Day 13: Book Club Recs
Book clubs are a fast growing activity these days for avid readers like myself. I know because I have two – Normandy Book Club (in existence for over 15 years) and The Read Soul Lit Book Club (just started at the end of 2020). They were both started out of my profound love for books and my desire to encourage deep discussions around the books we read together. It’s all about sharing ideas, sometimes picking up books we wouldn’t normally read, challenging others with our analysis, and most of all discovering great books.
The two books in this post are both recommendations from The Read Soul Lit Book Club. They are both big hits. Freeman was the book that debuted the Read Soul Lit Book Club in November 2020. So, it has a special place in my heart. Grant Park is the book we’re reading right now in honor of Black History Month in The Read Soul Lit Book Club. I’m just going to say it, Leonard Pitts, Jr. is one of my favorite authors. He writes the most compelling and intelligent books out there today. And it never ceases to amaze me how many people on Bookstagram, Booktube, Litsy, and BookTok haven’t got a clue who he is nor how fantastic his books are. He is seriously underrated. I can’t urge you enough to pick up all of these books, read them, and to add a new black American author to your auto buy list. Get to it people!
What’s Freeman about?
Freeman, the new novel by Leonard Pitts, Jr., takes place in the first few months following the Confederate surrender and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Upon learning of Lee’s surrender, Sam–a runaway slave who once worked for the Union Army–decides to leave his safe haven in Philadelphia and set out on foot to return to the war-torn South. What compels him on this almost-suicidal course is the desire to find his wife, the mother of his only child, whom he and their son left behind 15 years earlier on the Mississippi farm to which they all “belonged.”
At the same time, Sam’s wife, Tilda, is being forced to walk at gunpoint with her owner and two of his other slaves from the charred remains of his Mississippi farm into Arkansas, in search of an undefined place that would still respect his entitlements as slaveowner and Confederate officer.
The book’s third main character, Prudence, is a fearless, headstrong white woman of means who leaves her Boston home for Buford, Mississippi, to start a school for the former bondsmen, and thus honor her father’s dying wish.
At bottom, Freeman is a love story–sweeping, generous, brutal, compassionate, patient–about the feelings people were determined to honor, despite the enormous constraints of the times. It is this aspect of the book that should ensure it a strong, vocal, core audience of African-American women, who will help propel its likely critical acclaim to a wider audience. At the same time, this book addresses several themes that are still hotly debated today, some 145 years after the official end of the Civil War. Like Cold Mountain, Freeman illuminates the times and places it describes from a fresh perspective, with stunning results. It has the potential to become a classic addition to the literature dealing with this period. Few other novels so powerfully capture the pathos and possibility of the era particularly as it reflects the ordeal of the black slaves grappling with the promise–and the terror–of their new status as free men and women. (Goodreads)
What’s Grant Park about?
Grant Park is a page-turning and provocative look at black and white relations in contemporary America, blending the absurd and the poignant in a powerfully well-crafted narrative that showcases Pitts’s gift for telling emotionally wrenching stories.
Grant Park begins in 1968, with Martin Luther King’s final days in Memphis. The story then moves to the eve of the 2008 election, and cuts between the two eras as it unfolds. Disillusioned columnist Malcolm Toussaint, fueled by yet another report of unarmed black men killed by police, hacks into his newspaper’s server to post an incendiary column that had been rejected by his editors. Toussaint then disappears, and his longtime editor, Bob Carson, is summarily fired within hours of the column’s publication.
While a furious Carson tries to find Toussaint—at the same time dealing with the reappearance of a lost love from his days as a 60s activist—Toussaint is abducted by two improbable but still-dangerous white supremacists plotting to explode a bomb at Obama’s planned rally in Grant Park. Toussaint and Carson are forced to remember the choices they made as idealistic, impatient young men, when both their lives were changed profoundly by their work in the civil rights movement. (Goodreads)