Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

A lucky dozen met for this month's book club at the library and ten of those dozen loved the book.  Many of us commented we loved the historical information about Chicago's World Fair in 1893 and all the research that went into the book.  We enjoyed reading about Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair's construction and others that worked with him.  We didn't so much like the part of the murders of  H. H. Holmes, but liked the contrast of the good and evil, and the facts of Holmes' life.  We really marveled at the research Erik Larson had done for this book, noting that he was a reporter and a good investigator.  We are looking forward to this coming out in a movie with Leonardo DiCarprio playing the "serial killer."

Someone said it read like a novel and I think many of us would agree with that.  Although some parts were very dark, it was interesting to contemplate how far we have come.  Women disappeared off the face of the earth, at that time, and no one questioned it.  People believed what others said without checking it.

We loved the World's Fair facts and what came out of the fair:  AC current, Cracker Jax, Shredded Wheat, Juicy Fruit, Dishwasher, Spray paint, Papst Blue Ribbon and the Pledge of Allegiance and Columbus Day, something that still affects all Americans.  We loved the Midway and Side Show that came from this and that the Ferris Wheel was first introduced here.

The Gilded Age was the late 19th century, filled with greed, guile, corruption in modern America, was someone's comment.  Personally, I would love to be in that time period with all the changes.  But it was a dirty time, with lots of coal heating the area, steam engines, dust from horses and chimneys in homes.  The White City, the Worlds Fair had buildings in white, it was clean where outside the Fair, that wasn't the case.  It was also illuminated with lights unlike again, outside the fair.  Disney's father, Elias Disney, may have influenced his son's future thoughts & plans that we still enjoy to this day.

We noted there were many dignitaries that visited the Fair.  The fact that Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley was an interesting part of history.  The fair was exhibition of extravagance, the biggest, the brightest, the gloriest both from the architects standpoint and from the venues for experimentation.  It even had an influence on better working conditions and better wages, even the creation of unions.

That Holmes arrived in Chicago for this Fair and built his "castle" with all its deviant rooms was horrible.  In the book, we read that Mudgett (Holmes given name) "claimed to have gone to Chicago in Nov 1985 and there to have acquired his "portion" of bodies (for medical research).  Unable to find a job, he placed his portion in storage and left for Minneapolis until May, 1986, when he left for New York."  When I read that I wondered what he may have done while in Minnesota.  He did travel quite a bit and did he leave behind any other murders?

Looking on a map of Chicago, you can see the Museum of Science and Industry, which was housed in the former Palace of Fine Arts from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition (World's Fair) and view Jackson Park along the shores of Lake Michigan.  You can also see 63rd Street from Englewood, which is where Holmes had his hotel.  They were interconnected, forever with their place in history:  The World's Fair and H.H. Holmes.  It is fitting that Erik Larson wrote a book about both.

To learn more about the World's Fair click HERE

Monday, September 9, 2013

Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis was our August Book.  When we start our discussion, we share our name and whether we like the book or not.  This book was pretty split in opinion of "liked" and "not sure."  One person was in the "did not like" category.  Someone shared that Hattie wanted hope and in this book, they didn't see much hope.  Another said, "Hattie survived, that was the hope."  We need to remember the good times.  Someone stated  "It was like reading short stories," about each of the 'tribes.'  "Excellent writing, grabbed me instantly.  It propelled me forward to see if something good happens."  "Didn't think I'd like it, it was depressing, but liked how written.  Don't know why it had such dysfunctional lives."

Our leader had a handout that shared the timeline of the twelve tribes (Hattie's eleven children and her granddaughter).  She asked our favorite character and why.  I think most of us liked Hattie, and a comment was she did the very best she could with not a lot to go on.  She was building emotional protection around herself after losing her twins.  She tried to meet her children's physical needs.  She went on the "dole," didn't want to, but she didn't want her kids to go hungry.  She developed a softness to be sympathetic, which she did at the end with her granddaughter.  She wasn't when her own children were young.  Floyd, when he encountered problems, called Hattie for comfort and peace.  We didn't see that with the other children.  Did she do this so that she felt she was preparing them for the world because the world won't love you.  Someone said they couldn't hate her, she had so much disappointment in her life.

In the beginning of the book, we noted that August stroked the fire before he went to work, so he tried to be a good husband at first.  Maybe life was too painful for him.  When Hattie leaves, August tries to do right.  Didn't she know he was heartbroken, too?  He was good with the children, gave hugs.  We felt the affairs didn't mean much, that he never felt like leaving.  She had, though.  We liked, at the end, that he found the Lord.

We talked a bit about some of their children.  We felt that there was a lot of dysfunction in the children and mental illness.  We talked about migration, broken up families, disconnection.  At the end of the book, Hattie had her house that she had tried so hard to get and would share it with her granddaughter.

 Click HERE for the Amazon link for the book.