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OPINION: 2021 spring books take stage as politics goes on hold

by Maylon Rice | June 2, 2021 at 5:25 a.m.

Memorial Day weekend, which was this past Monday, signals an always brief respite from politics in Arkansas. Or, it has in the past years.

Filling that "quiet" period is a good time to examine the literary landscape of the state. And there are some real treats to read and enjoy in the Natural State for 2021, now that the pandemic has sort of settled down.

First, the final of a promised trilogy of the "History of the Ozarks" has been released. The latest volume, Vol. 3: "The Ozarkers: The Ozarks from the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth-first century," has been released by the University of Illinois Press.

Brooks Blevins, a recognized regional historian, does not disappoint in this final of a three-book set, appealing to those who align themselves as Ozarkers and residents of the Arkansas-Missouri Ozark Mountains.

From the University of Arkansas Press is a forthcoming 30th-anniversary edition of the fabled "Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread," book by Crescent Dragonwagon, now of Fayetteville. The new collaboration between this best-selling cookbook and children's author will be available in November. It has been a classic cookbook for the last three decades.

Speaking of the UA Press in Fayetteville, it has expanded its art and architecture offering with some great titles. The "In American Waters: The Seat in American Painting" is a partnership with Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, as well as a new title, "Crafting America."

And please do not forget the two-volume set of Arkansas Made books, two very informative encyclopedic books for every public library and home library in the state.

Need something lighter for the younger set of kids or grandkids? Well, the UA Press has that in "Friday Comes On Tuesday: An Adventure at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art." This is a fantastic children's book.

A new collection of essays not to miss is "Better Living By Their Own Bootstraps: Black Women's Activism in Rural Arkansas, 1914-1965," by Cherisse Jones-Branch. This book, a vital part of the Arkansas Series, edited by Jeannie Whayne, is a page-turner and a great resource book.

Perhaps a darker look at a legendary figure in Fayetteville is the "Shared Secrets: The Queer World of Newbery Medalist Charles J. Finger," by Elizabeth Findley Shores. Finger, British by birth, quietly lived between Farmington and Fayetteville and was a writer of extraordinary talent.

Another book from the UA Press with an eye-opening title and subject matter is "The Ku Klux Klan in 1920s Arkansas: How a Protestant White Nationalism Came to Rule a State," by Kenneth Barnes. This volume, focused on the 1920s in Arkansas, shows the meteoric rise of this secret society in all levels of Arkansas society.

It also, with very minute details, shows how this cult unraveled and fell into public disdain a scant few years after its emergence.

Finally comes a new regional examination of the wonderful hill people of the area, "Ozark Country," written by Otto Ernest Rayburn in 1940 and edited for a reissue some 70 years later by Brooks Blevins as a love letter from Rayburn to this area and its culture.

As always, I'll recommend a membership with four-quarterly issues of the FLASHBACK from the Washington County Historical Society with memberships starting at $15 a year for seniors and $25 for general membership. Contact the WCHS at www.washingtoncountyhistoricalsociety.org.

The Arkansas Historical Association offers a four-issue Arkansas Historical Quarterly for $20 a year. The AHA can be contacted at www.arkansashistoricalassociation.org.

Books mentioned here can be found at local independent book dealers all over the state or ordered online.

Political intrigue in Arkansas? Well, that returns to this space next week.

Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected] Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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