Ships at a Distance Have Every Man’s Wish on Board

I have failed to get my whole community behind a book.  Our efforts are definitely more one library, one read than the alternative.  However, knowing that we are too small to pull this off does not keep us from doing one spring and one fall session called Greendale Reads.

Well, this time around we were able to renew our partnership with the City of Milwaukee Public Library, a great partner for a community wide effort.  It works even better when the City employees do all the work for me.

Dawn Lauber and her cohorts applied for a National Endowment for the Arts grant called The Big Read.  A committee selected the title Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.  I will admit that I was unfamiliar with Hurston other than the fact that we own the Library of America collection of her works. 

The Big Read makes it very easy to feel good about a title.  They provide massive amounts of publicity including posters, reader’s guides and informational CDs.  The graphics are eye popping and make reading look like it is fun.

So, with anticipation, I picked up the book to dive right in.

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”

Why has no one ever told me that Zora Neale Hurston has written one of the greatest opening lines in literary history?

I was hooked from the first words.  Now I will grant that any reader may be challenged by the use of dialect in the novel.  However, if you are swept up in the novel like I was, it becomes like a dance.  There is a rhythm to the dialogue that pulls the reader along, pacing the reader’s heart to the intent of the passages.  

The journey of Janie, both physically and spiritually, is one fine read.  Due to the timing of The Big Read, Greendale’s book discussion was the caboose of the grant, coming home a distant two to three weeks after the end of Milwaukee’s portion.

Although I did none of the work, I would encourage you to apply for a Big Read grant.  It works.  Last night, we had 25 people join Dr. Edwin Block from Marquette University in a discussion of this fine work.  Even more exciting for us was that six of the people who attended were from the City of Milwaukee Riverside High School, studying the book as a part of their coursework.

That is one city, one book enough for me.  

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About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

1 Comment on "Ships at a Distance Have Every Man’s Wish on Board"

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  1. dana.huff@gmail.com' Dana Huff says:

    Their Eyes Were Watching God is full of great lines like that. I love that book; we all owe a debt to Alice Walker for “discovering” Hurston and ensuring that we can all still read her work. She was a gifted writer.

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