Shameless plug for my dad’s new book

cover-kindle.pngSince he retired from teaching almost 20 years ago, my dad’s embarked on a second career as a writer. He followed my into journalism and began writing a column in our hometown newspaper that was eventually syndicated to a handful of other weekly papers in Eastern Kentucky.

Then, he started writing books. His latest came out this week. It’s called The Overnight City: The Life and Times of Van Lear, Kentucky 1908-1947.

Van Lear was a coal-company town, and if the name rings a bell, it’s probably because you’re a fan of the country singer Loretta Lynn. She sings about Van Lear in her song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

“My daddy worked all night in the Van Lear coal mines….”

Van Lear was founded in 1908 by Consolidation Coal Co. and fell into decline when Consolidation Coal sold its holdings in 1947. The town itself survived, but with a dwindling population and only a handful of businesses, the city government was dissolved in the 1960s. Van Lear is an unincorporated community now.

In its heyday, though, it was something else.  It had stores and churches and schools and a movie theater and a coal-fired power plant that provided electricity to a big part of the Big Sandy Valley. There were murders and fights and moonshiners, but there were also baseball games and 8th-grade graduations and “society news,” which was really just a list of who visited whom.

Dad went through 40 years’ wrote of old newspapers to find everything he could about the life and times of Van Lear, and when you read these hundreds of clips in chronological order, you get a real sense of what it must have been like to live there in the first half of the 20th century.

Anyway, that’s my shameless plug. The book’s at Amazon and in the Kindle store. If you’re from that part of the country, you might enjoy it. If you’re from someplace else, well, we won’t hold it against you.


Before Kindles and bookmobiles, there were pack horses

I was doing some spring cleaning this weekend — OK, so I’m running about 6 months late — when I found an old, fragile copy of The Bobbsey Twins at School, published in 1913. I think I got it after my grandmother died. On the contents page, it said:


“W.P.A.” is short for Works Progress Administration, later the Works Project Administration, a federal jobs programs created in 1935 during the depths of the Great Depression.

I did a little digging and found a book called Cut Down Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Libraries of Kentucky, by Kathi Appelt and Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer. It turns out that the Pack Horse Library project of eastern Kentucky — and it was definitely a Kentucky thing — is considered one of the WPA’s most innovative programs. They say it was aimed at creating jobs for women.

Riding horses or mules, “the book women” might travel 80 miles a week up creek beds and foot paths to reach families who otherwise might not have had access to books (see picture below). The project lasted until 1943.

It’s easy these days to take books for granted.

In fact, one of the reasons we’re doing all this spring cleaning is because we have too many books. Our bookshelves are full, and there’s a growing stack of books in the floor by every bookcase and on the floor by the bed and in the closet. (There are none in the garage or attic, because it’s too humid here in Tennessee.)

If I want a book they don’t have at Barnes & Noble or the library, I’ll buy it online, and a UPS truck will deliver it a few days later. If the price is right, I’ll just download it.

I wonder what “the book women” would have thought about that.

‘Pretty Babies Grow Up Ugly,’ by Dad (and me) now available for Kindle

Just passing this along, in case anyone’s interested: Dad’s written a new book. I’m the co-author (and publisher), but it’s mostly his book. (That’s him on the cover, circa 1941.)

It’s called Pretty Babies Grow Up Ugly and Other Old-Time Beliefs. It’s a book about old-time cures and superstitions from Eastern Kentucky and Southern Appalachia, including the belief the pretty babies grow up ugly (and vice versa).

If you have a Kindle or a Kindle app, it’s only $2.99. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, it’s free to borrow.

If you don’t have a Kindle or just prefer an actual, physical book, the paperback should be out in about a week.