Tuesday, May 8, 2012

In Which The Bookies Discuss The Greater Journey

Bookies Meeting Summary
May 2012
The Greater Journey by David McCullough

The Bookies meeting was a rousing one today! As usual we had a fascinating discussion. The general consensus was that The Greater Journey was one of the greater books we have read - populated with creative, curious and interesting people!
 Some of the titles that came up during our discussion include the following:
John Adams by David McCullough which Marjorie H. said was a terrific biography of the former president.
Sold Down the River by Barbara Hambly – a title mentioned by Jane LaRose.  It’s the fourth in a series about a free man of color in 19th century New Orleans. The review on Amazon states the books is a Penetrating the murkiest corners of glittering New Orleans society, Benjamin January brought murderers to justice in A Free Man of Color, Fever Season, and Graveyard Dust. Now, in Barbara Hambly's haunting new novel, he risks his life in a violent plantation world darker than anything in the city....

When slave owner Simon Fourchet asks Benjamin January to investigate sabotage, arson, and murder on his plantation, January is reluctant to do any favors for the savage man who owned him until he was seven. But he knows too well that plantation justice means that if the true culprit is not found, every slave on Mon Triomphe will suffer. 

Abandoning his Parisian French for the African patois of a field hand, cutting cane until his bones ache and his musician's hands bleed, Benjamin must use all his intelligence and cunning to find the killer ... or find himself sold down the river.
The Grandissimes by George Washington Cable – I mentioned this at the meeting because it also has a physician as a main character and explores the cultural life of Creoles, free men of color, and Mulattoes in New Orleans in the 19th century. At the center is a dark slave narrative. It’s a wonderful book that the Bookies read early in our existence. So if you are new to the Bookies or don’t remember this book, please pick up a copy, I think you’ll like it!
*Note, I checked the catalog, and our copy of The Grandissimes is Lost & Paid. The only other copies in the system are at Birmingham Public Library and are reference copies. I have a paperback copy on order, and hope to be able to get a copy for our library! It’s a difficult title to acquire!*
Death In The City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi Occupied Paris by David King – I brought up this title because I loved the description of Paris in the 1930s. I learned a lot about the society, history and culture. The book IS a little grizzly, so if you don’t like that kind of book, this might not be for you, but it was an interesting book about Nazi occupied Paris. I would think Bookies who a)read and liked In The Garden of Beasts AND b) don’t mind the serial killer aspect, would really like this book.
The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt – I also mentioned this at the meeting because of the amount of Edwardian history in the book. We talked about how much of history of taught about wars, but we sometimes miss the history of Europe during peace-time. The brief review from amazon.com states “When children’s book author Olive Wellwood’s oldest son discovers a runaway named Philip sketching in the basement of a museum, she takes him into the storybook world of her family and friends. But the joyful bacchanals Olive hosts at her rambling country house—and the separate, private books she writes for each of her seven children—conceal more treachery and darkness than Philip has ever imagined. The Wellwoods’ personal struggles and hidden desires unravel against a breathtaking backdrop of the cliff-lined shores of England to Paris, Munich, and the trenches of the Somme, as the Edwardian period dissolves into World War I and Europe’s golden era comes to an end.”
If you are interested in art and art history you might really enjoy this one because some of the main characters are artists and potters. I learned A LOT about the Fabians and other counter-culture groups at the time. Very enjoyable read!
Last, but not least, I also brought up Niall Ferguson’s new book Civilization:The West and the Rest which is just that! The book traces the rise and fall of civilizations from the vantage point of major themes in history. The review from amazon states “ In Civilization: The West and the Rest, bestselling author Niall Ferguson argues that, beginning in the fifteenth century, the West developed six powerful new concepts that the Rest lacked: competition, science, the rule of law, consumerism, modern medicine, and the work ethic. These were the "killer applications" that allowed the West to leap ahead of the Rest, opening global trade routes, exploiting newly discovered scientific laws, evolving a system of representative government, more than doubling life expectancy, unleashing the Industrial Revolution, and embracing a dynamic work ethic. Civilization shows just how fewer than a dozen Western empires came to control more than half of humanity and four fifths of the world economy.
Yet now, Ferguson argues, the days of Western predominance are numbered-not because of clashes with rival civilizations, but simply because the Rest have now downloaded the six killer apps we once monopolized-while the West has literally lost faith in itself.
Civilization does more than tell the gripping story of the West's slow rise and sudden demise; it also explains world history with verve, clarity, and wit. Controversial but cogent and compelling, Civilization is Ferguson at his very best.”
The audio is particularly good because the first person narratives are voices by actors with the appropriate accent, so Islamic scholars have a Middle Eastern accent, while Frederic of Prussia sounds, well, decidedly Prussian! The “app” aspect is a little annoying, and, in my opinion, detracts from the power of history. But Niall Ferguson didn’t ask me!
Some very real characters that we enjoyed include:
·        Elihu Washburne, the American diplomat in Paris who wrote with alarm about the burning of Paris in 1881. Interestingly, Birmingham Public Library has “Recollections of A Minister to France, 1869-1887”. It’s in the reference collection, but might be cool to see!
·        Josephine Baker and James Baldwin – two African Americans who were able to travel to Paris and enjoy the freedoms (both personal and creative) that they could not enjoy in the United States
·        Elizabeth Blackwell who was the first female doctor in the United States at a time when women were not trained as physicians at all, she was able to travel to Paris to further the cause of women’s education and health. We talked a lot about medicine and education. Many Americans traveled to Paris to learn about topics that were not taught in the States, or were not taught to women! Jane L. mentioned that many free men of color were sent to Paris to learn to read and become further educated because it was not possible in America. The same was true for women of color in Louisiana who were often sent to French convent schools to be educated.
·        Last, Jane mentioned the art of Paris and compared it to the Barnes collection in Philadelphia. If you are interested in taking a look at this collection, look at their website. The collection is private and was established in 1922. Jane L. said she remembers seeing the collection arranged regardless of nationality or time period, much the way the art was depicted in The Greater Journey.

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