Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Better Late than Never

Has this happened to you?  You see a book that looks interesting at the bookstore, read the covers, and put it down because you think, not quite what I am looking for.  You see that book many times over the years, right at the top of the pile: you note positive reviews, it's place on the best seller lists and its general omnipresence everywhere, but still you decide not to pick it up.  You finally buy a copy at a used book sale for 50 cents, thinking, maybe someday I will read it, and after it gathers dust for a few more years, you recognize the author is coming to your town to speak and think, maybe now is the time.  Once finished, you crack yourself on the head and think, why did I wait so long, that was amazing!!!

I just finished James McBride's memoir The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to his White Mother.  It is the perfect example of why memoir can be better and more interesting than fiction.  A white Jewish woman marries a black man and moves to Harlem where she has 8 kids and then when that man dies, marries a second black man and has 4 more kids.   Her son James, always full of questions about his mother and her past which she refused to answer, tells the tale of his own upbringing and his feelings of love and shame for his unusual mother, a white woman in an African-American world.  He tells his mother's story of growing up in an Orthodox Jewish household in the south, her leaving her home for New York, and her conversion to Christianity which went hand in hand with her marriage to a black minister.  This was more than 25 years before Loving v Virginia made anti-micegenation laws illegal.

McBride told his own story of being number 8 in the 12 child family and intersperses his story and memories with his mother's story and memories: both well written and compelling.  It seems that it does not matter what is the color of your skin, all you really need is love as Ruth McBride Jordan demonstrated over and over again.

My edition of the book was the 10th anniversary edition, which I recommend:  an epilogue to the epilogue. All 12 of Mrs. McBride's children went to college and most to grad school. She raised 12 successful children on the motto all you need to education and God. Money doesn't mean anything.

 Now that I have read this beautiful memoir, I am ready to meet James McBride.  If you live here in town I hope you will join me.  Perhaps it is true that when we are ready to read a book it appears before us.

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