Tag Archives: book review

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

go-set-a-watchman-harper-leeI must admit that I have not yet read To Kill a Mockingbird.  I saw the movie and the book is on my “to read” list.  But then again, so are a couple thousand other books.  And I realize that movies don’t do books justice, so I will read it.  And now that I have read “Go Set a Watchman”, it has moved higher up on the must get to list.

I’m not sure what I expected with this book, only that it wasn’t what I thought I should have expected.  It was quite slow in getting around to some of the main themes of the book.  Much of the book fills you with the atmosphere, the people, the customs, the history and the unique level of interactions that is distinctly Southern.  Having been raised by a father that was born and bred in a small town in Georgia and spending many years of my childhood surrounded by his family, I became all to familiar with these types of ways.

The central character of the book is Scout or Jean Louise (gotta love the South’s use of double names), daughter of Atticus Finch, who has returned home from her life in New York City.  The story is a slow awakening of the racial bias in all its complexities that existed at the time of de-segregation, and even persist today.  Actually, it goes even further than the racial bias, but also covers the social and gender bias.

The book offers a unique and interesting perspective on the thoughts and culture of America’s South.  A perspective that still holds to a large degree today in many areas, as is evident by the popularity of the rhetoric of many of the politicians emerging from this area.

But, the thing that is unique in this book is the way it is presented to you.  The issue is not just black and white and there are no real “good guys” or real “bad guys”.  They are humans, many of which believe they are acting for the greater good, attempting to preserve what they believe is a way of life they are entitled to.  In fact, many don’t even see their prejudice for what it is.  They see it as watching over “less fortunates”.  And this does not, by any means, excuse bigotry in any way.  It simply gives you a peek inside the heads of many of these people and seeing there are many shades of gray in there.  And as inexcusable their bigotry is, there is also immense decency in them.  The truth is, they are not unlike many other people who truly believe they are doing good when their acts diminish and marginalize others.  People of faith, and most of these are, believe it is their duty to watch over and guide those that don’t share their beliefs, look different, etc.  They hold a class structure that they will often deny.  And a belief that one can only rise so far above one’s origins.  So often through the book was peppered the line, “Love who you want, but marry your own kind.”

And I give Harper Lee credit for also turning the mirror effectively back the other way when she had Scout called a “bigot” and offered the definition, “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices;especially :  one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance”  For, when we close the doors of communication through failing to hear, to understand, no matter how right our cause, we will doom it to failure.  The world didn’t become the way it is overnight, nor shall it change overnight.  And part of changing it is to understand it with empathy and respect.

It’s a coming of age, a God busting, religion busting, hero busting, blinders shattering journey.  Others refer to it as rough around the edges in comparison to To Kill a Mockingbird, but I think that gives it more power.  Because, the emergence from the shroud of our youth can be a very messy and rough journey.  I don’t know what the criteria is for a Pulitzer for a novel, so I have no idea if this one qualifies.  But, it is an amazing work of writing that makes you at least glance at the world through the eyes of another and shows you nuances and hues you had previously missed.



The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd 2I somehow made it all the way through this book before I discovered that it is based on the lives of two sisters from our history.  Women I have never heard of, even in all the reading I had done on the women’s rights movement.   Okay, more on that later.

I picked up The Invention of Wings at the library.  Looked interesting.  Was so much more than just interesting!

The invention of Wings is told through first person narratives of a number of the main characters in the book.  Primarily through the words of Sarah Grimke, the young white debutante from an old slave owning Charleston family, who from a very young age finds issue with the owning of humans.  And Handful or Hetty, the young black slave that is gifted to Sarah on her eleventh birthday.

Hetty gives a beautiful rich texture to the story with her voice as she tells of her mother, the quilt maker, who tells stories with the appliques and stitches she loving places in each of her quilts.  The hoarding of tiny scraps of fabrics from making clothes for the family to weave into these quilts.  And teaching Hetty her art and giving her a value to the family that few slaves have.  For, mother and daughter are so good with their needles, their services are wanted by those even outside the family.

When Hetty is given to Sarah, Sarah immediately attempts to free her with a letter she leaves on her father’s desk.  When this attempt fails, Sarah begins to teach Hetty to read.  A crime for both the teacher and the student.  Sarah,is brilliant, headstrong, and set on a path to defy her family’s heritage of Southern slave owners.  Sarah dreams of defying the norms and following in her father’s footsteps and becoming an attorney and reads through his library with a fury.  However, when he learns of her teaching Hetty to read, she is given the punishment of being banned from her father’s library and furthering her education.  Her sole consolation is in becoming the Godmother to her sister, Angelina or Nina, who quickly takes more to Sarah than she does their mother.

As both girls mature into adulthood, the friendship changes and they move in different directions.  Hetty becomes involve with the black abolitionist movement after her mother fails to return from an escape excursion to meet with her love and Sarah meets an enigmatic Quaker man while travelling with her sick father.   This brings her into the abolitionist movement, though from a different direction.

She returns home after her father’s death and begins a correspondence with Israel Morris (the Quaker man she met) and after a time, returns to Philadelphia to join the Quaker church there.  There, she meet Lucretia Mott, a still famous abolitionist, feminist and Quaker minister and realizes that she also, wishes to be a voice in front of the crowds.

The Invention of Wings is different than most slavery era books I have read.  It gives you a view of history, the lives of the women,  and what life was like for them and expected of them.  Even in the least likable characters, such as Sarah’s mother, she gives a depth and range showing the lights as well as shadows that reside in all of us.

The book resonates with all the lessons of racism, religious bias and fundamentalism, sexism and the full sociological gamut that was a part of that time in our history.  The characters are believable and engaging, drawing you deeply into their world and immersing you in it.  And thankfully, a couple of them have been drawn from the annals of history so that you might delve further into their stories.

Sarah and Angelina Grimke were both major players in both the abolitionist movement as well as the early women’s movement.  They were the first female speakers in the United States.  And it was primarily the rebuking of their public speaking by the religious community, including the Quaker community, that pushed them into the feminist arena.  The fact that we have not heard their names in our history books shows again how women who defy the status quo are erased.  Thankfully, there are writers like Sue Monk Kidd that dig up their bones to remind us.

The Invention of Wings is a book I would place well into the top tier of books that should be on a required “to read” list.  The author is stellar in her use of the language (understandable, since she also wrote, The Secret Life of Bees).  And she has definitely earned a spot on my favored author’s list.