Two weeks ago the ALA awards were announced and I finally got around to ordering and reading a book I’ve wanted to get to all fall – Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman, nominated for a National Book award and winner of the inauguaral YALSA Nonfiction award.
Great. But by now, you might be wondering, Claire, does award-winning make it sexy? No, the opening does. Ron wrote about hooks, Ann about first chapters. Try this one.
In the summer of 1838 … Charles Darwin drew a line down the middle of a piece of scrap paper. . . He was in his late twenties. it was time to decide. Across the top of the left-hand side he wrote Marry. On the right he wrote Not Marry. And in the middle: This is the Question.
Many of us have been in that spot. Many teens may be wondering if they ever will.
Hundreds of books have been written about Darwin, including his own Evolution of Species, published in 1859, twenty-one years after his wedding. But none have ever focused on Darwin’s relationship with his devout Christian wife Emma. The book is a marvel. Not only does it reveal the challenges of faith for them both, but also the 20+ years that Charles worked on his epic book, his scientific process and the family life swirling around him. It reads like a great novel. Indeed they do marry. But the promise revealed in the first chapter is carried all the way through. How can you love someone who doesn’t believe like you do?
Charles put off publishing his historic book for many years for fear of its reception in Christian England, but also for fear of what it would do his family. Christian Emma supported non-believer Charles every step of the way, in spite of worrying that they would not be together in eternal happiness. The book with every revision became stronger and so did their relationship. Emma was no whimpering wife; she outlived Charles by twenty years.
Heiligman’s personal narrative arc in writing this book is that she was a religious studies major in college who married a scientist. In her acknowledgements she says she never would have written this book without the years of their marriage, and myriad discussions about the intersection of religion and science.
Try some sexy nonfiction. You’ll like it. Oh, by the way, there is an epigraph or quote at the start of every chapter, quotes from Darwin’s book, and quotes from those who knew Charles and Emma. Selectively and lightly done. I marvel how are blog posts draw on each other.