Recently, the Century Book Club invited me to attend their monthly meeting. It was one of their members who had recommended The Evil in the White City, by Erik Larsen, for this column March 19.
The discussion brought out other books by Larsen and one that they had read previously, Isaac's Storm, about the deadliest storm of the century that took place at Galveston in Sept. of 1900 and further establish Larsen as a nonfiction writer. The death toll for that disaster was upwards of 10,000 people because it was the nation's cotton port and was known as the ‘Western Ellis Island,' where there was an influx of thousands of immigrants in the second-most-heavily-traversed entry for immigrants, at the turn of the century in America.
Another nonfiction book by Larsen is Lethal Passage, which takes the reader on the path of a semi-automatic Cobra handgun that was used in a school shooting in Virginia by a disturbed teenager. Larsen's book tracks the path of that weapon through the purchase process by the youth and the accumulation of several hundred rounds of ammunition carried in his backpack. The book exposes the gun culture in America and the crisis of guns.
I was delighted to be at their meeting with the intellectual discussion that covered a plethora of information about the book, The Evil in The White City, the history of that time, the politics of getting Chicago chosen to host the 1893 World's Fair, information about the author, inventions that were featured and the psychotic loose on the town. Also, brought into the discussion was the background of the architect, who wanted Chicago to be selected for the World's Fair and drew up elaborate plans for the White City, strung with electric lights. The architect traveled back and forth to Paris, France many times because he wanted the World's Fair in Chicago to top the one held previously in Paris.
The discussion went on to what other cities in the United States held the World's Fair and two came readily to mind; that of Seattle, where the Space Needle was built and Atlanta, where a bomb was set off.
The women who are members of this reading club have met for more than 15 years and have read an estimated 150 books, an average of one book a month read for the book club and then what they read individually aside from that.
The women not only read the book but delved thoroughly into the background of the author and researched personalities referred to in the book, since it is a non-fiction book. Different members offered different aspects, and sometimes opposing viewpoints, which further enhanced and enriched the discussion of the book that they became intrigued with as they read. Additional strands of discussion brought in some of the personalities who went to that World's Fair and The Gilded Age in America, predatory personalities and a discussion of oppositional disorder.
A side discussion centered on books they had read as young people that included Brer Rabbit, The Bobbsy Twins, Nancy Drew, Grimm's Fairy Tales and The Book of Knowledge. Also, there was an interesting discussion of living in a boxcar and were known as Boxcar Children. Their fathers were pushing the railroad through Amarillo at the time and the family lived in two boxcars, which were constantly moved on side-tracks as they were built. That was brought out in the discussion of ‘Worst Hard Times.' It was not the typical vision of boxcars that hobos rode in but fairly well appointed boxcars with furniture, a kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms.
The members included Marilyn Kieke, Joyce Mayes, Leotta Martin, Billie Offield, Sheila McCray, Kathy Dye, June Neal and Bobbie Shafer.
I found the intellectual discussions thoroughly invigorating and borrowed one of the books from a member to read for myself. All the political and historic background convinced me to want to read this book for that content alone and not necessarily for the psychotic murderer who ran rampant through the city, also a real-life event.
Some additional books the members have on their agenda to be read include Forgotten Gardens by Kate Norton, which includes dark fairy tales, a secret garden, a four-year-old foundling, an aristocratic family, love denied and a mystery all intertwined in a whimsical book.
Another book on their agenda is The All-Girls Filling Station Reunion by Fannie Flagg, which brings in the history of the WASPS, Women's Airforce Service Pilots, who were part of a domestic team of pilots that were trained to free-up male pilots to fly in combat during World War II.
The book also includes comedy, mystery, spans decades and generations and incorporates wisdom and charm.
Thank you ladies for inviting me and I hope other book clubs in Breckenridge will contact me and recommend a book they may be reading.
Meanwhile, another book that has come to my attention is The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate, by Robert A. Caro, This is an interesting book about the workings of the U.S. Senate and what that very powerful group is capable of doing and how it is mandated to make it hard to enact legislation and impede and stifle legislation from being passed at all.
Americans certainly have seen the consequences of inaction in the past several years but the former ‘Master of the Senate' demonstrated how to get things done as a representative, Majority leader of the Senate, vice-president and President of the United States.
Because he understood more completely how the legislative process worked, Johnson was able to get a great deal accomplished as president. Unlike what we have been shown the last five years, which is partially obstructed by partisan politics, worse than ever in history. There are creditable quotes from Madison about why they constructed the Constitution the way they did with the lower house as representative of the people but the upper house had a totally different function to impede and slow-down legislation purposely.
I don't think the framers of the Constitution could foresee how their very words and reasoning would be so misconstrued today.
This is an excellent read for those who are baffled about what the writers really said when they wrote the Constitution.
Many of the early writers were Deist and concerned with power being kept by the elite, educated, property owners and to build a fence around that power to keep the majority will in check.
Read it for yourself. Might be enlightening.
Keep reading folks and let me know what your reading at email@example.com. or call Jean Hayworth at 254-559-5412 or come by the office of the Breckenridge American and visit in person.