The Farmers Almanac for 2006 (Almanac Publishing Co., Lewiston, Maine, paperback, $5.99) says it’s going to be a cold winter nationally. But the regional map for this area is perplexing in that it shows an unusually mild winter in mountainous Northwest Arkansas while the rest of the state is colder than normal. Makes no sense.
“Flood Summer” is the title of a crackerjack first novel by Trenton Lee Stewart, a Hot Springs native who now toils for the Muse in Cincinnati. It’s the well-told tale of some non-redneck Arkansas people who survive the mother of all floods. A bonus here is the book jacket, which has a wonderful Warren Criswell painting of a thunderstorm on the Interstate. The book is from Southern Methodist University Press, not a big publisher but a choosy one. It’s hard cover, $24.95.
“Junior Ray” is called a novella in the endpapers, which only means it is short. It’s by John Pritchard, a college English teacher at Memphis who knows exactly how the mean-ass county-mountie Delta deputy sheriffs of the “American Pie” era thought and talked. The title character, Junior Ray Loveblood, is one of them, a sorry bastard and proud of it, and you’d probably enjoy his story – about always having wanted to kill Leland Shaw and never having got the chance – more than I did because I’ve known some Junior Rays and wouldn’t want to spend as much time in their company as it would take to read this novella. It’s hard cover, $23.95 from NewSouth Books of Montgomery, Ala.
The featured Civil War book this month is “While in the Hands of the Enemy: Military Prisons of the Civil War,” by Charles W. Sanders Jr., a history professor at Kansas State University. A fascinating, meticulous book that argues that ghastly conditions at both Northern and Southern prisons were matters of deliberate policy, known about and indulged from the top down. Disturbing because the politics of POW mistreatment are little different today, as the headlines from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay attest. One of the chapters is entitled “ Disgraceful to all Concerned” and that really does just about sum it up. The book is $44.95 in hard cover from Louisiana State University Press at Baton Rouge, and props to them for publishing it.
Another keeper from the era just after the Civil War is a biography of Calamity Jane from the University of Oklahoma Press at Norman. Her real name was Martha Canary and she was one of America’s best-ever characters, as you may know from the TV series “Deadwood.” “Calamity Jane: The Woman and the Legend” is just a swell biography -- readable, authoritative and it debunks with gleeful abandon -- and the photos are a revelation and a hoot. It’s by James D. McLaird, a Dakota Wesleyan University professor. Hard cover, $29.95.
In “Toxic Drift: Pesticides and Health in the Post-World War II South,” veteran reporter Pete Daniel takes up the pesticide story where Rachel Carson left off with the publication of “Silent Spring” in 1962. Scarier’n all get out. Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, hard cover, $26.95.
“The Wallpaper Goes” is a chapbook of likeable poems from Alan F. Hickman, a teacher at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, $8.95 in paperback from Wasteland Press of Shelbyville, Ky. (One assumes the title is Oscar Wilde’s epitaph, his last words allegedly having been “Either that wallpaper goes or I do.”)