For the Love of the Hills and Hollers
If you’ve known us for long, you know that we always have a go-to Appalachian novel on our shelves to recommend. More often than not, that’s thanks to Valerie, our fearless leader and devoted reader. Here, Valerie shares an appreciation of one of her favorite authors in the Appalachian genre, Silas House. Both of our store book clubs are discussing House’s work this month, and we’d love for you to join us—you can learn more about our book clubs here.
I think I can trace my first love of Appalachian literature back to Sharyn McCrumb’s If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy O. Or maybe not. But I do know that it was one of McCrumb’s first books, and that it beautifully described the landscape and the people who lived there. Later, it was Silas House’s connected trilogy of Clay’s Quilt, Parchment of Leaves, and The Coal Tattoo that cemented my connection to the misty mountains, the feeling that generations went before and will come after. I became that bookseller who would read anything that took place in those rolling hills. But what many friends don’t know is that I didn’t actually ever visit the area before 2011, long after I’d read many novels set in this magic land.
In 2011, my son Will took a job as a rafting guide on the Ocoee River in southeast Tennessee. Of course, he had never been there before, but friends convinced him it was a good gig. And a good gig it was. He met a young firecracker there from the holler. Jennifer Barnes grew up on Grassy Creek Road. Her family’s history is intertwined in Copper Hill’s history. This year they will officially become William Barnes Koehler and Jennifer Barnes Koehler. We’ve visited many times, always staying up in the hills, usually with a beautiful view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The voices of all these novels are now embedded in my heart. I hear the accent. I hear the love. When Alma Sizemore plays her fiddle in the bar, I know that sound. It is the sound of hard work, hard play, and love.
Which brings me to our 2021 book club selections. We are kicking off the year with two new editions of that long-ago trilogy by Silas House: Clay’s Quilt and Parchment of Leaves. I’ve recently reread both with that familiar twang in my ear, with my newfound knowledge of the land, and with all the love I feel for these people. And this time around, I read them with the perspective that comes from having read so many other authors who have set their books in this hardscrabble but oh-so-achingly-beautiful place: David Joy; Wiley Cash; Christopher Scotton; Taylor Brown; Amy Greene; Ron Rash; Kim Michele Richardson; Lee Smith, the list goes on.
I hope you’ll join me in reading these books, and in trying to understand what the holler is. As James Barnes would say, “it’s that dip in my land.” But if you visit you know it’s more than that. It’s church singing. It’s moonshine. It’s deep family love and connection. And it can be hard, too. I’m not sure how a city girl came to love it so much. But I do.
In his New York Times bestselling debut novel, Silas House introduced himself as an important voice for Appalachia, and indeed, for the entire rural South.
In this nationally bestselling novel, A Parchment of Leaves, Silas House produced an iconic story of 1900s rural mountain Kentucky that remains a favorite of many of his fans.
In World War II-era rural Kentucky, twenty-two-year-old Easter and Anneth, her teenaged sister, lose their parents young, so they must raise each other. Easter finds her life in the Pentecostal Holiness church and its music, while Anneth dances and drinks in less-than-holy honky-tonks.