On Homesickness: Appalachian Readings

A resolution of mine for 2018 is to read more books about Appalachia. I was an Appalachian studies minor back in the day at Berea College, and my writing and, honestly, my identity are wrapped up in the region.

Because I do best with goals, I decided to read one book on Appalachia each month. For January, I chose On Homesickness by Jesse Donaldson.

This book hit me on several levels even before I cracked open the cover.

  1. I am constantly homesick for the mountains of East Tennessee and often fantasize about returning to that area and escaping southern Indiana.
  2. I miss my four years in Kentucky at Berea College.
  3. This book was published by WVU Press, which is where I truly cut my editorial teeth. It was my first job working on books (prior to that, I worked on Appalachian Heritage, a literary journal out of Berea).

I started the book with high expectations, and it did not disappoint. Here’s how WVU describes it:

One day, Jesse Donaldson wakes up in Portland, Oregon, and asks his wife to uproot their life together and move to his native Kentucky. As he searches for the reason behind this sudden urge, Donaldson examines both the place where he was born and the life he’s building.

The result is a hybrid—part memoir, part meditation on nostalgia, part catalog of Kentucky history and myth. Organized according to Kentucky geography, with one passage for each of the commonwealth’s 120 counties, On Homesickness examines whether we can ever return to the places we’ve called home.

On Homesickness is beautiful—both in design and in prose. Each section is opposite the image of a Kentucky county, in the order the counties were formed. The text itself winds through the history of Kentucky, the history of the author, and the invisible string tying the two together. More than once, I felt that the author carefully, uncannily shaped my emotions into words.

It’s hard to live outside the region you love. And I think it is extra hard when it comes to Appalachia. We mountain folk are known for our tie to place. The earth literally grounds us. The hills and hollers have been our horizon since birth. Kathleen Stewart, in A Space on the Side of the Road, linked this connection (sometimes a manacle) to memory. The places and things on our homesteads hold our memories. Leaving them means leaving our history, our ancestors, and our identity. It took generations to scrap a living out of those hills—and those hills became a part of us.

And so it is with Jesse Donaldson, who finds himself across the country, away from his roots. And truly, what plant can survive that far from its roots?

As I read, I found each section to be rich, something to be savored and ruminated on. I had to pause after a dozen or so to catch my breath and let my mind play with all the threads I’d discovered. Over and over, his words cut at the core of how I feel here in Indiana. I love my life here, but “why does one patch of woods feel like home when another doesn’t?” (115), Donaldson asks. All I can do is nod. I may live in Indiana, but it will never be home.

And yet my husband is here. Is from here. What would it do to rip him from his roots and attempt a replanting in the red clay of Appalachia? Would he feel as I do now? Speaking of his own spouse, Donaldson writes, “A place can’t love me. Not like you” (127). The pull between the now and then, the you and me, the here and there is palpable.

In his vignettes, Donaldson deftly expresses his experiences with homesickness, and somehow mine as well. I was an outsider in many ways as a child; does the distance make my need to belong to Appalachia more real? Would I be as preoccupied with the region if I still lived there? Or does the refraction of hundreds of miles make things rosier than they would be if I moved back?

“I am trapped somewhere on a bridge between the Kentucky of my mind (an idealized past) and the Kentucky I no longer know (some troubled present).” (139)

I highly recommend this book for the beauty of its prose and the clarity with which it examines the concept of home and roots and family.

The Beauty Spot, Unaka Mountain. Photo by Rachel Rosolina.

What reading resolutions do you have this year? Share them (and any recommendations) with us using the hashtag #IEreads.

(This is reposted from Rachel’s personal blog.)

Giving Back: Boys & Girls Club

Being a single parent isn’t easy, especially when also running your own business around the holidays. Enter: the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington. This organization provides camps and programs after school, during holiday breaks, and over the summer, meaning Lesley and other parents in our community have a safe, fun option for their children. As their website states,

The Club supports single parents who need an affordable, structured, safe and measurable program that allows them to maintain employment, work longer hours, or further their education.

Our local branch serves 450 kids per day, and 2,600 youth are served through some form of programming throughout the year. That means 15 percent of all kids in our county benefit from this organization!

In addition, there are some amazing stats on their site:

Stats from the Boys & Girls Club

When we started Inkblot, one goal was to give back to our amazing community. Each quarter, we donate to a local organization, and this past quarter, we have chosen to thank the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington. They do such important work in our community, and we’re honored to be able to donate to their cause.

If you find yourself in the position to give, consider the Boys & Girls Club or the many other worthy organizations in your community.

NANOWRIMO is here!

Happy November, y’all! You know what that means, right? It’s NANOWRIMO time!

National Novel Writing Month is your chance to write that novel you’ve always dreamed of. The organization behind the event gives you support and helps you track progress. If you’re the kind of writer who needs a bit of structure and accountability, this is for you!

So get out your notebooks and pens, or your keyboard and fingers as the case may have it, and get to writing! Who’s in?

Here are some prompts from the depths of the Internet to get you started.

Keep us updated on your progress using hashtag #IEWriteNow!

Giving Back: GlobalGiving for Puerto Rico

The devastation across our country from natural disasters has been unimaginable. Right now, we at Inkblot are particularly concerned for our 3.4 million US brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico, where the destruction is nearly absolute. They are without food, potable water, power, or the ability to communicate with the rest of the world.

Fortunately there are organizations on the ground in Puerto Rico ready to help. One of those is GlobalGiving, which connects donors with local nonprofits to provide relief. They have a nearly perfect score on Charity Navigator and a vetted fund for Puerto Rico and Caribbean Hurricane Relief, meaning all donations to this fund exclusively support relief and recovery efforts.

by NOAASatellites via Flickr

When we started Inkblot, one goal was to give back to our amazing community. Each quarter, we usually donate to a local organization, but this quarter, we haven’t been able to get the devastation in Puerto Rico out of our heads. Thus, we are donating to GlobalGiving. They do such important work, and we’re honored to be able to help their cause.

If you find yourself in the position to give, consider GlobalGiving or the many other worthy organizations helping with disaster relief across the United States.

Quick Guide to Printing Methods

To the author and editor, final files for books generally get handed off to a magician in the production department, and then the finished, printed books appear a few weeks later. But what happens in between? We’ve covered how books are bound, but what fairy dust is sprinkled to put words on pages?

There are three methods for printing that publishers can use: letterpress, offset, and digital.

via Wikimedia Commons


Letterpress is the OG of printing methods. You can read more about literal typesetting here. A letterpress uses metal or plastic plates of type or images; the user rolls sheets of paper over the inked plates to transfer the image to the paper. It’s like super fancy stamping.

These days, letterpress is used for art, very limited edition books, and places where no power is needed. (See this post from Oh So Beautiful Paper for an inside look at artistic letterpress printing.)


After letterpress came offset. Offset printing began with “the accidental discovery that an image transferred to paper by a rubber covered cylinder was actually sharper than the image from the original type. This offset image gave rise to the name offset printing” (Self-Publisher’s 5-Minute Guide to Book Printing Processes). So, differing from letterpress, in which paper touches inked plates, offset printing has a rubber roller in between, so the ink goes from the plates, to the roller, and then to the paper. This gives the plates a longer life.

Offset printing allows way more pages to be printed at once, especially when using signatures (as mentioned in our bookbinding post). Offset can also do full-color books and has cutting and binding machines at the end of the printing process, like an assembly line that spits out whole books.


Digital printing is technology’s answer to offset. While with offset you have to print the number of books you think you’ll sell up front, with digital, you can print only the number of copies you’ve already sold. They are made-to-order and come out glued, trimmed, and with a color cover. Digital printers are essentially like super-fancy home printers. Also, you don’t have to work within the constraints of signatures, so you can have exactly the number of pages you need without blanks in the back.

Unfortunately, digital printing has yet to overtake offset when it comes to clean color images that are affordable. Thus, publishers today often use digital printing unless they have a book that needs color throughout or has an odd trim size.

Printing is constantly evolving, and it will be interesting to see how the industry changes in the next decade. If you have any questions about printing books, find us on Twitter or Facebook!

Sources: BookBusinessTechTargetSelf-Publisher’s 5-Minute Guide to Book Printing Processes, Oh So Beautiful Paper

Giving Back: Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard

Around 3 pm, I usually eat a snack because when I get hungry, I get cranky. Imagine how hard concentrating would be if I hadn’t had a square meal in a while and no chance for one in the foreseeable future? That’s where Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, a food pantry here in Bloomington, steps in for people of all ages. They “envision a community where everyone has equal access to nutritious food, waste is minimized, and all members are healthy, self-sufficient, and empowered to reach their full potential.”

Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard believes that access to healthy food is a basic human right. In addition to housing a food pantry, they also offer two community gardens, nutrition education programs, and recipes. They constantly work to address the root causes of hunger and poverty in our community, including lunches where people can learn about building food self-reliance, registering to vote, and doubling SNAP benefits at our local farmer’s market. You can even rent gardening tools from them!

When we started Inkblot, one goal was to give back to our amazing community. Each quarter, we donate to a local organization, and this past quarter, we have chosen to thank Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard. They do such important work in our community, and we’re honored to be able to donate to their cause.

If you find yourself in the position to give, consider Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard or the many other worthy organizations in your community.

Prompts from the Interwebs

It just got humid here in Indiana, friends! To help distract you in this summer heat, here are some writing prompts, curated just for you!

A Single Life from Job, Joris & Marieke on Vimeo.

Keep writing, friends!