Notes from Neil – 0321
To those of you who care – Happy March Madness! If watching two or three dozen games over the next few weeks isn’t enough, you can always grab a copy of Tom Hagar’s excellent The Ultimate Book of March Madness to read between tip-offs (tips-off?). If you fall on the normal side of the fence, however, and that would just be way too much basketball, here are a few suggestions of a completely different kind:
Devil in the Grove – Gilbert King. One of the paradoxes of reading is how much you can enjoy the experience of a book even though the subject matter may be repulsive and shameful. Mr. King’s book is a meticulously researched and skillfully written account of the Groveland Boys trial in Florida, shortly after World War II. The story, young black men falsely accused of raping a white woman in the Jim Crow-era South, played out countless times over several decades. What makes this book page-turningly compelling is the size of its heroes and villains.
Young NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall saw this case and a handful of others as opportunities to slowly pick away at the “separate but equal” laws on the books in many states. He and his staff risked their lives on many occasions, in states where the KKK was riding a crest of power and influence. Future Supreme Court Justice Marshall and the men and women who braved the battles with him were true American heroes – driven, daring and passionate. On the other side, I can’t recall in the darkest of fiction a more repellent villain than Sherriff Willis McCall of Lake County, Florida. Both a pawn of the powerful citrus-growers of the era and the standard-bearer of racism to his constituents, there’s no temptation as you read to excuse him as a product of a different time or influenced by his environment. This was a man fully capable of hating anyone not sharing his skin color or beliefs and acting on that hatred without conscience. That he held office until 1972 is a glaring reminder of how slowly change can happen.
A disturbing, yet thrilling read, too true to have a simple happy ending. It would be fair to say we’re still working toward the book’s resolution.
The Art Forger – Barbara Shapiro. Ms. Shapiro takes a true event, the theft of thirteen major works of art from Boston’s Isabella Gardner Museum in 1990, and turns it into a fine left-field mystery novel. You’ll learn more about the world of art forgery, both legal and not, than you ever thought you needed to know; but it’s all part of a compelling romp through the surprise and suspense of a very well told story. It’s pure coincidence that the FBI announced just last week that they had finally indentified the real-life thieves, and were much closer to solving the case after all these years. I can’t help but wonder if Ms. Shapiro’s research for her book played any part.
Breakfast for Dinner – Lindsay Landis & Taylor Hackbarth. I’ve never been one to adhere to the rules of certain-foods-for-certain-times-of-day in the first place. If I want something savory for breakfast or sweet and comforting for dinner, I don’t let the clock make the decision for me. The authors take that idea even further; creating original, unfussy and delicious recipes that bring the ingredients and flavors of breakfast food to the evening meal. The recipe titles alone will give you a great idea of both the author’s playful creativity and why I’ve become so attached to this book – Italian-Style French Toast, Parmesan Beignets, Breakfast Sausage Ravioli, Bacon Fried Rice, Espresso Baked Beans – need I say more?
Thanks for taking the time to read, and I always welcome and appreciate any feedback you may care to offer. Let’s share recommendations – that well never runs dry.
Until next week,