23 December 2011

Southside in the News: Richard's House of Prayer No. 2 an Entertainment Weekly Favorite

Photo by Jeff Vespa, from Skylight Books
Earlier this year, I reviewed Mark Richard’s House of Prayer No. 2: A Writer’s Journey Home. I discussed how I read it thinking that I would know exactly what it would be about and became pleasantly surprised that I was wrong. Richard has lived a remarkable life, and his ability to describe periods of it is outstanding.

photo from The New Yorker
Turns out, I wasn’t the only one who liked House of Prayer No. 2. I was pleasantly surprised this week when I opened my copy of Entertainment Weekly (always reading it from end to beginning for some reason) to find that Richard’s book had been named number one on “The Best Nonfiction” list. That’s right, he beat out the Steve Jobs biography and Tina Fey’s smart and funny Bossypants, another favorite of mine for 2011.

This is great news for Southside Virginia, of course. Although Richard is not from Southside per se, he is from the city of Franklin, which is close enough. What a wonderful way to recognize literary talent from our part of the state (almost)! If you haven't read it yet, pick it up knowing that you're reading a winner!

02 December 2011

Alex Kershaw. The Bedford Boys: One American Town's Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2003.

Southside Virginia is known for many things: the controversial connection to the groundbreaking HeLa cells that have saved many lives, the powerful meaning Virginia's poet laureate Kelly Cherry conveys in her poetry, the unusual history of moonshine in Franklin County. Unfortunately, Southside Virginia also has the sad distinction of being home to the "Bedford Boys," the group of men who perished on D-Day at Omaha Beach in the Battle of Normandy.
From AmblingBooks.com

Alex Kershaw's documentation of this sad event is more than just another history book. Kershaw heavily researched the town and county of Bedford and how this tremendous loss affected its citizens. And the loss was tremendous: in a single day, twenty-one men from this small community of just over three thousand people were killed. By giving biographies of all involved, the author offers a human side to the statistic that made Bedford's loss the most severe on that pivotal day in June of 1944. The Bedford Boys presents a sound introduction to people interested in visiting the National D-Day Memorial which was opened in Bedford in 2001 because of its significant role in history.

26 November 2011

Lawrence Reveley Burton. Tales of Old Patrick: Enchanting Tales, Mysteries, Poems and Stories. Stuart, VA: L.R. Burton, 1997.

Lone Ivy, Virginia | Summer 2009
At this time of Thanksgiving, I feel it’s appropriate to highlight a collection of short stories that highlights a time in my life for which I am especially grateful. Four years ago in August, I moved to Patrick County, Virginia, to work in the high school as a college counselor for the UVA College Guide Program (now the Virginia College Advising Corps). I arrived not knowing a soul and left with the best circle of friends that a girl could have ever imagined. The two glorious years that I spent there is just one example of how special Southside Virginia is. If you ever have two years to spare, I will give you the rundown, minute by minute, of how fantastic my time really was.

In August of 2007, though, I didn’t know how the next two years would transpire. I rented a basement apartment from the dearest retired guidance counselor, Ella Sue, shared a closet... er, office with the friendliest supervisor, Susan, who invited me to be part of her incredible family and friends, and had two of the most fun fellow College Guides, Sachi and Parisi, in nearby Martinsville. Still, I wanted to really get to know the people and places of Patrick County, and that let me to - of all places - the library!

I’m sure I left with an armload of books, but the one that was the most exciting was entitled Tales of Old Patrick: Enchanting Tales, Mysteries, Poems and Stories by Lawrence R. Burton. As the submitted warned, I was instantly enchanted by the collection of short stories that was published in 1997. I learned all about the history of Patrick County including anecdotes about local people, places, and events.

04 October 2011

Out and about: Sharyn McCrumb at McIntyre's Books in Pittsboro, NC

Okay, I admit that not much of this post has much to do with Southside Virginia. No, Sharyn McCrumb is not a native daughter, and the hanging of Tom Dooley (or Tom Dula) did not occur in our neck of the woods - or state. Still, McCrumb is too good and her latest novel, The Ballad of Tom Dooley (2011), is too fascinating to not at least try to claim her. Virginia may be vastly different from region to region, but it is still worthwhile to celebrate the gems.

Photo from the Wilkes Journal-Patriot
In 2008, McCrumb was named one of eight Virginia Women in History for her depiction of the "richness and variety of Appalachian culture." She has won numerous awards from Virginia organizations and beyond and has seen her novels make the bestseller list multiple times. McCrumb teaches in universities and workshops, and her books are used in classes worldwide.

13 September 2011

Alan Pell Crawford. Unwise Passions: A True Story of a Remarkable Woman -- and the First Great Scandal of Eighteenth Century America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

photo from Simon & Schuster

These days, celebrity gossip is everywhere, whether we want it or not. An entire industry (think tabloids, public relations firms, TMZ, E!, even your local weekly) is centered around what goes on in the lives of the famous, and the definition of “famous” is forever changing (one word: Snooki). Love it or hate it, society seems to have an indelible appetite for it (and truthfully, I think that some celebrities enjoy the publicity. Obviously Charlie Sheen is winning!). Luckily for those of us who enjoy it, there are plenty of scandals going around to keep us happy – at least until the next big story.

Nearly two hundred twenty years ago, the big scandal that had everyone talking occurred right here in Southside Virginia.

27 August 2011

Matt Bondurant. The Wettest County in the World. New York: Scribner, 2008.

 photo from UNC Libraries

These days, the fact that Franklin County, Virginia, was the “Moonshine Capital of the World” in the 1930s is more of a fun trivia tidbit than something at which to take pause. That's right, Southside's very own Franklin County - not Chicago or New York City - was the mecca for liquor during Prohibition. 

Locals see it as a significant part of our proud history. One can take the Franklin County Historical Society’s Moonshine Express Tour every April, buy knickknacks that tout this designation, and sing along to tunes that shout out specifically to Franklin County’s moonshine enterprise (my favorite: Jean Shepard’s Franklin County Moonshine). The Blue Ridge Institute and Museum at Ferrum College offers an extensive history of the trade in its online exhibit Moonshine – Blue Ridge Style: The History and Culture of Untaxed Liquor in the Mountains of Virginia. A simple Google search will yield results that point to hobbyists’ interest in this topic as well (try here or here), and every so often, larger media venues will also take an interest in it (see the History Channel’s Hillbilly and Rumrunners, Moonshiners, & Bootleggers, National Geographic’s Moonshine documentaries, and this “vintage” news story). Nearby Climax, Virginia, even held an annual Moonshiners Jamboree for a time.

18 July 2011

Outside Southside: Try the "Read North Carolina Novels" blog!

Although Southside Virginia will always be home, I am thoroughly enjoying getting to know North Carolina. Over the weekend I traveled north on Route 501 to have supper with my parents in South Boston. Along the way, feeling guilty for not submitting a blog post in the past week, I realized that you might be interested in a Reader's Advisory blog from our neighbors to the south. The North Carolina Collection at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill provides an extensive service with nearly 800 posts in its blog, Read North Carolina Novels. It is actually where I got the idea for this blog (full disclosure: I worked at the NCC during my time at UNC. I have posted over 100 posts and continue to volunteer for that blog) and how I learned more about the Old North State.

Therefore, whenever you get impatient with my pace of posting on Read Southside Virginia (my apologies), I encourage you to visit Read North Carolina Novels. You will find some great almost local titles and authors and a summary of each novel that will take you to different places in North Carolina - without spending a dime to get to there!

06 July 2011

List of Southside Authors: Current

Do you ever find yourself looking for a book to read by a local author? Poetry, short stories, nonfiction - anything could fit the bill as long as it is by a Southside author? The following list represents some of the talent in our part of Commonwealth. As time goes on, I will continue to add to this list to help expose you to Virginia writers.

Southside Connection
Craig Challender*
Farmville (Prince Edward)
Halifax (Halifax)
Creative Nonfiction, Fiction, Poetry
Linda Hamlett Childress^
Scott M. Foran*
Brookneal (Campbell)
Stuart (Patrick)
Halifax (Halifax)
Fiction, Poetry
Chapman Hood Frazier*
Ann Davison Garbett*
Farmville (Prince Edward)
Danville (Pittsylvania)
Fiction, Poetry
Marion Higgins
Margaret Hoffman^*
Blackwater River (Franklin)
Danville (Pittsylvania)
Humorous Essays
William Hoffman^
Charlotte Court House (Charlotte)
Fiction, Short Stories
Chatham (Pittsylvania)
Dean E. Hybl^
Helen D. Melton*
Keysville (Charlotte)
Chatham (Pittsylvania)
Fiction, Sports
Moneta (Bedford)
Fiction, Poetry
Fred Motley*
Danville (Pittsylvania)
Penhook (Franklin)
Tom O'Grady^*
Hampden-Sydney (Prince Edward)
Hampden-Sydney (Prince Edward)
^ denotes that a publication by the author is in the Charlotte County Library.
*I compiled the initial list from the Virginia Commission for the Arts directory entitled Writers in Virginia. I am not certain how authors are added to this list, but it appears as though the program has been canceled due to budget cuts.

Is your favorite Southside author missing from this list? Please introduce us to our local talent!

01 July 2011

Kelly Cherry. Girl in a Library: On Women Writers and the Writing Life. Kansas City, MO: BkMk Press, 2009.

photo from Barnes & Noble

Kelly Cherry, a resident of Halifax County, was recently named Virginia’s poet laureate, so when I picked up her 2009 publication, Girl in a Library, I expected a book of poetry. I am embarrassed to say that I usually run away from the genre, so I was a bit apprehensive to review the book for this blog. Fortunately, I looked closer to read the subtitle – On Women Writers & the Writing Life – and realized that I was wrong.

Rather than being a work of complex poems, Cherry’s Girl in a Library is part memoir, part exploration of life, self, history, gender, art, philosophy – anything, really.

We learn about her (gangster) childhood in an apartment above a grocery store in Ithaca, New York, and her parents’ initial reaction to her desire to become a writer, her unusual first year of college at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and how a dean (at a different college) made it possible for her to return to higher education, and her decision to write books of poetry after her first novel. She discusses how much she enjoys teaching. Cherry also shares with her readers details of her failed first marriage but also of her happy union today.

At the same time, Cherry writes about fellow writers and their use of characters, time, and settings. She explores the field of literature and what it means to be a female in that world. She questions what it means to be a Southern writer. Truth be told, there were some essays that delved into concepts too complex for me, but it was still a very worthwhile read.

Of particular interest to readers of this blog is her description of her time in Virginia, especially Southside. Cherry spent her adolescence in Chesterfield County and was a student at both the University of Mary Washington and the University of Virginia before beginning her professional career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the 1970s. While she has spent much of her life in the South, in the essay “The Globe and the Brain: On Place in Fiction,” Cherry describes her own struggle with writing “southern stories,” calling on Eudora Welty and William Faulkner for inspiration. It truly is a fascinating study in the significance and mystery of Place.

In her retirement, Cherry and her husband bought a small farm in Halifax, which she calls a “pleasure.” Her 2007 book of poetry, Hazard and Prospect, highlights her time in Virginia and points to the influence that her Halifax homestead and the Southside landscape has had on her.

Find Girl in a Library in the Charlotte County Library catalog.

Have you read Girl in a Library? Please share your opinion about the book and this summary.

24 June 2011

Mark Richard. House of Prayer No. 2: A Writer's Journey Home. New York: Nan A. Talese, 2011.

photo from The New Yorker

Say you're reading a book; the story is one that you think you’ll know before you’ve even started reading. In nearly every review and description of the book, authors illustrate that the memoir will detail the life of a "special child" growing up in tobacco-loving Southside Virginia during the 1960s. You might assume that the book will be rather self-congratulatory on the part of the author, Mark Richard, and that you will not be able to relate to him or to his experience at all. On those points, you will be wrong and then most likely right. Richard does not at all seem to be patting himself on the back for the success he has created after an undoubtedly difficult childhood complicated by deformed hips. However, you will probably find it hard to relate to his unbelievable and varied experiences.

20 June 2011

(Almost) Summer greetings!

My apologies for the gap in between posts, but I hope that you have had a delightful spring and are ready for summer tomorrow! Although we seem to already have plenty of dog days under our belts with record-high temperatures, cookouts, and baseball (Wahoowa!), the summer solstice will make it official. And maybe that means that you are looking for some Southside Virginia gems to add to your summer reading list!

02 May 2011

Trip to Clover, Virginia

Over the weekend, I finished Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2010). As my mother and I discussed it last night, we agreed that it was a story that neither of us could put down. One of the aspects that we found so appealing was that one of the settings was so close-to-home. Henrietta Lacks grew up in Clover and loved it; even when she moved to Baltimore, Skloot describes how she would return to Southside Virginia most weekends.

Rebecca Skloot. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Crown, 2010.

photo from The Baltimore Sun

Rebecca Skloot's book is centered around the simple act of a Johns Hopkins doctor taking tissue samples from a sick woman in 1951, but this fascinating story goes much deeper than describing what happened in a lab sixty years ago. Henrietta Lacks, whose cervical cancer cells were taken without her knowledge or consent, was a poor, young mother of five whose body was riddled with cancer. In the decades since her death, her children tried to come to terms to life without their mother. At the same time, scientists and doctors benefited, sometimes financially, from the information that they received from her DNA and cell line, known as HeLa. What made her HeLa cells unique was that they were immortal, which means that they multiplied rather than died like most cells. Because of this, scientific research could be performed that saved many patients' lives. Still, was doing so without any recognition or compensation fair to Henrietta and her family? As Skloot investigated this qyestion, she realized how important it was to tell the story of Lacks and her children. This work - part non-fiction, part memoir - delves into such issues of history, race, poverty, class, and medical ethics.

Find The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks in the Charlotte County Library catalog.

Have you read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? Please share your opinion about the book and this summary.

25 April 2011

Spring greetings!

I am embarrassed to acknowledge that it has been two months since I last updated Read Southside Virginia. I apologize for the delay.

Although my attention was away from this blog, my mind was still on - and sometimes in - Southside Virginia. I spent most of the months of February and March feverishly researching the history of the Charlotte County Library for my Master's paper. I turned that in three weeks ago, and hopefully I will be able to share a copy with the CCL soon.

25 February 2011

Genre at a Glance: Historical Fiction

First of all, I would like to say 'thank you' to everyone who sent along book suggestions for my first summary for this blog. I would have liked to have started with a William Hoffman novel, The Trumpet Unblown (my brother's suggestion), but the library at UNC did not have it. Instead, I read a book that my sister suggested: The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. You can read my summary here.

Second, my timing reading The Kitchen House coincided perfectly with my schedule in my Seminar in Popular Materials. Last week we read historical fiction novels, and I learned a lot about the genre that I would like to share with you.

Kathleen Grissom. The Kitchen House. New York: Touchstone, 2010.

Lavinia, an Irish girl orphaned on her family’s voyage to America, is taken in as an indentured servant at Tall Oaks, a plantation in Southside Virginia, in 1791. With no memory of her previous life, Lavinia becomes attached to the plantation’s slaves, making them her makeshift family. Over the next few years, Lavinia witnesses the injustices the slaves endure, and they enrage her. She has no real concept of plantation society, although she understands that she is afforded more opportunities, such as learning how to read, because she is white.

14 February 2011

What should I read first?

Here is a list of books I am considering reading this week. What do you think would be a great first book to blog about?


This blog has been created as part of a field experience at the Charlotte County Library in Charlotte Court House, Virginia. Books that are set in Southside Virginia or are by authors connected to the area will be reviewed. For this blog, "Southside Virginia" will include the counties of Amelia, Appomattox, Bedford, Brunswick, Buckingham, Campbell, Charlotte, Cumberland, Dinwiddie, Franklin, Greensville, Halifax, Henry, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Patrick, Pittsylvania, Prince Edward, and Sussex. These are the counties designated as "Southside Virginia" by the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission.

You are invited to make comments and suggestions for novels to be included on this blog. Please provide feedback!