Let Us Build Us A City: Eleven Lost Towns

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9780156505307: Let Us Build Us A City: Eleven Lost Towns

A book full of exquisite historical and personal detail, of authentic American lore and American speech. This is the story of eleven towns in Arkansas, relics of a time when the dreams of city builders were boundless. Photographs and maps. A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book

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Review:

Let Us Build Us a City is a group portrait of 11 "lost towns" in Donald Harington's native Arkansas. Yet this is no mere backwoods travelogue. His book, the author tells us, is "the story of communities that aspired to dignity and achieved serenity." These are towns, in other words, whose ambitious founders never quite managed to merge imagination with reality. "How does a once-flourishing town aspiring to call itself 'City' endure the long days of its decline?" asks Harington. The answer, in most cases, is quite well--though not perhaps in the way its inhabitants intended. One need not be familiar with Arkansas to appreciate this tour of lonely highways; there are lost towns everywhere. But seldom are they explored with such joy and wonder as in this gem of a book.

For all its brilliance, Let Us Build Us a City is nearly impossible to classify. It fuses the travel narrative with history and cultural studies--yet it reads like a novel. It's also a love story that is in no way fictional. Harington begins with a letter from a woman named Kim, who writes to praise his earlier book, Some Other Place, the Right Place. (Since the latter work is itself about a young couple's exploration of ghost towns and their subsequent romance, things immediately get off to a metafictional start.) Kim's letter leads to regular correspondence, in which she details the research she's conducting in one-horse towns throughout Arkansas. The author encourages her, she inspires him, and they agree to collaborate on a book--this one. By the time they meet, they too have learned something of expectation and hope. (Yes, they do get married, although you'll have to read the acknowledgments for details of the ceremony.)

Ultimately, Harington's book is a search for the spirit of each individual place--which is to say, the people. These lost towns are populated by dreamers, outcasts, prevaricators, drunks, madmen, and hermits. There are tales of floods, fires, gold rushes, gunshots, feuds, booms and (mostly) busts, along with other tidbits so strange they could only be true. By themselves, these would be deeply entertaining yarns. In Harington's hands, however, they amount to eloquent requiems for all his stunted cities. And perhaps these Arkansans traded in their dashed dreams for something better. After all, serenity is an admirable quality in a town, even if it happens to be an accidental one. --Shawn Carkonen

About the Author:

Although he was born and raised in Little Rock, Donald Harington spent nearly all of his early summers in the Ozark mountain hamlet of Drakes Creek, his mother's hometown, where his grandparents operated the general store and post office. There, before he lost his hearing to meningitis at the age of twelve, he listened carefully to the vanishing Ozark folk language and the old tales told by storytellers. His academic career was in art and art history because, although determined to become a novelist (he wrote his first one at six), he felt that his ultimate teaching vocation should not interfere with his writing. He has taught art history at a variety of colleges in New York, New England, South Dakota and finally at his alma mater, the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, where he has been lecturing for fifteen years in the same room where he first took courses in art history. He lives in Fayetteville with his wife Kim. His first novel, THE CHERRY PIT, about Little Rock, was published by Random House in 1965, and since then he has published twelve other novels, most all of them set in the Ozark hamlet of his creation, Stay More, based loosely upon Drakes Creek. These include LIGHTNING BUG, SOME OTHER PLACE. THE RIGHT PLACE., THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE ARKANSAS OZARKS, THE CHOIRING OF THE TREES, and, most recently, THIRTEEN ALBATROSSES. He has also written books about artists. He won the Porter Prize in 1987, the Heasley Prize at Lyon College in 1998, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 1999 and that same year won the Arkansas Fiction Award of Arkansas Library Association. John Guilds in his anthology, ARKANSAS, ARKANSAS, wrote, "if Miller Williams ranks as the greatest poet born, bred, nurtured, and still living in Arkansas, Donald Harington is by the same standards Arkansas's greatest novelist." The Winter 2002 SOUTHERN QUARTERLY is a "Donald Harington Special Issue" with tributes from fellow novelists, scholarly essays, interviews, and a selection of his forty-year correspondence with William Styron.

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Donald Harington
Published by Mariner Books (1994)
ISBN 10: 0156505304 ISBN 13: 9780156505307
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Harington, Donald
Published by Mariner Books (1994)
ISBN 10: 0156505304 ISBN 13: 9780156505307
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