Local Arts

REVIEWS: 3 notable new books from Observer alums

A look at three books of note by authors that Observer readers will recognize:


“My Brother Moochie: Regaining Dignity in the Face of Crime, Poverty, and Racism in the American South,” by Issac J. Bailey. Other Press. $25.95 hard cover.

Former Observer editorial writer Issac Bailey was 9 years old when his adored older brother Moochie – “who believed white people had been put on Earth to commit evil” – knifed a white man to death.

Moochie went to prison and young Issac went tunneling down inside himself and soon developed a severe stutter. Issac and his nine brothers and two sisters grew up in poverty and domestic violence in a small trailer in St. Stephen, S.C. Half those brothers served time. Growing up, young Issac had to wonder if violence among black males was “an immutable genetic reality.”

Issac Bailey

He spent years trying to reconcile how his adored hero Moochie, more like a father than his own, could murder someone. This book is a courageous outgrowth of that pondering. Bailey himself graduated from Davidson College and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard.

In this blisteringly honest and insightful memoir, he struggles to understand the factors that have gone into black crime and how black men, especially, can go forward with courage and dignity – and how white people can make a difference along that path.

paige cover

“The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal and the Quest for Earth’s Ultimate Trophy,” by Paige Williams. Hachette. $35 hard cover.

This work, by former Observer reporter Williams, will fascinate collectors, dealers and fanatics of any persuasion, as well as anyone interested in the roots of greed. Now a staff writer for the New Yorker, Williams’ nose for a good story and her dogged sleuthing skills have only been honed. A main character in this 280-page tale (plus a half inch of foot notes) is the 70-million-year-old, 8-foot-tall, 24-foot-long Tarbosaurus bataar, whose skeleton was headed for the auction block in 2012 in New York. But wait! That skeleton was found in the Gobi desert, and it’s illegal to sell fossils found in Mongolia. So what does this mean for Floridian Eric Prokopi, the skeleton’s owner, salivating at visions of profit when the skeleton sells? (In over his head financially, Prokopi has powers of rationalization that are ferocious.)

You will find in the sad but exquisitely told chapter “The Ghost of Mary Anning,” set in 19th century Lyme, England, a microcosm of the age-old conflict between the mostly purist leanings of the collector and the often exploitative and money-and-fame-grubbing inclinations of the dealer. Williams, a gifted, storytelling journalist, gives us a provocative read in this in-depth tale of obsession and greed. And if you’re one who feels a certain satisfied glow when grievous wrongs are righted, “The Dinosaur Artist” offers an extra-special treat.

Paige Williams credit Alison Forner
Paige Williams Alison Forner

Read Next


“A Hard Rain: America in the 1960s, Our Decade of Hope, Possibility, and Innocence Lost” by Frye Gaillard. New South Books, $35 hardcover.

Gaillard’s engaging storytelling skills were abundantly evident in the days he covered the landmark school desegregation controversy and the PTL fiasco for the Observer. Those skills are on elegant display now in his 20th nonfiction book.

Here, the University of South Alabama writer-in-residence, now living in Mobile, gives us story after memorable story. A standout involves Bobby Kennedy, whom Gaillard, the 1968 student head of the Vanderbilt speakers’ program, invited to speak on campus. “Even now, fifty years later, I struggle to describe it,” Gaillard writes about the “screaming surge of bodies” that greeted Kennedy at the Nashville airport. He does not omit the awe and tenderness Gaillard himself felt for this shy senator, whom the young Gaillard helped put at ease.

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Frye Gaillard Rachel Smook

Kennedy is only one player in this 708-page, must-have popular history. There’s Johnny Cash, whom Gaillard met when he was writing “Watermelon Wine: The Spirit of Country Music.” Truman Capote, Eudora Welty, Gloria Steinem, Martin Luther King, Bob Dylan, Odetta, Elvis, as well as the movies and literature of that “hard rain” decade. Of special interest is the chapter on the 1960 sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro. The book’s title, from a Dylan song, doesn’t bode for a hopeful future. But Gaillard told an interviewer there is reason for hope, “if we can forge a coalition of decency to redeem our country from what it might become.”

Gaillard will give a free public reading at 7 p.m. Sept. 27 at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.