Book Report: Four to read

There are weeks when books cross my desk at an almost alarming rate. I stack them first by the local reading dates of their authors, and then by size and shape so they ascend ceiling-ward in paperback pyramids. There’s part of me—the type-A taskmaster—that wants to complete each one. But of course I can’t. Still, I believe our local authors deserve a good read and there’s no shortage (the potential avalanche on my desk attests to this) of material. Here are few worthy options:

• Chains by Cheri L. Jones.
A slight volume of poetry, enhanced with grainy, black and white family photographs, Chains takes an unfliching look at one family’s history. Told in brief free-form verse, these are stories in brief as much as poems. And they hold a universality free from sentimentality as often as not. Jones rhyming passages (“Johnny flew through life / as though with wings / flew to death where / a waterfall sings”) seems, at times, forced. But her unrhymed entries, arranged in tidy stanzas, carry surprising weight and eloquence: “Her father rules Maggie’s world with terror. / He beat them all from their beds each morning / as if the wakening sun could not side / till screaming filled the air to call it forth.”

• After Dayton by C.S. Carrier
Poet Carrier grew up in W.N.C. and attended Western Carolina University. His collection of poems attests to time spend in the Carolina mountains: There are references to azaleas, rhododendrons, Cullowhee. But Carrier’s is a language both unexpected and magical: “My days are stones / my words more simply than ravens / dying under them. / I believe in bonfires, bones.” Each of the book’s three sections include the titles (sometimes multiple times) “Azalea” and “Tomaz Salamun (If You Exist).” “Lyric” makes its way into two sections. Dayton contains a studied musicality, a Haiku-like referencing of seasons, the natural world and emotive states, but the collection’s end result is more about Carrier’s skill in digesting and discarding the rules of poetry. An enchanting if all-too-brief body of work.

• Billy the Kid (From Houston – Not Texas) A Child’s Life from 1950-1960 by Bill Ramsey
This homegrown memoir is a DIY project from start to finish. Ramsey tells of his childhood in Pennsylvania, growing up post-WWII in a small town. But Billy doesn’t follow a traditional biography trajectory. Ramsey begins with his thoughts on the march of time (“Tears came from knowing how much things have changed and that there is no returning to those days.”) and gives readers an overview of local characters (Police Chief McNutt, the “onion man,” Bob Smith, DDS). There’s a conversational tone, rather like a slide show presentation. Chapters have names like, “Come Visit The Block We Lived On” and “Share Our Food…But Not So Fast;” memorabilia and black and white photos are scattered throughout. Billy ends with five pages of workbook-style entries where readers can pencil in their own thoughts on topics like “My heroes and role models” and “What I miss most about my childhood years.”

Ramsey participates in the Blue Ridge Book & Author Showcase, Friday, May 8 and Saturday, May 9 in Flat Rock. Ramsey will be one of 30 authors presenting between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday. The event is free and open to the public.

• The Last Witch of Langenburg: Murder in a German Village by Thomas Robisheaux
Robisheaux is a professor of history at Duke University, an occupation which shines through the pages of Langenburg—often to the book’s disservice. There is a mystery at work here: In 1672 a new mother in a small German town dies of poising after eating a cake prepared by her neighbor. The cake, a specialty of Shrove Tuesday (the eve of Ash Wednesday), is assumed to be the cause of death, and the women who baked it along with her daughter (who delivered the cake) are tried as witches. Langenburg runs well over 300 pages with another 100 dedicated to notes and indexes, but while the event—more than 300 years passed—is carefully, painstakingly, documented, Robisheaux’s scholarly treatment often detracts from the edge-of-seat whodunnit or goose-pimple-inducing cold case treatment readers expect of murder mysteries.

—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter


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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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