The tranquility of Rappahannock County in winter invites reflection and reading. So, in the tradition of many publications at this time of year, offered here are some books that recommend themselves, all given positive reviews by the Rappahannock Philosophical Society.
The author Sara Maitland lives in a region of Scotland remarkably similar to Rappahannock — having one of the lowest population densities in Europe, with the nearest supermarket more than 20 miles away and unreliable or nonexistent cell-phone service. Fittingly, the title of her latest book is “How to Be Alone.” The book is a recent installment in publisher Picador’s so-called “School of Life” series, seeking to reclaim the traditional self-help genre in intelligent, non-self-helpy prose. Though most of us say we value individualism, personal autonomy and independence, why are we often so terrified of solitude and nonconnectivity?
“Leonardo’s Brain: Understanding Da Vinci’s Creative Genius” (Lyons Press) was completed by Leonard Shlain, a surgeon, one week before he died of brain cancer. Leonardo’s 500-year-old story continues to compel because, as Shlain writes, “No other individual in the known history of the human species attained such distinction both in science and art as the hyper-curious, undereducated, illegitimate country boy from Vinci.”
In the same spirit as Maitland’s book is “The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere,” by Pico Iyer (Simon & Schuster): “We’ve lost our Sundays, our weekends, our nights off — our holy days, as some would have it. Our bosses, junk mailers, our parents can find us wherever we are, at any time of day or night. More and more of us feel like emergency-room physicians, permanently on call, required to heal ourselves but unable to find the prescription for all the clutter on our desk.”
Rappahannock residents who remember Woodville’s legendary blues musician, John Jackson, might especially enjoy Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr’s “Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia” (University of North Carolina Press). The songs of the Scots-Irish immigrants who settled in the mountains west and south of here formed the basis of uniquely America’s folk, bluegrass and country music, as Dolly Parton writes in the introduction: “I grew up in the Smoky Mountains listening to these ancient ballads that had crossed oceans and valleys.”