“What kind of idiot goes on a picnic and ends up buying a house?”

The Central Library Brown Baggers met virtually on July 16th to discuss Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta by Richard Grant.  

Grant, a British travel writer, and his partner Mariah (a library science  graduate student) move from NYC to Pluto, Mississippi on a whim.  They buy an old house with land in the Mississippi Delta, which comes with inherent home, garden and nature challenges. From the outset it seems like this will be a short adventure, as Grant admits to a nomadic existence. Grant purposefully sets out to get a feel for his new home, meeting his neighbors and learning their stories. Published in 2015, part memoir/part travel/nature writing, the book touches on the impact of the area’s history, poverty, limited employment opportunities and the complexity of race relations in the Delta. Grant also throws in chapters about Parchman penitentiary, local politics, area traditions and limitations of the public school system.

As an outsider, Grant’s British accent seemed to make him novelty and grant him entry into various environments where he inevitably meets a cast of unique characters.  

Some Brown Baggers found the book contrived, as if the author moved to Pluto and set up introductions with people in order to write a book.  However, most enjoyed reading and learning about a place that few will likely visit. There was much discussion of poverty and systemic racism, and the ways it appears throughout the United States, as well as what being an ‘outsider’ really means, and what privileges and disadvantages this offers one.

Links:

“Richard Grant Returns to Pluto”

Other books mentioned:

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family and a Lost Middle East

The Red Address Book

Stoner

Dear Committee Members

Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time

Flannery O’Connor

The Yellow House

Travels with Charley; In Search of America

In America

Democracy in America


The Brown Baggers will meet again virtually on August 20th to discuss Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Please email kfarrell@jmrl.org for details on how to participate from your computer or phone

“I never understood why people thought my color, any color, needed fixing.”

On June 18th, the Central Library Brown Baggers book group met virtually to discuss
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson.  

The Brown Baggers took time to bid a fond farewell to librarian Katie Gorrell, as this was her last meeting as a facilitator as she moves on to other things back in her home state of Pennsylvania.

A work of historical fiction, the book tells the story of the WPA Pack Horse Library Project through the experiences of Mary Cussy Carter, one of the last of  the Blue People of Kentucky and a packhorse librarian. Because of her blue skin, Mary suffered discrimination from the community just as her African American friend (and co-librarian) Queenie did.  The local doctor convinces Mary to subject herself to hospitalization and testing to “cure” her of her blue skin.

Most readers were not aware of the Blue People of Kentucky.  Originally from France, these descendants of the Fugate family had a hereditary condition called methemoglobinemia  that caused their skin to have a bluish tint. This led to discussion of how skin color and other outward-presenting markers can form identity just as much as invisible things can, and how removing appearance is a form of erasing identity.

When the group chose and scheduled this title, we of course had no idea that it would be so timely with the Black Lives Matter protests and ongoing current coverage of the history of racial disparities in the US.

Several Brown Baggers expressed surprise at the violence of some scenes of the book, and the threats of attack or mistreatment against the main character. There was much conversation around the tone of the book, with some praising the happy ending, and others condemning it as unrealistic when compared to the rest of the book. Some readers also found the “love interest” element wrapped up a little too early.

 A story of poverty, prejudice and isolation, as well as the power of literature. In the end, most of the Brown Baggers agreed it was a good read, and the overuse of expository writing actually helped keep their interest, as the setting of the book is one not often seen on the page.

The Brown Baggers will meet again virtually on July 16th to discuss Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant. Please email kfarrell@jmrl.org for details on how to participate from your computer or phone.

Books mentioned :

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

Links:

Horse-Riding Librarians Were the Great Depressions Bookmobiles – from Smithsonian

University of Kentucky’s Packhorse Librarian Presentation (great photos!)

Interview with Kim Michelle Richardson from LA Public Library

The Brown Baggers will meet again virtually on July 16th to discuss Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant. Please email kfarrell@jmrl.org for details on how to participate from your computer or phone.