There’s nothing quite like a cold winter day for
settling in with a good book. Add a softly crackling fire, a hot beverage, a
favorite pair of slippers and maybe an affectionate dog, and you have the
ideal milieu for beginning a literary journey. That journey can take you to
an infinite variety of literary destinations, from Civil War battlefields to
tropical isles to presidential palaces, and other places far from the cold,
dreary realities of wintertime.
Virginians are blessed with a fine literary tradition.
Writers from Edgar Allen Poe to Patricia Cornwell have made their mark on
the trade, and with this in mind, Cooperative Living magazine this year will
feature brief reviews of books with a Virginia connection — either a
Virginia story or a Virginia author.
We begin in this issue with a special compilation of
seven reviews of books that will help you make it through the cold, dark
recesses of winter.
Grand Adventure: A Year-by-Year History of Virginia
by James A.
Press; 2005; 156 pages
Reviewed by Richard Johnstone
Author Crutchfield advises that his book is
“Virginia’s story, told year by year in chronological order.” This
little volume packs a lot of fascinating information on the Old Dominion,
but as you can well imagine, neither this book nor any other containing a
mere 156 pages could truly tell “Virginia’s story” in anything but a
tantalizing, cursory way. As it is, the book offers anywhere from a sentence
to a few paragraphs on each year from 1607 and the landing at Jamestown, all
the way through 2004 and its singular notation regarding the opening of
President’s Park in Williamsburg, a tourist destination featuring statues
of every U.S. president.
As those first and last entries show, this book is
filled with both the sublime (1607) and the marginal (2004). Yet this
endearing little book does cover a lot of history, both that writ large by
such iconic figures as Washington and Jefferson and Lee, as well as that
writ by smaller actors on our state’s historical stage. For instance,
there’s the 1882 founding by a black Dinwiddie County lawyer, Alfred
Harris, of Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (now Virginia State
University), which became the first state-sponsored, four-year accredited
university in the nation for black students. Or how about another entry of
I-didn’t-know-that proportions: Both William Henry Harrison, who died of
pneumonia in 1841 after only one month as president, as well as his
successor, Vice President John Tyler, were born in Virginia’s Charles City
This book’s flaw, in my view, is that the title of
The Grand Adventure suggests that there be a storyline, a thread — whether
historical, political, cultural, social, or economic — connecting the
Commonwealth’s story through the years and decades and centuries. The
book, instead, is more of a collection of information and images, most
marvelous but some mundane, about the Old Dominion.
An introduction by Virginia native and Emmy- and
Peabody-award-winning author Earl Hamner adds another delight to the many
offered by this small volume. Virginia’s proud history truly is a “grand
adventure.” This book’s title may overstate its case, but it’s still a
volume worth adding to the history shelf of any lover of the Old Dominion.
Burning: The Last Days of the Confederate Capital
2002; 248 pages
Reviewed by Jeb Hockman
In the spring of 1865 after four years of bitter
fighting, Richmond remained a vital city. It was the capital of the
Confederate States of America and as such, it was surpassed in importance
only by Washington, D.C. It was
home to the Confederate congress, President Jefferson Davis and the
thousands who had come to staff its governmental agencies, including
diplomats from England, France and other European nations.
As author Nelson Lankford points out, Richmond was an
interesting choice as the capital of the Confederacy. With its close
proximity to the Northeast, its mills and tobacco merchants tended to do
business with those in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York rather than
Mobile, New Orleans or Atlanta.
Lankford chronicles the fall of Richmond day-by-day
during the first two weeks of April. With the Yankee forces closing in and
Davis and the Confederate government officials escaping by train to
Danville, he notes it was not the Union Army but the Confederates themselves
who ordered the burning of Richmond’s mills and business district. Over
800 buildings in a 10-block area from the Capitol to Shockhoe Bottom went up
These photographs and engravings of Richmond’s
devastation appeared in every Northern newspaper as powerful symbolic images
of the defeat of the South.
Richmond Burning is an enjoyable read as it flows like
the pages of a novel rather than a scholarly text. Anyone familiar with
Virginia’s capital city will be fascinated by how the Civil War and its
aftermath affected the city economically, socially and emotionally, and how
these effects still linger today.
Publishing; 2005; 289 pages
Reviewed by Debra Swiderski
The great challenge in writing a Holocaust memoir is
putting into words events that defy words. Richmonder Nancy Wright Beasley
has taken on this formidable task in her book, Izzy’s Fire. This chronicle
is told through the voice of Richmonder Edna Ipson, who with her husband,
Izzy, and young son, Jay, survived one of the darkest periods of modern
Ms. Beasley takes the reader back to the late 1930s
when Edna and Izzy, then Eta and Izzy Ipp, are newlyweds in pre-war
Lithuania. Ominous clouds appear on what should be their sunny horizon. Izzy,
an ambitious young lawyer, and his wife fear the increasing Jewish
persecution throughout parts of Europe, and in particular, Germany. When the
German army occupies Lithuania in 1941, the Ipson family tries to make its
way into Russia, but it is too late. The Jews who are not murdered while
trying to escape are imprisoned in a ghetto. There the horrors multiply.
Lithuanians and Germans alike torture and murder
thousands of Jewish citizens, including most of the Ipson family members.
Desperate to escape, the young family flees into the countryside and finds a
refuge with a Catholic farm family, eventually spending nine months in the
cramped confines of an underground potato cellar.
This account is well researched and told with feeling.
Some readers might find it densely textured, but the story is truly
remarkable. The generosity shown by the family that risked their own lives
to help is inspiring. And the tenacity and ingenuity of Izzy Ipp as he leads
his family through the perilous escapes out of Europe and ultimately to
Richmond, Va., are amazing.
Readers can have a hands-on experience with this story
at the Virginia Holocaust Museum at 2000 E. Cary Street in Richmond. The
museum, founded by Jay Ipson, features many personal articles involved in
Fishing in Virginia
by Bob Gooch
Virginia Press, 2004; 152 pages
Reviewed by Bill Sherrod
If you’ve ever watched dawn paint the sky above the
misty waters of a bass pond, then chances are you’re familiar with the
work of Bob Gooch.
Gooch, a Troy resident, is the dean of Virginia outdoor
writers. Readers who enjoy fishing, hunting, hiking or just observing
nature’s ways have long enjoyed his work, from his numerous books and
outdoor guides to his popular weekly outdoors column.
Though mostly retired now, Gooch maintains a keen
interest in the Old Dominion and her rich outdoor heritage. Lake Fishing in
Virginia is his most recent work, a fine compilation of facts about
Virginia’s many superb public fishing impoundments.
The book’s information is divided into six parts.
Lakes managed by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries are
discussed in the first five chapters, each representing a geographical
region of the state. The final chapter covers other lakes in Virginia that
are managed for fishing. This sixth chapter includes multipurpose waters,
such as massive Buggs Island Lake on the Virginia-North Carolina border, and
Virginia State Park lakes, such as 50-acre Douthat Lake in Virginia’s
Gooch’s descriptions of Virginia’s still-water
assets, the maps showing water-depth contours, access points and other vital
information, are perfect for planning those first spring outings after
winter’s long haul.
Lake Fishing in Virginia will warm the avid angler’s
heart on a cold winter day. It will make you think about the good times to
come. There’s nothing like chicken soup to warm your soul on a winter’s
day. Consider the following editions of this popular series, each with a
Soup for the Military Wife’s Soul
Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Charles Preston, and Cindy Petersen
Communications, Inc.; 2005; 330 pages
Reviewed by Laura Emery
In one of the stories in this book, Amanda Legg writes,
“To understand military life, or what it feels like to be the wife of a
proud soldier, you need to experience it. I am an unseen veteran. So are all
the other military spouses out there. We have different battlefields. Our
maps have pins in the countries of worry, heartache and loneliness. Our
battles will end when our husbands are in our arms again. We lend a strong
shoulder when needed, and we keep up the brave front at home. The war could
not be won without us.”
The courageous men and women of the Armed Forces swear
an oath to uphold the constitution and protect this great nation. Behind
these good men, however, are good women. A soldier’s spouse takes the
unwritten oath to live a life of lengthy separations and endless
anxieties—while she maintains pride in her country and in her spouse.
In the book, Chicken Soup for the Military Wife’s
Soul, the heartwarming and uplifting stories are written by the women who
stand silently, but strongly, behind their husbands as they support our
country. Over 100 touching short stories will bring a smile to the
reader’s face or a tear to the eye. As might be expected in a state with
more than its share of military bases, Virginia is well represented in the
pages of this collection, which features the heartfelt works of at least six
Old Dominion authors.
According to the book, “This special volume
celebrates the unique bond between military wives and their spouses and
their dedication to home and country.”
Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul
Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Marty Becker, Carol Kline,
Communications, Inc.; 2005; 398 pages
Reviewed by Colby Rogers
Well-read dog lovers certainly have reason to wag their
tails this winter. Chicken Soup
for the Dog Lover’s Soul, one of the latest in the line of the popular
inspirational series, is sure to warm the heart of anyone who has ever owned
— or has been owned by — a K-9 companion.
The collection of over 90 short essays spans all manner
of dog tales, from daring rescue stories to fond childhood memories. Also
included in Dog Lover’s Soul is a bonus for Virginia readers: Wendy
Kaminsky of Powhatan and Audrey Thomasson of White Stone both share their
own past experiences with dogs.
At its heart, Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul
follows the tried-and-true formula of the series. It is simply designed to
give you a lift through the antics of our four-legged friends. The stories
are concise — most are just two or three pages — and easy to pick right
up and read.
As a lifelong dog lover (our house always has at least
two), the only downside I found with the book was the ending to many of the
essays. After reading the tales of these amazing, devoted dogs, it was
depressing that many of the animals met untimely ends, but overall this book
was an uplifting read.
Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul should make
excellent wintertime reading for any fan of Fido. As long as you don’t
mind a little salt mixed in with your sugar, this book will give you a
newfound appreciation for man’s best friend.
Soup for the Cat Lover’s Soul
Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Marty Becker, Carol Kline, and Amy Shojai
Communications, Inc.; 2005; 400 pages
Reviewed by Kathryn Johnstone
Authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen have done
it again — Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover’s Soul, the latest addition to
the nationally renowned inspirational series, proves to be filled with
stories just as heartwarming, humorous, and emotional as the volumes
preceding it. Along with Marty Becker, Carol Kline, and Amy Shojai, the duo
has compiled over 85 tales and narratives, with select cartoons and quotes
interspersed between, all concerning man’s “other best friend.”
Though the accounts are all well-chosen, several stand
out from the rest. “Machiavelli,”
written by University of Virginia graduate and Shenandoah Valley resident
Susan Hasler, accurately and lovingly captures the superior attitude and
seemingly delusional self-confidence possessed by so many felines. The
narrative recounts the saga of Arthur the cat, as told from his perspective.
Arthur watches as his personal assistant (what we humans would consider to
be his owner) tries to find love with a series of “hairless males.” He
is very judgmental of all of them, seeing their flaws long before his
personal assistant discovers them. Eventually, she is lucky enough to find a
man who respects and loves Arthur as much as she does, leaving Arthur with
no choice but reluctantly to allow him to stay.
Other highlights of the book include: amusing anecdotes
about a cat turning on her owner’s alarm clock so she can be let outside
“on time” at 4 a.m., and another about a feline who gets his head stuck
in the garbage disposal (in the end, his owners, several firefighters, and a
series of veterinarians are able to save him); a heart-wrenching tale of a
cat that brings flowers to his grieving owner; and an uplifting story about
a cat who befriends an angry and rebellious inner-city boy, helping him
connect with his peers and improve academically.
Overall, Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover’s Soul will
be the “cat’s meow” for
feline fans, and a great, light read for lovers of inspirational animal