Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Nevermore: Picoult, Ford, Alexander Hamilton, Churchill, Klansman, Bradley, Link, Woodward

Our first book club member picked up Jodi Picoult’s The Book of Two Ways. Dawn Edelstein discovers much about herself in a crisis—as the plane she is on prepares for a crash landing. Rather than thinking of her husband Brian, a serious astrophysicist, she finds herself thinking of an old connection, Egyptologist Wyatt Armstrong. Woven through the story are Egyptian tomb inscriptions, showing how the body can go one of two ways. Our reader found this to be a very interesting book, although she commented that there were not any overt social issues as there are in many of Picoult’s books.


Love and other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford struck a chord with our next reader.  Set in Seattle, this is the tale of a young boy born in China. His mother leaves the child for his “uncle” because she is poor, but the uncle takes child and puts him in a hold in a boat, and they go to America. The Coast Guard comes and the children are thrown overboard. The boy survives, and the man who rescues him is named Ernest, so he takes that name. The Christian Children’s Home Society sends him to a boarding school where he is ostracized. When he is sent to the 1909 World’s Fair this seems to be an fun outing, until Ernest finds that he is to be auctioned off as a “healthy boy to a good home.” The lady who wins the raffle is a madam in charge of a house of ill repute – where he goes as the houseboy.  Our reader found it to be a fantastic book about the history of Seattle and the World Fair, and totally recommends it.


Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth by Stephen F. Knott had a lot of surprises for our next reader. Hamilton died in 1804 and for the next 20 years, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams did everything they could to smear his reputation. Hamilton said that the people were a great beast, but he was very concerned about the condition of everyone. He wanted even the common man to profit and thrive from the economic structure. Even today, many Supreme Court decisions quote Hamilton and the Federalist Papers. Aaron Burr who fatally shot Hamilton in a duel, saw a bust of Hamilton, rubbed his hands over the face of the bust and said “This is where all the poetry was.” Hamilton’s popularity has fluctuated over the years, with various political figures having differing opinions. FDR hated Hamilton; Lincoln loved Hamilton, and many people have strong opinions about him today with his story recently retold in a modern day musical via song and rap.


Another popular read this week was The Splendid and Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson. The main part of the book covers Churchill’s first year from when he assumed office amidst immediate German bombing to when the US entered the Second World War. The author researched deeply, looking for stories that others omitted. One of Larson’s sources is diaries from Churchill’s private secretary, John Colville, detailing some of the things that were going on in Churchill’s private life, such as his finances and his son, Randall. Everyone acknowledged that Churchill was a wonderful orator, but some had great reservations about his ability to be Prime Minister. He began to energize the country during a time of great difficulty with the creation of the Ministry of Aircraft Development. Larson also utilized the Mass Observation Project, diaries from everyday people about their day-to-day experiences.  Nell Last, a housewife, age 49, said of Churchill and his political rival Neville Chamberlain:  “I would rather live my life with Chamberlain, but for this time perhaps we are better off with Churchill.”


Life of a Klansman: A Family History in White Supremacy by Edward Ball has been passed around to several Nevermore readers. The author is the great-great-grandson of Constant Lecorgne, a white French Creole who terrorized African Americans from under the infamous white sheets. Our reader noted that in 1870 Ulysses Grant asked for laws that would prevent voter intimidation, and yet some people still feel those effects of intimidation at the voting booth today. Our reader found this an excellent book but heavy reading.  

Fighting Words by local author Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is a middle grade novel. Ten year old Della has always felt protected by her older sister Suki. The sisters have secrets, but when Suki comes to a breaking point, Della’s world is shattered. The author tackles the stigma of childhood sexual abuse in a very real way. Our reader feels that everyone should read this book because abuse affects so many people and is so well hidden from the mainstream. Abuse could be happening to people you see on an everyday basis because you do not know what is going on behind closed doors. Our reviewer felt it was a very important book but said parental guidance might be needed for some children because of the topic, and recommended it for readers of all ages. 

O. Winston Link: Life along the Line: A Photographic Portrait of America’s Last Great Steam Railroad by Tony Reevy. Norfolk and Southern was the last steam railroad in the United States, and Norfolk and Western was the last one that ran steam trains on all of its lines. Winston was an artistic photographer, not just a point-and shoot hack. He was known for his perfect lighting and being able to capture glimpses of small town life that was changing dramatically in the 1950s. The History Museum of Western Virginia/O. Winston Link Museum is in nearby Roanoke, and many photographs of Bristol are in the book.  


Our last member said that reading Rage by Bob Woodward made her feel as if she was in the backroom listening to highly charged political conversations. Our reader felt that the author doesn’t get overly convoluted in semantics and does an excellent job of describing the chaos – with so many different people infighting and nobody knowing exactly what was happening.  She has new respect for General James Mattis, calling him unbelievably brilliant and knowledgeable. In such turbulent political times, this book was touted as descriptive and insightful, and our reader enjoyed it much more than she thought she would.

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