Thursday, April 3, 2014

Spring Fling: Create, Collaborate, Communicate

The theme of this years spring fling West Virginia Library Association conference was "Create, Collaborate, Communicate". I may be wrong, but it seems like more folks come out for the spring conference than for the fall conference.

Conference Sessions

Held at the Days Hotel in Flatwoods, the first session I attended was "The New Change in Learning Express" presented by Susan Hayden of the West Virginia Library Commission. Presented with grace and humor, Ms. Hayden taught an overflowing conference room of librarians how to navigate the 3.0 version of the Learning Express through the West Virginia Info Depot.

The second session I attended was "Free Stuff From the Foundation Center" presented by Olivia Bravo of the Kanawha County Public Library. This was a helpful and informative presentation that talked about the resources available at grantspace.org and foundationcenter.org.

Waffle Lunch

For lunch, I had the pleasure of going to a local waffle house with other representatives from affiliates of the Upshur County Library. (And thanks, UCPL, for the yummy lunch!) It is so nice to get a chance to see colleagues in other rural libraries who are strong, creative, and resourceful folks who love their jobs. You are all inspirational to me!

After lunch, I lead a meeting of the WVLA Directors Roundtable. There were about 20 attendees in the meeting and we took some time to consider a bookmark that highlights "The Power of West Virginia Libraries". We also had a chance to talk about funding loss, lack of Bibliostat participation by academic and special libraries, and about our goals for the roundtable group. My point of view is that this group of library leaders can work together to make this into whatever we want. As library directors we can lean on each other for support, input, and progress. Just like the theme says: Let's create, collaborate, and communicate with each other to help libraries move forward with secure funding and clear goals.

Mock Board Meeting

Perhaps the most helpful session (for me) of the day was "What a Board Meeting Should Look Like" presented by the Marsh County Public Library Board with Judy K. Rule, director. A board meeting packet is mailed to board members a few days prior to the meeting so that everything may go smoothly and quickly at the board meeting. This board whipped through an entire meeting in 30 minutes. Very impressive. The Director's Report was also a part of the board packet and included many important topics regarding funding, legislation, statistics, fundraising, and circulation. This is a model that I will encourage my board to follow as it made this board meeting fast, friendly, and efficient.

Sunshine Law

There are also laws that need to be abided by regarding transparency in local government. The Sunshine Law mandates that board meetings be posted publically, for example, in the local newspaper. The agenda must also be publicized prior to the meeting. Minutes of the previous meeting need to be in the "board packet" mailed to all members of the board.

By that time it was time for me to head home to get ready for my Collection Development class. It was great to be re-energized by all the great librarians at the WVLA Spring Fling. Thank you, WVLA, for this inspiring learning opportunity with a great view from the hilltop where the Days Hotel stands in Flatwoods, WV.

As a side note: I acquired 50 new DVDs for the library at a recent estate sale. Some of the new titles include: Rambo, Die Hard, Quantum of Solace, Casino Royale, Ike, Ghost Rider, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and many more. Stop by The Pioneer Memorial Public Library.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Who Was Joe Brown of Whitmer, West Virginia?

A patron of the Pioneer Memorial Public Library was in the other day talking about a man named Joe Brown who was lynched in Whitmer, WV in 1909. He said that he had heard that chief of police of Whitmer, Scott White, admired two pearl-handled pistols of Joe Brown and had confiscated them when he arrested Brown. Later, Brown shot Scott in the head wounding him severely and the townspeople of Whitmer took Joe Brown and hung him for his offenses.

Who Was Joe Brown?

As a amateur historian and folklore follower I had to ask, 'Who was Joe Brown?' It turns out there is quite a bit that has been published regarding this episode in West Virginia history. An article from the now defunct Randolph Enterprise from March 25, 1909 reports that, "Joe Brown, a notorious character who had earned the reputation of an outlaw expiated his crime in shooting Scott White, Chief of Police of Whitmer and a son of Wash White mayor of the same town, early last Friday morning when Brown was taken from the jail at Whitmer by an orderly party of masked men and strung up to a flag pole on the principal street of the town."

Just this one paragraph leaves many questions about the events leading up to the lynching of Joe Brown. Allegedly, a party of 50-100 masked men overcame the prison guards at gun point and took Joe Brown to be hung. In a town as small as Whitmer, I speculate that the masked vigilantes would have been known to most. Also, the Chief of Police, Scott White, was the son of Whitmer Mayor, Wash White, implying that the power in the town of Whitmer was held by the White family.

Outlaw or Victim?

Another line from the above-referenced article says, "It was generally understood here that Brown also was to be brought to Elkins to have his arm dressed but these plans were altered and Brown retained in the Whitmer jail." The Chief of Police was taken to Elkins for medical attention on that evening's train. Joe Brown had a shattered shooting arm, and yet he was not taken for medical attention. This might imply that the animosity for Joe Brown was so great that he was left in the jail to suffer and to possibly allow for the capture and lynching to take place. Clearly, Joe Brown had a lot going against him in Whitmer.

The final line in the news article also reveals that, "Learning of the lynching upon his return from Washington, Governor Glasscock immediate[e]ly communicated with the Sheriff and Prosecuting Attorney, insisting upon a complete investigation. It is possible that the lynching may be investigated but it is doubtful if any more information could be secured than is now known for Brown was so cordially hated by the people of Dry Fork that those who composed the lynching party would be protected in every way even by those who did happen to known everything connected with the lynching." To this researcher's knowledge, no one was ever held accountable for the death of Joe Brown.

So, who was Joe Brown? Where did he come from? What are the true facts of his life and death? According to the same article, Joe Brown was born in Tazewell County, Virginia around 1861. He was hung around 1:30am on Friday, March 19, 1909. The story made the New York Times. This article says that Brown was hung from a telegraph pole while others say it was a flag pole. Either way, it was not a pretty sight. There is a photograph that was published of the dead man hanging but I will spare gentle readers from this sight.

According to historian David Armstrong, Joseph Brown was born in Tazewell County, Virginia, on June 29, 1868, to parents William Patton Brown and Lucinda (Whitt) Brown. Joe Brown married Susan Snyder Summerfield in Harman, WV. Brown's death record gives him a first initial of "W." and indicates that he was married and aged 45 at his death. I do like that Armstrong tries to give more positive attributions to Brown, but by most accounts he was a violent alcoholic and sure shot who enjoyed shooting men's suspenders off for fun.

Side Effects of the Lynching

The lynching of Joe Brown had many repercussions. In the book "Transforming the Appalachian Countryside" by Ronald L. Lewis, it is stated that Joe Brown had a sock stuffed down his throat after he was lynched in an attempt to speed up the dying process. Lewis also says that Whitmer could not get a liquor license approved two months later perhaps due to the drunken and violent nature of Joe Brown and his lynching. In an anecdotal telling of the tale on WV Angler, it is said that the lynch mob spent some time drinking before they did the deed.

On December 13, 1911, The Randolph Enterprise reports that Charles Edward Hedrick committed suicide because he was involved in the lynching of Joe Brown and could not resolve his actions. He was found by the railroad tracks with a self-inflicted bullet to the head. Hedrick was once a constable of the Dry Fork district and later served as chief of police for Whitmer.

The real facts about Joe Brown, who he was, and what happened over a hundred years ago in a remote rural town in West Virginia may never be known. What is fascinating is that people today are still talking about it and asking questions about the life and death of Joe Brown. There is no doubt that back then wild and wonderful West Virginia was also wild and wooly.

Do you love West Virginia history? Check out the West Virginia section at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library the next time you are in Harman.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Fizz, Boom, Read! Summer Reading Program at Pioneer Library, WV

I am having an exciting near-spring season preparing for the 2014 Summer Reading Program at the Pioneer Public Library in Harman, West Virginia. I'm taking a class in collection development this semester through the University of Tennessee, and it has allowed me to focus on choosing books to promote, books to purchase, and fun hands-on programs for kids and teens. The nationwide summer reading program theme is "Fizz, Boom, Read", and it is a science-focused reading program. Are you ready?

Collaborative Summer Library Program 2014

We received a large volume of suggested activities and crafts from the Collaborative Summer Library Program. There are also reading resources on their website, books they suggest to tie into the science theme, but the overall suggestion list is lacking in certain areas. For example, I see that the CSLP suggests many books that are in mid-series. For example, they suggest "Catching Fire" by Suzanne Collins, (I think because it has an firey title), but you really have to read "The Hunger Games" first to understand the narrative. Another odd title suggestion was "I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863" by Lauren Tarshis. I think this book was recommended because it literally shows artillery "booms" on the front cover. There are books about white male inventors and scientists but very few that are about women and minorities in the field of science. (Not even a Marie Curie book? Sigh.)

Women and Minorities in Science: Children's Books

There are hundreds of other books that CSLP could have suggested but did not, but I have spent some time researching books that fill in the large gaps in the standard packaged suggestion binder. If you are a librarian with a summer reading program at your library I hope you consider this too. As librarians, we may not be movers and shakers, we may be more quiet seed planters. Just by having a variety of books available and featured allows young scientists and inventors to dream, plot, and learn. In the 21st century, still on the continuum of the civil rights movement we need our collections to reflect our audience and to glimpse beyond as well.

Summer Reading Suggestions

So, if you are a library with a summer reading program or if you just want some great suggestions of current and diverse science books for children I have a list below that you may find helpful. Many of these books are award winning books including: The Newbery Medal, The Caldecott Medal, or the National Science Teachers Association. Also, I have placed Amazon links within this blog entry. If you choose to buy books from Amazon using these links, the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, WV, gets a 4% cut. And, maybe I missed some. Do you have good suggestions for current science books for kids? My list is by no means complete. Please comment or email to let me know.

Animal Grossapedia
Bartholomew and the Oobleck: (Caldecott Honor Book) (Classic Seuss)
Benjamin Banneker (Journey to Freedom)
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition
Ender's Game (The Ender Quintet)
Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth
Flush: The Scoop on Poop Throughout the Ages
Go Ask Alice
Break the Fossil Record (Ivy + Bean, Book 3)
Lives of the Scientists: Experiments, Explosions (and What the Neighbors Thought)
Locomotive (Caldecott Medal Book)
The Magic School Bus Blows Its Top: A Book About Volcanoes (Magic School Bus)
Marie Curie (Giants of Science)
Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 (Richard Jackson Books (Atheneum Hardcover))
My First Day
Oh Say Can You Say What's the Weather Today?: All About Weather (Cat in the Hat's Learning Library)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Rachel Carson: Fighting Pesticides and Other Chemical Pollutants
Rosie Revere, Engineer
Something Stinks
Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World
The Fossil Girl: Mary Anning's Dinosaur Discovery
The Moon Book
The New Way Things Work
The Stars
Tracking Tyrannosaurs: Meet T. rex's fascinating family, from tiny terrors to feathered giants (National Geographic Kids)
What If You Had Animal Teeth?
Who Is Jane Goodall? (Who Was...?)
You Are Stardust
Your Fantastic Elastic Brain

Fizz, Boom, Read needs some work, but together we can create a meaningful and fun summer reading program at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library and at your library too.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Your Web Site is Valuable - Don't Let Ad Mills on Your Library Website

A few weeks ago I started receiving emails at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library from a person named Elizabeth Turner from a company called Accredited Online Colleges. Ms. Turner asked me to place links to her company on the website for the library. I get requests like this occasionally and mostly ignore them. As a part-time library director I don't have time to answer every request to place links on my website, but Ms. Turner was persistent. In her final emails to me, she used my name and gave me links to others in West Virginia who had placed her links on their sites. (A state Senator, a major city, and one county school website) This is when I got suspicious.

False Nonprofit

I emailed Ms. Turner back asking for more information about her company. Her emails came to me from gmail, which indicated to me that a scam was happening. When I looked at the website in question, there is no geographical location revealed for the company, nor are any administrators or company officers listed by name. Instead, there are ads. "Accredited Online Colleges" is what I call an ad mill; this is a website meant to generate ad clicks which in turn gives revenue back to the site. The '.org' at the end of the company's URL is meant to imply that this is a nonprofit organization which it is not.

Digging deeper: there are no criteria listed for the alleged resources on this company site, indicating zero legitimacy for Accredited Online Colleges. In searching for this company at WhoIs.com I see that this company is owned by an entity in Scottsdale, Arizona with a private registration name.

Little Internet Scam, Big Consequences

By now, you may be saying, "But Mary, what's the big deal? No children, puppies, or kittens were harmed in this alleged scam." While this is true, placing a link to a bogus site on a trusted site causes your site and your institution to lose integrity and reliability. As information professionals, we want to give out high-quality information to our students and patrons. Also, this scammer sets themselves up as just trying to help kids get into college. No. They are looking for backlinks which give them a higher Google rating, which will give them more ad clicks and income. You are helping scammers make cash for themselves using your website. Ick.

Just remember fellow librarians and educators: your web space is valuable. Don't give it away to anyone without checking out credentials thoroughly. And thank you, Elizabeth Turner, for your persistence and information. I contacted the West Virginia websites who allowed your links to slip in to let them know that you are not legitimate.

As an aside: Feel free to look up their site and judge for yourself. I will not post a link, but you can type it in. Have you been the victim of an online or email scam? If you need help resolving your issue, please feel free to stop by the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, West Virginia for assistance.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride, A Review

You don’t have to know the history of John Brown and his historic raid on Harpers Ferry, but it helps if you read “The Good Lord Bird” (2013) by James McBride. As a follower of Civil War history, I have often pondered the seeming suicide mission of American abolitionist John Brown. Was John Brown a visionary hero or a mentally ill ‘do gooder’? His famous raid of the Harpers Ferry armory in 1859 is often cited as a harbinger of the American Civil War. Brown’s call to black slaves to rise up and free themselves eventually happened, but not in his lifetime.

John Brown: What Could Have Happened

In “The Good Lord Bird”, McBride creates a fascinating and funny look at what might have happened if John Brown acquired an unlikely good omen in the form of a cross-dressing mixed-race young man called Onion, also known as Henry Shackleford. The story of John Brown is seen from the point of view of an intelligent and resourceful young orphan who rides with John Brown and his men through frontier, mountains, and adventures.

While Brown was a passionate abolitionist, he was not a great strategist or general. (The General is also the nickname for Harriet Tubman, who has a role to play in this novel.) Brown believed that black people in Harpers Ferry would rise up to help him in his cause but the locale lacked black population to assist. From the spark of freedom fire in Harpers Ferry, Brown believed that all African Americans would “hive” to serve the cause of freedom from slavery. But it didn’t happen. While there are many accounts of John Brown, of his adventures and personality, this historic novel’s imagined dialogue is very believable, as well as comical and bittersweet.

Satire From Sainthood?

In many ways, Brown is a revered martyr. How can one make comedy out of a well-intentioned white man who wanted to abolish slavery? MacBride succeeds in creating the voice of Onion who speaks in a less-educated dialect, but has the most significant things to say. “The Good Lord Bird” is well-written and flows smoothly as the story unfolds. History buffs know the ending, that John Brown is unsuccessful in Harpers Ferry. That his sons die. That he is captured, tried, and hung. That Thoreau and Emerson mourn his death. That Frederick Douglas thought he was crazy. But you still have to read James McBride’s version of this American folk tale, the legend of the abolitionist John Brown.

McBride has done his historic homework and presents the series of unfortunate events that lead up to the capture and hanging of John Brown. It all makes more sense. The religious fervor of a man that drove him to try to single-handedly eliminate slavery. Perhaps the ultimate lesson of the life of John Brown is that even unsuccessful acts can eventually lead to success overall. By attempting to create a slave rebellion, Brown brought the issue of slavery in America to the forefront of the national consciousness. So while Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry was a complete failure in that present moment, it was great PR that helped to bring an end to slavery. One crazy act can change the world.

Frederick Douglas is portrayed as a bit of a poser and letch, to Onion, but eventually meets with Brown and refuses to back him up. Did Douglas see the inevitable failure of Brown’s raid? Did Douglas truly regard Brown as mentally ill? It is refreshing and realistic that McBride chose not to show Brown or Douglas in a sanitized and saintly light. These historic characters are human and believable.

What Is the Good Lord Bird?

The title of the book refers to the ivory-billed woodpecker, now extinct, a bird that is so big and beautiful, one has to say “Good Lord” when they see it. Brown gives a good Lord bird feather to Onion and says, “I don’t feel bad about it neither, giving my special thing to you. The Bible says: ‘Take that which is special from thine own hand, and giveth to the needy, and you moveth in the Lord’s path.” Later, we learn that a feather from a good Lord bird gives the owner understanding that lasts a lifetime.

I was curious as to how McBride would paint the character of John Brown, a known religious fanatic with eccentric and progressive ideas about the world. Brown is portrayed as a father figure who over-estimates the character of everyone around him, assuming they share his political beliefs and zeal. He is tireless and wily. While “The Good Lord Bird” is darkly comedic, the character of John Brown is respectfully represented, in all his wire-haired and grey-bearded glory. Not necessarily as the wild-eyed zealot on the front of the Kansas album, from a painting by American artist John Steuart Curry (1897-1946), but as a real and caring human being.

Better Understanding of John Brown

My favorite quote from “The Good Lord Bird” gave me goosebumps, and it comes from Onion who says, "Some things in this world just ain’t meant to be, not in the times we want ’em to, and the heart has to hold it in this world as a remembrance, a promise for the world that’s to come. There’s a prize at the end of all of it, but still, that’s a heavy load to bear."

McBride’s novel about John Brown and the fight to end slavery transcends historic fiction and dark comedy to become an American classic, as if McBride through research (and time travel) were a true witness to an era that is still murky, complex, and shameful. Masterfully written, the unique and often humorous voice of Onion will make “The Good Lord Bird” hard to forget. As an added bonus for history geeks: there are cameos that include: John Wilkes Booth, Jeb Stewart, Stonewall Jackson, and Harriet Tubman.

"The Good Lord Bird" by James McBride is available via inter-library loan from the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, West Virginia. Or, if you choose to purchase this book via a link below, the Library gets four percent of the sale as a donation. The library runs largely on public funding and private donations and is always seeking out new sources of funding, including partnering with Amazon as an Associate. (Hence the 4% return to Pioneer.)

You may also read a really excellent review of "The Good Lord Bird" by James McBride by New York Times writer Baz Dreisinger here.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy, a Review

I have been on a bit of a biography binge lately and picked up a copy of "Autobiography of a Face (2003)" by Lucy Grealy, an Irish American writer who has chronicled her decades-long battle with cancer and the search for identity. This is not a story of triumph and courage. Grealy doesn't ask us for our pity or admiration for her survival against very slim odds. Instead, a story unfolds.

Ewing's Sarcoma

Diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at age 9, Grealy goes through five years of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. As a result of that surgery, much of her lower jaw is removed. After the surgery and therapies, Grealy undergoes over 40 operations to repair the loss of her lower jaw for cosmetic and physical reasons.

Hospital and Recovery

There are many stories of Lucy going to the hospital for extended periods of time and enjoying it. Grealy's parents were ill-equipped, financially and emotionally, to deal with their sick daughter and often seemed to abandon her at the hospital. Lucy revels in the hierarchy of the other children patients who are ranked by seriousness of illness, quantity of surgeries, and the number of scars. Lest one think that Grealy's cancer journey is a piece of cake, there are also plenty of episodes of pain, vomiting, loneliness, and terrible self-consciousness. We are a society that is face-focused. Every magazine, every movie is all about the head shot that shows the face, preferably beautiful and symmetrical.

Grealy's memoir is also an important look into the United States healthcare system in the 20th century. Bone growing, bone grafting, and cosmetic surgeries are still risky and somewhat experimental. For years, Lucy underwent painful surgeries to try to achieve better eating, talking, and as the title of the book implies, a more symmetrical and pleasing face. Many of these surgeries were not successful as grafted bones were reabsorbed by Grealy's body. The surgeries push Lucy and her parents into a downward slope of struggling to pay bills and leading lives of poverty.

Face as Identity

While being a teen and adolescent is inherently filled with confusion, searching, self-consciousness, and embarrassment, imagine going through all of that and having what is perceived as a physical deformity. Cancer, surgeries, poverty, and a stressed family dynamic all work against Lucy Grealy. But Grealy does something powerful in the midst of coping with pain, surgery, alienation, and growing up -- she chooses to read and write in a way that will serve her well for the rest of her life. Unable to control her body, Lucy chooses to focus on her mind and her intellect.

Lucy survives childhood cancer to young adulthood and attends Sarah Lawrence College in New York City. From this rigorous academic setting Grealy emerges a poet, a cult hero, and a gifted writer. Grealy describes the life of her younger years, searching for identity and for a place to belong. And she tells a great story.

But the star of "Autobiography of a Face" is the writing. I found myself reading and re-reading entire paragraphs to enjoy the beautiful flow of language that deftly weaves the story and back story of a brilliant life. Consider this: "The general plot of life is sometimes shaped by the different ways genuine intelligence combines with equally genuine ignorance. I put all my effort into looking at the world as openly, unbiasedly, and honestly as possible, but I could not recognize my own self as a part of this world. I took great pains to infuse a sense of grace and meaning into everything I saw, but I could not apply those values to myself. Personally, I felt meaningless, or, more precisely, I felt I meant nothing to no one."

Sadly, Grealy's life ends in an addiction to pain pills brought about by the endless surgeries, and an overdose of heroin, no doubt to ease the pain she felt acutely. It makes me wonder how often surgeries are performed not for the patient, but for us, for society, so that we can look at others without wincing or gaping at their physical differences. Lucy railed against her face being called deformed, against any heroics attached to her years of chemotherapy and surgeries. In recommending "Autobiography of a Face" I emphasize the original and intimate writing of Lucy Grealy for what it is--unabashedly beautiful. Also, the afterword by Grealy's friend Ann Patchett is moving and unforgettable.

You may inter-library loan "Autobiography of a Face" via the Pioneer Memorial Public Library, or you may order a copy through Amazon. If you do purchase a copy of this book via Amazon, the Library receives four-percent of your purchase price.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Top 10 Reasons to Love James Lee Burke

If you like light, fluffy mysteries, James Lee Burke is not for you. If you like Dashiell Hammett and John Steinbeck, you may love the heck out of Burke. His detective novels have a dark and gritty style that one might call nouveau noir. Below are listed the top 10 reasons that I am completely and totally in love with the writing of American mystery writer James Lee Burke.

1. The writing. James Lee Burke is a masterful writer whose descriptions of nature and human nature are unparalleled. Burke writes as if he has had many lives from naturalist, to law enforcement officer, to psychologist, to rehab counselor, to addict--James Lee Burke has had a lot of experience in all of these areas. His writing is beautiful and powerful. His descriptions of light and landscape make him the literary equivalent of American landscape painter George Inness--Burke's images are quiet, intimate, and always related to the story. If you enjoy writers who can paint nature with words, James Lee Burke is the man.

2. Dave Robicheaux. Recovering alcoholic and law enforcement officer Dave Robicheaux is a seriously complicated and simple man. As the protagonist of many of Burke's novels, Robicheaux is part Sam Spade and part Jesse Stone, another alcoholic detective from the imagination of the great mystery writer Robert Parker. Dave's wife, Molly, is a former nun. Dave's best friend Cletus Purcel is another deeply complex and troubled man with a heart of gold. We also know that James Lee Burke, just like Dave Robicheaux, is a recovering alcoholic, so Robicheaux (like all writer's characters) is semi-autobiographical. Burke knows the dirty boogie of which he writes.

3. Country music. If you love the old-time country music of the Carter Family, Patsy Cline, Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper, you will love James Lee Burke. His writing is peppered with references to old-time country music and Cajun music. Old-time country music is the poignant, sad, and underlying soundtrack to many of Burke's books.

4. Human nature. If you are a fan of human nature, with our messy personal lives, our complicated back stories, whacked tendencies, and bad choices made on the fly, Dave Robicheaux and James Lee Burke are calling your name. There is always a thread of redemption that helps to bring Dave and Clete out of the gutter, but it's usually just a thin fiber of decency. Burke is a man clearly familiar with politics, deceit, nepotism, racism, poverty, and injustice.

5. Challenging stereotypes. Burke likes to present stereotypical characters that we think we know--the hooker with a heart of gold, the fugitive from law enforcement, the hardened criminal--and then he adds a twist and more characteristics that raise these players up to give them the feel of fully-realized human beings.

6. Great storytelling. I can almost never figure out whodunit in a James Lee Burke mystery. The skill of being able to suggest, conceal, and reveal the guilty party is perhaps one of the most-prized skills of a good mystery writer and Burke is the master. Like a magician, Burke can misdirect, redirect, and focus our attention where he wants it to be. Burke also has a great understanding of rural, small-town politics and law enforcement from his time in New Iberia, Louisiana and Lolo, Montana.

7. Award winning. Not only is James Lee Burke a best-selling author (which doesn't mean a whole lot qualitatively), he is an award winning author. Burke received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1998, a Louisiana Writer Award in 2002, and two Edgar Allen Poe writing awards in 1990 for "Black Cherry Blues" and 1998 for "Cimarron Rose".

8. Family. James Lee Burke is the cousin of American short story writer Andre Dubus II. Burke is father to American crime novelist and lawyer Alafair Burke who is also a very successful writer. Is there something in the Burke family that makes great writers? Maybe. Burke has also been married for 48 years to his wife Pearl, whom he met in graduate school at the University of Missouri.

9. FaceBook. I am friends with James Lee Burke on FaceBook and am often treated to spontaneous stories of the wild and domestic animals that live around his Montana ranch. Sometimes his daughter Pamala updates his FB page as well. It is always a pleasure and a treat to find a small sketch of Montana life in my FB feed. It reminds me that even though James Lee Burke is an award-winning and best-selling author, he is just a regular guy who appreciates nature. Burke also has an active message board through his website whereby readers may send a note or ask a question of the writer himself.

10. Collectible. I am a dedicated book hound. I scrounge for used books in every library, thrift shop, and book sale that I can find, and I have almost never found a James Lee Burke novel. Why? My theory is that people tend to hold onto these awesome mystery books or pass them on to people they love. People love books by James Lee Burke and don't tend to toss them so easily onto the pile with Clive Cussler and Danielle Steele.

So there you have it. Ten reasons to love James Lee Burke. But don't take my word for it. Burke has a couple of dozen books to his name and you can jump in on anyone of them at any time, there is no need to read the Robicheaux novels in order. And you can check out several James Lee Burke novels at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, West Virginia.

If you choose to buy a James Lee Burke novel from one of the Amazon links below the Pioneer Library gets 4% of the profit.