Let's talk about a book.
This one is a bit newer than our usual book reviews. I just finished The River of Kings by Taylor Brown (St. Martin's Press, 2017)
Let me start by saying this was my first Taylor Brown book. But I don't think it will be my last. In this book he weaves three stories together three stories. Two of the stories are from recent history, about 15-20 years apart while the third is from the 16th century. The stories have their heroes and villains. There are kings and peasants - both literal and metaphorical. But at the heart of all three stories you find the true stars of the stories - the Altamaha River and the prehistoric beat that legend say roams the depths, The Altamaha-ha.
The stories are excellent. Brown's narrative puts you on the river. You get the ripples from the bow of a kayak, the smell of an outboard engine, the din of violent conflict. At times you'll find yourself blowing the gnats from your face. The plots are interesting and believable. It was nice to see the way one plot would veer into the other story, giving you a detail, some background. The history is well researched even if Brown took license to tell the stories.
The characters are real. I'm not saying they are all true people, I'm saying you are getting an authentic cast. Even when the plots get grotesque it isn't gratuitous. You see the morbid reality of our world and how experiences made the characters who they are and in turn how their existence contributed to the morbid reality of our world. You see the good and evil in them, some get a bigger share of one than they do the other. If you've lived in rural Georgia longer than a week, you've met folks like these. You might even see yourself in a few places.
This is a man's kind of story. I'm not saying that ladies shouldn't read it or that they won't like it. I'm saying men will enjoy it. It's gritty. It's harsh. But it's real. And it's good. There's nothing Pollyanna about it but it's also uplifting and encouraging. It is a tale of people living in a harsh world.
That is about as far as I can take this without getting into plot spoilers. So take my word for it. It's good.
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.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire