One of my favorite authors passed his latest book to me the other day.
It wasn’t Stephen King, though I’m a big horror fan, and it wasn’t David Baldacci, whose sister and I grew to be good friends when we lived in the same community. And sadly, it wasn’t Robert Parker — though if he had been around that would have made for a heck of a ghost story.
It was none other than local historian Tom Perry, and his latest book is “Beyond Mayberry: A Memoir of Andy Griffith and Mount Airy, N.C.”
I’ve covered this ground before, so I won’t go into great detail about why I admire Perry’s work other than to say he has done about as much as anyone I know to preserve local history in a manner that is accessible to all. He’s written more local history books than I can list here, including books exploring the life of Civil War General J.E.B. Stuart; the history of Mount Airy; the history of Martinsville, Va.; and histories of other local communities.
His books sometimes have a bit of a folksy feel to them. Rather than reading like an academic work, or one by a writer trying to impress us with his vast literary capability, reading Perry’s books gives me the feel of someone chatting with me on the street, telling me a story. I wish more writers could figure out how to do this.
A hallmark of Perry’s work, at least the ones I’ve seen, is a healthy dose of photos. “Beyond Mayberry” is no exception, and this may be its strongest appeal.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading through the chapters — I am, after all, a writer at heart more than anything else — but the pictures he includes bring his subjects to life in ways that are difficult to accomplish with words.
I’ll give you a couple of examples from his more recent effort. On page 157 there is a picture of Andy Griffith from his childhood days. I don’t know exactly what year, but I’d guess Griffith was somewhere between the ages of 7 and 11 when that one was shot.
It could have been a school picture, or perhaps one his parents had done of their only son. Looking at that photograph I don’t see a famous actor or musician. Instead I see a small boy, a ghost of a smile on his face — or maybe it’s an expression of longing for something his parents cannot afford to give him. Then again he could be thinking of what he’s going to do that afternoon after the photographer is done and he’s free to run off with his friends.
I’ve seen that sort of expression in my own kids, and looking at that photo in the light of comparing it to my own children, I can personalize some of Griffith’s life — compare some of his struggles and joys to those of my kids, or my own. And with that simple photo, Perry made the entire book more alive for me, as a reader.
That’s why I enjoy local writers such as Perry. The good ones understand how to connect with their local audience, how to bring area history alive for their readers, and I think he’s done that again with his latest book.
Signed copies of “Beyond Mayberry” are available at Pages Bookstore in Mount Airy, and Perry will be holding a book signing for this and other works he’s written at Mayberry Days Sept. 27-30.
John Peters is editor of The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 719-1931.