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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

DECEMBER 2014 BOOKERS MINUTES & MUSINGS, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin


What holds true in books as in life is you need to “encounter them at precisely the right time.”

On one foggy Texas morn, 21 Bookers converged on the home of Bonnie Magee to extend a very Merry Christmas and toast another joyful year of reading and sharing books. Co-host Rosemary Farmer captured the season and the theme of this month’s novel with a display of books in sections and the Island Books sign. We owe special thanks to Bonnie for once again doing a great job of coordinating our menu and hosting the holiday celebration, to those who volunteered to bring food and spirits, and to our Mimosa elves, Jane and Leslie, for keeping us hydrated and happy.

Melanie Prebis walked us through this “love letter to the world of books” about a thirty-nine year old grieving widow, A.J. Fikry, owner of a small bookstore on a remote island off the coast of New England. It’s a story of overcoming depression and bitterness to give his heart and name to an abandoned child and trusting in a second chance for love. The combination of Maya, the intelligent and precocious two-year old and Amelia, the thirty-one year old single publisher’s sales representative, provide a solid footing for A.J. to transition from a man bent on “drinking himself to death” to the toast of the Island’s book community. We see a boorish A.J. who detests anything from postmortem narrators to children’s books and adding to the flabbergast he thinks writers are “unkempt, narcissistic, silly, and generally unpleasant” in a livelihood surrounded by authored hardcovers and paperbacks. Alongside the ‘new daddy-new love’ story, a cast of minor characters provides entertaining sub-plots, one involving his sister-in-law, the mysterious theft of a treasured possession and the stories tied to it, and her writer husband’s deceitfulness. Another, a police chief expanding his reading horizons, forming a book club for his fellow officers, and finding love and skeletons in the closet co-existing in the same bedroom; a book-signing event featuring a Hemingway-department store Santa faux author reveals another mystery. There’s a heartrending end to a new way of life, the beginning of another, and a dream of the future. Although tragic incidents frame the narrative, the story is uplifting and is chocked full of humorous lines and observations.

The majority read the book, many liked it, but a few thought it was very predictable; a couple would have scripted a happier ending; some applied the common sense approach to A.J.’s drastic personality change and how he was able to adopt Maya citing these incidents unbelievable, including Maya’s intelligence level; to a few it read like a fairy tale; We discussed A.J.’s ethnicity. The author constructed his character as Southeast Asian while in the book he describes himself as part Indian. Several of us were under the impression he was of African American lineage. Melanie asked if anyone knew which C.S. Lewis quote was on the new sales rep’s wrist to no avail. We discussed A.J.’s summaries of his favorite literary short stories/novellas for Maya…they cleverly provide us a character profile of A.J. saying, “Read these and know my heart. We are what we love.” Control flew out the window, when towards the end of the meeting we had a lively discussion on “coupling” on the first date. Details are under lock and key.

Some of our favorite quotes:
A.J. on the Maya: “The baby is a terrorist. She wakes up at insane times – 3:45 in the morning is when her day begins.”

“No one travels without purpose. Those who are lost wish to be lost.” The Late Bloomer

“The day my father shook my hand, I knew I was a writer.” (Maya after the writing competition.)

“We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. My life is in these books. We are not quite novels. We are not quite short stories. In the end, we are collected works.” A.J.F.

This quote from the book reminded Melanie of how she feels about Bookers. “Why is any one book different from any other book? They are different, A.J. decides because they are. We have to look inside many. We have to believe. We agree to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and again.” Thank you Melanie from all of us for recognizing we each possess a wealth of diversity in our reading lives and in our lives in general! And, on a personal note from MN and me, we appreciate all our “cups of tea” are not poured from the same pot, but our goal is to mix the pekoe with the Egyptian chamomile to find a blend that will minimize the discontents and maximize the enjoyment. In one of my grandmother’s short stories, she writes about ‘the first cup of tea moistens the lips and throat and the fifth lifts one to the realms of the unwinking gods.’ We’re shooting for somewhere in between.

                 COLOR CODING SYSTEM
                 WHITE:         LIGHT READ
                 PINK:             MODERATELY CHALLENGING
                 RED:              CHALLENGING
January 13th, 2015       The Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene
                                    RED
                                    Home of Sandy Molander
                                    No formal review – group discussion
February 10th:              All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
                                    RED
                                    Home of Jean Alexander
                                    Reviewer: Barbara Creach
March 10th:                  No book selected                   
                                    Home of Joanna Linder
April 14th:                    Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
                                    PINK +
                                    Home of Kay Robinson
                                    Reviewer: Jean Alexander
May 19th:                     The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
                                    PINK
                                    Home of Beverly Dossett                                         
                                    Reviewer: Beverly Dossett
Summer Break:           June, July & August
September 8th:             Bookers 12th year

“All you need to know about a person is how they answer this question. What is your favorite book?”
JoDee




Tuesday, November 11, 2014

November 2014 Bookers Minutes & Musings, Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante



Pit a narcissistic genius against a three-headed green monster named jealousy and you have hand surgeon, Dr. Jennifer White, and pseudo-friend Amanda O’Toole, “who out-vultures the vultures.”

Thirty-mile per hour winds and forty-two degree temperatures blew Chicago, the setting for our book selection, into the Pinnacle Club on this Veterans Day as 17 Bookers met at the home of Daryl Daniels to discuss Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante.
The author teaches creative writing at Stanford and San Francisco State University. She, her eighty-year old father, and seven siblings have been witnessing for ten years the cruelty of Alzheimer’s with her Mother now in the late stages of the disease. She’s witnessed firsthand the contradiction of dementia and Alzheimer’s with the phases of deterioration and lucidity and the personality changes. Her mother was a warm, kind, patient woman, but when she got ill, “she became aggressive…she’s very angry at my father.” Ms. LaPlante had no need to research for this novel. “I’ve been writing about my mother for a long time.”
Do we undeniably know what goes on in anyone’s mind much less one that is slipping away? Ms. LaPlante is more likely to expound on the issue than those who have not met this debilitating disease. As a fiction writer, she’s inviting us to trust her inventiveness and insightfulness along an odyssey of personal heartbreak.
Bernie Crudden assessed the book by giving us some backstory. On her first reading, she didn’t like the book at all, the second reading merited the same response, so in place of a reiterating the story, she detailed the issues she had with it, opening the pros and cons of discussion.

Style of writing: Confusing and scattered

CharactersThe narrator, Jennifer, was not sympathetically written; lost interest in the characters; no one to root for. Out of the eight primary characters, all were unkind, unpleasant people.
                  
Plot: Clever, but gimmicky, full of clich├ęs. Plot underdeveloped with no feeling or compassion; Like a mental hall of mirrors. 

Thirteen Bookers sided with Bernie’s take on the novel commenting: Resented the author’s desire to write a book about this disease and saddling the victim of Alzheimer’s with a murder was cruel; We’d like to understand the disease in a more positive light such as in Still Alice; The insight was too close to recent personal issues; It was depressing especially for our age group; The author dropped the ball on character development; Should have been rated dark maroon instead of red; There was no point to the book; I didn’t learn anything about Alzheimer’s disease; It may have been more pertinent to those with personal experience with the disease; I was looking for someone to love and couldn’t find anyone.

Many thanks to Bernie for tackling this project. It’s a difficult task to speak of a book that doesn’t speak to you.

Four on the other side of the coin offered: The author wrote the book with blazing speed and the style of writing, although confusing at times, reflected the mindset of the unreliable narrator, suffering from Alzheimer’s; The characters were not in the least likeable – Jennifer a narcissistic genius, who lives in a world of self-gratification; her husband James identifies with a plant that grows in the dark and feeds off the fungus and trees around it letting others do the hard work; her daughter Fiona, a young tenure-track professor of economics with a rattlesnake and marijuana plant tattoos; her son, Mark, a lawyer with “a dark aura” on whom the rattlesnake tattoo would be appropriate; her foul-weather, jealous, manipulative, friend Amanda who could spot a carcass before it begins to rot; Likeable characters – no, interesting dinner companions, maybe if you’re into personality profiling. Some plot points were left open-ended, but overall the portrait of an unstable mind overtook the shortcomings of the subplots. Everyone’s mind lapses for a split-second…think about the mind as a warehouse full of file cabinets – the older we get the more crowded the warehouse becomes and it takes us a little longer to find what we’re looking for – with dementia you lose the file cabinets themselves; as a caretaker you need to function in their world; we know that when we leave this world we’ll be departing in a different state than the one in which we were born; control what you can when you can.

The novel received over three hundred 4.5 to 5 star reviews, but an underlying negative comment was visible in some cases, and that was the dislike of all of the characters. MN and I agree, but what intrigued us were the distinct personality profiles of each character. Those consistent behavioral patterns directed all relationships and interactions between the characters. As a footnote, the author didn’t know “who done it” until fifty pages from the end.
                                                          On the business side:

Our group had a lengthy discussion about book reviews and some are of the opinion that retelling a book they have just read is not necessary – they would prefer someone to offer a personal insight on the selection in order to foster the discussion. Others appreciate a synopsis, followed by the group’s input. It’s always been up to the individual volunteering to decide on the format and it will continue in that manner.

Garth Stein’s new novel, A Sudden Light, published in September received solid reviews on Amazon. It revolves around a family returning to home – then add a ghost to the mix.

The HBO series, Olive Kitteridge, based on Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel is a winner. Frances McDormand as Olive is spot-on. A DVD will be released soon.

Mark your calendars for April 17, 2015 for the Henderson County Library fundraiser, Books in Bloom. More information on the guest author, etc…will follow.

COLOR CODING SYSTEM
WHITE:         LIGHT READ
PINK:             MODERATELY CHALLENGING
RED:              CHALLENGING
December 9th:              Christmas Party/Meeting, 9:30 A.M.
                                    Bonnie Magee, Food Czar
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, nominated by readers voting through Goodreads as the best work of fiction for 2014.
                                    PINK
                                    Home of Bonnie Magee, co-hosted by Rosemary Farmer
                                    Reviewer: Melanie Prebis
January 13th, 2015       The Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene
                                    RED
                                    Home of Sandy Molander                             
Reviewer: ?
February 10th:              All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
                                    RED
                                    Home of Jean Alexander
                                    Reviewer: Barbara Creach                 
March 10th:                Book not selected
                                    Home of Joanna Linder
                                    Reviewer: ?
April 14th:                   Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline
                                    PINK +
                                    Home of Kay Robinson
                                    Reviewer: Jean Alexander
May 19th:                    Book not selected
                                    Home of Beverly Dossett
                                    Reviewer: ?                            
Summer Break:           June, July & August
September 8th:             Bookers 12th year
Peaks and valleys, the extreme moments that stand out in our lives, make you realize you can’t build upon fragile precipices, but remember to enjoy the view.
JoDee

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

OCTOBER 2014 BOOKERS MINUTES & MUSINGS, The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher


 “They will come…to paint the warmth of the sun and the colour of the wind.”

19 Bookers, welcomed in seashell script, met at the home of Joanna Linder on White Cap Lane, aka, North Beach of Porthkerris, Cornwall, United Kingdom in the extreme southwestern peninsula of England. Joanna’s home captured the minute elements scattered throughout this classic novel with details reminiscent of Penelope Keeling’s surroundings. It was from a window in his studio, Victorian artist, Lawrence Stern, Penelope’s father, painted The Shell Seekers touting its “windy sky racing with the clouds, the sea scudding with white-caps, breaking waves hissing up onto the shore, subtle pinks and greys of the sand, shallow pools left by ebbing tide and shimmering with translucent reflected sunlight.” 

Joanna chose to begin the discussion with the reading of the introduction written by the author for the 10th anniversary edition of The Shell Seekers. From this, which begins, “once upon a time, in 1984,” we learn the driving force behind the publication of this remarkable book. Rosamunde Pilcher, age 60 and the author of eleven books, was content with her accomplishments. Her children, “with touching faith in their mother, had bigger ideas,” asking her long-time publisher, “why don’t you make our mother famous, and more importantly, rich, and isn’t it about time we all hit the jackpot?” Barely able to get a word in edgewise, Tom, the publisher, responded their mother had not yet written a novel that would justify the huge advances and global promotion, which was a “big fat novel for women, a good read, and something that tapped into her life and the experiences of her generation.” Ms. Pilcher took the challenge tapping into three themes, one about the lives of the upper-class Bohemians, secondly the disastrous effect that the prospect of an inheritance can have on a perfectly normal family, and thirdly, the days before the war.” Her creative juices rose from the “mental dustbin” and she wrote “Penelope Keeling” on a blank piece of paper…and the rest is dictated by her life experiences and by her heart…thus we have a classic novel for all generations to enjoy. Her wish is for someone to buy this book as a “present for some twelve or thirteen-year old waiting to sink his or her teeth into an adult book…and start them off on the long and wonderful road of reading for pleasure.”

The novel centers on Penelope Keeling and her three distinctively dissimilar children. Set in the mid 1980’s to 1999 with flashbacks to World War II, this nostalgic novel is full of “old-world” storytelling with descriptive, dreamy, beautiful prose and flawed but genuine characters. It invites you to move to their countryside, plant a garden of daisies, snapdragons, and dahlias, and smell freshly mowed grass and baked bread. It’s a tale where good things happen to good people and is neatly tied up with a happy ending.

Nancy, the eldest child, sunk into middle age, became dowdy, and was the settler. She did the “right thing” by marrying respectably, raising two children who attend private schools, but always searched for an opportunity to enhance her wealth and social status. Noel, the middle child, had the “patience and cunning of a well-trained spy,” easily infiltrating the upper circles of London society. He was tall, dark, and handsome with a showy car and designer duds, full of big dreams, and the “sort of man who never accepted an invitation to a party in case a better one turned up.” Olivia, the youngest, was an editor of a fashion magazine, driven to succeed, independent, business oriented, and built a life of seclusion. Each had a unique relationship with their mother. Olivia, being the favorite, didn’t come with any baggage or hidden agendas. Nancy and Noel professed to care, but in reality, were both looking for the goose that laid the golden egg. Upon Penelope’s death, the heirs realized the transparency of their relationship with their mother as revealed in her last wishes. Some were happy, some not.

The majority of our group embraced the richness of the prose and appreciated the narrative style of Ms. Pilcher, but did acknowledge the difference between this novel and those published today. At times the descriptions were a few adjectives too many for our taste making it a longer novel than it could have been. We talked about how this book transcends age; how the author developed the mother/child relationship differently for each character; how vital it is for all of us to pass along to our children and grandchildren our “stories” and those of our ancestors as the more you know, the more you understand. We talked about how a loved one’s death can bring out the worst in people, where families divide because of assumed entitlements; and why children raised in the same family behave differently, whether it is biological or genetic, or is it how children see themselves that reflects in their behavior.

Fans of Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Olive Kitteridge, will be thrilled as it has been made into a mini-series to air on HBO on November 2nd and 3rd starring Frances McDormand as Olive, Peter Jenkins, and Bill Murray. The author is delighted with the production so it’s most likely a good representation of the novel. You can watch a preview at www.hbo.com/olivekitteridge.
We talked a little about the Highland Park Independent School District’s decision to remove two of our Bookers’ books The Art of Racing in the Rain and The Glass Castle (among many others) from the reading choices for students. The issue, “the books in question contained a variety of themes and content that parents found objectionable including sexuality, rape, abortion, vulgar language, alcoholism, mental illness, and incest.” They have since reversed their opinion and these, and the other “banned” books are available in the school’s library. A book narrated by a dog and one’s life story…and the censorship discussion continues.
Monday, October 27th author, Jodi Picoult presents her new novel, Leaving Time at the Highland Park United Methodist Church, Wesley Hall, 3300 Mockingbird Lane.
6 pm: Author's Reception. Cost, $30 (includes signed book)
            Cash or check accepted at the door.
           7 pm: Lecture and book signing. FREE. No RSVP required. Books will be available for purchase.
About the book: For more than a decade, Jenna Metcalf has never stopped thinking about her mother, Alice, who mysteriously disappeared in the wake of a tragic accident. Refusing to believe that she would be abandoned as a young child, Jenna searches for her mother regularly online and pores over the pages of Alice's old journals. A scientist who studied grief among elephants, Alice wrote mostly of her research among the animals she loved, yet Jenna hopes the entries will provide a clue to her mother's whereabouts. A deeply moving, gripping, and intelligent page-turner, Leaving Time is #1 bestselling author Jodi Picoult at the height of her powers.

               COLOR CODING SYSTEM
               WHITE:    LIGHT READ
               PINK:        MODERATELY CHALLENGING
               RED:          CHALLENGING
November 11th:         Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
                                  RED
                                  Home: Daryl Daniels
                                  Reviewer: Bernie Crudden
December 9th:          Christmas Party/Meeting, 9:30 A.M. 
          The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
                                  PINK
                                  Home of Bonnie Magee, co-hosted by Rosemary Farmer
                                  Reviewer: Melanie Prebis
January 13th, 2015     The Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene
                                  RED
                                  Home of Sandy Molander
                                  Reviewer: TBD
February 10th:            All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
                                  RED
                                  Home: TBD
                                  Reviewer: Barbara Creach                 
March 10th:               TBD
April 14th:                  TBD
May 19th:                 Book TBD
                                  Home of Beverly Dossett
                                  Note change of Date
Summer Break:          June, July & August
September 8th:           Bookers 12th year

Happy Reading,
JoDee


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

SEPTEMBER 2014 BOOKERS' MINUTES & MUSINGS, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd



“History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another’s pain in the heart our own.”
Professor Julius Lester


24 Bookers ambled along the winding road leading up to the Grimke plantation. In the shade of her spirit tree wrapped in scarlet red, Charlotte rocked and quilted together brightly colored squares of her life beginning with the night her mauma was sold to the final square, with her daughters, Handful and Sky “their arms woven together like a loop stitch.”


We stepped across BABY BOY BLUE BLOW YOUR HORN HETTY written in chalk before entering the home of MN Stanky, the door draped with a sewing hoop and a throw covered with blackbirds. Inside, the details of the book unfolded in hand-sewn quilts draping the couches and chairs, a framed photograph of the “real” Grimke sisters, and Sarah’s Certificate of Manumission freeing her personal slave, Hetty. A brass thimble, sitting atop a bed of rice, denoted when the “doves moaned and the wind bent down to lift Charlotte to the sky,” sending her spirit to Africa. A wooden box filled with scrapes, various needles and threads, a bolt of green material, a silver brooch in a special box, and marbles spelling out Sarah and Boy contributed to the setting.  A framed photograph of the Three Fates of Greek mythology, the personification of destiny like the one that hung at the top of the Grimke’s stairs, showed the spinners of the thread of life determining the span of human life of every mortal from birth to death.

Welcome to Bookers’ 11th year and to our special guest, MN’s sister, Pam Beedy, visiting from Alabama. We were delighted to see Lois and Melba back with us, but almost fainted at the sight of Gayle Brummett, our phantom member, who agreed under some duress, to see for herself what all the hoopla was about.
                                      In JoDee’s voice:
“Hey ya’ll, welcome to Chaahs-tun and home to the Grimkes all decked out in plantation dress. It’s muggy today. There’s not a breath blowing in off the Ashley River. This belle is glowing.

Imagination sprouts wings of those eager to dream even if the path is fanciful and improbable. There will always be hurdles to leap; there will always be a gloomy Gus to rain on your quest, and often circumstances will force you to reinvent yourself and your calling. The Invention of Wings, described as a masterpiece of hope, incorporates a central metaphor throughout the story, flight, and freedom. Wings depicted on mythological creatures, angels, birds, dragonflies and fairies represent everything from power and mobility to spiritual truths and protection to the elements of magic allowing access to a previously unattainable state.

Although sweeping social issues toward freedom such as abolition, and women’s rights erupted within this historical timeline, Ms. Kidd challenged the reader to appreciate how each character “invented their wings,” by finding a way to break the chain of bondage without lowering their expectations or compromising their goals. Sarah moved from dreaming of being the first female jurist to tolerating the limitations of her gender before emerging as a voice of freedom. Her younger sister, Nina, followed suit relishing her role in the emancipation of those fleeing from subjugation to sovereignty. Hetty, dealt the cards of oppression, broke the law by learning to read, but that simple act of defiance saved her life, and her mother, Charlotte, hatched a plan to fly away like a blackbird in search of a better life, leaving her legacy in a story quilt in case she failed. 

Oscar Wilde said, “A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” Sue Monk Kidd invited us to behold first light and the entertainment didn’t disappoint.”
                                         In MN’s voice:
“This book embraces slavery, sisterhood, freedom, flight, inhumanity, women’s rights, equality, and inequality, all written in a beautiful language. Oh My. We feel inadequate, so we thought what could do this book justice and came to only one conclusion, so we contacted Sarah, and she graciously agreed to join us today. Please welcome Ms. Sarah Grimke. She is moving a little slow, you know she’s over two hundred years old now, so I’m going to help her get settled.”

MN’s sister, Pam, dressed in a black and white Quaker style dress sewn with her fleur de lis silver button at the throat and wearing a white bonnet, warmly greeted Charlotte before taking her seat to address our group, a Bible on one side of her chair, a gold-tipped cane propped up on the other.
                                          Pam as Sarah:
What we heard today was a voice both soft and musical in a southern drawl mixed with strength of conviction and passion for the causes defining her life. If you attended this special presentation, you witnessed a character telling us her story as if it was her own. Pam’s attention to detail, highlighting each of the issues that carried Ms. Kidd’s novel, was masterful, insightful, humorous, and just down right full of charm. The room grew silent, the group hung on every word, applauding her efforts with a standing ovation. We think if Angelina Jolie is looking to direct another movie, her casting department should be ringing Ms. Beedy in her sweet home in Alabama. Bernie hoped she might move to this area and join the acting ranks of the Henderson County Performing Arts. The script of Pam’s presentation is attached to this e-mail for all of you to enjoy. Read it slow and in a whisper to feel the power of the words.

Sue Monk Kidd said she wanted the story quilt to “speak about the deep need we have to make meaning out of what befalls us…how important it is to take the broken, painful, and discarded fragments of our lives and piece them into something whole.” We should all think about what our story quilt might say. 

               The following is Sarah's story told in the voice of Pam Beedy:
“Thank you all for having me.  It was so kind of Ms. Mary Nell and Ms. JoDee to invite me.  At first I declined, thinking I’m much too old to travel across the country and wondered were there still people out there that wanted to hear what I had to say.  They were very persistent and I’m so glad they were.  I feel as if I’m back in New York in the early days, speaking to small groups of women in the parlors of their homes.  I’m so pleased to be here.   

When I first heard of Ms. Kidd’s book, The Invention of Wings and what it was about, again I thought who would want to read any more about my life and how I came to be so outspoken.  Upon reading the book I realized it was not about me, but all the things that were important in my life years ago that are still so important today.  What does it mean to be a sister, a friend, a woman, an outcast, a slave?  Ms. Kidd manages to raise our consciences and our consciousness.  How do we use our talents to better ourselves and our world?  How do we give voice to our power, or learn to empower our voice?  With these questions in mind I reflect upon my life and would like to share with you my thoughts.

There were ten of us children; I was the middle child, the one mother called DIFFERENT and father called REMARKABLE.  Everybody said I was father’s favorite; Father was a Judge on South Carolina’s highest court, he owned a plantation, numerous slaves and was a member of Charleston’s ELITE.  Mother was descended from the first family of Charleston.  She governed a host of children, fourteen slaves and was a slave herself to social and religious duties.  When I was being forgiving, I said my mother was exhausted, I suspected she was simply MEAN.  She carried a gold tip cane that was used often on the house slaves.       

The slave’s quarters were behind the house.  There were house slaves, yard slaves, barn slaves and a slave to drive the carriage. Charlotte was our seamstress; mother said the best in the county.  Charlotte had a daughter named Hetty or Handful as her mother called her.  Hetty’s father was left at the plantation when Charlotte and Hetty were brought to Charleston.  She shared a bed with her mother and at night Charlotte told Hetty stories of Africa.  One night when Hetty was 10 years old she told her that THERE WAS A TIME IN AFRICA THE PEOPLE COULD FLY; but Hetty WAS SHREWD LIKE MAUMA.  EVEN AT TEN she KNEW THIS STORY ABOUT PEOPLE FLYING WAS PURE MALARKEY.  People COULD FLY ALL RIGHT, BUT IT WASN’T ANY MAGIC TO IT.  Everybody has wings, you have to find them. 

At an early age I struggled with the inhumanity of slavery and the inequality of women but did not know what to do about either.  When I was four years old I witnessed the brutality of slave punishment that left me with emotional and physical scars. I developed a stutter that I still struggle with when not sure what to do, so I often remained silent.  For my eleventh birthday my mother gave me Hetty as a personal slave.  I was horrified at being a slave owner but mother insisted and over time Hetty and I shared a bond and friendship much like sisters.  One day while fitting me for a dress, Charlotte managed to make me promise to help Hetty obtain her freedom.  I didn’t know what to do.?  My stutter continued and I remained silent.

Charlotte said I should help Hetty get free any way I could, so I taught her to read.  Reading was my escape; I was given entry to father’s library and allowed to read most anything I chose.  My brother Thomas and I would sit and discuss ideas and theories, Latin, History and Literature.  I had ambitions of becoming an attorney like my father. Reading gave me wings, and perhaps it could help set Hetty free.  At the time teaching slaves to read was illegal and we did keep our lessons a secret, but Hetty like her mother, courted danger and we were found out.  I thought father would surely understand. I thought he felt the same about slavery as I did, that it was wrong.  When father found out he was furious and when I explained I meant no harm my father replied “SLAVES WHO READ ARE A THREAT, THEY WOULD BE ABREAST OF NEWS THAT WOULD INCITE THEM IN WAYS WE COULD NOT CONTROL. IT MAY BE UNFAIR BUT THERE IS A GREATER GOOD HERE THAT MUST BE PROTECTED.  I WILL PROTECT OUR WAY OF LIFE.”  For punishment I was denied access to father’s library and books saying I had no need for books.  My wings had been clipped.  Hetty’s punishment was worst than my own, one lash.  My world as I knew it changed.  Mother said it was time for me to enter society, meaning find a husband.  I wish not to spend much time on my love life, my one prospect turned out to be a scoundrel and my association with him an embarrassment to my family.  I vowed not to marry and turned to religion as a refuge.  I hoped God not my mother would show me the way. My older sister, Mary grew up under Mother’s tutelage and led her life in mother’s image, married and mean.   When mother gave birth to her final child Angelina I begged to be her godmother and care giver.  I did not want Nina growing up solely under mother’s influence. 

Hetty’s troubles were worse than my own, her mother had disappeared.  Charlotte kept
company with a free slave named Denmark Vesey, visiting him on her marketing days.  Denmark had bought his freedom after traveling the world with his former master, now Denmark, an advocate of freedom for all slaves, tried to gather followers for a revolt.  I imagine Charlotte found in Denmark the vision of freedom she was always seeking.  On one of her marketing days Charlotte refused to step aside for a white lady. She was apprehended but escaped and did not return home.  Hetty hoped Denmark had helped Charlotte get away; but still Hetty missed her mother terribly and was devastated; SHE DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO BE IN THE WORLD WITHOUT HER.  Denmark Vesey often spoke at an African church for coloreds, slaves and free blacks all together.    Hetty started frequenting the services to hear Denmark speak.  One evening while Denmark led the members in a loud rendition of Joshua fought the Battle of Jericho the City Guard raided the church. The neighbors had complained of the noise and Denmark and Hetty along with several others were arrested for disorderly conduct and sent to the Work House as punishment.  Mother could have paid for her release but she did not.  Before the end of her punishment, Hetty’s foot was mangled while trying to help another slave who had a child on her back. Denmark was later convicted of in citing a slave revolt and was hanged.   This hardened Hetty and she vowed to pursuit her efforts of freedom.

Our own family was also suffering its own share of problems. Impeachment charges were brought against my father. They charged incompetence and although father was acquitted he felt he was a dirtied man.  At 59 he was suddenly old, and had a tremor in his right hand.  Following months of care the Dr. recommended a treatment offered in Philadelphia and mother informed me I was to accompany father on the voyage.  After a harrowing trip I found lodging in a Quaker boardinghouse.  The doctor could find no cause for father’s tremor or deterioration and recommended the sea air.  I secured a room at the only Hotel in Long Branch, New Jersey where I was invited to the nightly prayer meetings. I felt God had sent me here. Although father did not recover I was set free. Before he died father asked for my forgiveness and admitted his silent opposition to slavery. Most days I sat by father’s bed while he slept.  When he seemed to be resting comfortably I would on occasion walk down to the sea.   I would never tell mother that at the hour of father’s death I was floating free in the ocean; in solitude I would remember all of my life.  I was swimming with some of the other women staying at the Inn.  I had let go of the safety rope, dropped onto my back and floated, I had never felt so free. 

I notified the family that I had arranged a small quiet funeral for father in Philadelphia and that I would not be returning immediately to Charleston. The Quaker Religion had become more and more interesting to me and I wanted to contemplate what to with the rest of my life.  A letter from Nina brought me back to Charleston.  In fathers will he left the house to my brother with a life estate for mother and she could only keep a few slaves.  Mother resented this and was becoming more violent, taking her frustrations out on her slaves.  Hetty had learned from her mother how to sew so she remained as mother’s seamstress.  Mother ordered Hetty to make an elaborate mourning dress and mother continued to wear the dress everyday months after father’s death.  The situation was becoming intolerable.   No one was spared the wrath of mother’s cane.  On the voyage returning to Charleston I met a Quaker and his family, Israel Morris and I had many conversations regarding the Quaker anti slavery views and the equality of women.  When I explained to Mr. Morris that my family owned slaves but I did not condone it; with kindness is his voice he replied “TO REMAIN SILENT IN THE FACE OF EVIL IS ITSELF A FORM OF EVIL”.  I still did not know how to make my voice heard.  It was from Mr. Morris, that I first learned that in the Quaker religion women could be ministers.  Could this be my answer?                                                                                                                                                        

My stay in Charleston was short.  Angelina had also become outspoken with her anti-slavery views.  Mother thought I was a bad influence on Nina.  We both were practicing the Quaker Religion and the atmosphere was becoming more heated, with new orders being established to control and restrict slaves.  My defiance on the street became common knowledge.  Mother was outraged, only Nina stood by me.  I was called a slave lover, nigger lover, abolitionist and northern whore.  It probably was all true except that last part. I could no longer remain silent so I returned north to make what life I could.  I felt like an outcast.

I was offered a room with a fellow Quaker where I studied and practiced the Quaker religion hoping one day to become a minister.  I had maintained a friendship with Israel Morris even staying in his home after his wife died, helping his sister with the eight children.  Friendship grew into love and he proposed marriage but he wanted a wife and mother for his children not a Quaker Minister.  I was again devastated but continued in my pursuit of fulfilling my life ambition, to make a difference.  Within a few years, my sister Angelina joined me. She could no longer tolerate the south’s views on slavery. Together we pursued our efforts towards freedom and equality for all.  But even the Quakers could not abide with our outspoken views on slavery and women rights. We were ostracized and had nowhere to go.  We were secretly given living quarters in the home of Sarah Mapps Douglass who had founded a school for black children.  We were among friends but still did not how to make our voices known.  We started writing pamphlets and distributed them to the CLERGY OF THE SOUTHERN STATES and to the CHRISTIAN WOMEN OF THE SOUTH.  Our voices were heard; we were invited to join the AMERICAN ANTI SLAVERY SOCIETY as speakers to women in private parlors in New York.  Following two months of training we would begin a four month lecture tour.  I thought of FATHER, MOTHER, THOMAS, ISRAEL, THE CHURCH IN CHARLESTON, and THE QUAKERS IN PHILADELPHIA all who had tried to keep us quiet.   Finally my voices would be heard!

Theodore Weld was our trainer and most outspoken advocate, He supported us through some harrowing months of lectures on abolition and women rights.  Our audiences grew and we went from parlors to large halls where men and women came to hear what we had to say.    Theodore was our dearest friend but he and Angelina formed a bond stronger then friendship soon marrying and moving to a small farm in New Jersey where they asked me to join them.  While we were well received across the northeast there were churches that urged a boycott of our lectures and a number of halls were closed to us. We received word from mother that our pamphlets were banned in South Carolina and we could no longer set foot in Charleston without fear of imprisonment. We may not have been welcome but at least we were heard, we were no longer silent. 

I had a lingering regret, Hetty.  Hetty’s mother Charlotte had found her way back to Charleston after being held as a slave in another state for years.  She arrived with a girl who was about Hetty’s age when her mother first disappeared.  Skye was the image of Denmark Vesey. Hetty had suspected her mother was pregnant when she disappeared. Charlotte died leaving Skye in Hetty’s care.  A letter arrived from Hetty informing us she and Skye were leaving Charleston and looking for a place to run to.  I could not let her try this escape alone.  I had long ago given Hetty back to mother, a mistake I now regretted.  Risking my own life I returned to Charleston and offered to buy back both Hetty and Skye, mother refused but promised to free them upon her death.  Hetty said no she was going now with or without my help.  This time I knew what to do.  Three days later we boarded a steamer.  We were dressed in black from head to toe, hats, veils, dresses, gloves, stockings, and shoes - Hetty in the very dress she had made for mother when father died.  We hoped no one would question three women who were mourning the loss of their mother.  The steamer lurched forward. Standing on the bow we had found our wings and watched Charleston recede as we flew north.  Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last." Sarah Moore Grimke

                                          On the business side:
We conducted a short business meeting by picking two more books for the upcoming months as listed below. Both are must reads (in our opinions). The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is an easy read, only 260 pages in which you get a dab of The Cookbook Collector and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society with the charm of Harold Fry and Major Pettigrew. The other selection, also under 300 pages, is The Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene. Arthur Winthrop, the headmaster of an elite New England boarding school, is found walking naked in Central Park. The novel is part mystery, part love story and an exploration of the ties of place and family.

MN has also read and recommended two selections by Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of Don’t Let Me Go. Where We Belong is about fourteen-year old Angie and her Mom who are on the verge of homelessness again. Her sister, Sophie, has an autism-like disorder with a tendency to shriek and the only thing that calms her is a neighbor’s black Great Dane. Also, Take Me With You, her latest, is about a burned-out teacher who has been sober since his nineteen-year old son died. He’s spent the summer on the road and had planned a trip to Yellowstone with his son, but now he’s carrying his ashes instead. It has camping, a Jack-Russell terrier, a broken-down RV and two extra passengers for his journey, two boys, twelve and seven. We’ll decide on this next month. Sandy is reading All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, set in Germany and France during World War II and thinks it might be a good one for us. We’ll check it out and let you know.

The drama continues on The Goldfinch – Patsy- long book full of deviant behavior, hopelessness, and few redeeming qualities – a waste of time. Jean Mc: wonderful writing, could have been 300 pages shorter and still gotten the point across – to Theo, suck it up dude, grow up…don’t understand the Pulitzer. Beverly – another love/hate relationship with the book, long and depressing but laughed out loud on occasion and loved one of the characters…glad I read it. Leslie – powerful novel, drugs and excessive drinking play a major role and needed to be in the book and without Boris getting Theo into drugs, there would not be a storyline…so the debate continues but Leslie has loaned me her book and I’ve agreed to give it an unbiased try.
                                                COLOR CODING SYSTEM
WHITE:         LIGHT READ

PINK:             MODERATELY
                        CHALLENGING

RED:              CHALLENGING
October 14th :              The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
                                    PINK
                                    Home of Joanna Linder                                 
Reviewer: Joanna Linder
November 11th:           Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlanta
                                    RED
                                    Home: Daryl Daniels
                                    Reviewer: Bernie Crudden
December 9th:              Evening Holiday Party & Meeting
                                    The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
                                    PINK
                                    Home: TBD
                                    Reviewer: TBD                                  
January 13th, 2015       The Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene
                                    RED
                                    Home: TBD
                                    Reviewer: TBD
           
February 10th:              TBD
March 10th:                  TBD
April 14th:                    TBD
May 12th:                     Book TBD
                                    Home of Beverly Dossett
                                    Request change of date to May 19th due to travel conflict
Summer Break:           June, July & August
September 8th:             Bookers 12th year

While I read this book the violence in Ferguson Missouri plastered the news…thoughts returned to a hooded teenager gunned down in Florida – the divide is still deep…someone asked the rioting and unrest be controlled in reverence to what Martin Luther King, Jr. died for.

“Abolition is different from the desire for racial equality. Color prejudice is at the bottom of everything. If it’s not fixed, the plight of the Negro will continue long after abolition.” Fast forward to today…

Happy Reading,
JoDee