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Driving the King
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Group Reads: Moderator's Choice > Moderator's Choice- June 2015-Driving the King, by Ravi Howard

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message 1: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
I've chosen Driving the King: A Novel by Ravi Howard as the Moderator's Choice for June, 2015. This is Howard's second novel. Howard received wide acclaim for his first novel Like Trees, Walking which chronicled the lynching of young Michael Donald in Mobile, Alabama, in 1982. It was the last lynching of a black man in that city. No lynching had occurred in Mobile for the previous sixty years. The case was notorious. It was Klan motivated. Yet, it was the subject of a police cover up. The Klan's involvement took years to unravel. Ultimately, it was the case that bankrupted the Klan nation wide. The novel was exceptionally good.

Howard was awarded the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Best First Novel in 2008 for that fine work. Now, Driving the King: A Novel is receiving acclaimed reviews. I believe Howard is a novelist that deserves recognition and is one who will continue to improve with each work.

I've met Howard twice now. I've talked with him at length. Impressive? Yes, he is. He deserves to be read. That's why I've chosen this work. I believe you will find it an exceptional read. It is readily available in libraries. My public library has multiple copies. This book is generating a lot of buzz. It should.

The King being driven is Nat King Cole. The man doing the driving is Will who is Nat's chauffeur. Nat King Cole was born in Montgomery, Al. He grew up there poor.

The action is in the 1950s. The Civil Rights movement has begun. There's a lady named Rosa Parks in Montgomery. Yeah, there's going to be a bus boycott.

But you know something. Racism is present far and wide. Even out in Capital Records Studios where the King records his hit selling records. Will tells it all.

You'll want to read this one. Buy it. Hardback. E-Book. Check it out of the library. Catch Howard on tour and be spellbound by his reading and discussing this great book.

It's a damned fine read by a damned fine writer. Oh, yeah. Howard's from Montgomery. Married. Now lives with his wife and kids in Atlanta. And, he also won an Emmy for an ESPN Sports documentary. This young man's middle name is versatile. We should be hearing from him for a long, long time. He has what it takes.

Mike Sullivan
"Lawyer Stevens"


message 2: by Jane (new) - added it

Jane | 738 comments Very happy about this choice, Mike.


message 3: by Howard (new) - added it

Howard | 398 comments Sounds like a very good read, Mike


Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) | 211 comments So happy to see this! I had nominated it for June, but not before the "cut-off" in number of nominations.


Simonne Lambert | 3 comments Okay Mike I am thirsting for some good literature. You invited me to this group (for which I thank you). I'm downloading this book and I'm going to give it a try. I'll let you know


Simonne Lambert | 3 comments Well it seems I've jumped the gun and am reading June's book. Oops


message 7: by John (last edited May 02, 2015 09:40AM) (new)

John | 533 comments I like your enthusiasm Simonne. We tend to be hot rifle barrels around here, ya never know when we're liable to go off.


Simonne Lambert | 3 comments Fine by me John. As long as I'm not in the line of sight when you do :)


Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) | 211 comments I'm with Simonne - I just finished reading this book in audio and am eager to discuss it with fellow "trail" members in June.


message 10: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Simonne wrote: "Well it seems I've jumped the gun and am reading June's book. Oops"

Hah, Simonne, I'm pleased to see you've begun to read this one. It's never to early to start a Trail Read. And, as a matter of fact, I have no problem if you should like to begin your discussion! Thanks so much for joining us. It's a pleasure to have you here. I'm especially fond of Howard as a writer and a fine person as well. If you've not read his first novel, Like Trees, Walking, I highly recommend it. It is based on the lynching of Michael McDonald, which occurred in Mobile, Alabama in 1982. It was a horrific case which took years to reach final justice. A stunning read. Give it a shot, by all means.


message 11: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 3968 comments Mod
I just finished and liked this a lot. I loved that there were no white characters that mattered, and also that even though Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King were mentioned, they were only peripheral characters. The real heroes here were the boycotters in Montgomery. It was hard work and it was dangerous, but they did it because it mattered.


message 12: by Jane (last edited Jun 11, 2015 11:56AM) (new) - added it

Jane | 738 comments The pace and tone of this novel is as melodious as a Nat King Cole song -sad, haunting with occasional joy. It works for me on the three plot levels , the prison sentence and the boycott and the Cole story that adds the hope of success Love it


message 13: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 3968 comments Mod
But even with the success and the money, the prejudice was still there, and even the danger that was communicated through the threats in the fan mail.


message 14: by Jane (new) - added it

Jane | 738 comments Diane wrote: "But even with the success and the money, the prejudice was still there, and even the danger that was communicated through the threats in the fan mail."
you are right Diane


message 15: by Eileen (new)

Eileen This sounds like an interesting book; I'm planning to read it as well.


message 16: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 3968 comments Mod
I really liked it a lot, Eileen, enough that I really want to read his first book, "Like Trees, Walking". The author's bio is quite impressive for such a young man. This one made me go to Pandora and listen to some Nat King Cole. What a voice!


message 17: by Eileen (new)

Eileen Diane wrote: "I really liked it a lot, Eileen, enough that I really want to read his first book, "Like Trees, Walking". The author's bio is quite impressive for such a young man. This one made me go to Pandora..."

That's good to know, Diane. I'm looking forward to reading it. I'll check out his first book too; thanks.


message 18: by Jane (new) - added it

Jane | 738 comments The most poignant scenes in the novel for me were the ones in the prison and The King s "visit" towards the end.


message 19: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 3968 comments Mod
I thought Nat's (the unfamous one) visits with his former girlfriend were very moving. She would have waited for him, but he loved her enough to let her go so she wouldn't waste 10 years of her life.


message 20: by Suzy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) | 211 comments I agree with all the points made by everyone so far. I thought that this was an especially poignant personal portrayal of Jim Crow south and racism. One thing that impressed me about Nat Weary was that he always had his eye on the big picture of what would help him, his close relationships and his people and acted accordingly. Even though reading about their experiences was often painful, the story was hopeful.

I read the book in May and almost forgot to come back for the discussion in June!!

Did anyone else listen to it? The audiobook narrator was amazing. I'm also a big fan of Nat Cole and this book took place when he was moving from being a jazz pianist with a trio to being a pop star. I like both phases of his musical career, although the jazz pianist part of his work is less well-known.


message 21: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
It's so nice to see the discussion generated by Driving the King: A Novel by Ravi Howard. Checking in to see what folks have to say.

I continue to be very impressed by Ravi Howard. If you've not read his first novel, Like Trees, Walking, I highly recommend it. That novel is strongly rooted in history, concerning the lynching of young Michael Donald in Mobile, Al, in 1982.

Driving the King: A Novel veers sharply away from the historical record. That's not meant as a criticism. This is Howard's impression of a Nat King Cole "who might have been." Howard makes no bones about twisting history in this novel. As some reviews have noted, Nat King Cole is more a device than a central character. And, to me, it works. Man, does it work.

 photo nat-king-cole_zpsft2xmfx9.jpg
Nat King Cole

A bit about the history behind the novel. Cole was born in Montgomery in 1919. His father was a minister. However, Cole's family moved from Montgomery, Al, to Chicago, Ill. when Cole was four. Cole had no childhood friend like Weary Pendley.

Cole WAS attacked during a concert performance in 1956, in Alabama. However, the attack took place in Birmingham, Alabama, not Montgomery. Cole never returned to Alabama to perform following that attack.

For information regarding the attack on Nat King Cole, see Civil Rights and Rock and Roll: Revisiting the Nat King Cole Attack of 1956; OAH Magazine of History (2010) 24 (2): 21-24. A segment of that article may be viewed at http://maghis.oxfordjournals.org/cont....

Also, see: Nat King Cole Assaulted Onstage By White Supremacists In 1956 athttp://newsone.com/2373293/nat-king-c... .

 photo Cole Attack_zpsdlxcwy7x.jpg
News Coverage of Cole Attack


Nat King Cole following the assault said, “I can’t understand it. I have not taken part in any protests. Nor have I joined an organization fighting segregation. Why should they attack me? I’d just like to forget about the whole thing.”

 photo Cole20Explains20Southern20Tours_zpswirox99r.jpg
Cole Explains Southern Tours

Cole's remarks led Thurgood Marshall, former US Supreme Court Justice, and head of the NAACP at the time, to call King an "Uncle Tom." However, the record indicates that King contributed much financially to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, sued a number of hotels refusing him service, became a member of the NAACP, and joined the March on Washington in 1963.

Ironically, Cole's song "Unforgettable" became Alabama's Tourism theme in 1996, although Cole never performed in the state again following the attack in 1956.

 photo Alabama Unforgettable_zpsyfkydckl.jpg
Ironic?

As to Howard's bending history? Just read the epigraph. "The art of fiction is an art of make-believe."--Albert Murray, The Hero And the Blues. Howard tells you up front what to expect. Yes, Howard's novel is a memorable read. Enjoy it. Recommend it. I do. Highly.


message 22: by Eileen (new)

Eileen That's nice to have that additional information, Mike. I'm looking forward to reading it after finishing Just Mercy.


message 23: by Eileen (new)

Eileen Suzy wrote: "I agree with all the points made by everyone so far. I thought that this was an especially poignant personal portrayal of Jim Crow south and racism. One thing that impressed me about Nat Weary was ..."

That's good to know the audiobook narrator is that good, Suzy. I may then listen to the book after I finish "Just Mercy".


Melody (runningtune) Loving the story, and I especially like the information included above about the attack in Birmingham. I'm struggling with the over-writing of the author. I can generally overlook this if it causes you to be more observant of the details, but so far the writing has been a distraction to me. On the other hand, I have been enjoying NKC on Spotify.


message 25: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Eileen wrote: "That's nice to have that additional information, Mike. I'm looking forward to reading it after finishing Just Mercy."

Eileen, you're most welcome. I very much enjoy the back story when reading historical fiction. I've come across a number of readers who are highly riled when a work of fiction "bends" historical fact. Of course, the thing is a work of fiction is just that--fiction. For me, Howard clearly uses Nat King Cole as a device to set tone of what it was like to be a black man in a white man's society. To be treated as a pariah, a convict rather than a hero. Howard captures the essence of the societal atmosphere in Montgomery, Alabama, at the time of the Bus Boycott. Nat Weary as narrator speaks not only for himself, but all those who lived in a state of inequality, oppression, yet continued to build a movement that would bring the walls of segregation tumbling down.


message 26: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Melody wrote: "Loving the story, and I especially like the information included above about the attack in Birmingham. I'm struggling with the over-writing of the author. I can generally overlook this if it causes..."

Melody, I'm intrigued by your thoughts that Howard's novel is over written. I look forward to your review on this one! I admit I'm a Howard fan. Having read Like Trees, Walking and now this second novel, I think Howard's going to go far. Not picking at you. *Grin* I really am interested in your opinion!


message 27: by Melody (last edited Jun 29, 2015 07:40AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Melody (runningtune) Mike wrote: "Melody wrote: "Loving the story, and I especially like the information included above about the attack in Birmingham. I'm struggling with the over-writing of the author. I can generally overlook th..."

I will post my complete review ... eventually.

Maybe "over-writing" is not the best term. I'll try to come up with one that does a better job describing why it seems bothersome to me. But you must keep in mind - Faulkner's writing bothers me too. :-)

It's something that feels (to me) that the writer gets too caught up in flowers when he is really talking about weeds. Or something like that.

I've had Like Trees, Walking on my to-read list for a while - and still intend to read it. As I will for the rest of Faulkner's books.


message 28: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Melody wrote: "It's something that feels (to me) that the writer gets too caught up in flowers when he is really talking about weeds. Or something like that."

Lawyer Stevens is grinning here. I like that. Weeds like flowers wilting. I do look forward to that review. I'm far behind on mine. Got Just Mercy up yesterday. I have to do The Unvanquished, Driving the King: A Novel, and I'm into reading A Childhood: The Biography of a Place. Oh, yeah. I've got to review Tobacco Road, too. Good Grief!


Mmars | 35 comments Enjoying the Moderator Pick....especially following the Just Mercy group read. Interesting to get a first person (fictional) viewpoint from behind the Alabama bars after seeing it from a lawyering angle. I think Driving the King is stirring up more emotions in me than it would have had I read it as a stand alone book.


message 30: by Eileen (new)

Eileen Mike wrote: "Eileen wrote: "That's nice to have that additional information, Mike. I'm looking forward to reading it after finishing Just Mercy."

Eileen, you're most welcome. I very much enjoy the back story..."


I too enjoy the back story when reading historical fiction and, like you, am okay with it being a fictionalized version of history. I'm looking forward to reading it.


message 31: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Mmars wrote: "Enjoying the Moderator Pick....especially following the Just Mercy group read. Interesting to get a first person (fictional) viewpoint from behind the Alabama bars after seeing it from a lawyering ..."

It's quite interesting, Mmars. I also found that this novel and Stevenson's remarkable memoir were ideal companion reads. Even more interesting is looking at the upcoming month.

All Over But the Shoutin' and A Childhood: The Biography of a Place compose another set of ideal companion reads. I have begun the Harry Crews memoir. And have read the Rick Bragg previously. This go around, I believe I will listen to Bragg who reads his own work. Having heard him speak on numerous occasions, I'm expecting that Audible listen to be especially good!


message 32: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Eileen wrote: "I too enjoy the back story when reading historical fiction and, like you, am okay with it being a fictionalized version of history. I'm looking forward to reading it. "

I do hope you enjoy it as much as I did. And having a little Nat King Cole playing in the background might be a nice accompaniment.

 photo b912d567-61d6-4f2f-a55d-598aa4e6f586_zpskm73zu5t.jpg
Nat King Cole, "Unforgettable", 12 inch LP, Capitol Records

At the time depicted in Driving the King: A Novel, the country was listening to his album Unforgettable, released in 1954.

That contains some very memorable recordings. The track listing is below:

Track listing[edit]
LP side A:
"Unforgettable"
"A Portrait Of Jennie"
"What'll I Do?"
"Lost April"
"Answer Me My Love"
"Hajji Baba"
LP side B:
"Too Young"
"Mona Lisa"
"(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons"
"Red Sails in the Sunset"
"Pretend"
"Make Her Mine"
tracks A5, A6, B5 and B6 were not part of the original 10 inch LP release but were added to the 1954 (and later) releases.


message 33: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 3968 comments Mod
I listened to Pandora while I was reading. Nice atmospheric background. NKC is smooooth.


message 34: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Diane wrote: "I listened to Pandora while I was reading. Nice atmospheric background. NKC is smooooth."

Oh, yeah. It's interesting to see how long he performed. He and his Jazz trio hit it big with Straighten up and Fly Right. Cole wrote the song based on one of his FATHER's SERMONS!

Initially, NKC just played piano. He didn't sing. Legend is that he and the group were playing in a bar one evening when a drunk started hollering at Cole to sing a song, "Sweet Lorraine." Cole said the story wasn't true, but so many folks told the story he would "just let it ride." Cole at another time said a bar customer DID demand that he sing. However he didn't know the song the customer requested and he sang "Sweet Lorraine." Pretty good story.

Growing up, my family always had Cole's music around the house. Those cool record sleeves containing thick vinyl platters that pumped out of not the best of speakers from a clunky console hi-fi set.


Mmars | 35 comments Been meaning to get back to this thread with some final thoughts. I enjoyed the first part of the book but struggled some with the back and forth between L.A. and the day of the Montgomery concert. That part just didn't work for me. I couldn't keep interested. I felt the story climax had already happened. I wished the story had been formatted in a different way.

That said, I loved the little details Howard included throughout the book that gave insight to the times and life under Jim Crow. I think Howard has more in him and would like to give Like Trees, Walking a spin (not sure when that will happen) and look forward to watching his career and what he does next.


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