James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird was the focus of the most recent Brown Baggers discussion. As always, we kicked off the discussion with a short overview of the author’s life and works. Although this is McBride’s first novel, he is a prolific journalist. Many group members had previously read his autobiography, The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, published almost twenty years prior.
One aspect that many group members noticed was the humorous quality of the writing. One of our favorite quotes came from Onion, the novel’s protagonist and narrator, describing John Brown: “Whatever he believed, he believed. It didn’t matter to him whether it was really true or not. He just changed the truth till it fit him. He was a real white man.” However, many group members found it striking — and not necessarily in a positive way — that the book took such a gruesome turn in the end. The serious tone of the language was slightly surprising for such a comical novel as a whole.
The Brown Baggers also wove in insights from previous selections we’ve read. One group member pondered if the author’s similarity to Mark Twain, while others felt any likenesses were superficial. We also thought that John Brown bore an uncanny resemblance to Captain Ahab from Moby Dick in some ways. Both men were intensely fixed on one aim, to the point of maniacal fanaticism.
Wondering about December’s selection? Every December, the Brown Baggers gather around to choose the upcoming year’s books. Come join us on December 18 at noon for a spirited debate over which titles to choose. Feel free to bring a treat to share or just a reading suggestion! Check the JMRL wiki to see what we’ve read in the past.
If you want to get started on January’s (rather lengthy) pick, we’ll be reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and meeting to discuss on January 15.
Official website of James McBride
National Book Award acceptance speech
The New York Times review of The Good Lord Bird
I just read your Good Lord Bird blog post. Well done, as always. It is interesting that so many of the book club members have been in the group for several years and have a pool of common books read. I suppose we will be doing lots more comparisons of current and past books. Actually I like thinking about the similarities among book plots, characters, etc. after these are discussed at club meetings. It is fun to revisit our past discussion.