In the last two months of 2011 and the first month of 2012, the book discussion group that I have the privilege to facilitate here at the Crescent Hill Library read three books in the following order: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever, and March by Geraldine Brooks. What began as somewhat of a scheduling whim became literary magic, as these books, when combined, assist each other in completing their stories and providing the necessary details to fully appreciate the intricacies of the relationships among both the fictional and real characters as well as enhancing the storylines themselves.
Little Women, which is counted among the finest works of American literature, chronicles the lives of daughters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March during the American Civil War as they contend with all those issues that one faces when growing up, while at the same time supporting their mother, Marmee, in a trying domestic situation and one another while their father is serving with the Union Army. Based loosely on Ms. Alcott’s own life and family, this novel slightly rings of sentimentality from time to time, but the life lessons it conveys and philosophical concepts it examines bring a depth to the book that leaves the reader with a good deal to contemplate.
The nonfiction work American Bloomsbury is a fascinating look into the intermingled lives, both private and public, of those great intellectual and literary minds that were drawn to the Massachusetts town of Concord in the mid and latter 1800s; included were such giants as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, and Henry David Thoreau , and it is through this examination that certain aspects of Little Women come together and are illuminated. Despite having a somewhat tabloid feel at times, this work brought forth aspects of the lives of these historical figures that made them seem far more human and within reach, as opposed to simply occupying their hallowed space in literary celebrity, existing only in marble and bronze.
And then we come to March, which I consider to be fan fiction of the first order, as Ms. Brooks provides the reader with the story of none other than Mr. March, the mainly-absent father of the March family in Little Women. Suffice to say, Ms. Brooks paints a picture of Mr. March, the American Civil War, and the pre-Emancipation South that challenges the reader in a number of ways. Furthermore, Ms. Brooks blends the fiction of Little Women with the nonfiction of American Bloomsbury, resulting in an incredibly engrossing tale.
Individually, all three books are fine reads for a number of reasons, but when they are read as a series, the result is truly educational, entertaining, and enlightening, a perfect selection for the single reader or book discussion group.