Love and Grit in What Used to Be America: Sarah Smarsh’s Heartland

This used to be America. This rural landscape I walk through, drive through, every day is what American dreamers used to look to as the source of our national ideals. Field workers and farmers were the backbone of our strength. “Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass […]

#3 Heartlands Best Reads of 2018: Amity and Prosperity

The changing landscape of rural America. Big economic forces impacting big-hearted, sympathetic characters. New ways to look at the Great Divide. Interesting places and hints of God. Great writing. These are the things that make for a great Heartlands Read. Throw in fracking and you’ve got Eliza Griswold’s gripping and sometimes-terrifying book, Amity & Prosperity: One […]

Normal is How America Got This Way: A Review of The View from Flyover Country

“The absence of complaining should be taken as a sign that something is rotting in a society,” Sarah Kendzior says.  “Complaining is beautiful.  Complaining should be encouraged.  Complaining means you have a chance.” (225) Sometimes it takes a critic to get things to change, and Kendzior is such a critic.  Her book, The View from […]

Small Towns as Moral Communities: A Review of The Left Behind

Here’s the plot: a ragtag group of survivors suddenly discovers that people who have been a significant part of their lives have moved on leaving them in a desperate moral quandary as they try to piece together what has happened and work for a better future.  No, it’s not Tim LeHaye’s rapture series, Left Behind.  […]

Your Civil War Is Too Easy: Looking for The Thin Light of Freedom with Ed Ayers

Who starts a story of the Civil War in the middle?  By the time Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia marched up the Shenandoah Valley into Pennsylvania in July of 1863, the war had been going for more than two years.  The twin Confederate defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg on the 4th of July usually mark […]

In Praise of Uncomfortable Books: Huck & Harper Revisited

Huck and Harper are on the block again and I’m not comfortable with that.  Then again, I think it’s high time we all got uncomfortable. In late 2016, as I was beginning Heartlands, I reflected on the controversy that was roiling Accomack County, Virginia where I live.  Only that’s not strictly accurate.  The decision by […]