appointed Poet Laureate of West Virginia in 1994. McKinney will read her poetry at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 17, during the West Virginia Book Festival.

“‘Apt, down to earth, profoundly human, universal and intensely honest, saturated with awareness and sensitivity’ – these are the words that come to mind when I think of Irene McKinney’s poems, and I’ve been reading them for almost 40 years,” said Vic Burkhammer, chairman of the Book Festival’s poet selection committee.

McKinney is the author of five books of poetry, including “Vivid Companion,” and “Unthinkable: Selected Poems,” and she edited the anthology “Backcountry: Contemporary Writing in West Virginia.” She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in poetry and two West Virginia Commission on the Arts Fellowships in poetry and has held fellowships at MacDowell Colony, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Blue Mountain Center. She has been writer-in-residence at Western Washington University at Bellingham, the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, University of California at Santa Cruz and Hamilton College. She was appointed Thornton Writer in Residence at Lynchburg College for 2010. She is Professor Emerita of West Virginia Wesleyan College.

In “Listen Here: Women Writing in Appalachia” edited by Sandra L. Ballard and Patricia L. Hudson, McKinney admits, “I’m a hillbilly, a woman and a poet, and I understood early on that nobody was going to listen to anything I had to say anyway, so I might as well just say what I want to.” Her poetry frequently explores the connections between people and place.

In addition to McKinney, the West Virginia Book Festival lineup includes New York Times best-selling authors Nicholas Sparks and Diana Gabaldon; Civil War historian James Robertson; children’s author Carmen Deedy; and E. Lockhart, author of books for teens; among others.

The West Virginia Book Festival is an annual, two-day event celebrating books and reading presented by The Library Foundation of Kanawha County Inc., Kanawha County Public Library, the West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail.


If I am guilty of any of the seven deadly sins, it is gluttony.  Maybe a little sloth, but let’s just deal with the gluttony right now.

It’s not the typical gluttony.  I can control myself around food (usually) and shoes (unless they’re comfortable and on sale) and various shiny things that attract lesser mortals.

But books.  Oh, man, I have a problem with books.

My problem is that I try to read them all at once.  This is mostly because, like a good citizen, I check them out of the library and they are subject to this pesky thing called a due date.  So if I don’t read them right away, I’ll return them and forget all about them and they will be lost in the ether of my memory.

Or something.

But then, why do I check all of them out at once?  Why don’t I just make a list and refer to it when I need a good book to read?  Why, you ask me, gentle reader, are you such a nut?

This is where the gluttony part comes in.

See, it is my job to know about books.  I have to be able to write about them and talk about them to patrons and generally be aware of trends and hot titles and upcoming releases and…other stuff.  So I spend much of my day reading book reviews and publishing news and … other stuff.  And I read about a book that sounds good and I think, oh! I’ll try that one.  I’ll just check it out and read the first 50 pages so I will know what I’m talking about.

But then I get sucked in!  And I want to finish it, but by that time at least three other books have crossed my desk, and I find myself in the middle of a dozen books that I want to finish – I really want to! – but I am paralyzed by indecision over which one to read and so I give up and watch reality TV.

Not really (OK, sometimes).

My gluttony usually reaches a tipping point, forcing fits of self-examination like this one.  This usually happens when I am in the middle of at least three good books that I love and want to finish and while it is tempting to call in sick to work, I am too dedicated an employee to resort to such treachery.  (Plus, my boss reads this blog.)  (Occasionally I try to convince her that librarians should have Reading Leave in addition to regular vacation days.  I mean, it’s professional development!)

What do I do about this conundrum?  I could make promises to myself – that I’ll only check out one book at a time, that I’ll organize my reading so that I don’t start a book until the others are finished.  But come on.  I’m surrounded by books!  How can I not take them home?  How can I not try them out and, eventually, finish them!

So I am resigned to a disorganized reading life.  I shouldn’t say resigned, though.  Because I sort of like it.  I like having several books going so I can pick one based on my mood-of-the-minute.  I like that I can fall asleep reading a romance or historical fiction or nonfiction, or I can spend my lunch break with bikers or dukes or shapeshifters, and that’s a choice I can make every day.

Yes, we book gluttons sometimes have a heavy cross to bear, but isn’t it worth it?  I mean, look at all these books!  How can we say no??

Just in case anyone is interested, here is what I am currently gorging on:

“Plain Jayne” by Hillary Manton Lodge, a new take on the inspirational Amish romance

“The Crimson Rooms” by Katharine McMahon, about a repressed female lawyer in post-WWI London

“Spider’s Bite” by Jennifer Estep, a paranormal set in fictional Ashland

“To Kill a Mockingbird” for an upcoming book group (and don’t even get me started on book group gluttony…)

“Death at Victoria Dock” by Kerry Greenwood, a Phryne Fisher mystery set in 1920s Australia and my new series obsession

“The Stone Carvers” by Jane Urquhart, about, well, stone carvers.  In Canada!

And!  Now I have to check out “Dragonfly in Amber” so I can get caught up with the Outlander series for when Diana Gabaldon comes to the Book Festival!

Do I look feverish to you?  I think I’m coming down with something.  I might have to go home and lie down for a bit…

Americans are often a little fuzzy on fifth-grade history. Our state was once a nice-sized chunk of Virginia — a historical reality forgotten by many adults, unless they live in West Virginia. We remember.

West Virginians know this land was a part of one of the original 13 colonies, the mother colony. We remind visitors, at the outbreak of the Civil War, the mountainous portion of Virginia — settled mostly by English, Scots, Irish, Scots-Irish, and German immigrants — elected to stay with the Union. After much constitutional deliberation, President Abraham Lincoln, eager to protect the North and the railroad system, declared us a state.

But what does this have to do with the Book Festival and West Virginia books?

Gerald D. Swick, a native of Clarksburg, has worked with Turner Publishing Company to create a unique book-birthday-present, “Historic Photos of West Virginia.” It is truly a gift to the state from a native son.

Swick, a lover of history and of West Virginia, went to great lengths to select black-and-white photographs depicting real West Virginians: artists, inventors, authors, teachers, preachers and just ordinary people.

His choices reflect the state’s ethnic heritage and its evolution — from John Brown’s raid in Harpers Ferry to the present. He opens the work with a photograph from Harpers Ferry and proceeds to show the mountains, mansions, industries, rivers, islands, waterfalls, and the people.

Throughout the work, he stresses the contributions of groups: miners and masons from Italy, glass blowers from Belgium, steel worker from Wales. He pays homage to the contributions of West Virginia’s African-Americans in photographs of Storer College, Carter G. Woodson, and many more.

This is not a book with limited vision. The book’s strength is its portrayal of West Virginia’s various immigrant waves and their contributions to the development of the state. Swick includes tent colonies of strikers, mine-rescue teams, loggers at work, and ambassadors campaigning. If you have never seen an out-house or a one room school, now is your chance.

West Virginia’s history is here in photographs not frequently seen. Those unfamiliar with the state may be surprised at the photograph of the May 1932 meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at Harpers Ferry or the one of Italian members of the Black Hand Society. Another surprise may be the photograph of the Pearl S. Buck birthplace in Pocahontas County juxtaposed with one showing the life-sized marble statue of “Devil Anse” Hatfield.

Swick (a graduate of Fairmont State College and senior Web editor for the Weider History Group, the world’s largest history-magazine publisher) says, “There is no such thing as a former West Virginian.” He closes the book with a peaceful mountain scene of a sun set over Cheat River and the words, “Come home when you can.”

The West Virginia Book Festival in October would be a great time to come home or come visit. While you are here, take in the fall leaves, visit some spots shown in “Historic Photos of West Virginia,” and learn about other wild and wonderful books by West Virginia authors.

“Broke Is Beautiful” author to sign books

As Charleston Gazette reporter Bill Lynch writes, Laura Lee knew there might be a problem getting her book published:

“I realized I couldn’t convince a publisher or an agent that a book with a target audience of broke people was going to be a big seller.”

But then the economy declined, and there were suddenly a lot more people in Lee’s target audience for her book, “Broke is Beautiful.” She’ll sign copies of the book from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday at Taylor Books in downtown Charleston.

The book isn’t a primer on how to make money, but an attempt to convince readers that money isn’t everything. As Lee acknowledges, this isn’t a new thought:

“You could build a house out of these studies,” she said. “We just can’t seem to catch on to it.”

Happy Bloomsday!

Happy Bloomsday!

What’s Bloomsday?

Only the setting for the best novel of the 20th century (according to the Modern Library), “Ulysses” by James Joyce. The plot cannot possibly be contained in one sentence; the novel involves two men, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, as they walk around Dublin on June 16, 1904 (the date of Joyce’s first date with his future wife).

As Carol Campbell outlines in a story in Sunday’s Gazette-Mail, Irish writers Flann O’Brien and Patrick Kavanagh took a tour of Dublin 50 years after that date, reading (and drinking) as they encountered the locations in “Ulysses.” The idea has spread, and Bloomsday (a play on Stephen Bloom’s name) is now celebrated throughout the world.

Including Charleston, where the Kanawha County Public Library is hosting the first official Charleston Bloomsday celebration from 11:30 p.m. to 1 p.m. Ireland native and Charleston resident Brendan McCabe will lead a discussion of and readings from “Ulysses,” as well as a look at some of the Dublin locations on the tour.

If you’re in the northern part of the state, Pittsburgh is putting on a pretty elaborate Bloomsday celebration, going from morning to night. All readings are free and open to the public, they say.

If you’re looking to dip a not-so-serious toe into the Bloomsday pool, there’s “The Death of a Joyce Scholar,” part of the Peter McGarr series of mysteries by Bartholomew Gill.  The titular death is of a Trinity College professor, stabbed after leading Joyce fans around Dublin in the annual Bloomsday tour. Gill was the pseudonym of Mark McGarrity, a Massachusetts native and longtime New Jersey newspaper editor who spent much time in Ireland. I enjoyed just about every book in the series.

A coal mine explosion kills a large number of men and changes the lives of their families forever.

No, the previous statement doesn’t refer to recent events, but to a 1943 tragedy that happened in Bearcreek, Mont. Susan Kushner Resnick chronicles that story in “Goodbye Wifes and Daughters.” Resnick will speak about her book at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 17, during the West Virginia Book Festival.

“With 74 deaths, the Smith Coal Mine disaster is listed among the nation’s worst coal mining accidents,” said Jennifer Soule, chairwoman of the Book Festival’s author selection committee. “Even though this tragedy happened in Montana nearly 70 years ago, the story is still relevant to current events.” The book is related through the voices of the women who lost their husbands, fathers, sons, livelihoods, neighbors and homes, yet managed to fight back and persevere.

A journalist for 25 years, Resnick is also the author of “Sleepless Days: One Woman’s Journey through Postpartum Depression.” Her work has been published in “The Best American Essays,” The New York Times Magazine, Boston Magazine and Parents Magazine, among others.

In addition to Resnick, the West Virginia Book Festival lineup includes: New York Times best-selling authors Nicholas Sparks and Diana Gabaldon; Civil War historian James Robertson; children’s author Carmen Deedy; West Virginia native and award-winning novelist Jayne Anne Phillips; and E. Lockhart, author of books for teens.

The West Virginia Book Festival is an annual, two-day event celebrating books and reading presented by The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., Kanawha County Public Library, the West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail.

West Virginia schoolchildren in third through sixth grades have chosen the book they would most like to read — and it’s pretty wimpy.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid” by Jeff Kinney was the runaway winner of the West Virginia Children’s Choice Book Award, according to a news release issued Friday. The award is determined by children who read books nominated for the award and then vote for their favorite.

The second-place finisher was “Beowulf: A Hero’s Tale Retold” by James Rumford, and third place went to West Virginia author Anna Egan Smucker and “Golden Delicious: A Cinderella Apple Story,” her tale of the birth of the Golden Delicious apple in Clay County.

The award is presented by the West Virginia Library Commission and the West Virginia Center for the Book. Nominees for next year’s award will be available for students and teachers later this summer at the Center for the Book’s website.

Diana Gabaldon was prompted to begin writing her first novel when she turned 35 and realized that Mozart died at age 36. That novel, published in 1991, became “Outlander,” the first in a best-selling series featuring six more titles and counting. Gabaldon will read from her work and speak at the West Virginia Book Festival, to be held Oct. 16 and 17 at the Charleston Civic Center. Her reading is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 17.

In addition to “Dragonfly in Amber,” “Voyager,” “Drums of Autumn,” “The Fiery Cross,” “A Breath of Snow and Ashes,” and “An Echo in the Bone,” the series includes a nonfiction companion volume, “The Outlandish Companion,” which provides details on the settings, background, characters, research and writing of the novels.

Gabaldon has also written several books in a sub-series featuring Lord John Grey, a minor character from the main series. Returning to her comic book roots, she has also written a graphic novel titled “The Exile,” set within the Outlander universe and featuring the main characters from “Outlander,” illustrated by Hoang Nguyen, to be published by Ballantine in September.

“Her books are nearly impossible to categorize neatly, but are absolutely fascinating,” said Pam May, West Virginia Book Festival chairperson. “They’re a combination of historical romance, science fiction adventure and literary fiction, with complex plots and strong, intriguing characters.”

Gabaldon holds a master’s degree in marine biology and a Ph.D. in ecology, and spent a dozen years as a university professor before turning to write fiction full-time. Her previous publishing history includes scientific articles, textbooks and comic book scripts for Walt Disney. She and her husband, Douglas Watkins, have three adult children and live mostly in Scottsdale, Ariz.

In addition to Gabaldon, the West Virginia Book Festival line-up includes New York Times best selling author Nicholas Sparks; Civil War historian James Robertson; children’s author Carmen Deedy; West Virginia native and award-winning novelist Jayne Anne Phillips; and E. Lockhart, author of books for teens, among others.

The West Virginia Book Festival is an annual, two-day event celebrating books and reading presented by The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., Kanawha County Public Library, the West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail.