“A Voyage Long and Strange” by Tony Horwitz was one of the first books I chose from this year’s Notable Books List.
Horwitz takes a personal journey through the parts of North America where Europeans made contact between the landing of Columbus in 1492 and the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620. His inspiration was a trip to Plymouth rock where he overheard conversations among the visitors, most of them indicating basic ignorance of the historical facts. Many referred to the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria landing there.
Horwitz tells his story of exploring the journeys of the Europeans who discovered, made conquests, and finally, settled in America. Along the way, he comments on restaurants, amusement sites, and the overall popular culture of each area he visits.
I learned a lot from this story, and found two points reinforced. One is that while I consider myself reasonably informed, there’s plenty for me to learn about the history of the United States. Another is a theme that is repeated in another Notable Book, “The Hemingses of Monticello,” that is, a place’s accepted history typically excludes crucial aspects.
I’d recommend “A Voyage Long and Strange” to people who enjoy history, or who savor travel books, especially when those are told by a quirky but curious author.
Beginning in the early 1990s, I began an annual project of reading most of the books on the American Library Association Notable Books List.
It all started when I was the supervisor of South Branch Library. Lois, a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church, bopped in to return some books. As we chatted, she mentioned that she organized a “Booklovers” group at the church. They used to have an annual presentation on the ALA Notable Books list, but the previous presenter no longer lived in Lincoln. Lois wondered if I’d be willing to do that.
And I did. I’ve been doing so ever since, even though “Booklovers” is now a thing of the past.
Each year, I read all of most of the 25 or so books on the list, and read at last some of all of them. Since I do this reading on my own time, I give myself permission not to finish the ones that just don’t grab me. I do give all books at least two tries.
I encourage people to take on a discipline like this, whether the Pulitzer Prize winners, the National Book Awards winners, the Newbery books for youth, or whatever. It has certainly gotten me out of my reading groove (which is sometimes a rut) and reading some fabulous books that I’d not know about otherwise. I’m also reading much more nonfiction as a result, another Good Thing.
As I read each book on the 2009 list, I’ll keep you posted.