Thursday, April 29, 2010

With Reverent Hands: Words by Heart

With Reverent Hands

I bring you with reverent hands / the books of my numberless dreams.
-WB Yeats, "A Poet To His Beloved"

WB Yeats, I'm sure, gave books to his beloved that he valued highly himself, and that he handled with reverence.  If you had to recommend a book you revered to someone, what would it be?

I'm asking you to highlight one book.  One book that you adore, that you prize, that changed your life, that you would save from a burning building, that you found serendipitously on a library shelf or at a used bookstore, looking lonely and ignored.  A book that thrills you but that, you have come to realize, no one else has really ever heard of, much less read.  With Reverent Hands is all about those books- the ones that deserve a wider audience than they are given and that you want everyone to go out and read, even if they are out of print.

NOTE:  It has come to my attention that With Reverent Hands is being used as a meme.  It's not a meme; it is a feature on this blog only.  If you would like to contribute, please contact me to do a guest post, but please respect that the questions and set-up are mine and do not post this format on your own site and state that it is a meme.

This week's post is by the lovely Nicole Bo from Linus's Blanket (one of my favorite blog names ever).  I think I've been reading Nicole's blog for several months now, and I really like the mix of books she reads- particularly all the historical fiction she reads!  Nicole also runs That's How I Blog and has convinced me to join her on the talk show in late July.  I hope you enjoy her selection below and I encourage you to read her blog!

What book are you highlighting?
I am so excited about Words by Heart by Ouida Sebestyen.  I can't say enough good things about this book!

Words by Heart
When did you first read it?
I can't put my finger on when I first read it.  I think it's a book that my mom bought for me.  I was always, always reading and usually picked out a lot of my own books, but she did get me books as well, and she did a great job of making sure my library had books that were written African-American authors, and that featured a diverse cast of characters.  She would give me books when I was going down to spend summers in Alabama. I needed to be stocked up on reading material because the little town where my grandfather lived was TINY!  All capitals. :)  But I think I might have been in the 5th or 6th grade when I first read this.  No older than 7th or 8th grade.

What is it about?  Please give a brief summary.
Lena is a young girl living with her family in small Midwestern town.  They are the only black family there, and allusions are made to them leaving the previous town where they lived because of racial resentments which had festered and finally spilled over, causing trouble and the need to flee.  Lena's father works for Ms. Chisolm, a wealthy widow who lives alone in the town and increasingly relies on him to help out with things around her property, much to the chagrin of the previous hand, who is a drunk and unreliable.  Lena has a fantastic memory and has memorized hundreds of Bible passages by heart.  Her stepmother doesn't want her to enter the church Bible verse competition -because of events that have taken place in the past. She would like to keep a low profile. However, Lena's father knows that this is something Lena has to do and lets her enter.  The novel unfolds from there.

What makes the book stand out to you?  Why do you love it?
Sebestyn writes so beautifully and richly for her audience.  I really felt as if I were walking around in Lena's shoes, and in the town where she is trying to fit in with her family. Lena is such a strong and wonderful character, and I love the relationship that she has with her father, and how he is willing to let her have her chance in the church competition.  This is one of those books that you hate to see marketed as YA because it is so gorgeous, subtle and has this aching quality that everyone can enjoy it - and you want everyone to enjoy it.  Ahem- that's why I'm here!  Another reason that I was so taken with this novel is because it is about an African-American family trying to integrate into a mid-western town around 1910.  That's a perspective that I haven't seen very much of and it was just fabulous that the author could talk about some of what that was like in such a vibrant and engaging story.

Please finish this analogy:  If you liked _____________, you'll probably enjoy this book.
I can't really answer this question, because the one book that keeps popping into my mind is a book that I haven't read in years.  So maybe it's still relevant and maybe not. If you like good storytelling that will warm the cockles of your heart, and may cause you to shed a tear or two, and that you will think about the characters and what they are up to long after it's over, then this one's for you.  (I was going to say Bud -- would that have been bad?)

What sort of person would you recommend to read this book?
I pretty much don't care too much about the genre of book that I read as long as the story is well-written, plausible, and has characters that - love them or hate them- I just can't resist finding out more about.

Do you have any quotes you would like to share?
Gah!  I don't always mark quotes the way that I should, but I will tell you that there are scenes that I have always remembered about Lena's interactions with books that have stayed with me through the years.  Lena was a book lover too, ya'll! I was deeply touched by her reverence (no pun intended, I swear!) - the joy that she found in books.


  1. Once again and as usual, I am convinced.

  2. This books sounds lovely, and not to mention that I like to read about fellow booklovers

  3. Oh, this sounds like a wonderful book that I could both enjoy myself, and share with my daughter! I really liked this post and like the fact that the protagonist of this book is also a book lover. Must see if this one is available to me!

  4. This looks like a great book - I feel like I never read books with protagonists of color that are set in this time period. It looks amazing.

  5. This sounds like a wonderful book and I would be making an effort to get a hold of it.

  6. What a wonderful feature on your blog and I love Nicole's responses. I have to ponder what this book would be for me...nothing is springing to mind at the moment.

  7. This sounds like a great book! I probably thought I was too old for a YA book when this first came out. I know better know.

  8. Hummm this is a totally new to me book but one I think I should track down. This feature is dangerous to my wallet.

  9. Anonymous5/01/2010

    Sounds like a great book! I really like this feature (With Reverent Hands).

  10. I love books that feature the love of books. I'm gathering a list of great books for my N&Ns to read and this is perfect. Thank you Nicole and Aarti. :)


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