Friday, September 18, 2009

One Maryland, One Book and the Laurel Historical Society Book Club

This summer I began thinking a about ways to get an in-depth conversation about history and culture (2 important things at the LHS) going with our members and visitors.

One idea I began to play with was to create a book club. Enlisting the help of a friend, I played with the idea for a couple of months and thought about how feasible it really was.

One thing my friend made clear was that we couldn't just read boring history books. (Now I know what she thinks of my personal reading choices.)

We had to make it interesting.

Of course, I made it clear that our readings and discussions had to tie into our mission. (By the way, The mission of the Laurel Historical Society, Incorporated is to encourage the understanding and preservation of the history and cultural heritage of Laurel.) I'm big on doing things that follow our mission and strategic plan--what else is an Executive Director here for if not that??

So she and I worked on thinking of some books that were both interesting and fit out mission.

The first book we read was a series of essays collected by the NPR Series "This I Believe". This series of essays features essays from the 1950s and today in which famous and ordinary people alike discuss what makes them tick--what they really believe. It was a great book and an even better discussion. In the context of our current exhibit (Shake, Rattle 'n' Roll: Laurel in the 1950s) it was quite exciting to be thinking of the differences and similarities between our beliefs then and now.

The book we read this month was "America’s Women:400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines" by Gail Collins. This book was an interesting overview of the ebb and flow of our rights throughout America's history. The discussion we had allowed us to put into context our own lives and where we fall within that ebb and flow. One participant asked an excellent question: "If we had to pick a hero of our time, someone who would make it into this book, who would it be?" That had us all thinking...

Our next book is actually part of a bigger program within the state. We will be reading James McBride's "Song Yet Sung" which is part of the One Maryland, One Book Campaign. Sponsored by the Maryland Humanities Council, this campaign is meant to get everyone in the state reading the same book. Here is what the Maryland Humanities Council Website has to say about it:

Imagine if everyone in Maryland read the same book at the same time...

Reading is often a solitary pursuit. But imagine if everyone in Maryland read the same great book at the same time. What kind of conversations could you have and with whom could you connect or reconnect in your community?

The Maryland Center for the Book, a program of the Maryland Humanities Council, invites you to be a part of Maryland's only statewide community reading program--One Maryland One Book. ( describes James McBride's novel: Escaped slaves, free blacks, slave-catchers and plantation owners weave a tangled web of intrigue and adventure in bestselling memoirist (The Color of Water) McBride's intricately constructed and impressive second novel, set in pre–Civil War Maryland. Liz Spocott, a beautiful young runaway slave, suffers a nasty head wound just before being nabbed by a posse of slave catchers. She falls into a coma, and, when she awakes, she can see the future—from the near-future to Martin Luther King to hip-hop—in her dreams. Liz's visions help her and her fellow slaves escape, but soon there are new dangers on her trail: Patty Cannon and her brutal gang of slave catchers, and a competing slave catcher, nicknamed The Gimp, who has a surprising streak of morality. Liz has some friends, including an older woman who teaches her The Code that guides runaways; a handsome young slave; and a wild inhabitant of the woods and swamps. Kidnappings, gunfights and chases ensue as Liz drifts in and out of her visions, which serve as a thoughtful meditation on the nature of freedom and offer sharp social commentary on contemporary America. McBride hasn't lost his touch: he nails the horrors of slavery as well as he does the power of hope and redemption.(

I am excited about next month's book club meeting (Oct 21) for several reasons:

1) We've had GREAT discussions so far at the other book club meetings.

2) The book looks really interesting. A slave having visions of the future which include hip-hop?

3) We'll be taking part in a larger community reading program. I love thinking that I could be reading the same thing as thousands of other people in the state whom I've never met.

4)And we'll do all of this for about 2 hours while munching on cookies and cider. I can't wait.

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