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Warm up to....

Wintertime Reading

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.

Happy Reading!


The Grand Adventure: A Year-by-Year History of Virginia

by James A. Crutchfield

The Dietz 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 County.

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.

Richmond Burning: The Last Days of the Confederate Capital

by Nelson Lankford

Penguin Books; 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 in flames.

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.

Izzy’s Fire   

by Nancy Wright Beasley

Brunswick 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 history.

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 this account.

Lake Fishing in Virginia

by Bob Gooch

University of 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 Allegheny Highlands.

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 Commonwealth connection.

Chicken Soup for the Military Wife’s Soul

Compiled by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Charles Preston, and Cindy Petersen

Health 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.”

Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul

Compiled by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Marty Becker, Carol Kline,

and Amy Shojai; 

Health 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.

Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover’s Soul

Compiled by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Marty Becker, Carol Kline, and Amy Shojai

Health 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 tales.


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