“Oh, if only we had more business writers like Beth Macy, and more business books like her debut, Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local — and Helped Save an American Town.
“You don’t need to care a whit about the furniture industry or free trade or globalization to fall under the spell of Ms. Macy’s book. This is nonfiction storytelling at its finest, a deep dive into a business, an industry and the many branches of a squabbling family dynasty, all displayed against the backdrop of some of the most important issues of our age. It does what the best business books should: It delivers a heavily researched, highly entertaining story, at the end of which you realize you’ve learned something.”
That’s how Bryan Burrough began his July 6 New York Times review of Beth Macy’s book on Vaughan-Bassett Furniture and John Basset’s struggle to compete with Chinese furniture makers.
And Burrough’s review, which appeared in the business section, was actually the second lengthy review of Macy’s book in the Times. A few days earlier, Janet Maslin, writing in the Arts section, said:
“This is Ms. Macy’s first book, but it’s in a class with other runaway debuts like Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit and Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: These nonfiction narratives are more stirring and dramatic than most novels. And Ms. Macy writes so vigorously that she hooks you instantly. You won’t be putting this book down.
“This is a great American story, the kind that we don’t read often enough, the kind that many big-city journalists don’t have the time to cover anymore. Ms. Macy tells it with brio, precision and an even hand. Globalization’s toll in the furniture belt, she shows, is heartbreaking.”
Maslin went on to predict that Factory Man “will be one of the best, and surely most talked about, books of 2014.” The book, published by Little Brown, won Columbia University’s J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award.
Even if you don’t read The New York Times, you may have heard Macy being interviewed on several different National Public Radio shows or seen other reviews, including Parade magazine. She’ll be travelling around the country promoting her book over the next couple of months. And Macy has received a most unusual tribute. Parkway Brewing has created Factory Girl IPA, featuring Macy looking like Rosie the Riveter on its label. It’s “sure to give you a lift at the end of your shift.” How many authors are that inspiring?
Actually, none of this national attention should surprise anyone who has read Macy’s writing in The Roanoke Times. She recently retired from the paper after 25 years to spend more time writing, but she leaves behind a long series of moving articles on interesting people and important issues. Her final piece for The Roanoke Times revisited a controversial article she’d written more than a decade ago titled “Pregnant and Proud.” It chronicled unwed teenagers, determined to keep their babies. Macy was blamed for glorifying teen pregnancy. When she found the women recently, she describes their lives as “misery and small miracles.” Like all of her writing, her final article chronicles the complexity of the human condition and is nearly impossible to put down.
And so is Factory Man, even if you don’t recognize the locals who appear in the book, you’ll appreciate how well Macy has captured the colorful speech and deeply held values of our region.
Macy lives with her husband Tom Landon and two sons in Raleigh Court. She’s at work on her second book. Meet Macy at the September 11 GRCCL meeting.
Credit Sonny Figueroa/The New York Times