REVIEWS: Books for under the tree: Great storytelling to historical photos to tailgate recipes

Nov. 30, 2013 @ 10:28 AM

Books are one of the best presents to give, at the holidays or any time of year. Fall brings a bounty of book options, from novels to nonfiction to coffee table books and cookbooks. Here are some new books this reviewer recommends for your shopping list:
From a local publisher, there’s the long awaited “The Road from Gap Creek” by Robert Morgan, published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. Published a decade after “Gap Creek,” the story continues with the next generation, still hardscrabble but dealing with their modern world as Julie and Hank’s children grow up during the 1920s, the Great Depression and World War II. You don’t need to read the first book before this one, but consider it an accompaniment to read along with it or another time. The story in “The Road from Gap Creek,” set in the North Carolina mountains, is narrated by youngest daughter Annie. Through her eyes we see the lives of those around her, with a focal point of her brother Troy. Troy’s death in World War II comes at the beginning, and then readers travel with Annie’s memories of her brother, his beloved dog, and the daily life of their family, along with the aftermath of the tragic news of his passing. Morgan is a North Carolina native now living in Ithaca, N.Y. and a professor at Cornell University. He is a superb storyteller, and the Richards family will stay with you long after you close the book.
For a novelized take on the very real Mississippi flood of 1927, who better to write it than two authors from the University of Mississippi. “The Tilted World” by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly (William Morrow, $25.99) is an immersive literary read about a bootlegger wife and a revenuer, an orphaned baby, sabotage and murder, all in the days leading up to the massive flood. Fennelly directs the master of fine arts program at the University of Mississippi, and Franklin teaches in it. The historical details and suspenseful storytelling make this novel one to savor.
For historians, those who walk slowly through museums or Civil War buffs, there is “Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection,” edited by Neil Kagan with a foreword by Jon Meacham (Smithsonian Books, $40). Talk about a book written by people who know their stuff. Museum curators wrote the accompanying descriptions of the photographs of artifacts like a Wedgewood cameo for abolitionists, depicting a slave in chains with the text, “Am I Not A Man And A Brother?” The Smithsonian also has the barometer used by Thaddeus Lowe in his reconnaissance work for the Union Army, the autograph book of Confederate officer Woodbury Wheeler with a list of fellow prisons-of-war, minie balls fused together during the Battle of Fredericksburg, a field medicine case, corps flags, a wide array of guns and swords, even the black silk cloth that draped President Lincoln’s coffin. Page after page shows photographs of the museum’s artifacts, as well as images of newspaper clippings and photographs of the carnage of North versus South. It would take hours and hours to study these items in person. More than just what’s on display, the book features items from storerooms, vaults and private cabinets, too. “Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection” lays it out for you to view at your own pace. It’s a beautifully designed book about a tragic time in our nation’s past.
From another museum, another option for a gift for historians is The Imperial War Museums’ “The Great War: A Photographic Narrative” by Mark Holborn and Hilary Roberts (Alfred A. Knopf, $100). It is World War I told through images, from the battlefields to mourning to political meetings. Whatever you already think you know about WWI, this book will teach you more.
-- For the football fans of your friends and family, particularly ACC fans, try “The Southern Tailgating Cookbook” by Taylor Mathis (UNC Press, $30). For the hardcore, college logo tent crowd to the pop the trunk and take out one thing to eat tailgaters, Mathis provides an array of options. There’s bacon whiskey, cinnamon toast breakfast cake, two kinds of biscuits, two kinds of potato salad, three kinds of hummus, dips, three choices of cheese balls, slaws and breads. And that’s just a sample of choices before getting to the chapter on “Main Meals,” which includes fried frog legs, shrimp boil, turkey legs, kabobs, jambalaya and more. Or try making sandwiches, soups or desserts. “The Southern Tailgating Cookbook” also has features about tailgating culture, food and setting up your station, as well as photographs and stories from Southern tailgates. If your ACC fan can’t get enough of all things college football, Virginia Tech’s longtime head football coach, Frank Beamer, recently released his memoir. (Yes, if UNC or Duke had new memoirs, they would have been included.) “Let Me Be Frank: My Life at Virginia Tech,” written with Jeff Snook and a foreword by Bob Knight, gives readers a look inside the 26 seasons of Beamerball, and his thoughts on the 2007 tragedy at Tech. This season may not have been the best for the Hokies, but there’s always next year.