“Our house is the future as well as the past.”

howardsBrown Baggers tackled a classic at their June 16 meeting – reading Howards End by E.M. Forster. Full of characters, this novel produced many discussion topics. Based on a house Forster himself dearly loved, the titular house Howards End is itself practically a character, acting as a thread throughout the novel and leading to the expression of the quote above near the end by one of the main characters.

The discussion focused on the strong female characters and the situations of class throughout the novel.

Readers were a little surprised and quite impressed that male author Forster wrote women so well. This might be due to his incredibly close relationship with his own mother, so he was able to detail a mothering character like Margaret, as well as close familial relationships like the one between Margaret and her sister Helen and their brother Tibby.

 The other topic was that of class, or in the case of most of the characters, privilege. Upper and upper-middle class situations provide most characters in the book ample funds, and a leisurely lifestyle that lets them pursue travel and study on their own schedule with no worry about a job. One reader mentioned that the characters who had status didn’t seem to deserve it. Multiple readers were amused by characters of all classes and how it almost seemed an adventure for the upper classes to befriend and aid the lower classes and for the lower classes to attempt to elevate to the upper classes. Readers found it fitting to be discussing a topic that still has repercussions in society today.

About the book itself readers generally found it to be a little lengthy and wordy. So many characters provided an overabundance of details that made it hard to keep straight. This resulted in the need to take it slow and read carefully. On the flip side, though, readers felt this was a good example of writing from that period and were awed by Forster’s ability to convey a landscape with his words.

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“Whatever else it was, it was one hell of a summer.”

bryAuthor Bill Bryson admits he only wanted to write a book about baseball. Like the year the Yankees didn’t just win it all, but crushed every opponent on their way there. The year Lou Gehrig hit 17 more home runs than any other player in the league, but was wildly outdone by teammate Babe Ruth. That year was 1927.


But 1927 was also when Charles Lindbergh made his iconic flight and the more Bryson looked into it, and the summer especially, the more he realized he needed to write a different book. One including the great flood, the launch of talking pictures, and the beginning of the end for Al Capone and prohibition – among other things. That book became our choice for Brown Baggers this month: One Summer: America, 1927.


General consensus by Brown Baggers readers on the book was that it was very interesting and informative, if maybe a little lengthy and dense. This made it the perfect book to dip in and out of at leisure, which many readers admitted to doing. Readers found it not nearly as humorous as Bryson’s other works, most notably A Walk in the Woods. Although, they did agree that this book was quite tongue in cheek in parts.


Readers were also surprised to learn about the behaviors and personality quirks of so many notable individuals, including Henry Ford, and Presidents Coolidge and Hoover. Despite having multiple headlining stories, one reader felt Charles Lindbergh was the main focus of the book. Another reader couldn’t believe how easy it was for individuals to influence the government and policy leading to sweeping changes in both prohibition and eugenics.


More Resources:
Find other books by Bryson in the JMRL catalog.
Watch Bryson discuss the book on C-SPAN.
Listen to/read Bryson’s interview with Diane Rehm.
Watch Bryson discuss the book with Waterstone’s.
Read a Q&A Bryson did with The Guardian newspaper.
Read an interview with the author by Barnes and Noble.


Reader Recommendations and Mentions:
Louisiana 1927 (song) by Randy Newman
The Greater Journey by David McCullough
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

Brown Baggers will meet again on June 16 at 12pm to discuss Howard’s End by EM Forster.

Don’t forget to participate in our Summer Challenge beginning June 1. More information can be found on our Summer Reading page. Challenge sheets can be picked up at any branch.

“A good book, he had concluded, leaves you wanting to reread the book. A great book compels you to reread your own soul.”


The latest Brown Baggers selection was Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize. The title of the novel comes from a famous work of haibun by Bashō. Concerning POWs working on the Burma-Siam Railway (also known as the Death Railway), this was a grim read for many book group members. As always, though, the discussion was engaging and thoughtful, enriching our collective reading experience.  Continue reading