Archives For Appalachia


This is a fascinating new book…

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia 
Elizabeth Catte

Paperback: Belt Publishing, 2018
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

“Many journalists and pundits refer to J.D. Vance’s memoir Hillbilly Elegy for a better understanding of the people who live in the Appalachia region. That doesn’t sit well with historian Elizabeth Catte, so she wrote her rebuttal in What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia.”

Listen to an NPR interview with the author:

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One of this week’s best new book releases is:

Test of Faith:
Signs, Serpents and Salvation

Lauren Pond

Hardback: Duke UP, 2017
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]

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The Beautiful Creatures:
Trees in the Biblical Story
by Sylvia C. Keesmaat

In the beginning, there were no trees. There were no trees, for there was no rain to nourish them and no creature to tend them. In the beginning, there was the Voice. The Voice called the earth to birth the trees. As the Voice called and beckoned, the earth brought forth and the growth began: sap rushed up, limbs stretched, breaking the moist soil, reaching for the warmth of the sun. Roots groped, stretched, moved through the crumbly earth, embraced and cleft rocks, drew nourishment. Buds formed and leaves unfurled, fluffy and small, growing as the sun dried and warmed them and as sap filled them.

The Voice said, “Be trees full of life, be strong. Grow fruit for the birds and the animals, and branches for their homes. Be pleasing to look at, shout forth the grandeur of the Word. Dig your roots deep; draw nourishment from the earth.”

And the trees became living beings.

Read the full piece:

THE NATION’s Review of
Cruel and Unusual: The Culture of Punishment in America
by Anne-Marie Cusac

In his inaugural address, Barack Obama pledged to renew the nation’s founding creed, to carry forward “that precious gift, that noble idea…that all are equal, all are free.” Some 1.8 million people gathered on the National Mall to hear the new president on that icy January morning. Yet a considerably larger mass — equivalent to adding the population of Boston to the celebration — spent the same day behind bars. For America is not only the land of the free, as the Navy chorus chanted from the presidential dais. It is also, to an extraordinary extent, the land of the unfree, the most incarcerated society on earth.

The United States was not always so locked down. For most of the twentieth century its incarceration rate hovered near one-tenth of one percent, roughly the same as in other industrial free societies. Then, from the early 1970s forward, the federal and state governments began extending sentences, curtailing judicial discretion and restricting early releases. The prison population soared. By the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, approximately one out of every 100 adults was in jail or prison, a proportion unmatched in the history of democracy.

Read the full review:

Cruel and Unusual: The Culture of Punishment in America.
Anne-Marie Cusac.

Hardback: Yale UP, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

BookForum Reviews
Coal Mountain Elementary by Mark Nowak

To call Mark Nowak’s haunting new book a collection of poetry would be a bit of a misnomer. It would also be misleading to say Nowak is its author. The poems in Coal Mountain Elementary comprise three strands of found text; Nowak has selected and braided them, achieving an arresting effect. This is a book that exposes the darkest reaches of the global coal industry by using the industry’s own means—politely referred to as “extraction”—to lay bare the official language used to obfuscate mining’s human and environmental impact and to recover the far truer language of miners themselves.

Nowak’s first strand consists of verbatim extracts from thousands of pages of testimony given by family members, safety officials, and survivors of the Sago Mine explosion, which occurred January 2, 2006, in Sago, West Virginia. The explosion left twelve miners dead and became, for a couple days, a story of national heartbreak. The operation to rescue thirteen trapped miners was famously muddled, and incorrect information was released to the press, leading family members to cheers of deliverance, only for them to learn after hours of celebration that, in fact, only one miner had survived. Attempts to conduct a meaningful investigation into the disaster and botched rescue effort were thwarted by the mine’s corporate owner, International Coal Group, West Virginia mining officials, the United States Department of Labor, and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, groups that opposed making public the very testimony Nowak has so carefully selected.

Read the full review:

Coal Mountain Elementary.
Mark Nowak.

With photographs by Ian Teh and Mark Nowak.
Paperback: Coffeehouse Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

The High Line and Urban Development.
From The New York Review of Books

The form a city assumes as it evolves over time owes more to large-scale works of civil engineering—what we now call infrastructure—than almost any other factor save topography. The collective imagination fixes on the most conspicuous symbols of urban identity: the grand architectural set pieces of political and religious authority that predominated until the last century, when spectacular high-rise monuments to financial might reshaped skylines around the world. But without the development of complex and often ingenious systems for providing increasing numbers of city dwellers with water, sanitation, transportation, energy, and communications, our unprecedented modern megalopolises could never have emerged.

With alarming frequency lately we have witnessed a series of American infrastructural disasters, including the collapse of a highway bridge linking Minneapolis and St. Paul; the explosion of underground steam ducts in midtown Manhattan; and inundations caused by failures of antiquated water mains, weakened dams, and inadequate levees, most catastrophically in New Orleans. Advocates of a comprehensive national initiative to repair or replace aging public works have stressed how such an undertaking would spur economic recovery. But whether it does so or not, the inescapable crisis of our crumbling infrastructure must be confronted, and sooner rather than later.

Another question that arises as cities mature is what to do with outmoded infrastructure. Many architectural preservationists were slow to concede the historical merit of utilitarian landmarks until the 1960s and 1970s. An unusual reclamation project from that period looms larger in hindsight: the land-scape architect Richard Haag’s Gas Works Park of 1970–1975 in Seattle, which recycled a defunct gasification plant into a new kind of public recreation space. Haag perceived the raw beauty of the lakeside site’s abandoned mechanical components—monolithic tanks, totemic gauges, Mondrianesque pipelines—and incorporated them into his scheme as found objects. Haag’s novel idea outraged traditionalists (not least the park’s principal benefactors, who refused to have it named after them), but to others the concept seemed reasonable at a time when artists like Mark di Suvero and Alexander Liberman were appropriating I-beams and drainage culverts for their monumental outdoor sculptures.


Read the full review:

Designing the High Line: Gansevoort Street to 30th Street
Edited by Friends of the High Line,
with forewords by James Corner and Ricardo Scofidio

Paperback: Friends of the High Line, 2008.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]


Folk musician and storyteller David Holt plays the banjo and shares photographs and old wisdom from the Appalachian Mountains. He also demonstrates some unusual instruments like the mouth bow — and a surprising electric drum kit he calls “thunderwear.”