Cobwebs and Dust Bunnies

Hibernation By Hillary Lutter

By Hillary Lutter
As I write this, the snow falls and the temperature drops. It’s been dark for hours and it’s still hours to bedtime. In my house this time of year is called hibernation. These are the evenings that are way too long — the nights we spend way too much time surfing the internet, eye-guzzling TV series and reading books.
It occurred to me the other day that I had actually gotten through a stack of books — good books — and not taken the time to write about even one of them. So here I’ll try to play a little catch up.
“Go Set a Watchman”
By Harper Lee
My mother and I argued about who would write a better review of this book and somehow I got the vote (pretty sure she just didn’t want to do it). I wish I had written this sooner, when it was still fresh in my memory, but I’ll do my best. (I have no doubt Wanda would have done a better job.)
“Go Set a Watchman” has gotten quite a bit of attention in the bookworm world, since it was written by the author of an undisputed American classic. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is still one of my all-time favorite books — thank you, Cindy Larson for making your classes read it. I was excited to see this book had been released as, on a whim, I had just reread “Mockingbird.”
“Watchman” was actually written before “Mockingbird” but is its sequel. According to online sources, when Lee brought “Watchman” to the publisher, she was told the story didn’t quite have “It” and they suggested she instead divulge the reader with the earlier story that is referred to in flashbacks throughout this book.
So “Watchman” takes place as Jean Louise Finch (Scout) returns home to Maycomb in her mid-20s. Older brother Jem has passed away. Atticus is still considered a leader of Maycomb and is now also a member of the state legislature. He still practices law, but his health is beginning to fail.
The novel, written in the 1950s, is set in Alabama during those very tumultuous times. Though the story eludes to these issues, they are not at the forefront for most of the book. We read along nearly oblivious, yet always on the edge of some big “Ah ha” moment, just like Jean Louise. The reader’s — and the naïve Scout’s — assumption is that amid the evils of the outside world, the world of Atticus is an oasis of impartiality.
This book has received some flack for Lee’s portrayal of Atticus as a white supremacist. I, however, challenge readers to look from another angle, past the ideas of the day in which it was written and is set. The main theme of this book, as I read it, is less the issue of race, and more that of states’ rights. These issues are as significant now, 60-some years later, as they were then. Racial prejudice is tackled in this novel, as in its prequel, but more so are the issues of states’ rights, federal government overreach and individual liberties.
Atticus, ever-loyal to the letter of the law, clashes with his young, Southern-Tomboy-turned-Yankee daughter, and Jean Louise learns a lesson critical to becoming an adult: Parents are just humans.
“The Invention of Wings”
By Sue Monk Kidd
Sue Monk Kidd is mostly known for her bestseller, “The Secret Life of Bees.” After reading “Wings,” that is one I definitely need to get my hands on. I am, as a rule, drawn to historical novels from any era, so if you like storytelling history, whether true or based in truth, this is a good choice.
“Wings” is set in the slavery-laden South of the early nineteenth century and begins on Sarah Grimke’s 11th birthday. Sarah is the daughter of a proper Southern homemaker and a judge, and as was sometimes the custom, on her 11th birthday she is gifted a slave girl: 10-year-old Hetty “Handful” Grimke.
Handful is the daughter of an accomplished seamstress and slave, and is given the power of hope by her headstrong mother. Sarah is not your average Southern belle. From early on, she is upset by the injustices of slavery and by the restrictions placed on her by society and her family.
Both girls, enslaved in their own capacities, share a thirst for knowledge and freedom. Handful is prohibited from any sort of schooling, but shows interest in the books Sarah takes from her father’s library and pours over each day. In an act of defiance, Sarah, in secret, teaches Handful to read, which gives each their first taste of real liberty.
Over the years, the two become unlikely friends, though as they grow up, their differing stations in society build a wall of guilt and imbalance between them.
Sarah suffers from a severe stutter — acquired the day she witnessed the beating of a slave in her family’s yard — which is partially the cause of her inability to find a husband before she reaches the status of “old maid” and is considered a lost cause. So eventually, rather than stay on with her stifling mother and authoritative father, Sarah leaves Charleston and Handful to ultimately join a colony of Quakers, who, as part of their beliefs, strongly oppose slavery.
Handful’s trials only intensify in Sarah’s absence, as she deals with her mother’s disappearance and becomes physically crippled by a shocking punishment. Meanwhile, Sarah, joined by younger sister Angelina, learns how to overcome her stutter by speaking out against slavery. The pair become well-known abolitionists and women’s rights advocates.
Guilt percolates in Sarah, despite her positive work, as she thinks of Handful and how she left her behind in Charleston.
“The Invention of Wings” is based on the true story of Sarah and Angelina Grimke, but the author did take many liberties with the story, in some cases to add interest, and in others to fill in blank spaces with what “might” have been.
The Author’s Note at the end is something I usually skim for a couple paragraphs and then stop reading, but Kidd’s final notes actually add a great deal to this story. She explains how and why she became interested in the story and decided to write about it, and provides notes on which parts are truth and which are fiction.

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