I have always been entertained by observing people, perfect strangers, as they go about their daily lives. I try to figure out what their stories are or why they may wear a certain expression. Some might see this as strange, but don’t we all have our own odd quirks and idiosyncrasies? There are definitely some strange characters with their own secret stories in the books featured this month.
The Scent of Lilacs by Lawrenceburg’s Ann Gabhart (Revel, $12.99) is the 1964 story of 13-year-old Jocie Brooke. Jocie is the youngest daughter of a small-town pastor who, of course, is always in the highly critical public eye. After Jocie’s mother, Adrienne, left her and her father, Jocie’s Aunt Love, who “never had any problem pulling out appropriate Bible verses to attempt to whip Jocie into line,” moved in with some shocking secrets from her past. Add to this a grandfatherly friend who claims to be from the planet Jupiter, a hippie sister who returns after a long absence, and a scandalous pregnancy. Despite all these strange characters, this book is a heart-warming tale of working through past hurts, choosing new paths, and realizing the importance of the bond of family.
Bobbie Ann Mason’s first fiction work in more than a decade, An Atomic Romance (Random House, $24.95), explores the on-again off-again relationship between a cavalier nuclear plant worker and a serious-minded biologist while also exploring our country’s nuclear history. Reed Futrell, who calls himself Atomic Man, is the third generation in his family to work in the nuclear plant. He seems to have little concern for the amount of toxic waste to which he is exposed on a daily basis and feels proud of the work he does. His favorite pastimes are watching his screensaver of the planets and galaxies, pursuing women, and riding his motorcycle to “rough it” alone in the woods for a day or two. His sometimes-girlfriend, Julia, on the other hand, can’t understand Reed’s loyalty to his job and frequently debates the issue with him while he keeps secret just how much he has been exposed. Their time together is a strange intertwining of intellectual conversation about string theory with a strong sexual attraction to each other. An Atomic Romance is not the typical hearts-and-flowers romance novel, proving to be a challenge with its abundance of nuclear speak.
Kuttawa’s Judge Bill Cunningham delves into the history of slavery in Kentucky and the reaction after slavery was abolished in A Distant Light (McClanahan Publishing House, $21.95). Racial tensions were great, even in western Kentucky where slaves had been treated more like family than in other parts of the South. In 1916 in Murray, a group of four black men met up with Guthrie Diuguid, a white man. After a fight began, one of the black men, Lube Martin, allegedly shot Diuguid, who died of his injuries. After attempting to flee, Martin was apprehended and later held in Hopkinsville to avoid a sure lynching, a means of “justice” that was common in this time. The citizens of Murray were outraged, and held hostage in a hotel room the judge who had granted a continuance of Martin’s trial along with the Commonwealth’s Attorney. The two hostages were soon to be victims of a lynching themselves were it not for the brave efforts of Governor Stanley, who faced and dispersed the mob with merely his words. Cunningham’s book also tells the stories of others who helped our state gradually move away from racial injustice.
Of Woods & Waters: A Kentucky Outdoors Reader, edited by Ron Ellis, collects essays, fiction, memoirs, and poetry inspired by outdoor life in Kentucky. Entries by 57 writers range from the first recorded observations on the Kentucky wilderness by Daniel Boone to a damp day on the Licking River by David and Lalie Dick, of Kentucky Living’s The View from Plum Lick column. Other contributors include Robert Penn Warren, Wendell Berry, Silas House, Barbara Kingsolver, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Jesse Stuart. And an essay by Kentucky Living’s Great Outdoors columnist Dave Baker includes the compelling introductory sentence: “Don’t make your deer camp in the back of a dynamite van.” Available at bookstores, $29.95 cloth, 416 pages, The University Press of Kentucky. For more info, go to www.kentuckypress.com.
The Kentucky Anthology, edited by Wade Hall, gathers an incredible array of writings from and about our state’s land, people, and culture. Each essay, journal entry, fiction, speech, or poem includes an introduction and an author bio. The nearly 200 writers include Sallie Bingham, Charles Dickens, Jefferson Davis, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Merton, Ed McClanahan, Sue Grafton, Linda Bruckheimer, Muhammad Ali, and Hunter S. Thompson. Available at bookstores, $45, 816 pages, The University Press of Kentucky. For more info, go to www.kentuckypress.com.
Don’t think pancakes and chocolate mousse belong on a healthy menu? Check out Quick & Healthy Low-fat, Carb Conscious Cooking by Brenda J. Ponichtera. In addition to 200 recipes, you’ll find nutritional analysis, tips for trimming fat, and microwave directions. Available at bookstores or from ScaleDown Publishing Inc., 1519 Hermits Way, The Dalles, Oregon 97058, (541) 296-5859, www.QuickandHealthy.net, retail $18.95. For shipping charges, add $3.50 for the first book and $2 for each additional book.