Reading Roundup: Top Picks for 2015
What makes a title a book club favorite? Most readers would say that it is a book that the majority enjoyed, which inspired lively and extended discussion, and perhaps most importantly, is remembered well beyond the meeting and goes on to be recommended to others. Though all eleven of our 2015 book club selections had their merits, there were two that met the criteria for “Top Picks.” While one book is fiction and the second non-fiction, both books were historical, an area of interest that our book club frequently returns to.
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
This book immediately captured the interest of everyone, as it dealt with people and history that was unfamiliar to most of us. Sarah and Angelina Grimke, sisters living in the first half of 19th century Charleston, South Carolina, were both early abolitionists and feminists. Daughters of a socially elite and wealthy planter family, these young women made choices that were outside the mainstream of their time and place. As a young girl of eleven, mistress Sarah is given Hettie Handful, a slave, as a birthday present. Disturbed by slavery, even as a child, Sarah had no desire to have a slave of her own. So begins a story that is told over the next 30 years. Sarah and Hettie never truly reconcile, but each struggles to find their “wings.” While Hettie, as a slave, is imprisoned in body, Sarah is enslaved by the social constraints of being a woman in the Old South. Through the narrative of their lives we learn of others involved in the struggle for freedom. Frederick Douglass plays a prominent role, as does a little known figure, Denmark Vesey. In 1820, Vesey was a ringleader in “the rising,” a planned slave revolt in Charleston. It was believed that Vesey, and others involved, planned the uprising in a prominent church of free blacks and slaves. When the rebellion was exposed the church was burned in retaliation. This year’s tragic shooting at the historic Mother Emanuel AME church was the very church that was targeted in 1822. Contemporary events came very much to life for all of us as a result of reading this thought provoking novel.
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
A true story that reads like a novel, this title was another discovery for most in our book club. It is a fascinating account of the short presidency of our little known 20th president, James A. Garfield, and the struggle to save his life after an attempted assassination. Born into poverty, Garfield was highly intelligent, a Civil War hero, a professor and member of Congress. A reluctant candidate for President, Garfield won the presidency and held that office for a mere four months. A disgruntled, power-hungry office seeker shot him twice at the train station in Washington D.C. and the account of the following 80 days gives the reader a look into the politics of the day, power control in the White House, the story of a crime, and the role that Alexander Graham Bell and science played in attempting to save Garfield. Had Bell been allowed to proceed with his invention and theory he may have found the bullet that was left in Garfield’s body until his death. It was not the bullet that killed him, but rather the infection that was allowed to ravage his body for more than two months. At this book discussion we were fortunate to have as our guest Alexander Graham Bell’s great-grandson, a local Fauquier resident. He expanded on the Garfield story, while also sharing personal memories and photographs. History came alive that afternoon for all of us.
∼ Deborah Cosby, Branch Manager, John Marshall branch library