Blizzards and storms may have cut into my meeting and party schedule, but the silver lining is long stretches of unanticipated time to read book after book, like a glutton, including selections from Carl Sandburg, James McBride and Solomon Northrup.
My Snowbound Reading List: I have managed to venture to southwestern Michigan a few times since Thanksgiving that the weather permitted. On one of my journeys I stopped to see my friends John and MaryJo, who spend summer and winter in Three Oaks. McHugh, who was interviewed extensively for the new Steve James documentary about Roger Ebert (Life Itself, based on Roger’s memoir) , got around to discussing the movie. And that led into a discussion of movies in general. Discussing movies with McHugh is easy because he doesn’t see many movies and never liked them much. But that led inevitably into a conversation about good books we’ve been reading lately. John recently read Carl Sandburg’s biography of Abraham Lincoln, which got us going on that and then back to movies.
What emerged from this book-movie talk was what a remarkable story is told in Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northrup , which John had read. (Now I have read the book and seen the movie and I would urge everyone to do the same.) But, that opened up another topic that has been a big part of my life lately, that is reading everything I can that’s been written by James McBride. I started with Good Lord Bird, his most recent novel about the John Brown uprising prior to the Civil War, which got the National Book Award for fiction last year. I read Song Yet Sung next and The Color of Water after that. Most people had started with The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, a book that was on the bestseller lists for months more than a decade ago. The Color of Water is a mesmerizing story that will resonate forever. No fiction story could possibly be as real and as human as the non-fictional lives of this particular family. How and why we are in a moment that we’re enthralled with Lincoln, trying to digest the horrors of slavery, is a mystery to me, but it’s there. This may be a trend in big movies but the big books like Carl Sandburg’s have been around a long, long time. (And I’m including Mark Twain’s books, up to the two volumes of his autobiography published recently after a hundred years.) So, that’s what’s been happening in my head this winter and I have to thank these authors who built these important and painful stories for posterity. But there is a footnote to this story: McHugh, who can be an incredible geek at times despite being a poet at heart, has signed up for a free online class at an East Coast University exploring the topic of slavery in America. So we'll see how that goes.