Published: Sunday, May 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 1, 2005 at 12:43 a.m.
Today we finish up our all-Florida read with the novels, "Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands," by Susan McCarthy, "The Schooling of Claybird Catts," by Janis Owens, and "The Barefoot Mailman," by Theodore Pratt. Next, share the experience of coming to America through "The Namesake," by Jhumpa Lahiri, and "Flight to Freedom," by Ana Veciana-Suarez. Join our book club by sending your comments to or Box 1408, Alachua, FL 32616.
Book's title must capture the theme Titles are tricky. In today's literary marketplace, the title can be more important than what's between the covers. The name of a book can sink it or give it flight. And often the title becomes a bone of contention between the author and the marketing department of a publishing house.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "We do what we must, and call it by the best names we can." And this pretty much hits the nail on the head for a novelist. For, to write a novel, the writer has to be driven to get the thing done. Most often he or she would write the novel no matter what - it's a passion, if not an obsession. All the while, the work is wearing the title the writer gives it. Then when the novel comes off the printing press, it most likely will not be wearing its working title at all.
Basically, a writer names his book by the emotion that caught his imagination in the first place. It has a whole lot to do with trying to capture the theme. I think of it as the necklace onto which are strung all the scenes and details, so that the story comes out focused, i.e. leaving a single, full, aftertaste in the reader's imagination.
"Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands" has a wonderful mysterious title, and I'm glad the publisher left it just as author Susan McCarthy named her story. On page 211 of the paperback version, the source of the title is revealed when Luther, the father of the slain boy whose murder opens the story, prays aloud prior to confronting the Ku Klux Klan. "We feel, Lawd, like old Joshua, when you took him to the great walls of Jericho and told him to let your trumpets blow. . . . We ask you tonight: Lay that trumpet in our hands."
It's a beautiful message, and it powerfully centers the novel. Raven Wilson, a Newberry highschooler, puts it this way, "When I started reading this novel, I thought it would be just like all the other books about racism in the l940s. But this one was actually interesting. The characters seemed real."
And as for the title of "The Schooling of Claybird Catts," Janis Owens tells us, "My working title was 'The Choices of Claybird Catts.' Then the marketing department of my publisher changed it to 'The Southern Schooling of Claybird Catts.' Connie May Fowler, my friend and Florida novelist, happened to be in New York when the galleys arrived. She saw them and suggested that the adjective 'Southern' was too limiting. Everyone involved agreed. So the title came out as it is."
Matt Coleman of Gainesville says, "As the story of Claybird Catts unfolds, readers learn from Clayton's language beyond his years how family members, friends and school experiences painfully altered his perceptions while helping him grow up and accept what he could not change."
Matt also recommended the novel, "The Barefoot Mailman." As for the title, it apparently came easily to its author, Theodore Pratt. The mail carriers in South Florida were called by this description for years. In his opening to the book, Pratt explains that his intention in writing the book was to "present the spirit of the times instead of offering a history."
Mary Krome, a student at Jordan Glen School in Archer, says, "This book left me with a feeling of longing and wonderment. I wanted to travel back in time and walk Florida's undeveloped beaches, visit the small towns, and surround myself with the nature described in 'The Barefoot Mailman.' It was fun."
Next week, dig into our new fun. We are entering the world of two immigrant families. First, in the renowned novel, "The Namesake," by Jhumpa Lahiri. Her previous collection of short stories won the Pulitzer Prize, and the national literary establishment is going wild over her work. So, let's see why. And I will say, since reading the first few chapters, I'm in her corner.
Over the next few weeks I'll share my thoughts on why I think "The Namesake" is the cat's meow. And I'm eager to hear yours.
The middle school novel, "Flight to Freedom," by Ana Veciana-Suarez is going to be especially important for us to read and discuss together. Ana writes a column for The Miami Herald, and she will be joining our conversation. So send me your questions to put in the mix.
Meanwhile, it's getting close to the end of school, and I have a favor to ask. Parents, kids, what would you like to read, here, together? We have some spaces in our selection list for the summer. So let's hear them. Dig in; jump in, get in the mix.

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