I have read all of the four books selected or under consideration for the three local let’s-read-a-book-together programs. Not only that I’ve met three of the authors and I go a long ways back with two of them. In fact, I’ve written here about two of them and their authors. (just establishing my credentials).
My SILS collegue David Carr will be leading the discussion of Tracy Kidder’s book about Paul Framer, “Mountains Beyond Mountains” in Carrboro.
UNC is deciding between Tim Tyson’s “Blood Done Sign My Name” and Kidder’s “Mountains” with Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi” still in the running.
The rumor or more than a rumor is that Chapel Hill will mount a let’s-read-a-book program with Bland Simpson’s “Ghost Ship of Diamond Shoals: The Mystery of the Carroll A. Deering.”
I wrote about Kidder and Farmer’s visit here to Chapel Hill to boost a fund raiser for Partners In Health and have several posts about Tim Tyson, my connections to him and others in his book and the national NPR story on the book.
I would have trouble ranking the books, but as far as social consequence of their discussions there is no doubt that “Blood” and “Mountains” are the more important.
“Pi” is a fine literary novel that I would recommend to anyone, but not particularly for a community book that would encourage a community to confront their local unresolved issues.
“Ghost Ship” is an interesting bit of North Carolina history retold as a nonfiction novel. Whatever social and community circumstances surround the mystery are largely unexplored. If the book were paired with David Cecelski’s “The Waterman’s Song: Slavery and Freedom in Maritime North Carolina,” we’d get a better understanding of the people, the history and the life of the coast of NC. I did greatly enjoy reading both books while on Ocracoke Island in sight of the lighthouse there.
[more after a break -- poor UNC just defeated by Wake Forest]
The shared problem and shared project of this area is the problem of facing up to our shared histories. “Mountains” uses the tales of a single man and his struggles to bring light on the history and consequences of our relationship with our sister revolutionary democracy Haiti. Though Haiti can be avoided by exoticising it, by saying it’s over there across the water. Farmer would not allow that. His own book, Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor, is strong and clear analysis of interactions of health, human rights and geopolitics. A discussion of “Mountains” can not avoid grappling with the questions that Framer makes it the business of his life to constantly reencounter. He wants us to know that mysterious Haiti is not a mystery but a part of our own doing across history.
Tyson’s book addresses many of the same questions as does Kidder’s book on Farmer. His book however is close to home. In fact not far from Chapel Hill. Not in the far distant past, but in the recent past. In 1970. Tyson tells the story of a murder that is not a mystery. As in Farmer, the “mystery” is our history and our collective doing and our decision to ignore and disown our deeds.