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Thursday, July 6, 2017

"A Pictorial History Of Knott County Kentucky 125th Anniversary"--Book Review

Editorial Staff Troublesome Creek Times 2010 A Pictorial History Of Knott County Kentucky 125th Anniversary (Morley, MO Acclaim Press 2010)

Somehow when this book was fresh off the press I missed it and only learned of its publication recently when I attended the traveling Smithsonian Exhibition on Community Sports called Hometown Teams in Wayland, KY.  My cousin, Charlotte Hicks Caudill, who writes on a part time basis for the Troublesome Creek Times informed me of its existence.  As soon as I returned home from the exhibition, I called several numbers in Hindman, KY, the county seat of Knott County and the site of the Troublesome Creek Times.  No one including the man who answered the phone at the newspaper office could give me a location where I could buy a copy of the book. That individual even told me that there were no plans to publish other copies or editions of the book. I found that interesting since the web site of Acclaim Press still says to this very day, July 6, 2017, that you can obtain a copy of the book by sending a check or money order to the Troublesome Creek Times.  Based on my own somewhat confusing and convoluted experience, rest assured that the only way to obtain a copy is to order it directly from Acclaim Press which my wife did after I became frustrated and intended to give up.  

Photo By Acclaim Press and Troublesome Creek Times

But that is enough grousing about the vagaries of such presses and the difficulty of buying their books.   Acclaim Press is in some ways a small press with a narrow base of publishing interest.  In other ways, if you peruse their online catalogue, they appear to be a money making enterprise and offer a sizable list of books, primarily of local interest to small geographic entities all across the Midwest and South.  They would have to be considered a vanity press since one of the largest and most visible link buttons on their homepage reads "Publish Me".  They seem to make a well funded living publishing the "literary" and "historical" whims of well funded would be writers all across the country.  Physically, "A Pictorial History Of Knott County Kentucky 125th Anniversary" is a solid, very presentable hardback book with a strong binding, relatively good reproduction of the multitude of photographs of many ages and qualities which comprise the book, and printed on good quality paper.  If you are in the mood to spend your hard earned money in order to see your dearly beloved moniker smiling back at you from the cover of a book, Acclaim Press is probably just as good a place to start as any other vanity press.  For those of you who have never heard the term "vanity press", such presses are publishing houses which publish books for which the authors pay all or most of the cost.  Most vanity presses offer little or not editorial control or criticism and publish exactly what they receive from an author complete with typographical errors, general errata, and outright lies which an author might believe will serve their particular purposes.  Consider the foregoing paragraph to be my little sermon for the day about the weaknesses of vanity presses if you are in the mood to be famous at your own expense.  

Now, let me say a few words about these types of "historical" books in general and this book in particular.  As a genre, these types of books have little or nothing to do with history. They are more accurately to be described as a collection of fairly recent to ancient episodes in the life of a community at best.  At worst, such books are a potpourri of randomly selected and arranged photographs from the area in question and have little or no textual discussion of the material offered.  They also have a tendency to have a very prevalent volunteer bias.  "Volunteer bias" is a term from academic research which describes the many short comings of research which uses only those people who step out of anonymity for their own undisclosed reasons and tend to skew research toward whatever opinions or biases they hold.  In the case of "A Pictorial History of Knott County Kentucky 125th Anniversary", what has happened is that the only photographs included in the book are those whose owners had a desire to see them included.  I do not know if the editors and publishers charged a submission fee for each photograph or not but it is a common practice in such books to do so.  Therefore, do not delude yourself into believing that this is a historical book.  It does contain some photographs of people who were well known in Knott County.  It also does not contain any photographs of most of the previous elected officials in Knott County, most of the more notorious murders and criminals, or any of the better known bootleggers and moonshiners who called the county home.  It leaves a great deal to be desired if you are actually looking for historical information about the county and its people.  Some families whose members had lots of photographs and an inherent desire to see those photographs memorialized in "black and ink" to quote Lum and Abner managed to get the book to appear as if their families were among the most prominent in the county.  Other families whose members played highly important roles in the county are not represented by a single photograph because none of the family members submitted to the editors.  The bottom line is that you should take this book with a very large grain of salt.  

If you approach the book, "A Pictorial History Of Knott County Kentucky 125th Anniversary", with the idea that it would be nice to see some photographs of your family and friends, old teachers, old companions long forgotten, or just someone you detested and don't ever want to forget, then you won't be disappointed.  But don't approach this book with the delusion that you are looking at history.  History and this book have never been introduced and did not bump into each other going up or down the courthouse steps skittering to and fro on Goose Avenue. 

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