"The Christmas Dance" by James McBride
A country dance was being held in a garden
I felt a bump and heard an "Oh, beg your pardon"
Suddenly I saw polka dots and moonbeams
All around a pug-nosed dream
There were questions in the eyes of other dancers
As we floated over the floor
There were questions but my heart knew all the answers
And perhaps a few things more
(from Polka Dots and Moonbeams, music by Jimmy Van Heusen, lyrics by Johnny Burke, 1940)
Happy December, everyone!
We're looking forward to discussing James McBride's "The Christmas Dance" from his new collection Five-Carat Soul. Come this Wednesday for a night of discussion, socializing and perhaps even a dance or two as we listen to the sounds of Christmas Eve at Minton's with the Count Basie Band! Details and suggested discussion questions below. Reading optional. This short story touches on many issues we've encountered previously this year through reading...and life...
Drop a note and let us know if we can hope to see you!
1. Did you like this story?
2. This story take place approx 1974. How does that setting affect the reading of the story?
3. What do you make of the format -- disjointed or does it work?
4. What motivates Herb's choice of thesis topic, the 92nd division?
5. How does the Army's report compare to Carlos's story?
6. What happened to Carlos's wife, and why is his son now estranged from him?
7. How did Carlos and the Judge's actions in the war foreshadow their future careers? Did you have a significant or traumatic experience that influenced your career/work choice?
8. Herb spends significant time noting how beloved the Judge is by those around him in Harlem. Why? Where do you feel especially beloved? Where do you feel like an outsider?
9. What would you wear to dance at Minton's?
A few points for historical reference (thank you, Wikipedia):
1. What really happened at Sommocolonia?
Battle took place on 12/26, not 12/25
Names: John Fox is the Lieutenant who ordered his own troops to fire on him
2. Timeline for honoring John Fox:
1944, he orders his own troops to fire on him, presumably giving American troops time to fall back and organize a counterattack...and retake the village a few days later
1979, memorial resurrected in a piazza in Sommocolonia for his service
1982, US awards John Fox the Distinguished Service Cross
1997, US awards John Fox the Medal of Honor (an upgrade from the Distinguished Service Cross)
2. What happened to the little town? According to NY Times article, as of July 16, 2000, it is a dying town of less than 50 people, in Tuscany
3. Who were the Buffalo Soldiers? A name given to black servicemen in the 1860s, originally given to the Negro cavalry by Native American tribes during American Indian Wars. (See link.)
4. Do other sources mention Puerto Ricans? Why does the author add Carlos' character? "More than 65,000 Puerto Ricans service members served in WWII....They were often subject to the racial discrimination that was widespread in the United States at the time." (See link.)
5. What was the Battle of the Bulge that took place at the same time? 16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945: This was a surprise attack and last major German offensive on the Western Front in WWII. (See link.)
6. When did Count Basie play at Mintons? It's not clear that he did! Minton's opened in 1938 and was the birthplace of Bebop, home to many jazz greats from the 1940s-1960s, closing in 1974 after a fire in the Cecil Hotel where it was housed. The Christmas dance is a nice idea though, and Count Basie's band did place in the Christmas show at the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan after 1937. However, it was whites-only.
I had such a nice time last night, and I hope you did too.
How to decide what to read next?
If you're my six-year-old daughter you grab anything off the shelf -- Into the Wild, Fenway 1912: The Birth of A Ballpark, Frommer's Hawaii 2008, and World War II (Magic Tree House Fact Tracker). As a result, questionable books like Stuff White People Like and A Celebration of Sex are now in the Goodwill donation box in my basement.
In the midst of a dark season, perhaps it would be nice to have a Monsieur Perdu, who could "prescribe novels for the hardships of life". Join us in January, date TBD, for discussion of The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, first published in Germany.
Cheers and happy holidays!
The Tipsy Mamas' Book Club is co-hosted by Corinne Foster and myself, though the spirit of our discussions is flavored by many readers.