Books That Inspire 2009

The Believers: A Novel of Shaker Life
Janice Holt Giles

As a child growing up in Kentucky, I was exposed to many religious groups. My parents were members of the Church of Christ, one of my best friends was Jewish, another was Catholic, one of my aunts belonged to a group of serpent-handling churches in the hills and my cousin was a Shaker. My family spoke of my cousin in whispers and I wanted to know about the secret group and we didn’t have Google. What we did have was Janice Holt Giles. Ms. Giles wrote about strong women and their contributions to the settling of the state of Kentucky. Her women were determined, organized and willing to work hard. She also wrote about the Shakers and was my source of quality information. At 12 years old, I found my mothers copy of The Believers: A Novel of Shaker Life and read it over the summer. I found the whole utopian communal life fascinating. I managed to convince my parents, on a trip to visit a great aunt in Lexington, to take a side trip to Pleasant Hill, the Shaker community where my cousin lived. My mother had forgotten that my cousin was still living there, and when we came up on him, making brooms (while on our tour) my mother was very upset and had a difficult time carrying on a conversation with him. I found him very pleasant. This taste of communal living and working lead me to look at the Harmonist of New Harmony, Indiana (while I was at the University of Evansville, Indiana) and the Mormons of Utah. I was sure by the end of my studies I didn’t want to join a commune or any religion that would dictate what I was to wear or do with my day. I loved Ms. Holt's comment about her book – “It illuminates the problems of religious fanaticism, particularly what a pain it is for a woman to be married to a religious fanatic.”

Bobby A. Anderson
Slide Librarian
School of Art and Art History