“If people had true knowledge of the world perhaps they would not take up arms and so perhaps he could be an aggregator of information from distant places and then the world would be a more peaceful place.”

Central library Brown Baggers book group met in person on Thursday, July 21st to discuss
News of the World by Paulette Jiles.  

Set in post Civil War Texas, Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels from town to town reading the news from around the country and the world to citizens eager and willing to pay to listen.  In a town near Indian territory, Capt. Kidd becomes bound by duty to return 10 yr. old Johanna to her biological relatives.  Joanna had been captured and held captive by the Kiowa Indians after her parents were murdered.  Having been with the Kiowas for 5 years, Johanna does not long for her birth family, but wants to run back to her Kiowa family. However, she does form a bond with Capt. Kidd and the Capt. works hard to re-civilize her and teach her how to speak English.  They become close, depending on one another through various perils they encounter on their journey.  

“News of the World”  was believable and seemed to be an accurate representation of life at that time.  The relationship between the Capt. and Johanna is symbiotic, but our readers pointed out that the Capt. had options and resources, while Johanna really had none. Our readers enjoyed the story, but some felt the ending might have been too neatly wrapped up and sugar coated. 

There was much discussion of non-formulaic Westerns and the Western genre with many additional authors and titles suggested.

Finally for those interested, Tom Hanks portrays Capt. Kidd in the 2020 film version of News of the World which can be borrowed from JMRL.

Other titles/authors mentioned:

Simon the Fiddler – Paulette Jiles

True Grit – Charle Portis

The Light in the Forest – Conrad Richter

The Heart of Everything That Is – Bob Drury and Thomas Clavin

The Captured: A True Story of Abduction by Indians on the Texas Frontier – Scott Zesch

Empire of the Summer Moon – S.C. Gwynne

Lonesome Dove – Larry McMurtry

Shane – Jack Schaefer

Riders of the Purple Sage – Zane Grey

Ivan Doig

Wallace Stegner

Join the Brown Baggers on Thursday, Aug. 18th to discuss Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. 

Upcoming titles:

“All I’ve done is give you a book,” she said. “You have to have the courage to learn what’s inside it.”

Books on Tap met outside at Champion Brewing company on Thursday, July 7th to discuss Rocket Boys by (Va Tech graduate) Homer Hickam. This memoir, published in 1998, is the story of a boy with a dream to build rockets, which was inspired by the 1957 launch of Sputnik.  Set in Coalwood, WV, a mining company town, 14 year old Homer has the support of his mother and high school science teacher, but a more complicated relationship with his father, who hopes to see Homer follow in his footsteps and work in the mine.  Corralling a ragtag group of friends, including the class “nerd,” Homer forms The Big Creek Missile Academy.   With determination and the support of many in the town and materials/skilled help from the miners, they manage to master the science of rocketry; so much so that they win a national science competition.

The story was made into a 1999 film called October Sky, starring a 17 year old Jake Gyllenhaal as Homer (with Chris Cooper and Laura Dern in supporting roles). 

Our readers generally liked the poignancy of the story despite not necessarily liking the writing style. It took readers back to the “space race” when US schools ramped up the academic curriculum due to fear that the Russians were ahead of the US.  

We discussed the dysfunction of the Hickam family and the secrets and hopes/dreams the mother (including her secret stash of money) and Homer kept between them due to the personality and strong expectations of the father.  The town was “at war” over its disparate hopes for the futures of its children.

A timely read as recent headlines suggest the US is potentially beginning a new space race with China?

Other titles mentioned:

The Coalwood Way by Homer Hickam

Hidden Figures by Margot Shetterly

The Great Santini by Pat Conroy

South to America by Imani Perry

Upcoming titles:

August 4th: The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

September 1st: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

October 6th: Kindred by Octavia Butler 

“Why, to get the things I want badly enough, I’d do anything, hurt anybody, throw anything away.”

Brown Baggers book club met on Thursday, June 16th to discuss Passing by Nella Larsen. This classic work was originally published in 1929. Larsen, a mixed race woman herself, was the first black woman to graduate from New York Public Library’s library school and was the first black woman to win a Guggenheim Award for creative writing (1930). 

The novel focuses on two childhood friends, reuniting after many years of living completely different lives. One friend, Clare, chose to pass for white, and the other friend, Irene, became an integral part of her black community. According to our book club members, this topic was considered sensationally popular to write about back in the 1920s, and remained through the years a topic that intrigued consumers of books, television, movies, and other media. 

When it was first published, people did not respond favorably to the work. We discussed that this was likely because it revealed that racial “trickery” is possible, which would have made white readers very uncomfortable. In addition, the erotic subtext between Clare and Irene is another instance of passing presented (very subtly) in the novel; it can be argued that the women pass as heteronormative, when in fact, sexual ambiguity may be at play. 

One of our most interesting discussions revolved around how the movie, released in 2021 and currently available to watch on Netflix, differs from the book. Readers noted that in the book, all the information presented comes straight from Irene’s head – there is no omniscient narrator here, much to the displeasure of some readers, who wanted more from Clare. To me it almost sounds like Larsen has written the book in a way that pushes readers to pine for Clare’s point of view more…intimately. Maybe in the way Irene secretly pines for more intimacy with Clare? 

In the movie, this isn’t possible in the same way. So much of the ambiguity from the book is lost (although the ambiguous ending remains intact). In the book, Irene is a classic unreliable narrator. There is so much at stake for her as her suspicions surrounding her husband’s fidelity and even his sexuality mount – her social status, even her homeland. Readers also noted that the movie doesn’t hint at a potential lesbian attraction between the women. 

For our readers wondering why the movie was shot in black and white: for director Rebecca Hall, “shooting Passing in black and white was a non-negotiable request from her end” as a “black-and-white filming approach would blur these lines [of the segregated society], strengthening its intended message…” Hall also added, “The irony of black-and-white films is they’re gray, there’s nothing black or white about it, ever.” Black-and-white filming places more emphasis on light, shadow, and camera exposure; the screen becomes more textured, creating more depth. This depth mirrors the heaviness of life as a black, non-heterosexual in America in the 1920s….and even today. 

To read more about the movie, check out this article

Brown Baggers will meet again on Thursday, July 21st at noon to discuss News of the World by Paulette Jiles. 

Other books: 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson 

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Jeffers

My Monticello by Jocelyn Johnson 

Blindness by José Saramago

Show Boat by Edna Ferber 

A Chosen Exile by Allyson Hobbs 

The Conjure-Man Dies by Rudolph Fisher