The orchestra was warming up in some distant pit, the crowd murmuring as they found their seats, nodding and waving to friends across the aisle. This was the holiday event of the season, the one everyone talked about and speculated on and waited for. This was the Men’s Book Group Book of the Year!
OK, it wasn’t quite that dramatic. There was small crowd at The Rivers, and none of them were paying attention to us. Well, one guy did, but he wanted to know if we were going to use the whole big table, or could he use the other end.
There were six of us at Thursday’s meeting, and for the second month in a row we had two new people join us for the discussion. Welcome Scott and George! (Though George did say he was moving to Arizona next month. No word on whether that had anything to do with his first experience with the group.) Though they had not read any of the books we were about to discuss (George had read Shadow Divers), they were keenly interested in the discussion that was about to unfold.
We were a little slow getting started. I, for one, felt the weight of responsibility that we were about to wield––the making or breaking of some hopeful author with our weighty deliberation and selection. I went down the list of books we had read over the past 12 months––eight in all. Then we went around the table, and everyone threw out their contenders. That discussion eliminated two from the pack. However, we agreed that Peter Geye’s Safe From the Sea, while not a contender, deserved to be in the “Good Book” category. With six titles left in the running, the scrutiny and the high-minded thinking kicked into gear. They don’t call us the “Smarty Pants Group” for nothing.
“OK, now let me have your top 2, in order of priority,” Ted said.
Angelo went first, confidently casting his votes for The Warmth of Other Suns and Shadow Divers.
Irv was clearly conflicted. “Shadow Divers is my second choice, but I’m torn between Beast in the Garden and The Warmth of Other Suns for number one,” he said.
Then he hit upon a wonderful tie-breaker. “I couldn’t put down Beast in the Garden or Shadow Divers,” he began slowly, “And Warmth of Other Suns was definitely more difficult to read (for its context, not the way it was written), but it is a more important book. That is the one I think everyone should read. So I’m going to say Warmth of Other Suns for my first pick, and I’m going to split my second place vote between Beast in the Garden and Shadow Divers.”
We all sat there looking at him, awe-struck. Such brilliant logic, such an eloquent decision. If we weren’t guys, we might have wiped discrete little tears from our eyes and touched Irv’s arm knowingly. But we are guys, so we didn’t do that. In fact, no one probably even thought of it. We just nodded our heads, sipped our beers, Ted wrote it down, and we looked at Adrian to go next.
Adrian agreed with Irv that The Warmth of Other Suns is an important book, so he too made it his first pick and Beast in the Garden his second choice.
It came down to Ted, who first shared Jack's choice with the group, which Jack had emailed to Ted earlier. He, too, had liked Beast in the Garden, but his highest praise went to The Warmth of Other Suns. “I agree with that,” said Ted, casting his vote for The Warmth of Other Suns and Rez Life as his runner-up.
Now, the non-existent crowd was buzzing (well, in my head they were buzzing...or maybe a phone was ringing). Anyway, people were tallying up the scores in their heads, trying to anticipate the formal announcement. Ted was feverishly doing the same. But it didn’t take that much work. The choice was very clear. The Men’s Book Group 2013 Book of the Year is Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns!
The closest runners-up were The Beast in the Garden and Shadow Divers, but even they were a full six-and-a-half points behind Warmth.
In addition to the importance of the book, Angelo added that part of what made the book so good was its historical interest and the fact that it was so well-written. “She does a great job of weaving the stories of three separate people’s experiences,” he said.
Irv mentioned that there was something about the Great Migration on a PBS special, which can be watched online. I looked for this, and found an excerpt about the Migration from an episode of "The American Experience."
The Great Migration: From Mississippi to Chicago (clip from “The American Experience: The Murder of Emmett Till”)
Adrian said that Isabel Wilkerson was interviewed on the Wisconsin Public Radio program “To The Best of Our Knowledge.” That I was able to find easily–– http://www.ttbook.org/book/isabel-wilkerson-warmth-other-suns.
Having made our choice, the group sat back and basked in the glow of another year well-read. Conversation shifted from books to snow and skiing and bears still wandering about the nearly winter-woods. George told us about going to Arizona for the winter, but that he would be back and would join us again when the weather here turned more agreeable. We gave him an assignment to prepare book reports about next year’s selections and send those to us. We’re sure he will comply.
Our next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, 16 January 2014, 6:30. We will discuss Stephen King’s 11/22/63….unless we can’t make it through the book in time (it’s just one page shy of 850). But Bill Bauer and new-guy Scott suggested that it may be pretty easy reading. We’ll see.
Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Book!