WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesdays—August 31, 2011

WWW WednesdaysTo play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

I am currently reading Sharyn McCrumb’s [amazon_link id=”B000MWFFS8″ target=”_blank” ]The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter[/amazon_link]. I have just been tearing through her books, but this one is fairly dark! Still good. I think I should finish it before too long, and then it’s R.I.P. Time.

Speaking of which…

Peril the First

I’m doing it this year. I am not playing around. Four books or bust! Actually, I think I have a shot this year since I seem to have figured out, at nearly 40 years old, how to read a little faster. Better late than never.

I recently finished [amazon_link id=”0451197399″ target=”_blank” ]The Ballad of Frankie Silver[/amazon_link] by Sharyn McCrumb (review).

I am not sure which books I’ll read next yet, but I have several ideas. Sharyn McCrumb books count for the R.I.P. Challenge! [amazon_link id=”0345369068″ target=”_blank” ]If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O[/amazon_link] arrived in my mailbox today via PaperBackSwap, so maybe that one. Looking forward to the challenge, as I do every year.

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays—August 29, 2011

Musing MondaysThis week’s Musing Mondays asks…

What was the last book you…
• borrowed from the library?
• bought?
• cried over?
• disliked and couldn’t finish?
• read & loved?
• got for review? (or: got in the mail?)
• gave to someone else?
• stayed up too late reading?

Ah, now these are excellent questions. I honestly can’t remember the last book I myself checked out of the library. I haven’t been in over a year. I helped Maggie check out some books on the Salem Witch Trials, I think, but I can’t recall getting anything for myself that time.

The last book I bought was probably [amazon_link id=”0439139600″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire[/amazon_link] because we could not find our copy. We are always reading those to death anyway. I think some of the books in that series are on their third copy.

The last book I cried over was [amazon_link id=”1565125606″ target=”_blank” ]Water for Elephants[/amazon_link] (review). I just loved that book, and parts of it were so sad.

The last book I disliked and couldn’t finish…hmmm….I want to say that was [amazon_link id=”0758254083″ target=”_blank” ]Wuthering Bites[/amazon_link], which made me sad because 1) it was a gift, and 2) I love [amazon_link id=”0143105434″ target=”_blank” ]Wuthering Heights[/amazon_link] and would like to believe I have a sense of humor about parodies of works I love, but this one just did not grab me. I don’t think I made it into chapter 2.

The last book I read and loved was [amazon_link id=”0451202503″ target=”_blank” ]The Songcatcher[/amazon_link] (review) by Sharyn McCrumb. I really, really liked [amazon_link id=”0451197399″ target=”_blank” ]The Ballad of Frankie Silver[/amazon_link] (review), perhaps even loved it, but if we’re talking it-went-on-my-list-of-favorites love, then that was The Songcatcher.

The last book I got for review that I actually have reviewed was [amazon_link id=”1401301045″ target=”_blank” ]The Wild Rose[/amazon_link] (review). I have some other review copies in my TBR pile (or on NetGalley, which amounts to the same thing).

Does PaperBackSwap count as giving a book to someone else? I’m going to say it does, in which case I mailed copies of [amazon_link id=”0061579289″ target=”_blank” ]Adam & Eve[/amazon_link] and [amazon_link id=”039592720X” target=”_blank” ]Interpreter of Maladies[/amazon_link] on the same day, which was August 24. Giving a book as a gift, it was probably Christmas. I gave books to the kids and a [amazon_link id=”B002FQJT3Q” target=”_blank” ]Kindle[/amazon_link] to Steve.

The last time I stayed up too late reading was probably…oh, shoot…I do this so much during the summer that it’s hard to keep track. I am going to say it was with Jennifer Donnelly’s “Rose” trilogy: [amazon_link id=”0312378025″ target=”_blank” ]The Tea Rose[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id=”1401307469″ target=”_blank” ]The Winter Rose[/amazon_link], and the aforementioned The Wild Rose. I ate those books up with a spoon.

The Ballad of Frankie Silver, Sharyn McCrumb

[amazon_image id=”0451197399″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]The Ballad of Frankie Silver[/amazon_image]Sharyn McCrumb’s ballad novel, [amazon_link id=”0451197399″ target=”_blank” ]The Ballad of Frankie Silver[/amazon_link], entwines the stories of Frankie Silver, believed to be the first woman executed by the state of North Carolina, and Fate Harkryder, a poor white mountain man about to face death in Tennessee’s electric chair. The two cases become connected in Sheriff Spencer Arrowood’s mind right after Fate Harkryder is found guilty of the murders of Emily Stanton and Mike Wilson, UNC students hiking the Appalachian Trail. When the Stanton/Wilson murders took place, Arrowood was a deputy sheriff working under Nelse Miller, sheriff at the time, but Arrowood was the official who investigated the crime. The evidence seemed rock solid, but Nelse Miller took his deputy to the graves of Charlie Silver—no, graves is not a typo because Silver was buried as the parts of him were discovered—and tells Arrowood that he has only been unsure about two cases in their neck of the woods: the case of Fate Harkryder, and the case of Frankie Silver.

Frankie Silver is the subject of an Appalachian murder ballad. She was accused and convicted of murdering her husband, Charlie Silver, with an ax and dismembering him. At the time, both were teenagers: Frankie was 18 and Charlie was 19. They had been married less than a couple of years, but they had an infant daughter, Nancy. Frankie Silver was born Frances Stewart to Isaiah and Barbara Howell Stewart. She had two brothers, Jackson, who was older than her, and Blackston, who was about 14. At the time of the murder, Isaiah and Jackson were hunting in Kentucky. Barbara and Blackston were arrested with Frankie, but they were ultimately released when no evidence of their involvement in the crime could be found.

The novel has a dual narrative. The modern storyline of Spencer Arrowood and Fate Harkryder is told in the third person limited, with a focus on Arrowood’s point of view, while the storyline of Frankie Silver is told by Burgess Gaither, a clerk of the court when she was tried and convicted, in the first person point of view. McCrumb employed this same technique in [amazon_link id=”0451202503″ target=”_blank” ]The Songcatcher[/amazon_link] (review). In her afterword, McCrumb notes that she feels Frankie Silver’s “case was really about poor people as defendants and rich people as officers of the court, about Celt versus English in developing America, about mountain people versus ‘flatlanders’ in any culture” (393). Given all the research I’ve done on the case is limited to reading this novel (so what do I know), it is a premise that seems to make sense. McCrumb carefully weaves in a story about the kind of justice men of means and reputation in society could expect as compared with that of poor mountain men. Everyone who faces a trial for a crime like Frankie Silver or Fate Harkryder have committed is entitled to representation by an attorney. The courts are supposed to be a great leveling field. Justice is supposed to be blind. But everyone knows that’s not so because ultimately, it is carried out by flawed human beings who bring their own prejudices and beliefs to bear on decisions they make. I think I might be a horrible juror because I think I would just question so much and not be able to make a decision, and I know for a fact I could never decide to send someone to death for a crime. My conscience wouldn’t allow it.

I finished this novel this morning, and I decided to walk up to our local Saturday farmer’s market and mull it over before I wrote this. I think it reminded me a bit of some sad stories in my own family. One is the story of my great-great-great-grandfather, John Jennings. He was a blacksmith in Russellville, Alabama. Russellville is a small town in Franklin County in northern Alabama. He apparently said something at a political rally or in a newspaper article (sources differ on which) that raised the ire of one George C. Almon, a candidate for office. I wonder what John Jennings said because it apparently made Almon angry enough to seek Jennings out to “give him a whipping,” according to a cousin of mine, Arthur Jennings. Arthur reports that Almon had to “take one instead,” as Jennings was a strong blacksmith, after all.

Some time later, Almon went into a hotel across the street from Jennings’s blacksmith shop and told the clerk that he needed a gun to shoot a mad dog down the street. The clerk gave it to him, and he walked across the street with it and shot John Jennings. He died a half hour later. Almon surrendered to the sheriff. His trial took place on June 28 and 29, 1875. He was acquitted of murder—it was determined he acted in self-defense.

If Arthur’s version of this story is true (it was likely passed down through the family to him), then I can’t see how what Almon did is self-defense, but he was certainly more influential politically than John Jennings. Almon prospered in Alabama government and politics. Five years after the murder, Almon was a practicing lawyer in Russellville. He was appointed a probate judge, and in 1886, he was elected to the Alabama State Senate in the 12th district.

I joked in a previous post that the Southern defense that “he needed killing” has been used successfully, but it appears to be true in this case. Newspapers covering the trial at the time seemed to think Jennings was at least partly responsible for his own murder because of whatever it was he had said. His honor besmirched, Almon demanded Jennings answer for it. Jennings’s widow Fannie apparently feared her young sons would grow up and seek revenge for their father’s murder, so she moved the family to Texas. The removal may have accomplished Fannie’s immediate goal of making sure her sons did not meet their father’s fate, but the feeling of ill will about the murder and the fact that the man responsible never answered for it still rankles, and you can hear it any time one of the family talks about it. You can read an excerpt from Memorial Record of Alabama by Hannis Taylor (1893) about Almon’s career. No mention of the murder at all, of course. He lived until 1911 and was buried in the Knights of Pythias cemetery in Russellville. Now, I have no evidence that my ancestor was necessarily poor, but it did take my cousin Jan about 30 years of genealogy research to find out this much about John Jennings’s death, whereas a quick Google search for George C. Almon reveals his prominence (but not his crime, unless you count my own blog posts about it on my genealogy blog).

So what does all that have to do with Frankie Silver or even this novel? The two stories bother me in the same way. The sense that only certain people receive justice, or even mercy (a point McCrumb makes) is something we’d like to believe is long past. Unfortunately, as McCrumb shows us in this novel, it still happens, and perhaps more often than I want to think about. William Faulkner astutely said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Rating: ★★★★★

Full disclosure: I received this book via PaperBackSwap.

WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesdays—August 24, 2011

WWW WednesdaysTo play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

I am currently reading [amazon_link id=”0451197399″ target=”_blank” ]The Ballad of Frankie Silver[/amazon_link] by Sharyn McCrumb, and it’s engaging in a different way from [amazon_link id=”0451202503″ target=”_blank” ]The Songcatcher[/amazon_link], which I recently finished (review). A few choice quotes:

It is difficult to explain the law to laymen. They seem to think that justice has to do with right and wrong, with absolutes. Perhaps when we stand before our Maker on Judgment Day, His court will be a just one, but those trials held on earth are not about what happened, but about what can be proven to have happened, or what twelve citizens can be persuaded to believe happened. Sometimes I think the patron saint of lawyers ought to be Pontius Pilate, for surely he said it best: What is truth? (227)

Sounds to me like an excellent explanation of law, or at least courtroom trials. Here is another I liked:

Colonel Newland eyed me sadly. “You are dealing in justice, Mr. Gaither,” he said. “I am dealing in mercy. I hope some day—before it is too late—you find that Mrs. Silver is deserving of both.” (230)

Frankie Silver, if you didn’t know, may or may not be the first woman executed for murder in North Carolina (Wikipedia cites a news article describing an earlier case, but everyone else says she was the first—plus, I’m not sure about the source as it isn’t on a news site). She supposedly killed her husband with an ax and dismembered him. Keeping in mind that I am not finished with this book, and some new twist may change my mind, I have two theories about Frankie Silver:

  1. She did the crime because, as we say in the South, her husband needed killing. A translation for non-Southerners: He was doing something like beating her or hurting their baby or even cheating on her. Now, I don’t mean to say that people deserve to be killed. I only say that when they commit wrongdoing, and they are subsequently murdered, the “He needed killing” defense has been considered viable in some corners of the South.
  2. She didn’t do it, but she knew who did, and she was protecting them for some reason.

In either case, I think her trial, if it happened the way it is described in the book, was a gross miscarriage of justice. Even if she did the crime, some procedural mishaps should have resulted in a mistrial or she should at least have been granted an appeal.

I am not sure what I’ll read after this book. Everyone at work wants me to read [amazon_link id=”0553386794″ target=”_blank” ]A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One[/amazon_link], and I want to, but it’s so long! I want to be done with any books I pick up before the R.I.P. Challenge, and there is no way I can finish that book in a week. I am going to win that challenge this year. I mean it!

WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesdays—August 17, 2011

WWW WednesdaysTo play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

I am currently reading a wonderful book by Sharyn McCrumb called [amazon_link id=”0451202503″ target=”_blank” ]The Songcatcher[/amazon_link]. I am so in love with this book! It’s definitely running on five stars and is, so far, one of my favorite reads of the year. I keep thinking it would make a great movie along the lines of [amazon_link id=”B0001MDP3G” target=”_blank” ]Cold Mountain[/amazon_link] or [amazon_link id=”B00005JLTZ” target=”_blank” ]Coal Miner’s Daughter[/amazon_link]. I’ll tell you one thing: It gives me even more appreciation for my ancestors who settled in North Carolina, Georgia, and points west when it was truly wilderness.

I recently read [amazon_link id=”0061579289″ target=”_blank” ]Adam & Eve[/amazon_link] by Sena Jeter Naslund (review).

I think I am going to dive into [amazon_link id=”0451197399″ target=”_blank” ]The Ballad of Frankie Silver[/amazon_link] by Sharyn McCrumb next, as I am loving The Songcatcher so much. Her latest book, [amazon_link id=”0312558171″ target=”_blank” ]The Ballad of Tom Dooley[/amazon_link] will be out before too long. I can’t wait to read that one.

What about you?

WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesdays—August 10, 2011

WWW WednesdaysTo play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading Sena Jeter Naslund’s [amazon_link id=”0061579289″ target=”_blank” ]Adam & Eve[/amazon_link] for a TLC Book Tour. I am about halfway through. I have to say that so far, it’s not bad. I wouldn’t have chosen the book if I had not been asked whether or not I wanted to participate in the tour, but I have read a lot of reviews that pan the book, and it’s averaging three stars on Amazon and less than that on Goodreads, so perhaps it spins out somewhere in the second half. I’m keeping an open mind.

I recently finished [amazon_link id=”0451531388″ target=”_blank” ]A Room With a View[/amazon_link] by E.M. Forster (review), which I truly enjoyed. Great read!

I have a large TBR pile, and I plan to pull one of the following books next:

  • [amazon_link id=”0451202503″ target=”_blank” ]The Songcatcher[/amazon_link] by Sharyn McCrumb
  • [amazon_link id=”0451197399″ target=”_blank” ]The Ballad of Frankie Silver[/amazon_link] by Sharyn McCrumb
  • [amazon_link id=”0679781587″ target=”_blank” ]Memoirs of a Geisha[/amazon_link] by Arthur Golden
  • [amazon_link id=”0152053107″ target=”_blank” ]A Northern Light[/amazon_link] by Jennifer Donnelly
  • [amazon_link id=”0312304358″ target=”_blank” ]Moloka’i[/amazon_link] by Alan Brennert
  • [amazon_link id=”0060791586″ target=”_blank” ]The Widow’s War[/amazon_link] by Sally Gunning
  • [amazon_link id=”0452289076″ target=”_blank” ]Burning Bright[/amazon_link] by Tracy Chevalier

I’m leaning to the Sharyn McCrumbs just because her ideas about using old Appalachian murder ballads and stories appeals to me. I come from old Appalachian hill folks on my dad’s side, and something about Appalachians has always spoken to me.

Friday Finds

Friday Finds—July 29, 2011

Friday FindsI found a few interesting books this week. First, in searching out more information about [amazon_link id=”0312558171″ target=”_blank” ]The Ballad of Tom Dooley[/amazon_link] by Sharyn McCrumb, I discovered she has written a whole series of novels based on Appalachian murder ballads (I know, slow me). Anyway, I added her novels [amazon_link id=”0451202503″ target=”_blank” ]The Songcatcher[/amazon_link] and [amazon_link id=”0451197399″ target=”_blank” ]The Ballad of Frankie Silver[/amazon_link] to my TBR list.

I read about [amazon_link id=”1401323901″ target=”_blank” ]Witches of East End[/amazon_link] by Melissa de la Cruz in a Washington Post review by Brunonia Barry. It’s the first in a series, and it looks interesting. Plus I love witches.

Stephanie at Reviews by Lola recently reviewed [amazon_link id=”1590514440″ target=”_blank”]The Reservoir[/amazon_link]. It crossed my radar before, and I can’t recall where, but it looks good, and Stephanie’s review prompted me to add it to my list.

This morning my Any New Books email mentioned Richard Miles’s history [amazon_link id=”0670022667″ target=”_blank” ]Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization[/amazon_link]. I immediately remembered my college Latin exercise in Wheelock in which I translated Cato’s famous “Carthago delenda est.” I had mistranslated it as “Carthage must go.” Latin scholars: is that a more literal translation? Or just flat out wrong?

I remember my professor helping us with that one because, no joke, it was clear that many classmates had the most trouble with what on earth “Carthago” meant because it wasn’t in our glossary or word bank. I had at least figured that part out. I wasn’t shocked by my classmates’ lack of knowledge or anything because I didn’t and still don’t know much about Carthage either beyond two things: 1) Dido was a queen in love with Aeneas, or so the stories say (I plead ignorance on the history), and 2) their great general Hannibal rode over the Alps on elephants, which is totally badass. Now, I can’t tell you why I remember it because I even misremembered “Carthago delenda est” as a quote by Cicero. Thank goodness for Google so I don’t look like too much of an idiot. After recalling this whole event from college, my interest was piqued. So naturally, this book looks like a great opportunity to learn, and it’s available on Kindle, which is a requirement for all history books I read now so that I can highlight and take notes without feeling like I’m defiling a book.

Has anyone read it? I am so scared it will be dry, which is why I tentatively put it on my pile until I can gather more evidence that I will enjoy it while I’m learning something from it. Plus, it is really expensive on Kindle, so I want to be sure it’s good.

[amazon_image id=”0451202503″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Songcatcher[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0451197399″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Ballad of Frankie Silver[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”1401323901″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Witches of East End (The Beauchamp Family)[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”1590514440″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium”]The Reservoir[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0670022667″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization[/amazon_image]