“Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.” He penned this message for inscription on his tombstone. Note – he omitted his service as the President of the United States.
23 Bookers reunited after our summer break at the home of Rokhshie Malone on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on our country. Burned into the fabric of our lives is this day and to celebrate the birth of our nation with this month’s selection, America’s First Daughter, solidifies the resolve of our people that in the face of tragedy, grace, and dignity unites us.
Welcome new members, Jane Shaw, and Tanya Holstead to the beginning of our 15th year of Bookers. We hope you will join us again! Many thanks to Rokhshie for hosting and to Katherine Maxwell-McDonald for her thorough and informative discussion of our summer read. You’ve got a permanent job if you want it!!
The majority of Bookers read and liked the selection, as did I, but something nagged me while reading it, so I researched more. With over three thousand reviews, only 236 were critical and that is where I found the answer. The common thread among them was the story seemed soap-operaish, overwritten, and over-dramatic…like a romance novel set in colonial times. Both authors enjoy stellar credentials in background and writing accolades, but Laura Kamoie has written thirty-five erotic romance novels under the pen name Laura Kaye. Her “other life” might have added credibility to some of that criticism.
The conventional definition of the historical fiction genre is a novel that is set fifty or more years in the past and one in which the author is writing from research rather than personal experience. It relies on the author getting inside the head, heart, and era of historical figures. Readers demand authenticity when telling the story from the character’s perspective even though our modern day values likely clash with their principles. Steeped in this story is inequality, incest, slavery, adultery, violence against both sexes, dirty politics, betrayal, forced choices, parental bonds, commitment to family and expectations, deathbed demands, fierce loyalty, and forbidden romances…all wrapped up in the birth of our nation with the contradiction of these words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.”
Katherine passed around photographs of the “main players” in the novel and pulled a nickel out of her pocket to show Thomas Jefferson’s portrait. The authors extrapolated a few items to add interest to the book. In a blog entitled, “Five lies we told in America’s First Daughter and How we got away with it,” they point out Patsy wasn’t actually at her mother’s bedside when she died; we said things happened where they didn’t happen; we made one of the Randolph sisters into a killer; made Colonel Randolph into a nasty villain; and there is no proof William Short and Patsy were romantically involved. We discussed if our opinion of one of our founding fathers changed after the revelation that Thomas and Sally Hemings were a “couple.” We talked about whether she was a willing participant in the “affair” in order to protect her interests and secure the future of “their children.” We spoke of the roles of “First Daughters” then and now; how much time the entourage spent in France while the war raged on in America; why did Patsy feel the need to protect her father – his health, his legacy, his emotional state? Presidential scandals are nothing new – from Buchanan’s Miss Nancy and Aunt Fancy to Harding’s trysts in the White House closet – but they were covered up until the Nixon era, tarnishing the office of the President. We discussed the oxymoron of the slavery issue in light of the words in the Declaration, the role of the indentured especially on a plantation in the south – they had shelter, food, clothing…with freedom what would they do? The ending troubled some, as it seemed impossible for Patsy to promise her abusive/alcoholic husband, she would never marry again…she did grow to love him and fathered their twelve children…but still.
The authors visited both the Randolph’s Tuckahoe and Jefferson’s Monticello digesting the stark differences in the plantations as evidenced in their descriptions. Tuckahoe had a dark, heavy, sad, troubled feeling in the décor of the main house and more telling was the cemetery – laying within a totally enclosed brick wall – no gate or door and not a single grave marked with a headstone. Monticello on the other hand sits atop a mountain, one with nature, with a fifty-mile view of the countryside. The presence of slavery is evident on both plantations, and on one tour a guide was asked by a nine-year old African-American boy, what his life would have been like to be a slave at Monticello, prompting a young white boy of the same age to ask how a man like Jefferson could have written, “all men are created equal.” This is a positive sign of the awareness of our younger generation and points to the commonality we all wrestle with – the discrepancies of our nation’s founding.
On the business side:
Thanks to the quick response to our email requesting host homes for our meeting. Note the October meeting has been changed to Melba Holt’s home. And, without threats or violence, you have enthusiastically waved your hands in the air to volunteer to be a “discussion leader.” All joking aside, my heart is full with appreciation.
There are 86,400 seconds in every day and I’d like to use a few of them to express my appreciation to our 2018-2019 Bookers’ Book Selection committee, Pat Faherty, Melanie Prebis, and Katherine Maxwell-McDonald for their willingness to take on this project. I personally know how much time is involved in this and I hope none of them required a visit to the ophthalmologist in order to narrow the list to the choices listed below. Because of their diligence, Bookers will begin the year with a fresh approach and all of us are eternally grateful for their commitment. It’s important to remember we all have our reading preferences…not all books fall into the our cup of tea, but these were selected with the group in mind. Bookers’ is all about the books and we hope for some lively but respectful conversations.
Member Joanne Bara passed along a new book some might be interested in by noted historian and political biographer, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Leadership: In Turbulent Times – how Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and LBJ found “their footing” on the job.
COLOR CODING SYSTEM
WHITE: LIGHT READ
PINK: MODERATELY CHALLENGING
October 2: The Rent Collector by Cameron Wright
A young mother struggles to survive by picking through garbage in Cambodia’s largest municipal dump.
Discussion Leader: Beverly Dossett
Home of Melba Holt
November 13: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Published in 1989, it tells the story of two best friends growing up in a small New Hampshire town during the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Discussion Leader: Melanie Prebis
Home of Katherine Maxwell-McDonald
December 11: Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva
Charming and poignant about the creation of the most famous Christmas tale ever written.
Discussion Leader: Rebecca Brisendine
Home of Bonnie Magee
Jan. 8, 2019: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Set in Alaska in 1974. The ultimate test of survival for a family in crisis.
Discussion Leader: Patty Evans
Home of Daryl Daniels
February 12: The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor
Set in 1917 England and based on a true story, two young cousins somehow convince the world that the magic exists.
Discussion Leader: Daryl Daniels
Home of Beverly Dossett
March 12: Stormy Weather by Paulette Jiles
Set in East Texas during the depression, a story of hardship, sacrifice, and strength.
Discussion Leader: Ann Ireland
Home of Mary Wensel
April 9: Book TBD
Home of Jane Shaw
May 14: Book TBD
Evening Wine & Cheese Meeting @ home of Jean Alexander
Summer Read: Book TBD
John Adams once said, “1 useless man is a shame; 2 is a law firm, and 3 or more is a congress.”