Reviews of the Week with Julian Bond, Denise Kiernan, Katherine May, and More!

The Review of the Day has always been a brief, early way to spotlight exceptional upcoming titles on Booklist Online. These reviews are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight.

Experiential wisdom, togetherness, and comforting tales mark an eventful week for the titles in this week’s #ReviewsOfTheDay. Booklist wishes you all well.

Monday, November 2

Julian Bond’s Time to Teach: A History of the Southern Civil Rights Movement, by Julian Bond

Civil rights icon Bond (1940–2015) was an activist, author, chairman of the NAACP, Georgia state representative and senator, and sought-after university professor. Hundreds of students from a number of universities (Harvard, Drexel, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and American University) took his courses on the history of the civil rights movement. This book is a compilation of his lectures, reconstructed from his notes, framed within political and social context, and personalized by first-hand anecdotes. His meticulously documented accounts provide day-by-day replays of monumental events, enlivened by contemporary media coverage, interviews, police reports, and even jail-cell chatter. He dispels easy categorizations (such as contrasting Booker T. Washington to W. E. B. Du Bois, or pitting Martin Luther King, Jr., against Malcolm X), and consistently emphasizes the crucial contributions made by women. Later chapters unfold chronologically, paralleling Bond’s growing political influence. It’s easy to understand why these courses would have been popular.

Tuesday, November 3

We Gather Together: A Nation Divided, a President in Turmoil, and a Historic Campaign to Embrace Gratitude and Grace, by Denise Kiernan

Journalist and best-selling author Kiernan (The Last Castle, 2017considers three aspects of the American holiday of Thanksgiving. First, she offers a biography of Sarah Josepha Hale, the prodigiously talented woman who petitioned six presidents before achieving a national day of Thanksgiving in 1863. Then, there’s a history of Thanksgiving itself, from George Washington through a couple of centuries of evolving celebrations (first football game: Princeton v. Yale, 1876; first parade: Gimbel’s, 1920). The third strand addresses giving thanks, as Kiernan recounts the cultural, religious, and secular histories of thanksgiving festivals, including observances by Indigenous peoples and African Americans who feel that their involvement in history has been ignored, marginalized, or appropriated. Kiernan extols the psychological benefits of adopting an attitude of gratitude, and stresses the importance of staying connected during times of division, whether in 1860 or 2020. 

Wednesday, November 4

Spindlefish and Stars, by Christiane M. Andrews

Young Clo is used to the routine of her and her father’s precarious existence: they arrive in a new town, he finds work at a local manor, he pilfers a few unremarkable items from his wealthy employer, and they meet up again and move on. When one day he doesn’t make their rendezvous, the usually calm Clo fears the worst. After an unlikely messenger appears with a smeared letter from her father containing cryptic instructions, Clo sets out after him with everything he’s left her: a cloak-wrapped wheel of cheese, his private notebook, an unexceptional painting, and a ticket for “half passage” to a mysterious destination. As her journey takes her to a curious island of unchanging days, unintelligible ancient inhabitants, and one baffling boy who claims to have been saved from the sea, Clo struggles to unravel the mystery of her own murky origins and plot a way back to her faraway father.

Thursday, November 5

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, by Katherine May

Winter sends animals to hibernation and people to their homes to settle before a fire. But winter, according to May, can come at any season. Hers started in early autumn with her husband’s appendicitis and her own illness. Suddenly her days bring slow-cooked meals and coloring with her son rather than university lectures and frantic writing schedules. As the author draws into herself, she begins to see the healing powers of cold and quiet. Moving through the calendar year, May talks to men and women who have mastered the art of living in the cold. She interviews a Finnish woman whose childhood revolved around months of snow; she discovers a man who tracks wolves to keep them away from flocks and safe from hunters. May attends a St. Lucia festival, visits Stonehenge, swims in frigid water, and crosses the Arctic Circle in search of the northern lights and guidance.

Friday, November 6

A Cat Story, written and illustrated by Ursula Murray Husted

Somewhere, there is a quiet garden where mice are slow and birds are fat, with a door that never latches. After hearing a tale about this mythical place, kitten Cilla becomes determined to find it, regardless of how many cats tell her it’s only a story. Skeptic Betto, who enjoy his life on the docks stealing fish from the fishermen and sleeping under a leaky boat, agrees to accompany Cilla on her quest, and the two set out on an adventure that takes them far from home. Along the way, they meet guides, some speaking in riddles, others adapting zen koans into parables. All the while, the kittens’ thoughts and experiences are illustrated by their movement in and out of famous, real-life works of art from a diverse range of origins. Husted’s drawings are defined and detailed enough to stand up alongside these borrowed masterpieces while still being loose and expressive, ensuring that the cats maintain their cat-ness.

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About the Author:

Michael Ruzicka, Office Manager, was raised in suburban Los Angeles, received a BA in Creative Writing/Poetry at UC Santa Cruz, then moved to Birmingham, AL, where he spent five years owning an independent bookstore and earned an MLIS. He has brought his librarian skills to Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive, Battle Ground Academy, The Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Michael is very excited to be a part of Booklist and call Chicago his home.

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