With an introduction by Rick Bragg
(Algonquin Press, $18.95)
If his book All Over But the Shoutin' is any indication, Rick Bragg is the last person who should introduce a "celebration" of churches.
Religion, according to his wrenching memoir about life in the rural South, is not something Bragg has much use for. But in his introduction to this slender volume from Algonquin Press, Bragg says you don't have to believe to appreciate wooden churches: "If you grow up in the country, in small towns or big ones, they stand on almost every corner, one every tenth-mile of pine barrens and pastureland, to remind you that there are people who do believe. When you get right down to it, there is just something good about wooden churches."
And there is plenty good about this new book, filled with stunning black and white photographs of West Virginia churches, Georgia churches, Ohio churches, Nebraska churches, photographs by anonymous cameramen culled from state historical archives, and photographs from the fingers of famous artists: Tom Rankin, whose shots of the Mississippi Delta demonstrate that at least some pictures are worth a thousand words, as well as Walker Evans and other chroniclers of the Depression. But words sometimes help too: alongside these photographs are passages from Baldwin and Whitman, Lee Smith and Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner and Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne's musings on a minister maybe gone mad, and Clyde Edgerton on what to do with chewing gum during church. Sit with Wooden Churches a while, and be stirred.