West Virginia Book Festival

Listening to Charlaine Harris

Get it?June is Audiobook Month, so I decided to wait until the month is just about over to talk to you, gentle blog readers, about the pleasures of listening to a good book.

Now, this is not always true, but audiobooks work for series with broad characterization, zany plots, and lots of detail that make it interesting, but missing those details does not ruin the story for the reader.

Old-school cover art!This is absolutely, wonderfully true for Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampires series.  Sookie Stackhouse has a few issues – she hears people’s thoughts, which makes relating to other humans a little troublesome.  Sookie has good girlfriends, but she is catty with girls who cross her.  She likes short dresses and big hair, but she has an unfailing sense of propriety.  She’s innocent and a little naïve, but she will also kick your butt.  People seem to die around her.  A lot.  Plus, her love life is a hot mess.  She’s pretty sure Vampire Bill is the one for her, but vampire politics, other supernatural creatures, and a love of sunlight prevent the relationship from being smooth sailing.  This series is complicated, the plot is loopy and twisty, and there are like a million characters.  But it’s also super-fun, fast-paced, and Sookie is great company.

So why listen instead of reading?  Because it’s too much.  There are twelve books in the series so far, and by reading them, I can’t keep up with who is with whom and which guys are good (especially since it changes pretty often).  But listening to the audiobooks, I get enough of the characters so I can follow, but don’t get so bogged down that I can’t enjoy the ride.  And that is how I would describe this series:  a very fun, twisty, complicated, scary, funny, violent, handsome ride.

The audiobooks are narrated by Johanna Parker, who does a pretty convincing Louisiana accent (although what do I know?), and she makes Sookie – the relatable, likeable gal that Harris created – come to life.  There’s a sort of sit-down-with-a-drink-and-I’ll-tell-you-a-story quality to the books, and audiobook captures that.  Parker also does a good job with the other characters’ voices.  And there are a lot of characters.  A lot of male characters.  It’s no small feat that the listener can tell the difference between Bill and Eric and Sam and Alcide and … etc.

 This one is the author.This one is the narrator.

(Charlaine Harris, above, and Johanna Parker)

The prospect of starting a series can be daunting, especially if the series already has twelve books in it, and there’s no sign of it stopping (THANK GOODNESS).  So if you want to try Charlaine Harris (and you probably should, since she’s coming here in October), let me recommend the Sookie Oh, hey, guys.  You wanna have a reading party or something?  Cool.Stackhouse audiobooks.  (Although if you are listening to them in public, I must warn you that they are steamy.  Not as steamy as the HBO show, but let’s just say that if I was on a road trip with my dad, I would definitely choose a different audiobook.)  Start with the first one, Dead Until Dark, and work your way through Bon Temps, Dallas, Mississippi … I haven’t read them all, so I’m not really sure where else Sookie goes.  But I will be glad to be along for the ride.


West Virginia Day — that’s today — is, by its very nature, a chance for residents to reflect on the history of their state. The West Virginia University Press and the West Virginia Humanities Council have joined forces to preserve some of that history.

Last fall, they published the first two volumes in the West Virginia Classics series: “West Virginia” by J.R. Dodge and “The Shenandoah” by Julia Davis, both with new introductions.

What is the West Virginia Classics series? The WVU Press is glad you asked:

The West Virginia Classics series republishes editions of treasured literary and historical works. This rediscovery of classic texts reveals the culture and diversity of West Virginia while speaking to a new generation of readers who desire to explore the story of the Mountain State.  The highly designed editions of West Virginia Classics clear a delightful path to the past, helping citizens of all ages discover and rediscover the history, culture, and diversity of West Virginia.

“Highly designed” may sound like some fancy sales pitch, but I’ve got the first two volumes in the series, and they’re some nice-looking books.

| “West Virginia: Its Farms and Forests, Mines and Oil-Wells” by J.R. Dodge, the first statistician for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to the introduction by Kenneth Bailey, professor emeritus and former dean at WVU Tech, the book’s genesis came after information about the “agricultural status and prospects” of the newly formed state was published by the USDA in 1864. Bailey says the report “stimulated a huge demand for more information,” which led to Dodge’s book, first published in 1865.

Dodge’s book contains several lists and tables, which are no doubt of use to serious historical researchers, and of passing interest to many general readers. But the real pleasure for many West Virginia readers will be the glimpse of the state as it first coalesced. He gives a survey of the state’s various regions: residents, history, topography, industry, natural resources.

It’s far from dispassionate history; it was the end of the Civil War, after all, and there’s no shortage of that flavor from Dodge, a New Hampshire native and a civil servant in the Lincoln administration. (On his very first page, Dodge writes of the “humbling of the pride of Virginia secession.) But that only adds to the period atmosphere of the book. Dodge’s snapshot of West Virginia as it became a state is often fascinating.

| The second of the West Virginia Classics — “The Shenandoah” by Julia Davis — was originally published as part of another series: the landmark “Rivers of America,” which spanned decades and relied on authors and poets, rather than historians and geographers, to tell the story of the great rivers of the United States.

Davis — the daughter of John W. Davis, West Virginia’s only major presidential candidate — was the author of more than two dozen books, both fiction and nonfiction. She was recommended to write about the Shenandoah River (and Valley) by poet Stephen Vincent Benet, one of the editors of the Rivers of America series, according to the new introduction by nature writer, poet and former Shenandoah Valley resident Christopher Camuto. As Camuto writes:

The heart of “The Shenandoah” is Julia Davis’ engaging account of the role the Valley played in American history from early European exploration in the late seventeenth century through the tragedy of the Civil War and the pains of reconstruction.

In October (just in time for the West Virginia Book Festival), the third book in the series will be published — and like “The Shenandoah,” it’s a section of a larger series that is particularly germane to West Virginia.

“History of the American Negro: West Virginia Edition,” by A.B. Caldwell, was first published in 1923. Caldwell edited and published seven volumes of the series, consisting of biographical sketches of prominent, and sometimes not-so-prominent, black citizens of the day. The first two volumes focused on Georgia; future volumes encompassed South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington, D.C. West Virginia was the seventh and final volume of the series.

According to the description at the WVU Press website:

In a statement printed in the first volume of this series, Caldwell wrote that his intent in publishing this collection was neither “comprehensive nor exhaustive,” yet he was determined to shed light on the  “successful element unrecorded” of black Americans in the United States. … A resource for genealogists, historians, and citizens alike, this history provides a detailed account of the often overlooked lives of ordinary men and women.

The introduction for the new volume will be by Joe Trotter, professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University and author of, among other works, “Coal, Class and Color: Blacks in Southern West Virginia, 1915-1932.”

Who knows what the next part of the West Virginia Classics might be? Well, maybe you do. The WVU Press is soliciting suggestions for the series. So if you remember a book from your youth that taught you something about West Virginia’s history, let them know. And come to the marketplace at this fall’s West Virginia Book Festival, where the WVU Press has been a mainstay for years, and pick up a couple of West Virginia Classics.

Byrd historian to speak at Book Festival

David A. Corbin

David A. Corbin will present the Settle Session at the West Virginia Book Festival on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 10 a.m. at the Charleston Civic Center. The session is named in honor of the grande dame of West Virginia literature, Mary Lee Settle.

Corbin’s new book, “The Last Great Senator: Robert C. Byrd’s Encounters with Ten U.S. Presidents,” will be released in October. Byrd grew up in the coalfields of southern West Virginia to become the longest-serving U.S. senator in history. Corbin examines the Senator’s relationships with each President, from Eisenhower to Obama, and talks about his effect on major events during their administrations.

Corbin worked in the U.S. Senate for 26 years, 16 of which were for Sen. Byrd. Corbin’s work included serving on the leadership staffs of Senate Majority Leaders Byrd, George Mitchell and Tom Daschle. During his last 10 years in the Senate he served as the speech writer/historian for Byrd.

Dr. Corbin earned his bachelor and master’s degrees from Marshall University and his Ph.D. in history from the University of Maryland. He has written extensively on American social and labor history and American politics, and has published two books on the southern West Virginia coal miners. He has received state, regional and national awards for his writings.

Corbin joins best-selling urban fantasy novelist Charlaine Harris, West Virginia University music history professor Christopher Wilkinson, and children’s author Marilyn Sue Shank in the line-up for the festival, which will be held Oct. 13 and 14 at the Charleston Civic Center. The annual, two-day event celebrates books and reading and offers something for all age groups. A variety of authors will attend, participating in book signings, readings, workshops and lectures. Activities for children include special programs and a section of the Marketplace filled with children’s activities. Admission to the festival is free.

The event is 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 and is sponsored by The Martha Gaines and Russell Wehrle Memorial Foundation, Pam Tarr and Gary Hart, the Friends of The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, and Books-A-Million. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.

The Scummers, Lee Maynard’s final “knock ‘em down/drag ‘em” out novel in the Crum trilogy, which includes Screaming with the Cannibals, is the final journey of Jesse Stone, the intelligent book-reading teenager boy from Crum, W.Va.

Readers familiar with Jesse’s trajectory know he is now out of high school and still not willing to doff his hat to authority. He is a moving target, willing to work diligently; he isn’t willing to stay in one spot too long. He is capable of building a motorcycle and loves a good book, often orderings novels by mail. He’s also likely to leave broken bones and angry husbands in his wake.

The Scummers opens in 1956 in Myrtle Beach. Jesse and his motorcycle have been there for the summer. His job as a beach lifeguard provided him endless opportunities to ogle girls, hang-out in bars, and get in trouble. He plans to stay in Myrtle Beach when the season ends. All he needs is a job.

He finds a job by ignoring the unwritten “Jim Crow” laws. Even though warned, he takes a job with a black fisherman and refuses the sheriff’s warning to quit or leave. To add fuel to the fire, he makes friends, both male and female, on the “black beach”, a tiny portion of the then-segregated Myrtle Beach. The results are predictable and nasty. I have a hunch; the local sheriff is still looking for Jesse. True to form, Jesse, battered and bruised, is long gone.

Jesse hobos across the country in the company of friends he picks up along the way: two hard-drinking and hard-drugging hobo types. Booze, brothels, and the police don’t mix well for this crew of outlaws and it’s either the jail or the U.S. Army for them. My vote would have been for jail time. Jesse opts for the Army.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to predict how well Jesse will adapt to Army life. There he is labeled a misfit and scum. He and other “scummers” are hassled, assigned boring work in isolated places, and any talents they have go unrecognized. Readers will find themselves holding their breath and rapidly turning pages as Jesse careens from one high-octane situation to another.

Will Jesse survive the Army? Will he live to wear wing-tip shoes and drive a Buick? This readers knows but is not telling.

This week, West Virginians have a chance to hear from one of the state’s most distinctive writers.

Lee Maynard, author of the Crum trilogy, will be here on his book tour for the third part of the trilogy, “The Scummers.” The book was published by West Virginia University Press earlier this year.

Maynard (who now lives in New Mexico) will speak on Monday at noon at the Culture Center in Charleston, in a “Lunch with Lee” session presented by the West Virginia Center for the Book. He’ll then be at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Bridgeport Public Library, and at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the Arts Mon Center at 201 High St. in Morgantown. That last session is co-sponsored by WV Writers.

“The Scummers” continues the story of Jesse Stone, who’s left his West Virginia hometown and headed out west in an attempt to find the peace and home that has eluded him since “Crum” was first published almost a quarter-century ago.

As Dave Peyton noted in his review of “The Scummers” in this Sunday’s Gazette-Mail, the three Crum books (the second is “Screaming with the Cannibals”) aren’t to everyone’s liking. They’re rude and profane; Peyton calls them “rollicking explosions of words and scenes that would make most anyone blush or gasp or both.” Maynard insisted that “Crum” didn’t have anything to do with the Wayne County town of the same name, where Maynard briefly lived, but that didn’t stop some Crum residents from voicing their displeasure.

As for “The Scummers,” Peyton said it is “intense, hot to the touch, gripping like a steel trap and darkly humorous.” Anyone who’s read the first two books knows Maynard is a powerful writer, and if this exchange with Chuck Kinder from a couple of years ago is any indication , he’s pretty funny outside his books as well. So take your chance this week to see and talk with a true West Virginia literary original.

(And if you can’t make it this week, there’s at least one more in-state stop on Maynard’s book tour. He’ll be in Greenbrier County on Aug. 4 at 5 p.m. at the Lewisburg Literary Festival.)

“The Devil’s Son: Cap Hatfield and the End of the Hatfield and McCoy Feud”

Anne Black Gray: Foreword by G. Cameron Fuller

$21.95, Woodland Press

When I learned of “The Devil’s Son,” a 2012 novel regarding the Hatfield McCoy feud, I wasn’t keen on reading it. After all, just how many feud rehashes do we need? But I’m a Hatfield fan and so I read it. It was a relief to see it provides a unique and exciting slant on an important Appalachian topic. Author Anne Black Gray, a Parkersburg native and Hatfield descendant, did her homework.

This is the first fiction, to my knowledge, to address the effects of the feud on the children (both the grown and the toddler) of the feudists, as well as on neighbors, friends, and extended family members. In addition, it details the economic impact and the legal and political wrangling resulting from the feud.

The protagonist, William Anderson “Cap” Hatfield, the most military and capable son of Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield, is a rugged but  sensitive young man with a yen for a life of his own. Taught to kill when necessary, he respects his father and is loyal to his kin.  But Cap has talents and a dream. He wants to learn to cipher and read.  He realizes lawyers are having a major impact on what is happening in the mountains. He wants to be one so he can read and understand contracts his father is asked to sign.

 The novel’s cinematic opening depicts Cap astride his horse, Traveller, on New Year’s Day, 1888. Deep in a blustery winter snow, he scans the landscape for marauding McCoys and considers the option of leading an attack against them. Killing Randall McCoy might end the feud and finally win Cap his father’s approval. If he can end the feud, he will be the next in line to command.

The strong plot of the novel moves rapidly.  The events and settings are portrayed realistically and the characters are well drawn with understandable attributes and emotions. The sights and sounds in the mountains and the towns shimmer and crunch.

The story reflects folkways: the new found wonders of town life (soup in a can, store-bought bread, and houses with glass in their windows). The women are shown as strong but silent partners. Mothers, daughters, and daughters-in-law are all of child-bearing age and sometime pregnant at the same time. Frequent pregnancies lead to large families and interesting naming practices. The story shows the effects of the lack of early mountain schools, as well as the damage done by the onslaught of coal barons, land grabbers, and timber merchants.

The novel rings true and provides an interesting and more complete picture of the people and their era. “The Devil’s Son” adds a distinctly new dimension to feud literature.