30 August 2009
James York Glimm: FLATLANDERS AND RIDGERUNNERS- FOLKTALES FROM THE MOUNTAINS OF NORTHERN PENNSYLVANIA
I can understand, first of all, why this book would seem rather uninteresting to, well, most people. Northern Pennsylvania's Endless Mountains aren't exactly the Alps. Or the Rockies. Or the Adirondacks. Or the Catskills. They're not even, let's face it, the Poconos. Truth be told, they're ignored by most of the world, and contain (I'm pretty sure) all of Pennsylvania's least-populous counties. But they also contain my grandmother and various other relations, living and dead, on my mother's side of the family, so to me at least, there's a reason to be interested in this region. Other things contained in the six counties profiled by Flatlanders and Ridgerunners folklorist James York Glimm? The birthplace of Stephen Foster, Camptown Racetrack, Mansfield University and the first drive-in fast food restaurant I ever ate at. Still, I can see why you probably haven't read, considered reading, heard of, or considered hearing of this book. It's not J.K. Rowling, I admit it. But still--it's really, really good. Great, even. In fact, I would say it's (and this isn't a trifling statement, although it might sound like one) one of the absolute best collections of American folklore I've ever read. Glimm, a Long Islander (and thus a flatlander) who wound up teaching at Mansfield and thus living in this region, really got to know the people who told him these stories (they're the ridgerunners), and made sure that their voices came through in these stories. One of the most interesting aspects of this book: he includes a section for true stories, really momentous ones that have been told and retold and no doubt fictionalized to some extent, but that can still be held up against the facts and judged to be, relatively speaking, true. What really gets me about these stories is, once again, something that won't really apply to anybody reading this--they sound just like the stories my grandmother tells. Apparently, I've got some ridgerunner in me. Enough, at least, to rate this book an A+.