The moon is right
The spirit’s up
We’re here tonight
And that’s enough
Simply having a wonderful Christmas time……

…..with an unputdownable book.


I’m bewitched (and totally oblivious to my holiday to-do-list) by James McBride’s story of the Bible-thumping John Brown.  You remember him, the white American abolitionist who in 1859 ~ along with 19 others ~ attacked the largest arsenal of weapons in America, ultimately prompting the Civil War by terrorizing the South and galvanizing abolitionists in the North.

“That’s the thing about the Old Man back in them days.  If he done a thing, it got whipped up into a heap of lies five minutes past breakfast.”

John Brown was a Calvinist northerner/failed businessman born in my hometown who dedicated his life to ending slavery. Was he a crazy zealot or a martyr for a just cause? The Good Lord Bird weaves a tale liberally peppered with irreverent historical characters, outrageous language and laugh-out-loud moments. That’s right, you’ll guffaw over John Brown.  

“We have to find ways to talk about our history that doesn’t punch people in the teeth,” says McBride.

It’s risky business, writing such a mischievous revision. This is one historical romp that stars a gender-bending male slave as the great abolitionist’s sidekick. What a read.

Get yourself a “Good Lord” moment here. (Scroll down the page for an excerpt.)

McBride’s joy in language is cosmic. There’s plenty of gristle and rotgut and barking and hollering to the Lord. I like a novel that comes in through the back door of history, one that tells me something I might not know by putting me in the heat of the action.

A daring writer as well as a composer and jazz saxophonist, McBride wows me.

The Good Lord Bird Band ~ have a listen.

The Good Lord Bird?  No spoilers here.

In McBride’s novel-as-memoir, some of it is true but not real and some of it is real but not true.  It’s an inspired mix of humor, history, and great storytelling. It wasn’t exactly what I expected when I cracked open my iPad because when I think of slavery and the life of John Brown, the last thing I think about is laughter. 

The National Book Awards sure got it right. Toni 12/20/13

Here’s a link to John Brown’s Birthplace in Torrington, CT ~


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