Here are a few more Midwest-related books that, although they deal with pretty serious subjects, I've enjoyed reading recently:
Washed Away: How the Great Flood of 1913, America's Most Widespread Natural Disaster, Terrorized a Nation and Changed it Forever by Geoff Williams-So, this isn't the most cheerful holiday reading, but this book certainly contained all sorts of fascinating stories about a flood I've seen mentioned from time to time as I've traveled around the Midwest. A series of tornados (particularly centered in Omaha, Nebraska) and floods spreading out across the Midwest with Dayton, Ohio as the flooding epicenter was one of the country's most far-flung natural disasters up until that time. We've often seen evidence of the 1913 floods (most recently in a flood gauge painted on the wall of mill near a canal in one of the Toledo Metroparks in northern Ohio), but it was still shocking to hear about how many people were trapped by the floodwaters or how many people lost their lives to the floods.
The failures to deal with the natural disasters at this time led to the wide-spread adoption of the city manager form of local government and the rise of disaster preparedness policies for years to come.
The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin-Blizards blasting across the northern prairie states with little or no warning on January 12, 1888 led to a series of tragedies that took the lives of hundreds of school children as they struggled to find their way home from school as the storms struck. The day dawned sunny and mild, but violent winds and storms struck at the time when many school children in places like the Dakotas, Nebraska and Minnesota were heading home at the end of their school day. Stories of children and others who literally froze in their tracks or lost limbs or died from frostbite suffered during the storm are balanced by still more stories of the heroic young teachers (many of them female) who survived the storms as they saved many of their young charges. It is interesting to see what significant changes and improvements in the state of the then-primitive weather forecasting and reporting followed the storms.
Kansas City Lightening: The Rise and Times of Charley Parker by Stanley Crouch-This one is about a different type of storm as it details the early and turbulent life of noted jazz saxophonist and composer Charley Parker. Crouch apparently conceives this biography as a two-book set and started seriously researching Parker's life and music more than 30 years ago. Crouch sets the scene of Parker's early life in an almost Impressionistic way, drawing his story across the broad brush strokes of the pre-World War II culture, politics, racism and music of the time starting with Parker's childhood in the 1920s and through the 1930s as Parker became a pursued his music with a single-minded passion. Drugs took over Parker's life early on, and the book only covers his life through 1940, when he returned from New York City to attend the funeral of his father. Crouch leaves the rest of the story of Parker's life through his 1955 death for another, and while he hints at some of the problems that derailed Parker's life, he doesn't come to a definitive answer about the real roots of Parker's problems. Crouch opts instead for what seems like more of a personal tour through an earlier era, setting up the reader for a tour that will cover the inevitable fall after the Rise of Charlie Parker.
Ida: A Sword Among Lions by Paula J. Giddings-I waited for a while before tacking this book because, at 600-plus pages and its focus on Ida B. Wells' anti-lynching work in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it is definitely not a light read. The subject of Wells' life work and her exile to Chicago from her Mississippi and Memphis homes for expressing her anti-lynching views make for difficult reading. Wells experienced push-back, not only because she was a woman, but because she was a woman of color in a time when neither one of those attributes conferred much power or respect in our society or culture. Orphaned as a teenager and struggling to keep the rest of her younger siblings together, she managed to establish herself as a teacher and an activist/journalist against tough odds. Wells' perseverance makes for some inspiring reading, even as the story infuriates and aggravates the reader at times with its unflinching look at the life and society of that era.
What are your favorite books by Midwestern authors or about the Midwest?
© Dominique King 2014 All rights reserved