Interpreting Appalachia, Garry Barker observes, is a task that has too often fallen to outsiders, whether government missionaries, learned experts, or sensation mongers. Not surprisingly, he suggests, their accounts of the region have usually missed the essentials: “the subtle humor, quiet pain, intense pride, and bridled passion that are part of every native mountaineer.” Those missing qualities are precisely the ones that Barker – who was born, reared, and educated in the mountains of Kentucky – brings to this thoughtful collection of essays. Written during the 1980s and early 1990s, these pieces are full of pointed insights into recent issues facing the region, but they are also deeply informed by a sense of the past and of the rich traditions that account for much of the Appalachian identity. Divided into four parts, “Learning,” “Working,” “Laughing,” and “Looking,” Barker’s essays range from some provocative thoughts on federal arts subsidies to personal perspectives on the Appalachian crafts industries, from a moving account of a trip home for a funeral to a gently humorous definition of “head of the holler” (“It’s as far back as you can go,” Barker says). The result is one writer’s portrait of himself and his region – a stimulating mix of opinion and reflection that always poses the pertinent question even when its answer proves elusive.