Second Saturday Book Group
Our 1st UUPB Second Saturday Book Group traditionally meets six months each year, gathering in a circle in the Sanctuary each second Saturday of November through April from 10:00-12:30— or whenever we finish. Several of us usually extend our fellowship by going out to lunch after our discussions, usually to Brio’s in the Gardens Mall. Both members and friends of 1st UUPB are welcome to these events. Come for one, some, or all.
2019– 2020 Theme: U.S. Legal Rights & Privileges —But Whose?
Date Title & Author First Published # pages
Nov. 9 Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates 2015 176 pages
Dec. 14 There There by Tommy Orange 2018 304 pages
Jan. 11 The Nine by Jeffery Toobin 2007 480 pages
Feb. 8 Beloved by Toni Morrison 1987 321 pages
Mar. 14 The Overstory by Richard Power s 2018 501 pages
Apr. 11 The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood 1985 311 pages
(We “read” our books in a variety of forms these days. I list the number of pages from paperback editions (if available) just to help you judge how long they will take to read. I scheduled our two longest books for months when we have five weeks between meetings.)
Three major events guided our theme and selections this year—one future, two past:
- On November 3, 2020, Presidential Elections will be held which will impact much of our lives—notably our legal system and our ecosystem. And the primary process leading up to that election is now well underway. Much is at stake.
- In August 1619 —400 years ago—the first enslaved Africans were brought to North America, beginning the flawed power structure and legal system that has shaped our country since that day.
- On August 18, 1920— 100 years ago—the Nineteenth Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution was passed, finally granting women the right to vote.
Adding to these major events have been the recent death in August 2019 of Toni Morrison—winner of both the Pulitzer and Noble prizes, the recent announcement of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s new bout with pancreatic cancer, and the horrors of the continuing rainforest fires and destruction around the globe. All of these events should prompt us to think about our nation’s laws, rights, and responsibilities— but whose?
In 1863 at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln spoke about our democracy and the need to ensure “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” However, he didn’t really have in mind ALL the people. Women and minorities certainly didn’t have voting rights. Not even did all white men. And it’s unlikely that anyone thought about the earth itself needing to be protected with rights. So we’ll reflect on these matters in this election year.
Insights into these books and Why I choose them:
- Between the World and Me ~ Author Ta-Nehisi Coates writes this memoir as a letter to his teenage son about the feelings, symbolism, and realities associated with being Black in the United States, offering a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. “Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder.” This memoir was awarded the 2015 National Book Award.
- There There ~ Just as Ta-Nehisi Coates addresses the consequences to our country of the “Middle Passage,” so Tommy Orange looks at some of the results of the “Trail of Tears.” Orange is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma who was born and raised in Oakland, California. This debut novel explores themes of Native peoples living in urban spaces who struggle with identity and authenticity (reminding us of Elizabeth Warren’s journey). Related tales are told through a loosely connected group of Native Americans living in Oakland, Calif., as they travel to a powwow. This novel was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize.
- The Nine ~ The subtitle of this non-fiction book by legal analyst Jeffery Toobin is “Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court.” The membership of our Supreme Court will likely change during the next administration, and consequently some laws themselves with likely change. While this book was first published 12 years ago, it still is a great read and provides excellent background on how our legal traditions and laws evolved to where we are today, including a look at the birth of the Federalist Society. The book spent four months on the New York Times bestseller list. Our group read this ten years ago when it was first published; however, few of our current participants were involved then, and those of us who were need a refresher on this very important subject!
- Beloved ~ All of Toni Morrison’s 11 novels are excellent, but reading her 1988 Pulitzer winner Beloved seems an appropriate tribute, especially because it addresses the emotional impairment of enslavement, and because Morrison dedicated it to the “Sixty Million and more,” referring to the Africans and their descendants who died as a result of the legal Atlantic slave trade. Set after the American Civil War, it is inspired by the story of an African-American slave, Margaret Garner, who escaped slavery in Kentucky late January 1856 by fleeing to Ohio, a free state.
- The Overstory ~ This winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, explores the effects of climate change and humans’ impact on the Earth. This novel follows nine Americans whose unique life experiences with trees bring them together to address the destruction of forests. Powers’s message conveys that the laws of nature are ultimately more powerful than the laws of people. This 502 page book is an important read, and you’ll want to plan your reading time carefully.
- The Handmaid’s Tale ~ In the classic dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, those hard-won rights to vote that women won with the 19th Amendment in 1920, along with most of their other rights, disappear overnight. This is set in the not-too-distant future when our U.S. government is deposed and taken over by the totalitarian Republic of Gilead, headed by white males, which misuses Biblical laws in order to achieve their own ends and privileges. This 1985 novel has been adapted into a 1990 film, a 2000 opera, and beginning in 2017 a television series. Now in September 2019, Atwood’s sequel novel, The Testaments, has been released. However, since several in our group have never read this first award-winning one, and since laws in the U.S. governing women’s rights over their own bodies are becoming increasingly more restrictive, this seemed the perfect book to honor the centennial of that amendment.
“A people’s literature is the great textbook for real knowledge of them. The writings of the day show the quality of the people as no historical reconstruction can.” Edith Hamilton