When you get off the train in downtown Richmond, Virginia, you’re just a half-block from the site of that city’s former slave market; reading the plaque that explained this bit of local history, and looking across Main Street at the Slavery Reconciliation Statue, I was forcibly reminded of one of the main reasons I wanted to start the Civil War Book Club—While I may know quite a few things about the Civil War, there’s still much of it I don’t fully understand. The 150th anniversary, which began last week, is a good opportunity to expose myself to this history, and hopefully to share it with others.
I had come to Richmond to meet Adam Goodheart, the author of 1861: The Civil War Awakening, a book that does a fantastic job of exploring how the months after the presidential election of 1860, and the early months of the war, were not a simple matter of “North against South,” but a personal crisis of conscience for every American citizen: Where did our loyalties lie? What did we hold most dear about our nation? Were we willing to fight for it? Adam and I came to Fountain Bookstore to talk about these volatile months for a small but appreciative audience. In the clip above, you’ll hear him read for about fifteen minutes from his account of the last moments in the Confederate assault on the troops stationed at Fort Sumter.
The 150th anniversary of the attack on Fort Sumter, the start of the U.S. Civil War, is just two weeks away. For a long time now, I’ve had it in mind to read my way through the conflict in chronological order; originally, I was just planning to blog my way through it, but a few months back, inspired by the success of subscription book club programs at independent bookstores like Powell’s and WORD, I approached Kelly Justice, the owner of Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia, and pitched her on the idea—and now we’ve got a Civil War Book Club for which I’ll be selecting books, providing short introductory reading guides, and in many cases heading down to Richmond for in-store events.
On Thursday, April 14, for example, I’ll be interviewing Adam Goodheart, the author of 1861: The Civil War Awakening. It’s a fantastic book about the months leading up to the outbreak of conflict, in which Goodheart considers the war not as a simple matter of North versus South but a crisis of conscience for every American citizen—a national trauma that forced people to examine their most closely held beliefs about what the nation stood for and what it was meant to be. There’s some combat in the book, to be sure, but Goodheart’s main interest lies in getting inside people’s heads, and he offers us a diverse cross-section of American and Confederate society. I’m very much looking forward to our discussion, and I’m hoping to get a good recording of it to share with those of you who can’t make it to the event.
When you enroll in Fountain’s book club program, you’ll be able to choose how many months you want to participate in the program, and whether you want to join the hardcover or paperback reading track. (We’ll be unveiling the first paperback selection next week.) This book club isn’t just intended for Richmond residents, either: The monthly fees include shipping, along with the reading guides I’ll be creating, and other exclusive materials we’re putting together. I’m really excited about this program, and I hope you will be, too!