Thursday, January 23, 2020

Memoir Review: Running on Red Dog Road

I'd never heard of the memoir my book group chose for January, Running on Red Dog Road: And Other Perils of an Appalachian Childhood by Drema Hall Berkheimer, but it sounded intriguing to me. I ended up enjoying it very much, and it was a great book to kick off my new year: light, warm, funny, and nostalgic.

The author goes all the way back to when she was just four years old, starting her memoir with some of her earliest memories. It was during WWII, and her mother and aunt were Rosie the Riveters, working up in Buffalo, New York, while Drema and her sister lived with their grandparents in a cozy little house with a Victory Garden in rural West Virginia. You learn everything you need to know about Grandma on the first page, when she admonishes Drema to say "Japanese," even if everyone else is saying "Japs," while she's making a little apron to cover the Venus de Milo lamp her mother sent home from NY! Grandpa is similarly a kind and loving man, still working in the mines in spite of black lung disease in order to earn his pension and preaching on the weekends. The memoir describes an idyllic childhood in this caring family, as Drema and her best friend, Sissy, run and play and secretly "sin" (playing gin rummy on sleepovers at Sissy's house). There are some serious and sad events in her life, as well, touched (as are all lives) by death and challenges like alcoholism. Mostly, though, the author focuses on the highlights of her childhood, which include snake handlers, gypsies, and moonshiners!

The tone of this memoir is mostly lightness and fun, with a great sense of humor. It's just a pleasure to read. While everyone in our book group enjoyed reading it, some were disappointed that there wasn't more depth to the book--more digging into the hard stuff--but I think she set out to write from the perspective of her child self, who lives a happy and carefree childhood. And she does this quite successfully, capturing the lightness and fun of being a child during a simpler time. All of us enjoyed the nostalgia of the memoir, and we spent much of our book group discussion reminiscing about our own childhoods and families. It's that kind of memoir, that makes you smile and say, "Oh, I remember that!" It is also a love letter to her grandparents and her family, and the memoir opens with a modern scene of her grandmother, 100 years old, at a birthday celebration with five generations of women in the family present. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this delightful childhood memoir, smiling all the way through and often laughing out loud.

208 pages, Zondervan

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Listen to a sampleof the audio book here and/or download it from Audible. The narrator has a lovely Appalachian voice - the sample is from the beginning of the book, the prologue at her grandma's 100th birthday and the start of the childhood memoir. Try it - you'll be hooked!

You can purchase Running on Red Dog Road from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
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Or you can order Running on Red Dog Road from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. Sounds charming, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. I think we've come to expect drama from reading memoirs, but sometimes it's nice to just have a story that entertains us as well.

    1. I agree - sometimes, just a pleasant story is a nice break from more issue-driven books.