Hey, all. I recently started doing something I’ve not done in a while – reviewing books. I won’t be doing a ton of reviews, but every now and then. And this one, Victuals, is an awesome book I hope you’ll give a chance. Let me know what you think. 🙂 Happy Reading!
I love this book. If you’re from Appalachia, live in Appalachia, or are interested in Appalachia and like nonfiction, get this book. You won’t be disappointed.
Okay, let’s face it. The cover’s not that great. As a matter of fact, it sucks. It looks like the cover of a textbook. Nothing wrong with that if you’re a student or a person who likes to read texts, but for a commercial book? Major fail. And it doesn’t make any sense when you see what is hiding just inside. I wonder if the commercial, non-review version comes with a paper jacket… That would help. (Sadly, apparently it does not.)
I’ll show you what the cover should look like. Here. This is what it should be. This is the first color spread inside the book. How awesome and dynamic and intriguing is this pic? Couldn’t you just snatch up those tomatoes and gnosh on them? And what about the fried chicken? Yeah, you know what I’m hungry for now, right? So the cover sucks. But the book? Oh, the book. This is definitely one of those times when you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. You’d be passing up a gem if you did.
Meat and Bones:
I’m from Appalachia, and I’m used to books that purport to offer a fair portrayal of the culture and people and uniqueness that is this region. Somehow, most of them fall flat by turning eclectic and intriguing characters into caricatures, full of stereotypes and assumptions. Oh, and that dreaded elite look into the “little world” of the “hillbilly.” This book does NOT do that, and I love it for that.
First off, I had no idea the word “victuals” is truly pronounced (correctly) as “vittles.” I didn’t. I grew up in Hazard, Kentucky, a city in the heart of the Appalachian coal fields, and I had no idea. I’m so ashamed. My grandmother was a traditional Appalachian “Granny Woman,” too, the kind who knew what greens you could eat from the yard and the garden and the woods, how to dress chickens and squirrels alike, how to stretch a larder till it screamed. The kind of woman who wore house dresses, who wore her hair pulled back in a bun, and had that soft, Southern Appalachian accent that’s fading so quickly. She’d shake her head at me. This book brings her back to me in so many ways, and that’s another reason I adore it.
Practically speaking, there are two components to this book that are as interesting separately as they are together. First, the slice-of-life biographical studies. Far from being a sterile recitation of facts, they bring the people interviewed to life in subtle, simple ways that resonate as being “real.” There’s no gratuitous superiority here – the author truly enjoys meeting these people, becoming friends with them, and learning from them. You can tell. That’s important, that level of respect. Anyone from this region understands what I’m saying here.
The second component is the food. Not just the recipes, but the history of the food, the development of the recipe, how everyday life influenced the ingredients and the methods of cooking. That aspect of the book is written as much as a biography of the food as anything, and it’s truly enlightening. For example, the section on shucky beans – I had no idea they were German in origin. I’m starting to think there’s a lot about my culinary heritage I didn’t know. Yes, I will be looking at Ronni Lundy’s other books to see about adding them to my collection. As I’m cheap, that’s saying something.
Even if you’re not Appalachian, this book has a lot to offer. It’s an honest look at life in this region, at the traditions and the people who are clinging hard to the culture that deserves to be “put up”—as in preserved—and continued.
One funny note – imagine my surprise when, in the story about a place called Summit City Lounge, located in Whitesburg, Kentucky, a familiar name showed up. Joel Beverly, one of the owners, is a guy I went to high school with. He was a couple of years ahead of me, I think, or maybe a couple of years behind. I didn’t know him that well, but it was really cool to see what he’s done with his wife, in opening what sounds like a truly neat place where the community can come for food and camaraderie and companionship. If you’re ever up that way, swing by and say hi, and tell them you heard about them from a crazy writer lady who did a review on Victuals. 😉
This book should be mandatory reading for anyone who’s taking a class about Appalachia, regardless of the focus of the class. Okay, maybe that’s overstating things, but it really was a good book. A solid book. A fair book. There aren’t a lot of those, as I said, about this region. Don’t get the impression that this book only sees the positive. It doesn’t. But its focus is the culture and the history, not the negatives. It’s a good blend of food and folks, and it’s a fun read, as well. It doesn’t lecture, but it leads. And if you can read it and not be drooling at the descriptions and the pictures, you’re a better person than me.
Where Can This Book Be Found?
I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.