“Sooner or later, though, no matter where in the world we live, we must join the diaspora, venturing beyond our biological family to find our logical one, the one that actually makes sense for us.”

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The LGBTQ Book club met on January 29 to discuss Logical Family , Armistead Maupin’s memoir contrasting his conservative upbringing in South Carolina  (working at Jesse Helm’s television station, meeting Nixon as a Vietnam veteran) to his life in San Francisco (writing a long-running serial in the Chronicle, hobnobbing with stars). Indeed, the title is a play on words, between one’s biological family and the people you gather around you as your logical family.

Two thirds of us had read Maupin’s Tales of the City series are were excited to glimpse behind the curtain. The memoir is an appealing, easy read. On the one hand, Maupin honestly reveals the difficulties he had with his strict, conservative father, whose love he craved, and he is not afraid to drop the names of celebrities in his life. We were surprised to learn he was the last sailor out of Cambodia and he defends his choice to out Rock Hudson. However, we wondered if Maupin is a reliable narrator because we were left with questions like, how did he actually meet these famous people and who are the actual members in his logical family? In the end, the book, a surface look at Maupin’s life with a good throughline, was a nice visit with an old friend.

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“I had Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi, the four of us sharing the weight of growing up Girl in Brooklyn, as though it was a bag of stones we passed among ourselves saying, Here. Help me carry this.”

27213163Books on Tap read Another Brooklyn  by Jacqueline Woodson at  Champion Brewery on February 7. Woodson, the current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and previous Young People’s Poet Laureate and National Book Award winner, is best known for her works for children and teens, often in verse. This novel is only one of two that she has written for adults. It follows August as she moves from Tennessee to Brooklyn with her father and brother, making friends with three girls and navigating black girlhood and New York in the 1970s. It too is written in verse, which struck one reader as genius to fit this complex story in in a concise, moving package. The format allows Woodson to be indirect, especially when addressing suicide, childhood sexual abuse and religion. Those of us who listened to the audiobook didn’t notice the format as much as those who read the print edition. One reader wondered if the dialog was italicized to emphasize that it was only reported to us through August’s memory.

We first discussed the title: what are these other Brooklyns? August and her brother are confined to their apartment when they first move in, and can only observed life on the street below. During the novel, she reflects on the Brooklyn she remembers and the one that her brother still lives in. There’s also the Brooklyns that become home to immigrants from all over the world.

Woodson herself grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness and August’s father introduces Nation of Islam to the family. August appreciates the order that the women of the Nation bring to the apartment but it is her brother who embraces the tenets and uses it to organize his life. August, in reaction to her mother’s suicide and the silence around it, becomes an anthropologist who studies death practices around the world. Despite their differences, the siblings remain realistically respectful as adults.

August’s mother’s death is itself a ghost in the novel. As a child she tells herself and her brother that their mother will return any moment. Her father tells her she knows what is in the urn in the house but never declares it is her mother’s ashes. As a teenager, she loses her voice. We disagreed if this was a literal lack of voice but either way, she begins to see a therapist. This is around the same time that her friend Gigi commits suicide, about which August feels guilt for not being a closer friend. We agreed that these events inspired August to study anthropology.

The book is specifically about black girlhood, but can be used as a lens to look at girlhood universally. The four girls describe their friendship as a forcefield against harassment and danger. Together, they say things to men and boys that we could never say as individuals. They protect and soothe each other and share joyous experiences. Despite her mother’s warning against female friendship, it is the thing that made August’s Brooklyn what it was. Gigi’s suicide, Sylvia’s teen pregnancy and Angela’s mother’s murder break the quartet apart. Years later as an adult August sees Sylvia on the subway but chooses to get off before they can speak. We were divided on the lasting strength of childhood friendships in our own lives, but it’s clear that these relationships were formative (and not often seen in fiction).

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Read Alikes:
Kwame Alexander
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Mislaid by Nell Zink
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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“Jefferson’s advice on how to win friends and influence people did not have much appeal for a pugnacious John Adams.”

friendsdividedIt was an interesting and thoughtful discussion when the Brown Baggers met on Thursday, January 17 to discuss Gordon S. Wood’s book Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Friends Divided delves into the complicated friendship of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. The dual biography examines the decades-long relationship between these two men who came from different upbringings and had contrasting personalities and political views. The book explores the falling out and then the reconciliation of the frenemies and how that helped shape our new nation.

Even though the book was lengthy, readers enjoyed learning about the two presidents. Some readers especially enjoyed the how the characters were described. More than one person mentioned that they learned a lot more about John Adams after reading the book- especially since many Brown Baggers grew up in Virginia and already knew the history and legacy of Thomas Jefferson.

Readers also discussed Abigail Adams and how she seemed to be ahead of her time, mainly by championing women’s rights and advising her husband, something that Martha Jefferson did not do. Some would have liked to have read more about the numerous letters written between Abigail and John Adams.

Most Brown Baggers liked Wood’s writing style, but felt that he became a bit repetitive, especially toward the end of the book, and readers would have appreciated a little more editing. Others said that the book was a little tedious to read, but upon reflection, benefited from reading about the similarities and differences between the men.

Brown Baggers also discussed how different Adams and Jefferson were politically- Adams favored a strong central government, while Jefferson was in favor of robust state rights. At the end of the discussion, one member wondered: how would Jefferson and Adams feel about today’s government, especially with the shutdown?

Books and Authors Mentioned
America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray
John Adams by David McCullough
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams, Margaret A. Hogan, editor (available at UVa)

Reviews, Articles, and Other Mentions
Interview with Gordon Wood on “Good Will Hunting”
Poggio A Caiano, Charlottesville’s Sister City
Kirkus Review
History of Currency in America
Adams Family Papers– includes full color digital images of the manuscripts and letters

The Brown Baggers will meet again on Thursday, February 21 at noon to discuss Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney.