Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review: The Hemingses of Monticello - January Book Club

The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed was our January book club pick.  This was actually my "pick"* and it had been sitting on my bookshelf for ages.  I didn't realize when I made it one of my suggestions though that we were talking about 650+ pages of small print in the hardcover version!

This was an interesting book, but really, about twice as long as I think it needed to be.  Tons (and I mean TONS) of details about a unique family that we often don't hear about, the Hemingses are fascinating, with their long and intricate ties to Thomas Jefferson.  While this was interesting, it wasn't at all what I expected.  I expected more of a straight biography of the family, which in some respects it was, but it was also almost a treatise or textbook on slavery during the time frame as well.  There was almost just too much information to make it a truly riveting book.  Even I, speed reader and avid reader I am, had to break the book up and read in short sections to get through it.

I'm the only one who finished it for the meeting, but a majority of the folks do audiobooks,and this was not a good choice for them.  Too long on audio, and the subject and format of the book would make it very hard to listen to for very long.  All that being said, I'm glad I read it.  I keep saying it, but it's the best descriptor I can come up with -- it really is interesting.  It's a book far outside my normal zone of reading, it won or was nominated for tons of awards, and it does make you think about people and times and situations that you wouldn't otherwise have reason to focus on.

If you are interested in history, slavery, Thomas Jefferson or biographies of interesting people/families, then you'll enjoy this.  My recommendation though is to give yourself lots of time to make your way through it.

*  The way our club picks books is that each month, one person is responsible for giving 4-5 book suggestions.  The only real rules are that it needs to be something not brand new (i.e. available in paperback) and not straight romance (which gets me out of my comfort zone!).  After we get the suggestions, we vote as a group to pick one which becomes the choice for whatever month we're looking at, usually 3 or 4 months ahead.  When I did mine (back in August or September I think) I picked books off my shelves that I'd been wanting to read but hadn't gotten to for whatever reason.  This was one of them!

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