Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local Columnists

February 25, 2014

Beth Alston: Books lead to conversation

AMERICUS — It’s always so nice to run into someone I know, or don’t know, and they refer to something they’ve read in my book column. It somehow lends validation to the process.

I ran into one of my all-time favorite people — Martha Heys Wood of Americus, mother of friend Kellette Wade — at CJ’s in The Maze recently. She had read what I had written in December about the fine book about the Winecoff Hotel fire in the mid 1940s.

“The Winecoff Fire: The Untold Story of America’s Deadliest Hotel Fire,” written by Sam Heys and Allen B. Goodwin, was published by Longstreet Press in 1993.

I should have made the connection before; I mean, the spelling of “Heys” is unusual. Sam Heys is Martha’s cousin! She also told me that John Bates, a retired business professor from Georgia Southwestern, who lived in Americus with his family for decades, had actually lost a brother in that fateful fire. I accessed the list of victims and sure enough, Clarence Bates of Bainbridge, was on it. As long as I had known John and his wife Harriet as well as their daughter Robin, the subject had never come up.

Small world, sad world, isn’t it?

Martha also expressed interest in another book I had mentioned, “Cutting for Stone,” which I offered for her to borrow after Leila Case finishes with it.

I hope everyone will read and enjoy the upcoming feature story on Martha Wood in the March issue of Americus Scene magazine.

I’ve had a lot on my plate lately y (not food), but have still managed to read some great books. Here are a few.

• “Lie Down With Lions” — Ken Follett — Signet — 1986

I’ve read quite a few of this fine writer’s titles, beginning way back in the early ‘80s when friend Melissa turned me on to his work. Leila pressed this one on me as I was leaving her house one day and I’m so glad she did!

The novel continues in Follett’s expert story-telling mode. This NYTBS takes place in the early ‘80s in Afghanistan. It’s not all top-secret espionage stuff, but in true Follett tradition, weaves a love story into the mix and paints the characters with detailed strokes. The author is legendary for his character development and credibility.

I need to go back and read some of the early Follett again, and then delve into of the more recent titles.

I loved “The Pillars of the Earth” so much that the summer I was reading it, I moved to another city and job, and Prissy, my friend at the public library, allowed me to keep it an extra couple of weeks so I could finish the hefty 1,200-page doorstopper. And the movie’s good, too!

Love, love, love some Ken Follett!

• “Jincey” — Celestine Sibley — Simon & Schuster — 1978

My brother Ron said I could borrow his signed copy of this fine novel. It’s been on a book shelf for over a year and I finally took it down.

Sibley’s critics have written that this novel is largely autobiographical and after reading Sibley’s fine autobiography “Turned Funny,” I see many similarities. Regardless, “Jincey” is an entertaining story of a little girl moved from pillar to post during her early years only to finally find true happiness and a sense of belonging on land containing a lumber mill, a company commissary, lots of mill employees and their children and the joys of wandering the pinewoods as a southern child. She enjoys the semblance of a “normal life.”

Their are sad times and good times as Jincey and her mother Della seek to find a home and elude Jincey’s “good-for-nothing” father. The plot thickens and tensions are wound tighter.

I won’t give away the story, but this one would make a fine movie in the tradition of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” among others.

I just wish Sibley had written more books. While her years of newspaper columns were a treasure trove, her books are to die for.

Beth Alston, an award-winning journalist, is executive editor of the Americus Times-Recorder. Contact her at 229-924-2751, ext. 1529 or

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