By Sam Burnham
Let's talk about a book.
First of all, anytime you get a book recommendation from a South Georgia hog and poultry farmer, follow up on it. That will be a good book. Trust me. That's how I got to this point. Second, we don't usually review new books here. It happens but we would rather review a good book than a new book.
So the good ol' Georgia PINES catalog indicated that the book was indeed at my local library so I swung in and picked up a copy. True to the recommendation, A Land Remebered by Patrick D. Smith was as advertised. The story itself was very much what we so often discuss here at ABG. Without ruining the plot, the book carries your through 3 generations of the MacIvey family, crackers from Georgia who make their way into the untamed Florida frontier and attempt to squeeze a living off a fertile yet unforgiving landscape.
This work of fiction is a great representation of the faceless multitude of crackers who settled the Sunshine State, as well as much of Georgia. Before there was a Miami or an Orlando, there were cypress cabins strewn over the hammocks and prairies of central and south Florida. Seminoles still hid in the sawgrass and the cypress as they too made their living off this land. It was a tough existence that required the people to be just as tough.
The books characters are realistic and endearing. Some of the dialogue gets dry in places and may not always be true to the time period but overall you find yourself pulling for the MacIveys. You want them to make it. There are plot twists that you cannot predict any more than they could have. You along for the ride with them. And it does get bumpy. The plot deals with issues of race and class. There are moral as well as physical crises and you see good and bad coming from decisions.
But the title puts the land itself under the spotlight. I think the plot does as well. The land is there before any of them arrive and it is there long after they are all dead. How the people interact with the land is the story. There is a lesson that native Floridians know all too well. It is the lesson of the Florida that was and the Florida that is. It is the lesson of greed and development. It is the lesson of "progress." As you see the land and the people change, you can see exactly how it all happened. You see how people sucked the life out of the land and, in turn, sucked the life out of themselves.
I highly recommend A Life Remembered. It's a great story with a great lesson.
By Sam Burnham
Still sitting on the beach. It's summertime after all, so what else should we do?
Its hard to beat a good book while you're relaxing, sitting in your chair, and sipping on a cold beverage while the waves crash over and the slip up onto the sand in front of you. If such an outing is in your future and you are planning on spending that time somewhere on the Gulf Coast between Ft. Morgan, Alabama and Panama City Beach, Florida, I have just the beach read for you.
I just finished Dr. Harvey Jackson's The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera. You may have heard me mention Dr. Jackson before here on the blog. He was one of my history professors in college. He happens to have some first hand experience on "The Riviera" after many vacations and even several years as a resident. Add to that experience several years of scholarly research, interviews, several thousand encounters with genuine and imitation rednecks, as well as an undisclosed number of trips to the Green Knight and the Flora-Bama, and you have a well-informed volume, a detailed history of the Redneck Riviera.
He calls it a rise and decline because the story is a journey. It's an odyssey of sorts. A tale of how a few remote and hard to reach communities, in which sand fleas and beach mice outnumbered people, even on the 4th of July became what you see there today, some scattered small towns and several major cities filled with high rises and and folks doing what they couldn't do at home. It rose after World War II to become a playground for the working class. It was like the South of France, but Southern, blue collar, and probably a little tacky. Basically, it was nothing like the South of France. The decline may seem more like a success story to modern eyes but much of the area got a lot fancier, maybe a bit stuck up. It ceased to be what it was and became something else entirely. It became fancy, shiny, commercialized. To a plumber in Georgia or Alabama, that might just be decline.
My biggest regret with the book is that I read it after returning from our 30A trip instead of before. His narrative of the towns and the people who shaped them would have added a further level of interest to my experience there. The story really is intriguing and reads much like his lectures, informative but with no shortage of laughs. For those who aren't faint of heart, look up some of the songs he mentions, the sound of the Riviera or "trailer park rock." I dare you to give them a listen and see how quickly one gets stuck in your head. I've had the name "Old Milwaukee" run through my mind more this past week than in my previous 42 years.
At several points in the book I could hear him giving his Southern History and Culture disclaimer. He warned us each semester that there would be times in his lecture that we would think he was beating up on the South, perhaps even hated it. But then he assured us that he loved it dearly, and presented it honestly. I really got that feeling from this book. It's a fair and honest telling of the story of The Riviera, warts and all, told by someone who loves it. As I mentioned in my previous post, I grew up visiting Atlantic beaches and my gulf experiences have been both positive and negative. But I can tell you that reading this book, I can't help but love the place. I'm sure if you give it a read, you'll feel the same.
By Sam Burnham
Sometime in the 3rd century B.C., The Macedonians established the legendary Library at Alexandria. This library was one part of the "Seat of the Muses," a major center of learning in the ancient world. But it was more than just books. This center included schools, lecture halls, centers for music and art. It was a center of culture as much as anything. While any other centers of learning and culture had risen by that time, the burning of the Great Library is still seen as a symbolic loss of knowledge and culture. Over 2000 years later, bibliophiles and intellectuals still look upon the destruction with a sense of mourning.
A few centuries later on the same continent, scholars came together to found the great Islamic center of learning and culture of Timbuktu, in modern day Mali. In 2012, the libraries of Timbuktu became a target of al-Qaida backed Islamist militants who believed the manuscripts to be idolatrous. Librarian Abdel Kader Haidara defied the terrorists and hatched a plot and smuggled 350,000 manuscripts out of the city and hid them in safer locations in the region.
In rural Colombia, a grade school teacher saw people with little to no access to books. So Luis Soriano started a travelling library with a collection of 70 books and two burros. He loaded books on the animals and then traveled to the towns in the region and allowed the people to check out books. Soriano has been accosted by bandits and even lost a leg in an accident involving one of his burros but that didn't stop him from carrying out the wok of the Biblioburros.
I've shared these stories because I believe we are finding ourselves in an age that doesn't see them importance of libraries. Librarians are nothing more than the keepers of the books - archaic devices that, like the American industrial worker, have been replaced by technology. The internet and electronic devices have brought us into an enlightened age where little old ladies wearing their hair in buns try their best to keep dust off the stacks of unused books.
Libraries are still centers of our culture. They obviously house our books. But they also hold music, video, audio visual equipment, archived periodicals dating back centuries, even works of art on display for the public. Libraries drive our literacy and provide opportunity for people to research topics and fact check ideas themselves. Our libraries offer computers with web access for people who don't have them at home. Some libraries even offer seeds that can be replaced with seeds from next generation harvested plants.
For over 2000 years, librarians have stayed ahead of the curve, keeping their institutions on the rising trends. Long before schools had librarians who knew every detail about every piece of technology in the building. And if a new way to access information comes along, these are the people who find ways to harness them and make them available to their patrons.
Librarians keep the books and they do that well. But if we diminish them to that alone, we do them a disservice and we risk cheating ourselves out of one of the greatest resources available to us today. Their libraries.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire