Gregory Harris

Listeners of National Public Radio are familiar with Noah Adams' rich, evenly paced voice from his tenure as co-host of All Things Considered. Now readers have an opportunity to discover Adams' other voice—equally self-assured, moderate and mellifluous—in his new book, Far Appalachia.

The work chronicles Adams' nearly yearlong personal journey into the heart of one of the oldest river valleys on the North American continent. Following the entire course of the New River from its origins on a remote hilltop in North Carolina to its mouth in West Virginia, he discovers along the way an old-fashioned stretch of America where the pace is easier.

"It's the clean air and the quietness out there that I like," Adams said in a recent phone interview. "I could easily live there . . . in North Carolina or Virginia. You sort of don't even notice until you drive four hours and you get out of your car and you say, 'Where's the noise?'"

Adams doesn't merely explore the modern New River in the pages of his book; he recalls the region's history from its frontier origins to its industrial past. Although he presents the story in a linear narrative, the book is, as he notes in his prologue, the culmination of 11 months of short explorations. Part of his goal, Adams said, was to acquaint readers with a part of the country they may know little about and to encourage them to visit. "Appalachia itself is such a huge subject that I've wanted to write about it for years," Adams admits, "but I couldn't find a way until I figured, well, here's a little way to do it. You can write a smaller book, and it's got a narrative and people know where it's going to end."

Adams said choosing a single place in the region to recommend would be difficult. "But I love Snake Mountain in North Carolina, and nobody goes there. It's such a beautiful, beautiful place," he said. "That's someplace people wouldn't think to go, and Ashe County is a lovely place to visit. I would have never gotten there had it not been for this book, and it's just a treasure."

Far Appalachia climaxes with the author braving the rapids of the Lower New with a group of whitewater rafters. Adams captures the experience of the foaming, thundering surges in remarkable detail. This feat is particularly impressive given that he had no prior experience rafting. Capturing the experience was a challenge, Adams admits. "You really are in deeper holes than you would appear to be from the bank," he said. "You just don't see that from the bank. And all of a sudden, man, there's that wall of water that's way over your head. And you don't appreciate that when you're sitting there on a rock someplace watching the rafters come down the rapids."

In addition, the seasoned journalist found himself unable to use one of the time-honored tools of his trade. "The situation in a boat," Adams said, means "you can't be writing notes, so I would have a microcassette recorder in a little waterproof bag and then wander away from the lunch crowd and just get a few things down and then try to find time that night to sit for about an hour and make notes."

Adams said he enjoys writing as a break from his radio duties but is not currently working on another book. "I always like to have something else going, but I think I'll try a few magazine pieces and just not worry about it and wait until a book demands to be written."

Whether working on books or his radio program, Adams said he keeps in mind a quote from producer-director James L. Brooks: "Ease is always an illusion.""When I do a radio story, and I've been satisfied with only a few over the years, and I hear it, and it sounds so simple, I think, How could it have been that much work?" Adams said. "That's when I know it was a good piece."

Gregory Harris is a writer and editor who lives in Indianapolis.

Listeners of National Public Radio are familiar with Noah Adams' rich, evenly paced voice from his tenure as co-host of All Things Considered. Now readers have an opportunity to discover Adams' other voice—equally self-assured, moderate and mellifluous—in his new book, Far Appalachia. The work chronicles Adams' nearly yearlong personal journey into the heart of one […]

Scott Elliott's impressive debut novel, Coiled in the Heart, is a moving tale of guilt, atonement and redemption that deftly melds images of Southern aristocracy with high-tech genius, haunting memories with the terror and ecstasy of new love. The novel's central figure, Tobia Caldwell, was born into a proud but declining Tennessee family. As a boy, a momentary impulse led him to provoke an older, unfriendly boy into a deadly encounter with a copperhead snake. Ashamed and frightened, he hides the truth from everyone but his father, who shields his son from scrutiny but admonishes him to atone for his act. As a young man, Tobia is introspective and haunted. His father has lost his position in a prestigious law firm and a foolish affair has resulted in his estrangement from his wife, who has suffered a debilitating stroke and can no longer speak. With Tobia's help, his father devotes himself to reclaiming his family's land and rekindling his wife's affections. But an unexpected letter from Merritt, the twin sister of the boy whose death Tobia was responsible for, shatters his ability to concentrate on the reclamation project. Tobia and Merritt had fallen in love back in college, but have since avoided each other. Her imminent return fills Tobia with anticipation and dread.

Elliott has crafted his novel's structure as carefully as his lyrical prose. Alternating chapters relate the events of the present day and describe the occurrences of the past that have shaped Tobia. As the chapters follow the characters forward in time, they impart a sense of onrushing destiny.

While readers delve deeper into the mysteries of Tobia's obsessions, they're sure to be spellbound by Elliott's assured style. In the tradition of Southern prose, he imbues his locations from aging mansions to teeming swamps to an eccentric's high-tech home with vivid detail. And he populates his places with characters as memorable as they are mysterious. Gregory Harris is a writer in Indianapolis.

Scott Elliott's impressive debut novel, Coiled in the Heart, is a moving tale of guilt, atonement and redemption that deftly melds images of Southern aristocracy with high-tech genius, haunting memories with the terror and ecstasy of new love. The novel's central figure, Tobia Caldwell, was born into a proud but declining Tennessee family. As a […]

Thrillers often explore espionage and intrigue from the inside, but Janette Turner Hospital's new novel Due Preparations for the Plague plunges the reader into the shadowy world of terrorism and intelligence from an outsider's perspective. The result is a mesmerizing tale of grief, mystery and revelation.

Due Preparations
opens as Lowell, a house painter, tries to cope with the approaching anniversary of his mother's death in a skyjacking. As the date nears, the reader sympathizes with Lowell's grief and anxiety. Already troubled by anger and guilt, Lowell is further shaken by unwanted phone calls from Samantha, who was among a group of children released from the doomed flight. Now a member of a support group for survivors of the incident, she pesters Lowell for any information he might have. Lowell's troubles expand when his estranged father, a former intelligence agent, is killed in a traffic accident. Information he leaves his son sets Lowell and Samantha on the path to learning more about the tragedy that marked both their lives. An intense, riveting reading experience follows that explores the overlapping worlds of national security and international terrorism.

As civilians and proxies for the reader Lowell and Samantha have a tinge of the sinister about them. But Hospital skillfully imparts in them the idealism that drives many to enter the nation's intelligence services, as well as the isolation and loneliness that are the toll of a lifetime in clandestine activity.

Gregory Harris is a writer and editor living in Indianapolis.

 

Thrillers often explore espionage and intrigue from the inside, but Janette Turner Hospital's new novel Due Preparations for the Plague plunges the reader into the shadowy world of terrorism and intelligence from an outsider's perspective. The result is a mesmerizing tale of grief, mystery and revelation. Due Preparations opens as Lowell, a house painter, tries […]

In the turbulent early days of revolutionary Russia, Bolshevik agents herded the deposed Tsar Nicholai II, his family and aides into the basement of a Siberian house and executed them all in a blaze of gunfire. Details of what happened that fateful night have taken decades to emerge, reaching a terrible climax with the 1991 excavation of a mass grave believed to be the one in which some of the members of the Romanov family were buried.

Writer Robert Alexander, a fluent Russian speaker who studied in Leningrad, became fascinated with an obscure reference in the Empress Alexandra's personal journal shortly before her death, noting that their kitchen boy had been sent away. This brief reference from a forgotten 1918 diary took root in Alexander's imagination and, after much research, blossomed as his new novel The Kitchen Boy. This intriguing work of speculative historical fiction recreates the last days of the tsar through the eyes of the young Leonka, who recalls how he secretly returned to the Siberian house that served as the Romanovs' prison and witnessed their execution.

The novel successfully maintains an intense atmo-sphere of peril and suspense despite the reader's foreknowledge of the Romanovs' fate. The calamity is heightened by the fierce, almost primal protectiveness the parents showed toward their children who nevertheless would die with them—invoking compassion for the royal family as people rather than dusty national symbols. Despite the sympathetic portrayal of the tsar and his family, Alexander doesn't ignore the judgment of history. As Leonka notes, however well-intentioned Nicholai and his empress may have been, their rule over Russia was a legacy of war, revolution, corruption and oppression. But the thuggish Bolshevik revolutionaries fare no better under the novel's scrutiny.

The Kitchen Boy is a fascinating and suspenseful glimpse of a tempestuous but shadowy period in Russian history. It's also a moving portrait of a family that, despite their legendary role in world events, proved in the end to be as mortal as the rest of us.

Gregory Harris is a writer, editor and technology consultant in Indianapolis.

In the turbulent early days of revolutionary Russia, Bolshevik agents herded the deposed Tsar Nicholai II, his family and aides into the basement of a Siberian house and executed them all in a blaze of gunfire. Details of what happened that fateful night have taken decades to emerge, reaching a terrible climax with the 1991 […]

<B>A cowboy's wry poke at the West</B> Many are familiar with Baxter Black's homespun humor from his frequent commentary on National Public Radio, where he's billed as a cowboy poet and former large animal veterinarian." Now Black's funny, folksy anecdotes can be enjoyed in his new book, <B>Horseshoes, Cowsocks ∧ Duckfeet.</B> This collection of columns from NPR and print sources lampoons and celebrates rural life with dry, understated humor. Among the many yarns Black spins are comical accounts of rodeo mishaps, amusing efforts to wake a tranquilized bull before an auction and the bemused reaction of cowboys to Western catalogs aimed at urban dwellers. In fact, the culture clash between urban folk and rugged range riders is a subject Black visits more than once. He also celebrates good dogs, good dances and good doctors, and wonders if the West is vanishing.

In the tradition of great American humorists like Mark Twain and Will Rogers, Black writes with great intelligence and warm wit, choosing his words tenderly, yet efficiently. He may poke fun at economists and impulsive cowhands, but his satire is gentle, not at all harsh. Still, all is not laughter like many essayists, Black turns sober attention to the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, finding comfort in the fact that American farmers were feeding Afghanistan even as our troops were missing Christmas due to the fighting.

If some of the stories ring a bell, the reader can consult a handy reference of NPR air dates in the back. Black also thoughtfully includes a glossary of cowhand terms. The text is sprinkled with illustrations that complement his descriptions of unruly horses and dignified farmers.

<B>Horseshoes, Cowsocks ∧ Duckfeet</B> is a book that all readers will enjoy, whether city dweller or ranch hand. Black's collection of wry anecdotes, essays and verse is thought-provoking, heartwarming and thoroughly entertaining. <I>Gregory Harris is a writer, editor and technology consultant in Indianapolis.</I>

<B>A cowboy's wry poke at the West</B> Many are familiar with Baxter Black's homespun humor from his frequent commentary on National Public Radio, where he's billed as a cowboy poet and former large animal veterinarian." Now Black's funny, folksy anecdotes can be enjoyed in his new book, <B>Horseshoes, Cowsocks ∧ Duckfeet.</B> This collection of columns […]

While in high school in 1969, Mark Edmundson knew what he wanted from life. Although he seemed destined to the fate of many in his working-class Boston suburb days of labor broken by nights of drinking and pool playing he had one great love: football.

In practice, he was a warrior, initiated into the cult of manhood by coaches for whom pain was a myth, sweat the coin of the realm and victory the only acceptable proof of effort. In his new memoir, Teacher: The One Who Made the Difference, Edmundson recalls how he compensated for his nearsightedness by working harder than most of his teammates and relying on guts and determination. He also remembers the high school figure who most shaped his destiny.

But it wasn't a coach it was a slender, mannered philosophy instructor. As Edmundson relates in this touching tribute to the teacher who changed his life, his class wasn't sure what to make of Frank Lears on the first day of school. Lears wore secondhand suits, drank tea instead of coffee and arranged desks in a circle instead of orderly rows. The students responded with subtle, and later, not-so-subtle, defiance of Lears' authority. But Lears posed a greater challenge to his students' minds than they did to his authority. Even the steps Lears employed to counter the students' defiance didn't fit into the stereotype of disciplinarian that the kids were accustomed to. And despite himself, Edmundson found his thoughts turning to the questions Lears posed, implicitly and otherwise, in class. Eventually, Lears' influence would surface in the ways Edmundson reacted to the Vietnam War, race relations and a host of other issues. But while it changed his opinions Lears' philosophy class also had a much greater influence on Edmundson. True to its nature, philosophy taught him to think. Today Edmundson is an English professor at the University of Virginia, as well as a contributing editor for Harper's. Crediting Lears with setting him on the path to his vocation, he has written a humorous, vivid recollection of the friends, teammates and antagonists who accompanied him through high school in the '60s a memoir that is sure to resonate deeply with readers. Gregory Harris is a writer, editor and IT consultant in Indianapolis.

While in high school in 1969, Mark Edmundson knew what he wanted from life. Although he seemed destined to the fate of many in his working-class Boston suburb days of labor broken by nights of drinking and pool playing he had one great love: football. In practice, he was a warrior, initiated into the cult […]

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