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March 2021 Book, Ragtime

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  Published in 1975, Ragtime changed our very concept of what a novel could be. An extraordinary tapestry, Ragtime captures the spirit of America in the era between the turn of the century & the First World War. The story opens in 1906 in New Rochelle, NY, at the home of an affluent American family. One lazy Sunday afternoon, the famous escape artist Harry Houdini swerves his car into a telephone pole outside their house. Almost magically, the line between fantasy & historical fact, between real & imaginary characters, disappears. Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, J.P. Morgan, Evelyn Nesbit, Sigmund Freud & Emiliano Zapata slip in & out of the tale, crossing paths with Doctorow's imagined family & other fictional characters, including an immigrant peddler & a ragtime musician from Harlem whose insistence on a point of justice drives him to revolutionary violence.

February 2021 Book: Marmee & Louisa

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  Abigail May Alcott is at the heart of Eve LaPlante’s “Marmee & Louisa,” a dual biography that attempts to save Louisa’s mother from invisibility, the “lot of most women of the past,” or so LaPlante claims. Her letters and journals scissored away by her husband and daughter, who wanted to avert gossip about her difficult marriage, Abigail Alcott is of course the complex core of Louisa’s novel “Little Women.” LaPlante (who is a descendant of Abigail’s brother) has mined what’s left of Abigail’s prose to insist that “Marmee,” as her daughters called her, was a fine writer, an indefatigable reformer, a devoted teacher — and, above all, Louisa’s literary lodestar. The daughter of a prominent Boston family, Abigail May was heir to a certain privilege. Even if, as a woman, she could not attend Harvard, she studied privately, learning Latin, French, chemistry, botany and moral philosophy. Determined to put her education to use by teaching, she met and fell in love with Amos

January 2021 Book, Animal Dreams

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  Animal Dreams is a 1990 novel by Barbara Kingsolver. A woman named Cosima "Codi" Noline returns to her hometown of Grace, Arizona to help her aging father, who is slowly losing his struggle with Alzheimner's disease. She takes a biology teacher position at the local high school and lives with her old high school friend, Emelina. Animal Dreams features Kingsolver's trademark—alternating perspectives throughout the novel. Most chapters are told from the perspective of Codi, while others are told from her father, Homer's, perspective. The novel features some HIspanic and Native American themes. Codi's sister, Halimeda "Hallie", moves to Nicaragua to teach local people more sustainable farming techniques and dies after being captured by the Contras. Another political theme in the novel is the small town's fight against the Black Mountain Mining Company, which pollutes the river water and nearly destroys the citizens' orchard trees,

November & December 2020 Book, These Truths

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   “These Truths,” by Jill Lepore,  a professor at Harvard and a staff writer at The New Yorker, is a one-volume history of the United States, constructed around a traditional narrative, that takes you from the 16th to the 21st century. It tries to take in almost everything, an impossible task, but the reader would be hard-pressed to think she could have crammed more into these 932 highly readable pages. It covers the history of political thought, the fabric of American social life over the centuries, classic “great man” accounts of contingencies, surprises, decisions, ironies and character, and the vivid experiences of those previously marginalized: women, African-Americans, Native Americans, homosexuals. It encompasses interesting takes on democracy and technology, shifts in demographics, revolutions in economics and the very nature of modernity. It’s a big sweeping book, a way for us to take stock at this point in the journey, to look back, to remind us who we are and t

October 2020 Book, Before We Were Yours

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In Memphis in 1939, twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings were living a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shanty boat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty. The novel is based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country. Lisa Wingate’s tale reminds us that even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets whe

September 2020 Book, The Yellow House

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  “An extraordinary, engrossing debut… kinetic and omnivorous… Broom pushes past the baseline expectations of memoir as a genre to create an entertaining and inventive amalgamation of literary forms. Part oral history, part urban history, part celebration of a bygone way of life, The Yellow House is a full indictment of the greed, discrimination, indifference and poor city planning that led her family’s home to be wiped off the map. It is an instantly essential text, examining the past, present and possible future of the city of New Orleans, and of America writ large.”— New York Times Book Review In 1961, Sarah M. Broom's mother Ivory Mae bought a shotgun house in the then-promising neighborhood of New Orleans East and built her world inside of it. It was the height of the Space Race and the neighborhood was home to a major NASA plant--the postwar optimism seemed assured. Widowed, Ivory Mae remarried Sarah's father Simon Broom; their combined family would eventua

July 2020 Book, The Yellow House - Postponed until copies are available

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“[An] extraordinary, engrossing debut… kinetic and omnivorous… [Broom] pushes past the baseline expectations of memoir as a genre to create an entertaining and inventive amalgamation of literary forms. Part oral history, part urban history, part celebration of a bygone way of life, The Yellow House is a full indictment of the greed, discrimination, indifference and poor city planning that led her family’s home to be wiped off the map. It is an instantly essential text, examining the past, present and possible future of the city of New Orleans, and of America writ large.”— New York Times Book Review In 1961, Sarah M. Broom's mother Ivory Mae bought a shotgun house in the then-promising neighborhood of New Orleans East and built her world inside of it. It was the height of the Space Race and the neighborhood was home to a major NASA plant--the postwar optimism seemed assured. Widowed, Ivory Mae remarried Sarah's father Simon Broom; their combined family would ev