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Radio Bristol Book Club: Sharyn McCrumb’s Appalachia

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club where readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library come together each month to celebrate and explore books inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage! We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at 12:00 noon when we dig deep into the themes and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

“My books are like Appalachian quilts, I take brightly colored scraps of legends, ballads, fragments of rural life, and local tragedy, and I piece them together into a complex whole that tells not only a story, but also a deeper truth about the culture of the mountain South.” ~ Sharyn McCrumb

Our July book pick, Sharyn McCrumb’s Appalachia, is a collection of essays by Appalachian author Sharyn McCrumb. In these essays, McCrumb describes her writing process and how the people, history, and magic of Appalachia inspire her work. If you have been reading along with us, you may also recognize her name from The Ballad of Tom Dooley, which we read together back in 2019.

The book cover has the title "Sharyn McCrumb's Appalachia at the top, and the image shows a deer on a path with green growth of trees, flowers, and grass around her.

In the essay “Keepers of the Legends,” McCrumb discusses the importance of family legend, regional folklore, and music as inspiration and as an aid in her writing process. She also explains the origin of the persistent desire throughout her career to write books that make a difference and do more than entertain. “Reflections on Historical Fiction” expounds on this idea of “moral fiction” and the importance of being diligently accurate as a historian while also writing the account in a way that the reader can truly feel and experience the history.

In “A Novelist Looks to the Land” and “The Celts and the Appalachians,” McCrumb explores the idea of place and the importance of geographic environment not only in a story but also to the people who once lived there and to those who live there now. “Magic Realism in Appalachia” is about the supernatural elements that still prevail in the Appalachian Mountains today. This subtle magic is particularly prevalent among Appalachian woman as explored in the essay “Nora Bonesteel and the Sight.” McCrumb’s friend Charlotte Ross was the inspiration for one of McCrumb’s most famous and intriguing characters, Nora Bonesteel. Ross was a professor of Appalachian folklore and, like Bonesteel, possessed the Sight.

A white woman with shoulder-length brown hair and bangs. She is wearing black pants and a black shirt with a beige cardigan. She is looking at the camera and holding an open book "The Devil Amongst the Lawyers" and a pen, as if she is about to sign the book.
The author Sharyn McCrumb with one of her books.

Sharyn McCrumb is an award-winning author with several New York Times best sellers to her name. She is best known for her Appalachian “Ballad” novels, and her books are studied at universities and have been translated into 11 languages. She has lectured at Oxford University and the Smithsonian Institution, and she also served as writer-in-residence at King University right here in Bristol!

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, July 22 at 12:00pm for the discussion of Sharyn McCrumb’s Appalachia, You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time. The librarians will be happy to help you find the book. We look forward to sharing our thoughts on this fascinating collection of essays with their deep exploration of the mountains we know and love. And if you have thoughts or questions about this book that you would like to share with our readers, you can email info@birthplaceofcountrymusic.org (Subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – your book insights might appear on air with us!

Looking ahead: Our book pick for August is Weaver’s Daughter by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, August 26. Check out our full list of 2021 Radio Bristol Book Club picks here, where you can also listen to archived shows!

* Erika Barker is Curatorial Manager at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and an avid reader.