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I fled him down the nights and down the days;

I fled him down the arches of the years;

I fled him down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

— “Hounds of Heaven” by Francis Thompson

Since Luke Bauserman is a folklorist, it is safe to say that many of his characters already exist; some have existed since the beginning. Certainly, someone has told us tales of how death and the devil have communicated with mortals before.

I had my first encounter with a prize-winning Plott hound several years ago when I was hosting a Liars Bench program at Western Carolina University. I had asked David Brewin to bring Nannie, his Plott hound, to the program.

As I remember it now, Nannie was not on a leash, but it seemed unnecessary. She came and sat by David and surveyed the people in the audience, her dark brendle coat shimmering under the lights. No stranger to crowds, she was calm, even composed and she seemed to briefly study each individual on the crowded stage.

There is no middle ground.

With Jackson County storyteller/playwright Gary Carden, you either love the guy or you tolerate him, a curmudgeon some might say. Luckily, most folks in Western North Carolina appreciate and revel in the singular, beloved personality that is Carden — an increasingly rare voice that serves as a vital window into the past.

Some four years ago, I reviewed Matthew Baker’s first book, My Appalachian Granny, a delightful collection of anecdotes, photographs and provocative history. Much of the book dealt with Baker’s friendship with Evelyn Howell Beck, whose life reflected the qualities that the author had come to admire.

“And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

And satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

Then your light will rise in the darkness,

And your night will become like the noonday.”

— Isiah 58:10

The setting of Desperation Road is a short stretch of highway in Mississippi between Magnolia and McComb near the Louisiana state line. It is a rural area and other than the Fernwood Truck Stop and the Armadillo bar, there is nothing of interest ... just closed stores, a bus station and a half-way house. This is where Michael Farris Smith’s characters spend their time in a desperate search for peace or redemption. They are all defeated and bear the scars of their encounters.

Just after I bought The Weight of the World, I ran into an old friend of mine who is extremely well-read, and since I knew that he had already read the book and since I value his opinion, I asked, “So, what did you think?”

“Southern Appalachia is a region about which, perhaps, more things are known that are not true than any other part of the country.”

— John C. Campbell

Early in J. D. Vance’s passionate tribute to his “hillbilly roots,” the author recalls “the Hillbilly Highway.” The term was applied to the network of roads that ran from the Southern Appalachians to the industrial towns of the North. Vance notes that this stretch of highway became famous due to the awesome numbers of cars with tags from Kentucky, Tennessee and the Carolinas that packed the roads to Dayton and other northern cities on the days before and after holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas). Usually, the term is derogatory, coined by alarmed northerners who saw their cities flooded by hillbilly transplants.

This is a delightful book and I am confident that it will be judged one of the best books of this year. All aspects of its release have been shrewdly designed to make it a seasonal favorite. It is a work of “popular fiction,” and its parts (plot, character, etc.) are skillfully woven to make it a best seller in the upcoming holidays.

Recently, I attended “Coffee With the Poets” at City Lights Bookstore and heard the poet, Newton Smith, read and discuss his new collection, Camino Poems: Reflections on the Way. Smith told his audience that he and his wife, June, had completed the famous 500-mile pilgrimage which runs from the village of St. Jean-Ped-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

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