Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Three Book Reviews: A Tale of Birmingham, a Hanging, and Superstitions

It's been a l-o-n-g while since I wrote a book review on my blog, so here's three to catch up a little:

The Girl from Hockley: Growing Up in Working-Class Birmingham by Kathleen Dayus (Virago, 2006): Have you ever wondered what life might have been like in industrial England in the early days of the 1900's? Kathleen Dayus' book will provide all the enlightenment you could possibly want. Told from the point of view of her own childhood and growing-up, the book is a frank description of the abject poverty, cunning suvivor skills, and determination that marked her life and those of all the people she knew in her slum neighborhod of Birmingham, UK. Her rich language, poignant disappointments, puzzlement at her mother's refusal to love her, descriptions of the food (or lack thereof), clothing, and living conditions make this an absolute pageturner. The reader will follow young Kate from childhood to young womanhood, working in munitions and other industries, her disastrous first marriage and struggle to survive, and finally to peace and while not plenty, at least enough in her final years. Dayus became a legend in her own time, living to almost 100 years old. Her story was read aloud on BBC, and today a square in her old neighborhood is named in her honor. Truly a must-read.

Swift Justice: The Story of John F. Morgan and the Last Public Hanging in West Virginia by Merrilee Fisher Matheny (Quarrier Press, 2019):  Jackson county, West Virginia is the place I call home. It is also the site of one of the state's most horrific murders--triple murder, actually--that resulted in a tumultuous event that culminated in the public hanging of the murdered man. It's a story I explore annually in the Ripley ghost walk, and the author Merrilee Matheny, was a great help to me in developing the story by generously sharing her research. And now Matheny has put her compelling account of the murders, including extensive background material, new stories and photos of places and people involved into a book. Matheny's writing is clear and engaging, and she offers information that might cast doubt on whether or not John F. Morgan, the convicted murderer, did indeed act alone. This is local history at its best, but it's not only local people that will be fascinated by her gripping account.

Appalachian Magazine's Mountain Superstitions, Ghost Stories & Haint Tales by the publishers of Appalachian Magazine (Stately Ties Media, 2018). I admit, the title of this book caught my attention immediately. I tell many ghost stories, and am always interested in learning about superstitions. And since I am presenting a workshop this week on Appalachian Folklore and Superstitions, I was anxious for this book to arrive. I can't say it lived up to my expectations completely, but there are good stories here, and some of the background information is intriguing. The author grew up in southern West Virginia and is now a preacher in the area. Superstition is a personal thing; some believe in it, some don't, some believe one thing but not another. The authors trace some beliefs back to European origins, others to the need for some kind of explanation for life's traumas and mysteries. It's a good read, and while not an in-depth study the authors have included many out-of-print articles that are fascinating reading.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


wisps of words said...

Couldn't read the first 2. But the 3rd might be fun.

I'm a wimp, you seeeee.... -grin-


jcm said...

Thanks for the reviews. Looks like I have some interesting new books to read this winter.

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