The Wright Brothers

After someone berated me for publishing a negative review of a book being discussed the next day at one of my book clubs, I decided never to again.  In this case, I am waiting to publish after I hear what others, who may be more likely to connect with nonfiction, have to say about David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers.  To be fair to myself, I needed to write what I thought first.

Reading nonfiction often feels like reading a textbook, with dates and facts clogging the forward motion. The eerie feeling of being tested always lurked in my mind, as I blithely skipped over mathematical formula and engineering theory, intruding on McCullough’s easy storytelling style.  Overcoming the urge to stop reading several times, I did finish the book, and was glad of it.

9781476728759_p0_v3_s192x300  The history of flight and the Wright brothers clear claim to overcoming man’s resistance to air are well documented.  I too have visited the site of flight in North Carolina and wondered at the sand dunes where Wilbur may have fallen over and over until he captured the magic.  With McCullough’s version, the brothers’ story became human and relatable, and their genius revealed – creating the engineering marvel of an airplane without a degree in physics or mechanical engineering.

Avoiding their personal stories until the Epilogue, McCullough focuses on their difficulties and successes and reveals the same obstacles many overcome when  they imagine a new idea:  someone else tried to take credit, the government would not provide backing until a foreign agent became interested, money was tight and trust outside their inner circle was nonexistent.  The year in France and their contemporary and rival Alexander Bell were surprises to me, as was Wilbur’s death at a young age, and Katherine’s late marriage.

Orville died in 1948 – not so long ago – and lived to see their invention become a weapon in wars, but not long enough to witness the evolution to jets and rockets. Perhaps someday we will not even need a mechanical contraption to get us where we want to go – Star Trek’s “beam me up” facility is always a possibility.

McCullough captured the moments of innovation and creativity and grounded them with realistic sweat and problem-solving to give the Wright brothers their rightful due.  I look forward to someone writing historical fiction about Wilbur’s year in Paris.

Book Club Picks for 2016

imagesA little late – but I noticed other book clubs are just now posting their annual list, so here is our local club’s picks for 2016 with highlighted reviews.  Maybe you ‘ll find a book you haven’t read yet.

  • JanuaryCircling the Sun 
  • February – The Glass Castle
  • March – A Man Called Ove
  • April –   Mystery in Paradise
  • May  –  The Girl on the Train
  • June – Necessary Lies
  • July – The Chaperone
  • August – Our Souls at Night
  • September – The Woman in White
  • October – Fates and Furies

The Washington Wives’ Book Club

Children’s books – “by women named Gingrich, Cheney, and Biden. Could this be an election year?”

Doesn’t take much to have a children’s book published lately – writing talent is not a prerequisite. In Pamela Paul’s article for the New York Times Book Review – The Washington Wives’ Book Club – the list of new bestselling authors married to politicians has exploded. No royalties for these scribners – profits usually go to charities (hopefully not politically connected).  Their reward is a modicum of respectable literacy (until you read the book in some cases).

Famous Americans writing children’s books is not new; Teddy Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge wrote Hero Tales From American History six years before Roosevelt became President. Today, some politicians’ wives consider writing a children’s book a perk of position. Lynne Cheney, when wife of the former vice president, wrote six children’s books, all exploring American history. Unfortunately, they all carried a skewed political view – unlike the classic children’s series by Jean Fritz who added humor to Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin, and other American heroes, without the didactic underpinnings.

Carole Geithner (wife of the current Treasury Secretary), has a new book, and notes “I want people to read the book for the topic (a teenage girl coping with her mother’s death from cancer)… rather than an extension of {my husband’s} persona.” If she were serious about standing on her own, she would use a pseudonym; singer Julie Andrews writes under her less-known married name – Julie Edwards.

Children may be tolerant literary critics, but they are discriminating.   They are grateful to anyone who will sit and read a story; remember President George W. Bush’s reading of “The Pet Goat”?  But for a child to ask for the story to be read again, it better be a good one.

When I taught a course on children’s literature, at least half the students in the class had the dream of writing the next Charlotte’s Web – and often proffered their drafts to me in high hopes of getting published.  But writing good children’s literature is not as easy as it seems.  Regardless of quality, for the politically inclined, getting a byline is easier.

Not everyone can write a good children’s book, but these days anyone can get one published.

Books for the Book Club Discussions

If you are among friends, it’s easy to trust that your impressions of a book will be accepted with grace.  But if you are among new acquaintances whom you only see at the monthly book discussion, you might be more guarded; then, it might be best to focus on issues  – letting only a few personal tangents float in to test the waters.  Although book clubs are not seminars or college English literature classes, knowing something about the author could help steer the conversation.

Books I would have liked to discuss (in no particular order) – with someone who had read them (click on the title to see my review).  Most are fiction, but a few are not:

But it’s too late; I’ve already forgotten what they are about.