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Book Notes – Many-Storied House

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LyonManyFinal2.inddMany-Storied House. By George Ella Lyon.  (2013.  Pp. 121.  $19.95.  Paper. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.  663 South Limestone Street, Lexington KY 40508-4008. www.kentuckypress.com) ISBN: 978-0-8131-4261-6.

In this newest title by award winning author, George Ella Lyon, readers are transported back through time and family memories by way of poetry. Most Kentucky literature connoisures will recognize Ms. Lyon’s name in association with her long career as a children’s author, which may account for her latest success. Despite the adult or “grown-up” nature of the poetry included in this book, there is a definite feeling of childhood memories throughout. It is clear the author has never lost touch with recalling those memories as she may have first felt them so many decades ago.

Many-Storied House is a poetic journey through the memories associated with the author’s family home. By taking the basic floor plan and writing memories for each room in the form of poems, the essence of the memory remains raw and untainted. In some instances, the poem tells a full story, and in others, it only provides a glimpse into the lives of those who helped form the sixty-eight year old history of this one structure. Stretching across time and generations, these memories evoke various emotions for the reader as the simple and very short verses have much commonality with our own memories.

Memory is a fascinating element for the family historian. It can be full of flaws and complex. It can be full of dishonesty and fear, or it can be full of exagerations and secrets. Yet it can also be stripped of the richness necessary to understand the memory or the experience fully. This book is a remarkable take on documenting your family memories. So many genealogists get caught up in the idea of producing a journal or thick book of facts and stories. However, by studying what Ms. Lyons has done, family historians can grasp the concept of recording deeper memories and life experiences. I use the word “experiences” because some of the poems are just that, small snippets of experiences that are not told in full stories, but rather in a small list of smells associated with one room, or of objects found in a “Junk Drawer”.

As the poems begin with the author’s grandfather who built the house in Harlan County, a clear story then unfolds as the poems follow the children and adults. Memories of loved ones, childhood, historical events, loss, and growing-up flow freely to the end, leaving the reader with a sense of family and generational bonds that stay with us over the decades. The emotional nature of this book is pretty powerful. Do not attempt to read this without a box of tissues handy. Laughter and tears are waiting within the turn of each page.

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