Everybody’s got troubles, don’t they?

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The Sound of Freedom, by Raymond Arsenault

You do it without even thinking about it. You hum around the house, sing to your babies, to your God, or to the radio. You catch yourself doing it while you’re relaxing with a hobby. You sing wherever you want to lift up your voice. In the new book “Sound of Freedom,” by Raymond Arsenault, you’ll see that it wasn’t always so easy. Sometimes, a song is more than just a song.

Not long after she was out of diapers, Marian Anderson was making up tunes and playing a toy piano. By the time she was 4 years old, people knew she had a “gift.” At age 6, she joined the Union Baptist Church’s junior choir and was soon singing solo. As a teen, her voice contributed monetarily to the household.

Although many outside the African American community recognized Anderson’s incredible talent, there were few places in which she could perform. Jim Crow laws were more prevalent in the South, but the northern United States, including Anderson’s hometown of Philadelphia, was racially segregated. Most concert halls were off-limits to her.

Perhaps because of racism, but surely for the opportunity, Anderson followed in the footsteps of many Black Americans in the 1920s and briefly emigrated to Europe. Audiences in Germany, London and Scandinavia were dazzled by her talent and exotic good looks.

By 1935, Anderson was ready to resume her American career. Shortly thereafter, she was invited by Eleanor Roosevelt to perform in the White House. There, says Arsenault, “Two modest, but strong-willed women became … linked in a chain of events that altered the course of American history.”

Four years later, when Anderson’s managers attempted to secure the Daughters of the American Revolution’s Constitution Hall for a performance, they were informed of a “whites only” policy. A Washington school board likewise turned down the possibility of a concert.

Americans were outraged, and Roosevelt boldly withdrew from the DAR, a move that was loaded with political implications. Ten days before Easter Sunday 1939, Anderson’s managers scrambled to organize a free concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Unsure of the attendance, they hoped for a few thousand fans, but 75.000 people showed up.

As historical books go, you won’t find a richer examination of this event than “The Sound of Freedom.” But that richness is a mixed bag. Arsenault does a superb job conveying a sense of time and social attitudes in this book, and I was caught up in the drama of the events that occurred from 1938-39. But, before that, his recounting of Anderson’s career was mind-numbing. The people who helped and encouraged her will be familiar to diehard music fans (particularly fans of classical song and German lieders) but may cause casual readers to want to stop reading. But don’t.

Stick with this book despite the (occasional) dry parts and you’ll be rewarded with an uplifting, amazing story that certainly had implications for the Civil Rights movement many years later. For that alone, “The Sound of Freedom” is a book to sing about.

The Wildwater Walking Club, by Claire Cook

No matter how hard you’ve tried, you know you can’t do it yourself. You’re determined to shed those winter pounds. You will wear that swimsuit. You’re going to lower your blood pressure if it … well, if it kills you. And you’re determined to de-stress before summer arrives, even if it takes ‘til next summer to do it. But you can’t do it yourself. What you need is an exercise buddy, someone who will encourage you, inside and out. In the new novel “The Wildwater Walking Club,” by Claire Cook, three women find friendship and lose inches.

Noreen Kelly wasn’t looking to quit her job, but when the acquisition went through and the buyout was offered, Balancing Act Shoes made a too-irresistible offer. Besides, Noreen’s boyfriend, Michael, painted such a glorious picture of their life-after-job together. Although he worked for the new company — in the exact same position that Noreen had — he told her that he wouldn’t be there long, either. Once they each accepted a buyout, they could travel cross-country together.

Nice thought. But on the morning after Noreen took the cash, Michael was mysteriously AWOL. He refused her calls. He walked out of her life. Bereft, jobless and boyfriendless, Noreen took stock of her situation.

The mirror wasn’t kind. Late nights at the office and on-the-fly eating had taken their toll. She was 40-something and fat. Exercise and a new project — maybe yard work — was what she needed. She began exploring her Massachusetts neighborhood. Walking was good exercise, right?

It was, and it led Noreen to her neighbors, who vowed to help keep her on the right path and keep her company on her walks. And as they walked, they talked and hashed out the issues of their lives. Tess had a rocky relationship with her daughter. Rosie had an ailing father and a lavender farm that needed constant tending. And Noreen still had Michael-on-the-brain. But sometimes, taking extra steps makes you lose pounds and gain perspective. Sometimes, a trip, a skip and a few steps in the right direction are just every woman needs to see things in a different light.

From your first glimpse of the cover to the end of the story, “The Wildwater Walking Club” practically screams “girlfriend book.” You know when you’ve got it in your hand that you’ll want to pass it on when you’re done with it. You know your friends will love it as much as you did.

Though it’s light, breezy and quick to read, what I found most appealing about this book is the realness of the three main characters. Cook didn’t make Noreen, Tess or Rosie rich, fabulously wealthy or model-beautiful. They’re just women trying to get through life without too many bruises. Haven’t we all walked in similar shoes?

Perfect for book groups, a late Mother’s Day gift, or for tucking in your suitcase or overnighter, “The Wildwater Walking Club” is a girlfriends’ delight. If you’re someone who loves to share her favorite reads, take steps to get this book soon.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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