WMRA Books & Brews

Our Fall season of Books & Brews begins in September with a discussion of the honky-tonk music scene in Winchester that provided Patsy Cline the space to thrive. October focuses on Matthews County, Virginia, where seven sons (and their neighbors) joined the U.S. merchant mariners and fended of German U-boats during WWII. November gives us an opportunity to clean house,  literally and figuratively. December looks back to the civil war and how two counties divided by the Mason-Dixon Line, Augusta, Virginia, and Franklin, Pennsylvania, experienced the war and the reconstruction that followed.

Books & Brews is a collaboration with WMRA Public Radio, and sponsored by Union Bank.

September 11th
Homeplace: A Southern Town, a Country Legend, and the Last Days of a Mountaintop Honky-Tonk by John Lingan.

Homeplace is an intimate account of country music, social change, and a vanishing way of life as a Shenandoah town collides with the twenty-first century. When John Lingan first traveled to Winchester, Virginia, it was to seek out Jim McCoy: local honky-tonk owner and the DJ who first gave airtime to a brassy-voiced singer known as Patsy Cline, setting her on a course for fame that outlasted her tragically short life. What Lingan found was a town in the midst of an identity crisis. Homeplace teases apart the tangle of class, race, and family origin that still defines the town, and illuminates questions that now dominate our national conversation—about how we move into the future without pretending our past doesn’t exist, about what we salvage and what we leave behind.

October 9th
The Mathews Men: Seven Brothers and the War Against Hitler’s U-boats by William Geroux.

Mathews County, Virginia, is a remote outpost on the Chesapeake Bay with little to offer except unspoiled scenery—but it sent an unusually large concentration of sea captains to fight in World War II. The Mathews Men tells that heroic story through the experiences of one extraordinary family whose seven sons (and their neighbors), U.S. merchant mariners all, suddenly found themselves squarely in the cross-hairs of the U-boats bearing down on the coastal United States in 1942.

November 13th
Leaving 1203: Emptying a Home, Filling the Heart by Marietta McCarty.

Leaving 1203 tells the universal story of saying a final goodbye to a beloved home. Marietta served as home emptier, and her book takes the reader home with her for the three-month job—and also to the places called home by each reader. Hers is a tale of a love story between a house and its inhabitants for fifty-six years. Though bittersweet, Marietta’s recounting of those three summer months is a positive, hilarious, poignant, mysterious, joyful inspiration for anyone who has or will face this job. The old home was at its best this last summer, hosting a band of helpers who kept it alive and bustling, partying on the patio and uncovering treasure in the garage. Marietta’s startling discoveries take the reader with her through the Depression, World War II, and the Civil Rights Movement. In the last chapter the reader learns what happened to everything in the house—how and why—the magnifying glass and the messenger bag. In an afterword she offers her hard-won primer for home emptying. 1203 triumphed in its last role, reminding the once-pig-tailed author what really matters, after all: a tribute to hospitality, humor, empathy, serenity, relationship, gumption, courage, and generosity. It’s a book for all ages, a timeless story of the call of home.

December 11th
The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America by Ed Ayers (Ed is one of the “American History Guys” featured on BackStory and was the president of the University of Richmond)

At the crux of America’s history stand two astounding events: the immediate and complete destruction of the most powerful system of slavery in the modern world, followed by a political reconstruction in which new constitutions established the fundamental rights of citizens for formerly enslaved people. Few people living in 1860 would have dared imagine either event, and yet, in retrospect, both seem to have been inevitable.

In a beautifully crafted narrative, Ed Ayers restores the drama of the unexpected to the history of the Civil War. He does this by setting up at ground level in the Great Valley counties of Augusta, Virginia, and Franklin, Pennsylvania, communities that shared a prosperous landscape but were divided by the Mason-Dixon Line. From the same vantage point occupied by his unforgettable characters, Ayers captures the strategic savvy of Lee and his local lieutenants, and the clear vision of equal rights animating black troops from Pennsylvania. We see the war itself become a scourge to the Valley, its pitched battles punctuating a cycle of vicious attack and reprisal in which armies burned whole towns for retribution. In the weeks and months after emancipation, from the streets of Staunton, Virginia, we see black and white residents testing the limits of freedom as political leaders negotiate the terms of readmission to the Union.