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You know how there are some books that, when you pick them up, you’re pretty sure you’re only going to read a few pages and then release it back into the wild or to its 2,000 library holds? And then you discover that it is, in fact, one of the best reads ever, and you can’t put it down, and you’ve been completely blindsided by this heretofore-unloved-by-you but now precious-work-of-genius book? No? That’s just me?
Well, I get blindsided a few times a year this way, and the latest was James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. It went on to win the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction, but at this time (October-ish), it had just garnered lots of fawning praise and so I’d decided to see what the fuss was about, even though I was pretty sure I was going to read only a few pages and then let it go back into the Great Library Lifecycle for the next reader in line.
Not that I had anything against James McBride. But historical novels aren’t generally my go-to genre, and I vaguely knew this had something to do with the Civil War, which automatically brings on the snoozes. (Forgive me, Shelby Foote.)
Good Lord, was I wrong!
(P.S. In the novel, a “Good Lord bird” is a woodpecker, because, when you see one, it makes you go, Good Lord! Just one of a thousand delightful little details that McBride makes come alive.)
Sure, it was a historical novel mostly set right before the Civil War, and the abolitionist John Brown plays a major part. But that was all secondary to the madcap, joyful, raw, wonderful, and hilarious characters, particularly Onion, a young slave-boy who is mistaken for a girl and lives as a woman for many years.
I was completely charmed, delighted, entertained, and touched by McBride’s story – so much so that I. Read. Every. Single. Page. And had there not been so many holds on it, I might have been tempted to read it again right away.
As much as I loved some of the other books nominated for the National Book Award (I’m looking at you, Tenth of December), there was no question that the committee made the right choice with The Good Lord Bird. Good Lord! Go grab it and get blindsided yourself!