Once a month, Roger, James, and I get together to brainstorm what should go into the store’s monthly eNewsletter. Our banter at these meetings covers a wide range of topics, not limited to but including: books on our minds, our children’s antics, publishing industry gossip, store anecdotes, and our continued wonder over James’s tendency to polish off a large soda before breakfast.
Every so often after one of these pow-wows, I look over my notes and think, "We are good. We are really good." Then we build the newsletter, off it goes, and some of our creative lists end up passed over in a pile of other emails. It happens.
So selfishly, today I’m revisiting one of my favorite lists from our March newsletter. We were discussing how often two books just naturally go together, and thus produced the following list of perfect pairs for book clubs. I’m including three combos here on the blog, but if you want to peruse our longer list, click here.
Artistic recognition beyond the Civil Rights era
The House Girl by Tara Conklin intertwines the stories of two strong women: Lina, a modern attorney, and Josephine, a slave from the pre-Civil War era. Lina discovers a controversy rocking the art world: art historians now suspect that the revered paintings of Lu Anne Bell, an antebellum artist known for her humanizing portraits of the slaves who worked her Virginia tobacco farm, were actually the work of her house slave, Josephine. In piecing together Josephine’s story, Lina embarks on a journey that will lead her to question her own life, including the full story of her mother’s mysterious death twenty years before. The Trials of Phillis Wheatley by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. explores the pivotal roles that Phillis Wheatley, a slave and acclaimed author, and Thomas Jefferson, who refused to acknowledge her talents, played in shaping the black literary tradition.
A pair of books that try to bridge the gap between the 1% and the rest of the world
The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore tells the story of two kids named Wes Moore who were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police. How, then, did one grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence? The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz tells a fascinating history. The author grew up in Virginia owning a beloved blue sweater. When she outgrew it, she donated it Goodwill, only to find the exact same sweater eleven years later, her nametag still inside, on the back of a young boy in Rwanda. Her experiences there inspired her to leave her career in banking and sparked a quest to uncover the roots of global poverty. A powerful autobiography and a practical-minded call to action.
Women of the West
A Sudden Country by Karen Fisher is a vivid and revelatory novel based on actual events of the 1847 Oregon migration, following two characters of remarkable complexity and strength. An ambitious trader, deserted by his Native American wife, sets out to find her after the death of his children from smallpox. Instead, he meets a remarried widow, careful mother, and reluctant emigrant. As their hidden stories and obsessions unfold, and pasts and cultures collide, both must confront the people they have truly been, and may become. The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss takes place in the winter of 1917, when nineteen-year-old Martha Lessen saddles her horses and heads for a remote county in eastern Oregon, looking for work “gentling” wild horses. She chances on a rancher, George Bliss, who is willing to hire her on. Many of his regular hands are off fighting the war, and he glimpses, beneath her showy rodeo garb, a shy but strong- willed girl with a serious knowledge of horses. So begins the irresistible tale of a young but determined woman trying to make a go of it in a man’s world.