I’m back with two more book reviews from the Just-for-Me Book Club. For this project, I solicited book recommendations from bloggers and commenters who visit here often. I complied a fabulous list. I am loving reading them!
First up, I read A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas, recommended by Juhli at A Boomer Girl’s Guide. This is the first book in the forthcoming Lady Sherlock series. Arthur Conan Doyle’s first story about Sherlock Holmes is A Study in Scarlet, which I have read – the plots of the two books have no resemblance. A Study in Scarlet Women begins with a few exchanges among society gentlemen. In the midst of this, Charlotte Holmes deliberately destroys her reputation so she is no longer obliged to marry. She is then abandoned to make a living, as she desires. Charlotte’s sister Livia defends her, but is then accused of murder. Charlotte assumes the identity of Sherlock Holmes and starts taking on detective work while trying to clear her sister’s name. The early pages of the book, featuring the male characters, were a bit off-putting. Once Charlotte leaves home and gets established in London, the story becomes involving. My favourite aspect of the book was the extraordinary personalities of the two sisters, and how poorly they fit into the society for which they were raised. Charlotte has a sharp one-track mind, is goal- and task-oriented, is exceedingly direct, and surely not neurotypical. Livia has high-society aspirations but otherwise despises people. The character development in the book was a high point. There is a tiny element of romance in the book, and surprisingly, sparks really fly during these scenes. It turns out the author is best known for her historical romances. But don’t hold that against her – the murder investigation was complex and it kept me guessing to the end. I liked the feminist tone throughout the book. Charlotte and Livia take action, make decisions and are never victims. I think Charlotte is cool and I will keep reading the series to get to know her better.
I saved A Strength to Love to read the week of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Although we don’t officially celebrate in Canada, it is known and noted. A Strength to Love is a collection of sermons written and preached by Dr. King in the ten years before his I Have a Dream speech. I don’t share the Christian faith of Dr. King, and neither does Julie at Lovely Grey Day, who recommended I read it. This didn’t interfere with my reading experience at all (nor hers). I consider myself a person who was “informed” about Martin Luther King, Jr. I knew the timeline of events in his life, and what he stood for. But apart from I Have a Dream, I had never read or listened to his work. I am so glad I remedied that.
First the content. The sermons reveal how King’s faith was carried forward into social action. I could see the development of his scholarship and ideas, and how he used them to challenge his own Black Baptist church tradition, daring it not to be complacent, as well as challenging white churches. He called upon everyone to embrace the true spirit of Christianity, which he defined as brotherhood, inclusiveness, justice and equality, brought about by nonviolent means. He never stated that God would wipe away injustice if faith and belief were strong enough. He said the people must stand up, resist, suffer and persevere. He also believed that winning would not mean vanquishing the enemies, but would mean living together as one society.
Next the style. Dr. King had a good knowledge of philosophy, psychology and sociology as well as theology, and he often cited sources. In many of the sermons, he built a case for his views based on science and reason, and would then say pure knowledge is necessary, but not sufficient. Faith, hope, courage, love and suffering are also required. I was impressed by his ability to get past the notion that all of these qualities are fluffy or “soft-minded” as he would have said; in fact, they call for extreme toughness. The sermons were meant to be delivered and not read on a page, so they use the cadence of spoken language. He especially liked to identify opposites and use repetition: “For the person who hates, the false becomes true and the true becomes false; the evil becomes good and the good becomes evil.” I liked the combination of academic rigor and folksy speech.
Then the criticism. Although MLK often used the term “men and women,” the majority of his sermons used men and mankind in a way that seemed to denote a masculine gender and men’s roles in society. He did use the stories and the work of women in a few examples. There was no recognition of women’s previous efforts (such as women’s suffrage) or ongoing work to achieve equality. (The sermons predate second-wave feminism). There is no doubt that he believed in social justice, and he spoke up for racial and religious tolerance. It is easy to think his beliefs would have eventually led him to speak for the rights of women and the LGBTQ community – as Coretta Scott King certainly did. Throughout his sermons, Dr. King often used the word schizophrenic to mean divided, while otherwise having an appreciation for mental health, so perhaps this is “of his time.” He focuses on suffering, saying the oppressed must be able to bear unlimited suffering and find value in suffering while resisting. In my opinion, there is a fine line in Christianity when it comes to glorifying suffering. The one thing I objected to was his dismissal of humanism as too optimistic and not realistic about sin and evil; and the need for one’s faith/hope/love/courage/suffering to be justified by Jesus. But since he was a Baptist minister, I do not expect him to defend atheism and humanism.
I thought this was a fantastic book. It showed the roots of Dr. King’s ideas, explained his religious faith, and outlined his philosophy of nonviolence. It was optimistic and inspiring. And some of the lines could have been written this week:
“Few people have the toughness of mind to judge critically and to discern the true from the false, the fact from the fiction. Our minds are constantly being invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices and false facts.” – from A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart (sermon), 1959
A Strength to Love is out of print and has been replaced by the expanded edition A Gift of Love.
Since my first Just-for-Me Book Club post, I have added 6 more books! The new additions are:
The Poisonwood Bible – by Barbara Kingsolver / suggested by reader Jamie R.
The Secret History – by Donna Tartt / suggested by reader Margie in Toronto
Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? – by Michael J. Sandel / suggested by Rom
Viola Desmond’s Canada: a History of Blacks and Racial Segregation in the Promised Land – by Graham Reynolds / suggested by a co-worker
So now I have 6 more to look forward to!
What have you been reading this month?