Tales from the Chief: History and a holiday
I was working my way through the Nov. 25 issue of The New Yorker and had made it to the book review section, which usually provokes mixed enthusiasm depending on the subject matter. I was immediately taken in, however, as the article was titled, "The Invention of Thanksgiving."
I enjoy reading history, although I haven't made it through nearly as many such tomes as others I know. (It's safe to say that Doug Wolter, The Globe's Sports Editor, is the newsroom history book connoisseur — he confirmed this Monday by telling me that he's now reading a book about the War of 1812 — but I do make occasional forays into the genre. I just started Erik Larson's "In the Garden of Beasts," the tale of an American ambassador in Germany during 1933 (I highly recommend Larson's "Devil in the White City" and "Dead Wake," incidentally), and certainly am always willing to consider well-recommended history or biographical writing. I'm also of fond of fiction sent in a historical era, with Anthony Doerr's "All the Light We Cannot See" being probably the best book I've read in the last several months.
So, a book review article on "The Invention of Thanksgiving" was going to be a must-read. The literary effort featured is the newly released "This Land Is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving," written by David Silverman. I'd classify the review as favorable, and the book had gotten an average 4.4 out of 5 on GoodReads when I looked Monday afternoon. But I'm not sure if I'll ever get around to reading "This Land," though, for at least two reasons. For starters, its length is 528 pages, which honestly may be a little too long for me given the subject matter (interesting, though perhaps not THAT interesting). Secondly, I've already consumed a fascinating piece about Thanksgiving history that was a) much shorter and b) written by someone I know.
"They Came for Freedom: The Forgotten, Epic Adventure of the Pilgrims," written by Worthington's Jay Milbrandt, came out two years ago. I can't recall how I first learned about the book, but Julie Buntjer wrote an article for The Globe about the book and Milbrandt, who also did a presentation for a Noon Kiwanis Club meeting I attended (I've been a member now for 13 years). I quickly resolved to read Milbrandt's book because I knew him, was interested enough in the material and it was a manageable 320 pages (including sourcing). It's not that I'm necessarily intimidated by big books; I'm just usually ready to move on to something else at a given point.
To borrow from the old Siskel and Ebert film reviews, I'd give "They Came for Freedom" two thumbs up without hesitation. It was both an easy and eye-opening read, and one that I have to admit was a timely book to undertake at Thanksgiving time (which I did). If nothing else, it offered both an education and valuable perspective.
Thanksgiving, quite simply, is a time to reflect on just what we should be grateful for in our lives. This year, I'm thankful for many of the things I am each year — and also take for granted most of the remaining days of each year. I'm thankful for my immediate and extended family, a good job, good health, a roof over my head — the kinds of simple things that either get short shrift in the everyday busy-ness of life and aren't always available to others (and certainly available to the Pilgrims). It may sound trite and cliche, but I think it's important for families to sit down together on Thanksgiving and share things they're thankful for and why. I believe it's an interesting activity with kids, especially if parents note a couple of obvious ones first before asking the children to come up with their own ideas.
Wherever you are this Thursday or whatever you're doing — for all I know, we could be either shoveling out driveways or be already exhausted from such activity — may the day be both enjoyable and meaningful for you. Happy Thanksgiving.