A high school friend of mine recently visited from California and he came bearing gifts! One was this unique bowl from Sweet Creek Pottery in Ohio. The other was Voices From The Hills: Selected Readings of Southern Appalachia.
He said his elderly aunt is downsizing and offered him anything on her bookshelves. He chose this one for me, and felt mighty pleased with himself when he saw Hillbilly Elegy (J.D. Vance) on my coffee table. He has read it, too.
So then we got into a discussion of our Appalachian roots, speculated about who in the current generation—or even our generation—lived with outhouses and no indoor plumbing as we did. Like Vance, we both went on to professions. We both got Ph.D.s in psychology, though I ended up an academic and he ended up a software programmer in Silicon Valley.
And therein lies one of the joys of regional reading: taking one back to one’s roots.
Fifty years ago, The Foxfire Book became a runaway bestseller. In case you are not familiar with Foxfire, high school students in Appalachia interviewed local people about traditional mountain skills, crafts, food, and lore. It was so popular that one volume followed another.
More recently, the series has faded, and now—as far as I know—is limited to anniversary editions.
The Foxfire books especially appeal to me because they remind me of skills my grandmothers had that I have lost. I helped each of my grandmothers make lye soap, for example, but would have no idea how to do so today if it weren’t for instructions in books of this sort. In any event, this series is excellent reading and I recommend it to you, whatever your background.
A second region I’ve been particularly interested in is the Chesapeake Bay. This started with sailing there more than twenty years ago. When I decided to write mysteries set on the Chesapeake (Dark Harbor and Tiger Heart), my interests expanded. Another joy of regional reading is knowing a new place.
Some people make a career of regional writing—think Tony Hillerman mysteries or Ellen Glasgow in Richmond.
Of course, one can focus on regional history or geography, politics or industry. But my strongest reason for regional reading is hearing the voices of the people.
Whatever your interests, there is regional writing for you. Just focus on a region you love or one that fascinates you and go for it!