“To be confined, hemmed in, to have nothing to do, was unbearable.”

cvr9780671447540_9780671447540_hrThe Brown Baggers book club met on Thursday, April 20th to discuss Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough. This biography of Theodore Roosevelt encompassed his early years, including his family background and history, through his phase as a cowboy driving cattle in the west. The book described how the president “came to be.” The book only briefly touched on Roosevelt’s political ambitions and foray into politics, since Roosevelt had not really entered politics at this stage in his life.

Mornings on Horseback was rich with detail, which some readers really enjoyed while others thought this caused the book to be a little dry. For example, the author describes how Teddy Roosevelt suffered from asthma as a child and throughout early adulthood. McCullough provided a very in-depth analysis of the potential causes of his asthma and the treatment for it at that time, as well as how the family dealt with the chronic illness and how it affected different members of the family. When and how often Roosevelt had an asthma attack was also noted. Some readers thought this level of detail detracted from the story.

Readers were delighted to gain insight into Roosevelt’s early life. Some found it curious that both Teddy Roosevelt and his older sister had difficulty seeing clearly as children, but it took their parents many years to learn that they both needed glasses. It was also fascinating to read about the family’s vacations, which would last over a year and were quite lavish. Roosevelt’s years at Harvard are also documented. Roosevelt spent a considerable amount of money while at Harvard, about $2,400 on clothes and club dues in two years, “a sum the average American family could have lived on for six years” during that time period.

The author explained how depressed Roosevelt was after the death of his first wife, Alice- this is when Roosevelt spent several years in the Badlands on a cattle ranch. It seemed as if Roosevelt could not cope with the passing of his wife, so he left his sister in charge of his newborn so he could become a cowboy. Some readers were appalled that Roosevelt left his child in the care of his sister, other readers thought his way of dealing with the death of his wife was to leave everything behind and go out west.

Another point that was brought up was that Roosevelt protected and conserved forests, landmarks, and wildlife during his presidency, but killed so many animals himself. He was a hunter and sportsman since he was a child and by his own accounts killed hundreds of birds on hunting trips as well as bears, deer, bison, and tigers.

Some readers mentioned that they would have liked to know more about how the servants lived and more about their roles in the household. Although the Roosevelts had servants and traveled with them, there was little mention of them in this biography.

Overall, most readers enjoyed learning about Roosevelt’s early life and his family history. Mornings on Horseback described Roosevelt as a man who was always doing something, as he hated to be bored. The biography gave an extensive look at Roosevelt’s life before he became president and the events that helped mold who he became.

Reviews of the book:
From The New York Times 
From Kirkus Reviews

Interviews with the author:
Archive of Studs Terkel interview
The Paris Review

Similar Reads:
Island of Vice by Richard Zachs
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

Next month the Brown Baggers will meet on Thursday, May 18th at 12pm and will be discussing Old Filth by Jane Gardam.

2017 Pulitzer Prize Winners

Each year, the Pulitzer Prize Board recognizes the best and brightest in writing, drama, and music. The winners of the 101st Pulitzer Prize were officially announced last week.

You can check out any of this year’s prize-winning titles from the JMRL collection:

Fiction: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – After Cora, a slave in pre-Civil War Georgia, escapes with another slave, Caesar, they seek the help of the Underground Railroad as they flee from state to state and try to evade a slave catcher, Ridgeway, who is determined to return them to the South.

History: Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson – The first definitive telling of the Attica prison uprising, the state’s violent response, and the victims’ decades-long quest for justice, in time for the forty-fifth anniversary of the events.

Biography: The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar – The author relates the story of his journey home to his native Libya in search of answers to the disappearance of his father, a political dissident who was kidnapped in Cairo by the Libyan government.

Nonfiction: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond – A Harvard sociologist examines the challenge of eviction as a formidable cause of poverty in America, revealing how millions of people are wrongly forced from their homes and reduced to cycles of extreme disadvantage that are reinforced by dysfunctional legal systems.

Poetry: Olio by Tyehimba Jess – With ambitious manipulations of poetic forms, Jess presents the sweat and story behind America’s blues, worksongs and church hymns.

Tales From the Road

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Life on the bookmobile is a bit different from the other JMRL branches.  We all have our ups and downs, our good days and bad, but there are some situations one only encounters out on the road.

I knew the end was near when the tow truck drivers started smiling and waving whenever they passed me on the road.  Our good old ELF (extreme low floor) bookmobile died last April, 2016.  A broken part was no longer replaceable, so that was the end.  It had been towed to the City Yard to find out if they could fix it and when it was determined that they couldn’t, I had to fetch it back to the library.  It was the scariest 20 minutes of my life!  The vehicle was all askew and I didn’t dare go over 20 mph.  I made it safely back and told my Director, my part-time helper, and anyone in the parking lot that no one is ever driving that vehicle again!  My assistant and I proceeded to empty the big bus and get the minivan ready to substitute (our “mini-mobile” as the patrons like to call it).

The Library went through the process of putting the old bus up for sale and, once it had been emptied, it needed to go back to the City Yard until a buyer was found.  The intrepid Billy (who does all the mechanical work) decided it needed to go out in style.  Over my protests, he decided to drive it back to the Yard.  The Yard had an intern at the time and the young man had come with Billy to make the ride back.  Before they took off, Billy preset all the radio stations to country and rock and roll, since he knew there was an exterior speaker up on the roof.  Billy cranked it up, blasted the music outside, and started down Rte 29.   (They were followed by a regular City truck, just in case.)  Each time the radio station would come up on a commercial, Billy pushed the next button to keep the music going.  They stopped behind a Jeep at one red light and totally confused the driver, who couldn’t figure out from whence the music came.  At another intersection, the homeless woman who was panhandling knew the source immediately.  She jumped up and danced through the song, giving Billy a grin and a big thumbs up when the light finally changed.  Meanwhile, the young intern was sinking lower and lower in his passenger seat.  Luckily, they made it back safely.  Later, the bookmobile was bought by a junk yard in Lynchburg to be sold for parts.   It was towed to its final resting place!

It’s been a long year in the minivan and we all, staff and patrons alike, eagerly await the arrival of a new vehicle next month.  Meanwhile, we have good stories and fond memories of the old bus.  RIP, Moby Dick!

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