Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Most Shocking Thing About the Pilgrims

Here is my attempt at a Kirkus-style review -- of the work that my bookclub is discussing next week ...

Philbrick, Nathaniel
Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War
Penguin (463 pp.)
ISBN: 978-0-14-311197-9 (pbk.)

Nathaniel Philbrick previously garnered respect for his New York Times bestseller In the Heart of the Sea, winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction in 2000, and Sea of Glory: The Epic South Seas Expedition, 1838–1842. Now, the author further cements his reputation with this eye-opening look at the Pilgrims’ settling on Cape Cod and their unfolding relationship with the Native Americans.

Philbrick the narrator gives neither a Hallmark-like view of the Pilgrims nor a modern picture of evil Europeans abusing an innocent native population. Instead, he shares the findings from his meticulous research with us and let’s us decide. The book features the kind of dense, historical narrative that readers of nonfiction love. Philbrick depicts all of his real-life characters as fully human with varying degrees of good and bad in them. He also doesn’t take sides, as the evidence seems to indicate that both the Pilgrims and the Native Americans showed kindness to, and committed atrocities against, one another.

Amidst all of the fascinating and shocking details in the Mayflower is the revelation that in 1675, after living together in peace for over 50 years, the Native Americans and the English went to war with each other. King Philip’s War, named for a sachem known as “King Philip,” claimed 5,000 lives, which was approximately seven percent of the population of New England at the time. Philbrick writes in his preface, “In terms of percentage of population killed, King Philip’s War was more than twice as bloody as the American Civil War and at least seven times more lethal than the American Revolution.” Yet few people seem to know about this conflict. Philbrick himself told Publisher’s Weekly (April 24, 2006) that he was surprised about what he found out while doing his research. Mayflower has much to contribute to the annals of history, but if it makes a lasting impression on us, it will be in raising our awareness of King Philip’s War.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Me and My Reading World

About Me
Emily Hunteman, a 34-year-old single gal who grew up on a quasi-farm one hour west of Indianapolis, got a bachelor’s in English literature from DePauw University, and has worked for nearly 10 years (nonconsecutive) as a writer/editor at Purdue University. (Picture the array of colorful brochures that prospective college students receive in the mail from universities. Some of those are written/edited by me!)

My Reading World
Genres that I most enjoy reading:

· Nonfiction

I’m a sucker for quirky nonfiction titles focused on someone doing some “crazy” experiment like trying to read the encyclopedia all the way through or trying to eat only food that came from within 50 miles of home. Or like The Pluto Files, which focuses on the history of Pluto and the giant uproar in the United States generated from its demotion from planet status. I read about it on a blog and thought it sounded hilarious. As for more serious (meaning nonhumorous) nonfiction, I enjoy American and European history works -- especially when they have a strong narrative – and biographies/autobiographies of famous singers, chefs, and other people I find interesting. My favorite is probably Girl Singer by Rosemary Clooney.

· Graphic novels

I’m ga ga for this genre and have felt that way ever since I first heard about graphic novels. My favorites of the few I’ve read so far are American Born Chinese, Persepolis, French Milk, and To Dance: A Memoir. I think the use of both text and pictures to tell a story really heightens the clarity of a work. And among other benefits, the genre somehow enables and catalyzes discussion about serious topics such as ethnic/cultural differences.

· Christian spirituality books

I like reading true stories about people’s relationships with God and their efforts to reach out to people. Good examples are Blue Like Jazz and Traveling Mercies.

· Classic works of fiction, especially those that would be called chick lit if written today.

I don’t want to over generalize, but it seems that most women love a good love story, and I am one of those women. So books like Persuasion and Jane Eyre have a “Calgon, take me away” type effect on me. I also like clever revisions of classic stories, like Bridget Jones’s Diary.

· Food books

I love to cook and to read about food. Thus, I have a subscription to Bon Appetit and a small bookshelf full of cookbooks, plus a handful of food narratives that I’ve fallen in love with, ranging from Cooking for Mr. Latte (a light love story told through food) to The United States of Arugula, a richly detailed history of the rise of gourmet food in America since World War II.