HORSE by GERALDINE BROOKS

It is amazing to me that HORSE by Geraldine Brooks is not high on the New York Times Best Seller List! I place it among the two best novels I have read this year and yes the Boston Globe, ( Brooks lives in Massachusetts), lists it as number #1.

HORSE, weaves its central characters across two centuries. By definition Horse is a novel but the storytelling is so well researched for me it falls into the historical novel category.

You will be enthralled with a story set in both the 19th and 21st centuries. Brookes ties her characters and the story line across generations and social issues of the time. Lexington, the greatest thoroughbred that ever lived. The Black Slave horse groom Jarret, generations of bondage, racism, wealthy southern dandies, the Civil War, Quantrell, Jim Crow, 21st century police violence against Black men, the world of equine art and a love story between a Smithsonian scientist from Australia and a Nigerian American art historian. The storyline blend is simply perfect. Indeed a page turner in every good sense of the term.

Whether or not you love horses this novel tells a story wherein every word, scent, event, every social issue and injustice could very well be non-fiction.

And yes, with all of the wonderful major roles in HORSE, watch for Clancy. You’ll see.

I think there is much of Geraldine Brooks in this book.

Also by Geraldine Brooks The Secret Chord and Caleb’s Crossing. ( Search gordonsgoodreads.com)

HARLEM SHUFFLE/ COLSON WHITEHEAD

Another great addition by Colson Whitehead. HARLEM Shuffle by the author of Pulitzer and American Book Award winners THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD and THE NICKEL BOYS, is a great add to Colson’s collection.

This work by Whitehead reminds me of the of the people and places of New York written by the great Pete Hamill. This entertaining novel is a trip through the topography and Harlem Society of the 1960s. Shuffle is a crime story and so much more because like Hamill’s writing of Downtown in Shuffle you see and smell the vivid sights of the city. ” No new frontier stretched before him, endless and beautiful-that was for white folks-but this new land was a few blocks at least and in Harlem a few blocks was everything. A few blocks was the difference between strivers and crooks, between opportunity and hard scrabble. ” In Colson’s book some characters often merged into a fixating combination.

Shuffle is well worth the trip. Great humor and a crime story fit for Carl Hiaasen’s library. Lucky You comes to mind. Summer isn’t over. Shuffle is a good fun read by one of America’s great writers.

THE LOVE SONGS OF W.E.B. DuBOIS/JEFFERS

HONOREE FANONNE JEFFERS

The historical novel genre trumps non-fiction in Honoree Fanonne Jeffers‘ incredible work, THE LOVE SONGS of W.E.B. DuBOIS.

From slave ship to the 20th Century, a family story that evokes memories of Alex Haley’s ROOTS. However, the impeccably researched detail, characters and story telling in LOVE SONGS goes beyond that classic work.

In reading LOVE SONGS I was called to events reported in iconoclastic The 1619 Project. However in LOVE SONGS, storyteller Jeffers is supreme. Like ROOTS, the events are personified and the story line captures the reader not just through the extraordinary events but for generations. Jeffers does not miss a single important issue that has faced African Americans both within society and individual familial generations. Her protagonists carry indelible images of the individuality within her race. Sub-themes tell stories of differing shades of black skin, and there is a strong feminist substance throughout her work that is deeply personal and often explicit. The W.E.B. Dubois connection will unfold but reading his The Soul of Black Folks will add great depth.

At seven hundred ninety pages LOVE SONGS is no quick read but Jeffers’ story telling, dialogue and imagery flows beautifully through every turn of the page. If I had a vote LOVE SONGS would warrant a Pulitzer and an American Book Award.

THE TRIALS OF HARRY S. TRUMAN

Jeffrey Frank takes a critical and objective look at the presidency of Harry Truman. By no means a love affair, the title, The Trials of Harry S. Truman, and subtitle, The Extraordinary Presidency of an Ordinary Man, 1945-1953, establish the tenor of the book.

Frank is quick to objectively microscope Truman proclamations and interpretations but always willing to credit the president with the most difficult decisions of his place and time. The Atomic Bomb, Potsdam, Stalin, the Marshall Plan, The Berlin Airlift, the desegregation of the U.S. Military and the Federal workforce , MacArthur, Korea, NATO, Strom Thurmond, the election of 1948. Frank condenses this broad landscape into a concisely focused 380 pages.

The author chose a direct quote from Truman’s last press conference which I think goes a long way to putting Harry S. Truman and his place in history into perspective:

It ended with the traditional ” Mr. President-thank you!” But this time it was followed by affectionate applause for this child of rural Missouri- this self educated striver, a man determined to overcome the prejudices, ethnic and religious, of that time and place-letting him know that he was, as Lippman put it, in his sentimental moment, someone who ” has the good nature of a good man.” In mid century America, it was hard to imagine a future when those qualities could be extinguished.

If you are a fan of presidential history, add THE TRIALS OF HARRY S. TRUMAN to your reading list.

OLMSTED AND YOSEMITE/THE NATIONAL PARKS/A NEW LOOK

I have read extensively regarding the development of the National Parks of America. I was captivated by the fireside Yosemite camping stories of John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt. A new book, OLMSTED AND YOSEMITE, authored by Rolf Diamant and Ethan Carr, casts a new light upon the incubation of what would become America’s National Parks. Step aside Muir and TR.

Enter Frederick Law Olmsted, the co-creator of New York City’s Central Park. Olmsted’s career began not as a landscape architect but as an educated engineer followed by an impressive resume as a journalist for the newspaper that became the New York Times. He traveled the antebellum south just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War and reported on the deplorable condition of slavery and the devastation of much of the agricultural land there by over planting. It was a social education for Olmsted that greatly impacted his future contributions to the American landscape.

Olmsted came away from his southern sojourn with a strong belief that his work on New York’s Central Park should become a mirror of inclusiveness and a demonstration of how a democracy could act to benefit all of its citizens. Olmsted believed that parks and open spaces available to everyone could become a uniting factor following the war. It was that philosophy that drew him to California and Yosemite and the creation in 1865 of the Preliminary Report upon the Yosemite and the Big Tree Grove . The complete report is appended in the book. Many believe that this work is the basis of what became America’s National Parks, and more importantly the future philosophy behind their design.

You will meet many important contributors to our national parks in this book. Enjoy.

OLMSTED AND YOSEMITE is an important look at why America’s National Parks are such a cherished part of the nation’s landscape.

BRAIDING SWEETGRASS

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She is the author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants and Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses.

Robin Kimmerer takes the reader on a journey into an America of what might have been in the present had not the culture of America’s Indigenous People been destroyed by “Manifest Destiny.” Immerse yourself in this beautifully crafted manuscript and learn of a lost culture of which the earth of the 21st Century screams for a return. It is a beautiful and even hopeful story of a generation of scientists, ecologists and sociologists that have not given up on the lost culture of those first inhabitants of our land. Native American history and culture are perfectly blended with an ecological lesson within these pages. Braiding Sweetgrass is worthy of its long standing among the New York Times Best Sellers.

THE 1619 PROJECT

Ten years before the Constitution was written John Adams had worried that the colonies were so different, especially the ones with agricultural based economies dependent on slave labor that it would, ” be a Miracle, if such heterogenous ingredients did not produce violent Fermentations.”

The 1619 Project created by Nikole Hannah-Jones and the New York Times is the most remarkable work of modern journalism that this author has read. The fact that this book and its previous publication in the New York Times has raised the ire of the detractors of truth is proof, the report card of its value to America’s discourse on slavery.

I urge you to read this book because the knowledge imparted in these pages can lay the groundwork for a truthful understanding of the impact of human bondage in an evolving America. It speaks not just to the brutal history of slavery but equally important relates directly to the caste system which exists in America today.

THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY/AMOR TOWLES

I loved Towle’s A Gentleman In Moscow and Rules of Civility, ( Search Gordon’s Good Reads) but his new novel THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY dropped me by the side of the road. Based on its ranking on the NYT’s best seller list, I may be in the minority. The character development and the structure of the book left me wanting for that clear story-telling that I have come to like from Towles. Your take may be the opposite but of the three books, this is surely a departure.

MADHOUSE AT THE END OF THE EARTH

Don’t look in these pages for another Ernest Shackleton adventure or for a repeat of the Jeannette disaster. This is a different story of death and survival in an ego driven pursuit of Antarctic exploration and the South Pole. Belgium, as described by author Julian Sancton, is an unlikely contender in the race for glory in charting the icy subcontinent. The same is true for the expedition’s leader, Adrien de Gerlache, well-intentioned but severely lacking in seamanship and funding. Despite his shortcomings, de Gerlache manages to raise funds and crew the refitted Belgica. Among those recruited for the expedition, Roald Amundsen who would later out race the ill-fated Robert Scott quest for claiming the South Pole. Also aboard was one American, Dr. Frederick Cook who later in 1908 would claim to have reached the North Pole. MADHOUSE AT THE END OF THE EARTH is an exact description of what occurs when dreams of glory steer a ship deep into the polar ice of the Bellingshausen Sea. The outcome is inevitable, months locked in the Antarctic ice, worsened by the disappearance of daylight. Sancton’s book becomes a study of the day by day, hour by hour mental and physical deterioration of all on board. Miraculously, only two members of the expedition would die, one of whom fell overboard in a storm, prior to the ship’s entombment. Author Sancton poured over personal diaries and the ships logs and emerged from his research with vivid detail of how loneliness, hopelessness and physical deterioration effect humans.  His telling of the story takes on the character of a well written novel. Sunlight returned, the pack ice relented, and after nearly a three years journey, despite failing to reach the South Pole, the Belgica returned to a glorious reception in Belgium. Survival had become the  goal. For more reads on Arctic exploration search Gordon’s Good Reads for The Endurance, Robert Peary, Jeannette.

A PROMISED LAND

I tend to stay away from presidential memoirs, preferring biographies. Biographies are more objective, although depending on the historian, that is not always the case.

Barak Obama’s A PROMISED LAND falls somewhere in between. I found the book very enlightening of his early years and the long process by which he became a politician. You will learn early on that decision did not enjoy much favor from Michelle. Two lawyers, a nice family and lifestyle in Chicago was more her plan. It is very interesting to learn how a political partnership evolved.

Volume one sets the stage for Obama’s remarkable rise to power details the husband and wife partnership that became a formidable force on the American Political scene. It remains so to this day.

As you would expect the volume is very well written and an enjoyable preamble to his presidency. It is interesting that Michelle’s book has outlasted A PROMISED LAND on the New York Times’ Best Seller List.