In 2004, my eldest brother Geoff Stunkard wrote a book, and I never read it. I even got an autographed copy, but I didn’t give it a chance. I should have. Regardless of subject matter or interest, he’s my brother, and I should have supported him. Being a struggling writer myself, I see that now.
Because the truth is that my brother has actually accomplished my dream; he writes (and photographs things he loves) for a living. He has made his own way on his terms, raised a family, kept his faith, and grown an amazing beard to boot. I could have learned a great deal from him had I taken the time to do so and not been so assured of “things just working out for me”.
So finally this year, I decided to read his book, Rail Mail, and I kind of dig it for a number of reasons. First, it’s cool to hold the accomplishment; I know how hard the self-publishing game is, and he did it before the age of ebooks–I’m talking during the days of upfront costs and moving books by the box-full. And the book, for what it is and given the resources available, is really something.
On Amazon, the sole review is for one star and is predominantly harsh on the layout, and to a point I agree. But strong content can weigh heavily against stylistic missteps, and make no mistake, friends, Rail Mail is heavy on content. Inasmuch as the book is about trains, it’s also about the postcard hobby and the relationships these two items shared in the heyday of each–a heyday which has since waned. There’s something beautiful about what my brother was able to capture–a history of a bygone era captured through a bygone hobby (for the larger populace, anyway).
And I must admit, I learned a great deal from the book about both, and this added knowledge gave me a deepened appreciation. Rail Mail taught me so much about not only the usefulness and importance of railroads but of the loss to Americana as the result of their fading into niche interest and landscape obscurity. The truth is that trains played a major role in the history of this nation, and for that reason I can now better appreciate and admire the adoration and enthusiasm held for the locomotive by men my father’s age. To imagine what it may have been like to see one of these behemoths of industry pull into one’s small farm town is really something that cannot be replicated in today’s world of visual saturation and information overload.
Add to this the intrigue of the postcard, its evolving use in the American culture, and its artistic nature, and now you have a recipe for another topic of interest well worth a read–and a short read at that. I must say that my brother has a skill of dense brevity that I sorely lack, and the sheer volume of information he communicates in this picture-heavy book is quite admirable. Rail Mail is chock full with insights, information, and beautiful examples of a seemingly fading art.
Ultimately it’s this sort of niche that may have made the book limited in its appeal (and I know about that), but I can think of a handful of individuals who may find the book worth their time and energy, both for its creative charm and its well-communicated history.
I have always taken pride in my brother’s way; he is a hero of mine, but having read Rail Mail gives me a whole new appreciation for his skill, craft, and interests. Know a train enthusiast? A postcard purveyor? A history buff of industrial America? Well, this little niche book may just be up their alley!
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