Our main concern was limiting ourselves solely to the writings of Twain and Stowe. First, they would be finite in number (although both authors wrote a prodigious amount). Second, we feared that once the “big titles” -- Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – were discussed, that attendance would drop precipitously. Finally, Stowe and Twain’s interests were incredibly wide and varied taking in social issues, religion, domestic concerns, humor, war, human trafficking, and more. Why not pursue books that would have interested them, as well?
As a result, we decided that we would take a broader view. Both museums agreed that we would pick an initial slate of ten books that would mix Stowe and Twain works with biographies, fiction and non-fiction that look at the Gilded Age, and modern books that would focus on issues relevant to their interests. The challenge would be how to whittle it down to only 10 books with so much ground to cover. Each museum would select 5 books and we would alternate throughout the year. The discussions would alternate between the two properties, as well. Of course, refreshments would be required to keep the participants lively! Thus began the Nook Farm Book Club.
We kicked off the series in February 2010 with Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, as that month marked the 125th anniversary of the controversial masterpiece book being published in the United States. Sixty-five book clubbers showed eager to talk about this landmark Twain novel. We met in the Mark Twain Museum Center classroom in a U-shaped arrangement of chairs. A first edition Huckleberry Finn and other items drawn from our collection made this first meeting quite different than a standard book club.
Having gotten to the two most obvious choices within the first two meetings, we were then prepared to start heading in different directions. The third book selected was Promised Land: Thirteen Books that Changed America. Of course, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn made the list. Having just discussed the books, the conversation allowed us to put them into perspective alongside the other classics considered – from early landmarks Of Plymouth Plantation and The Federalist Papers up through How to Win Friends and Influence People and Dr. Spock’s The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care.
|Illustration from "Pink & White Tyranny"|
At the end of 2010, Stowe and Twain staffs reconvened to examine the success of the first year and plot the second year. The first decision made was to switch from calling the meetings “Nook Farm Book Club” to “Nook Farm Book Talks.” The thought was that calling it a “book club” might preclude the attendance of people who have not actually read the books. By calling the meetings “book talks,” anyone with an interest can attend. For certain, the conversation will be more rewarding if one has read the book, but someone who has not read the book will be able to enjoy the chat and hopefully be inspired to read the book at a later date. The second change was trying to get guest authors and scholars when possible.
So what is coming up for the Nook Farm Book Talks and why did we pick them? Mark your calendar and start reading!
April 7th at Stowe
HALF THE SKY: TURNING OPPRESSION INTO OPPORTUNITY FOR WOMEN WORLDWIDE by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn
This book, which focuses on gender oppression including rape, genital mutilation, and sexual slavery, is the groundbreaking selection for the first-ever Stowe Prize. Not merely a catalog of atrocities, the authors offer a path forward through empowerment, education and investment.
May 5th at Twain
This #1 national bestseller is a remarkable and page-turning distillation of a turning point in America’s history. The excesses of the Gilded Age reach a simultaneous high and low with the creation of the 1893 Columbian World Exposition in Chicago and the arrival of the nation’s most diabolical serial killer.
June 2nd at Stowe
THE MINISTER’S WOOING by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe's domestic comedy is a powerful examination of slavery, Protestant theology, and gender differences in early America. First published in 1859, and set in eighteenth-century Newport, Rhode Island, The Minister's Wooing is a historical novel that satirizes Calvinism, celebrating its intellectual and moral integrity while critiquing its rigid theology.
July 7th at Twain
The esteemed and dynamic leader of the Asylum Hill Congregational Church, Joseph Hopkins Twichell was the perfect and most unlikely best friend for the irascible Mark Twain. MTH&M staffer Steve Courtney will discuss his Connecticut Book Award-winning biography.
September 1st at Stowe
The Swedish author Stieg Larsson tragically died before he saw his trilogy about the brutal adventures of a computer hacker and a dogged journalist turn into a worldwide publishing and movie sensation. This Nook Farm Book Talk focuses on the middle book of the trilogy and its unflinching look at human trafficking in the sex trade.
October 6th at Twain
Twain and his contemporary Henry James are linked as two major figures in the 19th century movement of Literary Realism. October’s meeting takes on James’ spooky classic ghost story of two children who may be inviting evil into their forlorn estate. See if you agree with Twain's assessment of a Henry James novel: "Once you put it down, you simply can't pick it up."
November 3rd at Stowe
The Stowe Center considers the impact of two seminal figures of the Civil War Era: President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. We will examine the text of several significant speeches of these two famous orators and boundary-shattering abolitionists.
December 1st at Twain
The year draws to a close with another little-read Twain classic. Roxy, a slave woman who is 1/16th black, switches her baby boy with the white son of her wealthy master. With only 1/32nd of black blood differentiating them, the two boys grow up in vastly different circumstances. Pudd'nhead Wilson marks a darker turn in Twain's writing and presages his turbulent later works. It also points the way to 2012 and a whole new year of book talks.
Nook Farm Book Talks are free and open to all. Meetings begin at 5 p.m. with a free reception featuring light snacks, wine and soft drinks. The discussion begins at 5:30 p.m. and runs an hour in duration. Book titles are generally available through the Twain and Stowe gift shops, but are also widely available in book stores, libraries and online.
Special thanks to the Connecticut Humanities Council for their support of the Nook Farm Book Talks series.