Posts Tagged ‘Mississippi River’

Sometimes we seek out books about certain places or topics (e.g., our Iceland post). Sometimes, the books we happen to be reading and current events collide. This happened earlier this year when the anniversary of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights act converged with our reading two pieces of fiction dealing with the aftermath of the civil right movement in Mississippi.

Besides the fact we read these two books back to back, what do these two books have in common?  Both present the authors’ views of post 1960s Mississippi – in one case the book is set in the present day and in the other in the late 1980s.  Both have plots that depend upon evolving race relations. Both invoke the 1960s civil rights movement as they try to solve current dilemmas. Both invoke quintessential town squares we come to expect in books that take place in the American South (think To Kill A Mockingbird).  Both were very well received by book critics at The Washington Post and New York Times. And, most importantly for a Book Jam post in June, both picks fit the “summer thriller” category. We hope you enjoy taking them to the beach or to a treehouse or to your mountain cabin or to your favorite chair on very your own front porch.

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles (March 2014) – I am glad this is the first part of a trilogy, as much was left unfinished for the next two books to tackle.  After reading John Grisham’s Sycamore Row, I was drawn to this novel of Mississippi and a present day crime rooted in the 1960s civil rights struggle. The details made my stomach turn — mostly because much of what Mr. Iles plotted is based in actual unsolved cases involving disappeared “negroes” and the white people who tried to help. However, I don’t think that summer reading is required to be light and there are plenty of characters to cheer for, so we call this as a great summer read.  Honestly, this novel is more of a saga written as a thriller with current social issues intertwined in the plot, but whatever you call it, it is a book I recommend.

Others recommend it as well.  The Washington Post’s review stated both that “With ‘Natchez Burning’, Greg Iles is back better than ever“, and that the book brings “… an impressive beginning to what could prove to be an epic exploration of the nation’s secrets and hidden sins, and it marks the return of a gifted novelist who has been out of the public eye for much too long.” ~ Lisa Christie

Sycamore Row by John Grisham (October 2013) – Mr. Grisham is a master at plot and suspense, and has once again created a page-turning story. Since I am a fan of the movie A Time To Kill, spending time with Jake Brigance during Sycamore Row — this time three years after the trial from A Time to Kill — felt like a mini reunion. Again, as with Mr. Iles’s book, other reviewers agree this is a must read. As the New York Times review stated “‘Sycamore Row’ reminds us that the best legal fiction is written by lawyers.” Or as the Washington Post reviewer wrote “‘Sycamore Row’ is easily the best of his books that I’ve read and ranks on my list with Stephen King’s “11/22/63” as one of the two most impressive popular novels in recent years.” Please note: This book ended up on many best of 2013 lists — lists that include authors whose novels tend not to become blockbuster movies  — and it was also previously mentioned by The Book Jam in our 2013 last minute holiday gifts post~ Lisa Christie

BONUS pick on this Mississippi Theme:

Mudbound by Hilary Jordan (2008) — This novel provides yet another reason to always read Bellewether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction winners.  This story set in post WWII Mississippi is a heartbreaking story of racial relations, poor treatment of returning veterans, and the high price of silence as members of two families living in rural Mississippi collide. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow


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The flooding Mississippi and our own experinces with a wet, wet spring had us thinking about nature, disasters, and water. So, we turned to books of course. Lisa LC immediately started some research and found a novel she’d never heard of to read and discuss.  J Lisa C reached back about 10 years and then another 30 years and found two books dealing with what happens after a water tragedy.

First – the book that was new to us — In Sunlight, in a Beautiful Garden by Kathleen Cambor – a New York Times notable book from 2001. Lisa believes this honor comes for good reasons.  The novel provides back story for the Johnstown Flood of 31 May 1889 (coincidence #1 – we recorded this show on 31 May).  The story line combines steel magnates – Fricks, Carnegies, Mellons, their Fishing Club in the Alleghany Mountains, local townspeople who work the Club, feats of engineering, why certain events change liability laws, poetry, an old fashioned love story and a truly large scale tragedy that left over 2,200 people dead.  And, just as Lisa LC finished the novel over Memorial Day Weekend, our state capital experienced its own flood, making this theme somehow more timely and providing coincidence #2.

Coincidence #3 – the first book from J Lisa’s past reading was inspired by another Vermont flood — Chris Bohjalian’s Buffalo Soldier.  This novel deals with what happens after a disastrous flood.  Mr. Bohjalian’s story begins years after a couple tragically lose their daughters during a flash flood.  As part of their grieving process, they take in an African American foster child who had bounced among houses before landing in their Vermont home.  The novel probes themes of belonging and difference, and truly glows when it dwells on the relationship the young boy finds with his elderly neighbors. Why the title?  Well, the retired couple comforts the boy with stories of Buffalo Soldiers – African American members of the US Army’s 10th Calvary of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Thinking about Vermont authors led us to the Newberry Award winning The Bridge to Terebithia by Vermont’s famous children’s author, and superbly nice person, Katherine Paterson.   Coincidence #4 – the tragedy in this book deals with water.  The novel will put a lump in your throat and tears in your eyes more than once as it explores themes of friendship, belonging and the aftermath of tragedy.

We usually try to end with an upbeat recomendation, but failed while recording. So, we inserted new sound features into the podcast, and then J Lisa’s husband Chris Trimble provided coincidence #5 by reading The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water by Charles Fishman. This nonfiction book separates fact and fiction in discussions about water shortages. We haven’t read it but Chris says the books outlines solutions. So there you are – a hopeful ending.

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