Recap of our Block Book Club January 2014 meeting
Recap of the titles we shared [synopsis from Goodreads.com].
1. The Confessions of Nat Turner
by William Styron (1967) presented by P.
NB: William Styron also wrote Sophie’s Choice
In the late summer of 1831, in a remote section of southeastern Virginia, there took place the only effective, sustained revolt in the annals of American Negro slavery…
The revolt was led by a remarkable Negro preacher named Nat Turner, an educated slave who felt himself divinely ordained to annihilate all the white people in the region.
The Confessions of Nat Turner is narrated by Nat himself as he lingers in jail through the cold autumnal days before his execution. The compelling story ranges over the whole of Nat’s Life, reaching its inevitable and shattering climax that bloody day in August.
The Confessions of Nat Turner is not only a masterpiece of storytelling; is also reveals in unforgettable human terms the agonizing essence of Negro slavery. Through the mind of a slave, Willie Styron has re-created a catastrophic event, and dramatized the intermingled miseries, frustrations–and hopes–which caused this extraordinary black man to rise up out of the early mists of our history and strike down those who held his people in bondage.
2. The House Girl
by Tara Conklin (Feb 2013) presented by M.
Virginia, 1852. Seventeen-year-old Josephine Bell decides to run from the failing tobacco farm where she is a slave and nurse to her ailing mistress, the aspiring artist Lu Anne Bell. New York City, 2004. Lina Sparrow, an ambitious first-year associate in an elite law firm, is given a difficult, highly sensitive assignment that could make her career: she must find the “perfect plaintiff” to lead a historic class-action lawsuit worth trillions of dollars in reparations for descendants of American slaves.
It is through her father, the renowned artist Oscar Sparrow, that Lina discovers Josephine Bell and a controversy roiling the art world: are the iconic paintings long ascribed to Lu Anne Bell really the work of her house slave, Josephine? A descendant of Josephine’s would be the perfect face for the reparations lawsuit—if Lina can find one. While following the runaway girl’s faint trail through old letters and plantation records, Lina finds herself questioning her own family history and the secrets that her father has never revealed: How did Lina’s mother die? And why will he never speak about her?
Moving between antebellum Virginia and modern-day New York, this searing, suspenseful and heartbreaking tale of art and history, love and secrets, explores what it means to repair a wrong and asks whether truth is sometimes more important than justice
by Mary Doria Russell ( 2011) presented by P.
The year is 1878, peak of the Texas cattle trade. The place is Dodge City, Kansas, a saloon-filled cow town jammed with liquored-up adolescent cowboys and young Irish hookers. Violence is random and routine, but when the burned body of a mixed-blood boy named Johnnie Sanders is discovered, his death shocks a part-time policeman named Wyatt Earp. And it is a matter of strangely personal importance to Doc Holliday, the frail twenty-six-year-old dentist who has just opened an office at No. 24, Dodge House.
Beautifully educated, born to the life of a Southern gentleman, Dr. John Henry Holliday is given an awful choice at the age of twenty-two: die within months in Atlanta or leave everyone and everything he loves in the hope that the dry air and sunshine of the West will restore him to health. Young, scared, lonely, and sick, he arrives on the rawest edge of the Texas frontier just as an economic crash wrecks the dreams of a nation. Soon, with few alternatives open to him, Doc Holliday is gambling professionally; he is also living with Mária Katarina Harony, a high-strung Hungarian whore with dazzling turquoise eyes, who can quote Latin classics right back at him. Kate makes it her business to find Doc the high-stakes poker games that will support them both in high style. It is Kate who insists that the couple travel to Dodge City, because “that’s where the money is.”
And that is where the unlikely friendship of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp really begins—before Wyatt Earp is the prototype of the square-jawed, fearless lawman; before Doc Holliday is the quintessential frontier gambler; before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral links their names forever in American frontier mythology—when neither man wanted fame or deserved notoriety.
Authentic, moving, and witty, Mary Doria Russell’s fifth novel redefines these two towering figures of the American West and brings to life an extraordinary cast of historical characters, including Holliday’s unforgettable companion, Kate. First and last, however, Doc is John Henry Holliday’s story, written with compassion, humor, and respect by one of our greatest contemporary storytellers.
4. Grand Pursuit: A History of Economic Genius
by Sylvia Nasar (2011) presented by R.
NB: Sylvia Nasar also wrote A Beautiful Mind
In a sweeping narrative, the author of the megabestseller A Beautiful Mind takes us on a journey through modern history with the men and women who changed the lives of every single person on the planet. It’s the epic story of the making of modern economics, and of how economics rescued mankind from squalor and deprivation by placing its material fate in its own hands rather than in Fate.
Nasar’s account begins with Charles Dickens and Henry Mayhew observing and publishing the condition of the poor majority in mid-nineteenth-century London, the richest and most glittering place in the world. This was a new pursuit. She describes the often heroic efforts of Marx, Engels, Alfred Marshall, Beatrice and Sydney Webb, and the American Irving Fisher to put those insights into action with revolutionary consequences for the world.
From the great John Maynard Keynes to Schumpeter, Hayek, Keynes’s disciple Joan Robinson, the influential American economists Paul Samuelson and Milton Freedman, and India’s Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen, she shows how the insights of these activist thinkers transformed the world from one city, London, to the developed nations in Europe and America, and now to the entire planet. In Nasar’s dramatic narrative of these discoverers we witness men and women responding to personal crises, world wars, revolutions, economic upheavals, and each other’s ideas to turn back Malthus and transform the dismal science into a triumph over mankind’s hitherto age-old destiny of misery and early death. This idea, unimaginable less than 200 years ago, is a story of trial and error, but ultimately transcendent, as it is rendered here in a stunning and moving narrative.
5. The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives
by Leonard Mlodinow (2008) presented by B.
In this irreverent and illuminating book, acclaimed writer and scientist Leonard Mlodinow shows us how randomness, change, and probability reveal a tremendous amount about our daily lives, and how we misunderstand the significance of everything from a casual conversation to a major financial setback. As a result, successes and failures in life are often attributed to clear and obvious cases, when in actuality they are more profoundly influenced by chance.
The rise and fall of your favorite movie star of the most reviled CEO–in fact, of all our destinies–reflects as much as planning and innate abilities. Even the legendary Roger Maris, who beat Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, was in all likelihood not great but just lucky. And it might be shocking to realize that you are twice as likely to be killed in a car accident on your way to buying a lottery ticket than you are to win the lottery.
How could it have happened that a wine was given five out of five stars, the highest rating, in one journal and in another it was called the worst wine of the decade? Mlodinow vividly demonstrates how wine ratings, school grades, political polls, and many other things in daily life are less reliable than we believe. By showing us the true nature of change and revealing the psychological illusions that cause us to misjudge the world around us, Mlodinow gives fresh insight into what is really meaningful and how we can make decisions based on a deeper truth. From the classroom to the courtroom, from financial markets to supermarkets, from the doctor’s office to the Oval Office, Mlodinow’s insights will intrigue, awe, and inspire.
Offering readers not only a tour of randomness, chance, and probability but also a new way of looking at the world, this original, unexpected journey reminds us that much in our lives is about as predictable as the steps of a stumbling man fresh from a night at the bar
6. Marie Antoinette’s Head: The Royal Hairdresser, the Queen, and the Revolution
by Will Bashor (Oct 2013) presented by me
Winner of the Adele Mellen Prize for Distinguished Scholarship and New York Post’s “Must-Read” Book of the Week
Marie Antoinette has remained atop the popular cultural landscape for centuries for the daring in style and fashion that she brought to 18th century France. For the better part of the queen’s reign, one man was entrusted with the sole responsibility of ensuring that her coiffure was at its most ostentatious best. Who was this minister of fashion who wielded such tremendous influence over the queen’s affairs?
Marie Antoinette’s Head: The Royal Hairdresser, The Queen, and the Revolution charts the rise of Léonard Autie from humble origins as a country barber in the south of France to the inventor of the Pouf and premier hairdresser to Queen Marie-Antoinette.
By unearthing a variety of sources from the 18th and 19th centuries, including memoirs (including Léonard’s own), court documents, and archived periodicals the author, French History professor and expert Will Bashor, tells Autie’s mostly unknown story.
Bashor chronicles Léonard’s story, the role he played in the life of his most famous client, and the chaotic and history-making world in which he rose to prominence. Besides his proximity to the queen, Leonard also had a most fascinating life filled with sex (he was the only man in a female-dominated court), seduction, intrigue, espionage, theft, exile, treason, and possibly, execution.
The French press reported that Léonard was convicted of treason and executed in Paris in 1793. However, it was also recorded that Léonard, after receiving a pension from the new King Louis XVIII, died in Paris in March 1820. Granted, Léonard was known as the magician of Marie-Antoinette’s court, but how was it possible that he managed to die twice?
Ex-military policeman Jack Reacher is a drifter. He’s just passing through Margrave, Georgia, and in less than an hour, he’s arrested for murder. Not much of a welcome. All Reacher knows is that he didn’t kill anybody. At least not here. Not lately. But he doesn’t stand a chance of convincing anyone. Not in Margrave, Georgia. Not a chance in hell.
The sleepy, forgotten town of Margrave, Georgia, hasn’t seen a crime in decades, but within the span of three days it witnesses events that leave everyone stunned. An unidentified man is found beaten and shot to death on a lonely country road. The police chief and his wife are butchered on a quiet Sunday morning. Then a bank executive disappears from his home, leaving his keys on the table and his wife frozen with fear. The easiest suspect is Jack Reacher – an outsider, a man just passing through. But Reacher is a tough ex-military policeman, trained to think fast and act faster. When authorities learn the first victim was someone from Reacher’s past, and he cannot convince them of his innocence, his patient self-defense becomes a raging crusade of revenge. With two cops who believe in him – a thoughtful black detective and a woman named Roscoe – he closes in on a ruthless conspiracy hiding behind Margrave’s rural charm. But closing in on him is a team of killers. Step by step, the two teams circle – waiting to see which will be the first to walk onto the killing floor.
After Andi Gordon is jilted at the altar, she makes the most impetuous decision of her life – buying one of the famed Three Sisters Queen Anne houses on Blackberry Island. Now the proud-ish owner of the ugly duckling of the trio, she plans to open her own pediatric office on the first floor, just as soon as her hunky contractor completes the work. Andi’s new future may be coming together, but the truth is she’s just as badly in need of a major renovation as her house.
When Deanna Phillips confronts her husband about a suspected affair, she opens up a Pandora’s Box of unhappiness. And he claims that she is the problem. The terrible thing is, he’s right. In her quest to be the perfect woman, she’s lost herself, and she’s in danger of losing her entire family if things don’t change.
Next door, artist Boston King thought she and her college sweetheart would be married forever. Their passion for one other has always seemed indestructible. But after tragedy tears them apart, she’s not so sure. Now it’s time for them to move forward, with or without one another.
Thrown together by fate and geography, and bound by the strongest of friendships, these three women will discover what they’re really made of: laughter, tears, love and all
9. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
by Ayana Mathis (2012) presented by S.
A debut of extraordinary distinction: Ayana Mathis tells the story of the children of the Great Migration through the trials of one unforgettable family.
In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia, hoping for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with grit and mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. She vows to prepare them for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not love them, a world that will not be kind. Captured here in twelve luminous narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother’s monumental courage and the journey of a nation.
Beautiful and devastating, Ayana Mathis’s The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is wondrous from first to last—glorious, harrowing, unexpectedly uplifting, and blazing with life. An emotionally transfixing page-turner, a searing portrait of striving in the face of insurmountable adversity, an indelible encounter with the resilience of the human spirit and the driving force of the American dream, Mathis’s first novel heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction
by Hermann Hesse (1922) presented by J.
A book — rare in our arid age — that takes root in the heart and grows there for a lifetime.
Here the spirituality of the East and the West have met in a novel that enfigures deep human wisdom with a rich and colorful imagination.
Written in a prose of almost biblical simplicity and beauty, it is the story of a soul’s long quest in search of he ultimate answer to the enigma of man’s role on this earth. As a youth, the young Indian Siddhartha meets the Buddha but cannot be content with a disciple’s role: he must work out his own destiny and solve his own doubt — a tortuous road that carries him through the sensuality of a love affair with the beautiful courtesan Kamala, the temptation of success and riches, the heartache of struggle with his own son, to final renunciation and self-knowledge
HAVE YOU READ ANY OF THOSE?
WHICH ONE IS YOUR FAVORITE?