A couple of books with local connections...
Oh. My. Gosh. Did you see snow flurries falling last Sunday morning? At about 8 a.m. in the little corner of the world your writer calls home. The flurries lasted for about 30 seconds...
...and were followed by spring’s arrival on Monday...
Last Thursday afternoon, I paid a visit to Stinson Memorial Library in Anna. As you may recall, I am a frequent visitor to the landmark library in Anna. Visits to the library go back to when I was younger. Much, much, much younger.
Sometimes, I will head to the library with the goal of finding a specific book. Sometimes, I go to pick up a book which I had requested online. You can do such things in the 21st century, and it’s really easy. Perhaps a bit too easy for those of us who are always finding a new book that we “just have to read.”
Sometimes, I go to the library just to see what new books might be on the shelves. If something looks interesting, I’ll check it out.
Such was the case last Thursday. I actually ended up finding two new books.
One of the books was titled “Sharpshooter,” which had a subtitle of “The Life and Times of Tilman Manus.” The book was written by a gentleman named Keith Pruitt, who is an educator.
The other book I stumbled upon was titled “Dinner with the President.” This book also had a subtitle, “Food, Politics, and a History of Breaking Bread at the White House.” This book’s author is named Alex Prud’homme.
“Sharpshooter” is a novel, a work of historical fiction. I’m a big fan of historical fiction, especially novels with a connection to the American Revolution.
I also enjoy historical fiction which makes a connection with places I’ve been, or experiences I’ve had over the years.
Tilman Manus, as some of you may know, spent a good part of his life in Union County. And what a life it was. For one thing, he lived until he was about 106 years old.
Since he lived in Union County, there’s a local connection in the novel. The author of the novel, by the way, was identified as a kinsman of Tilman Manus.
The back cover of “Sharpshooter” shared that Tilman Manus was an “eyewitness to some of the great events in history.” He attended the Lincoln-Douglas debate in Jonesboro and fought for the Union under General Ulysses S. Grant in the Civil War.
“I want people to know it was people like Tilman Manus who made American history. His story and countless others must be told,” the author wrote.
“Sharpshooter” is a quick read. Only about 175 pages. I was able to finish the book over the course of an afternoon and early evening, interrupted only by an unanticipated nap. Such things happen often while I am reading. Care has to be taken to ensure that a particularly long novel does not cause injury if the book happens to fall when a nap sets in.
The Lincoln-Douglas debate in Union County in September of 1858 is featured in “Sharpshooter.”
“Them two, Douglas and Lincoln, they come down here to Jonesboro...and had them a debate,” Tilman Manus recalls in the fictional account of his life.
Of course, as you know, because you know the history of Union County, that Lincoln-Douglas debate took place at what is now the site of the Lincoln Memorial Picnic Grounds in Jonesboro. Which just so happens to be one of my favorite places to visit. That would be one of those local connections I like to find in books.
A couple of other connections showed up in “Sharpshooter.” There’s mention of the Jonesboro Gazette newspaper. You are reading the successor to that worthy publication.
The other connection would be a mention by one of the characters in the novel who said he was “homesick to get back to Alton.” Alton was where yours truly went to high school, back in the day.
“Dinner with the President” has been an unexpectedly fun read.
“Some of the most significant moments in American history have occurred over meals,” the front inside cover flap of the book shares...and continues by explaining that the author “invites readers into the White House kitchen to reveal the sometimes curious tastes of twenty-six of America’s most influential presidents.”
For example, the author revealed that after steak, President William Howard Taft’s “favorite dish was roasted possum.” I’ve never tasted possum. Not sure I would want to taste that nasty, hissing critter, but I’m guessing that possum probably tastes like chicken.
The Lincoln-Douglas debates are even mentioned in “Dinner with the President.” At one of the debates, Mr. Lincoln made a comment referring to a “soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had been starved to death.” Want to know the rest of that story? Check out the book, where you also will find recipes for Martha Washington’s Preserved Cherries, Abraham Lincoln’s Gingerbread Men and Eisenhower Steak.
Let’s close with a unscheduled visit I paid last Friday morning to the aforementioned Lincoln Memorial Picnic Grounds. Just wanted to see if I could touch base with the ghosts of long-ago visitors Abraham Lincoln and Tilman Manus.
I didn’t spot any ghosts. As I was heading back to my car, I happened to look down and saw a penny, face down in the parking lot. I picked up the penny. Saw the familiar image of Mr. Lincoln on the 1987 circle of copper. I figure that Tilman Manus wanted me to find that coin.