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7 Questions with Judge Nina Sankovitch
On her new book, The Lowells of Massachusetts
Book of the Month
Book of the Month: Congrats on the publication of your book, The Lowells of Massachusetts: An American Family! Tell us which is more fun: writing a book or choosing a book for BOTM?
Nina Sankovitch: Two kinds of fun, that's all I can say! As someone who always liked going to school (nerd), researching and writing is like being a student all over again. But getting to read great books? Heaven on earth! Maybe the question should be, which is harder, writing a book or choosing one for Book of the Month Club? Choosing just one book a month is definitely one of the hardest things I do, hands down.
BOTM: The Lowells of Massachusetts were one of the most influential families from the Colonial period to the twentieth century. You first became familiar with the Lowells as a child reading the poetry of two of its more creative members. What made you decide to uncover the rest of the family?
NS: I discovered that the Lowells had a family tradition of burning all personal letters upon death '“ basically trying to control the family image '“ and I took it as a challenge to uncover the true stories beneath that curated image. When I learned that the first Lowell in America came in 1639 as an already old man, undertaking a dangerous and arduous voyage to start all over in a tiny village north of Boston, I was hooked. Why had he left and what did he find here?
BOTM: The early Lowells were very politically-minded. John Lowell was a member of the Continental Congress, and his son (also named John) was a prominent critic of the government. If the Lowells were around today, what would they think of the current state of the Union?
NS: The Lowells as a family never held uniform opinions on anything! Nevertheless, I think they all might agree that our present times can be described by something John the Rebel Lowell wrote in the early 1800s: 'œThe Age is mad: Good taste is fled, Bold Folly Triumphs in its Stead'¦' And most Lowells would surely have signed on to my personal favorite from James Russell Lowell, 'œA country with such energies as ours, with such opportunities and inducements to grow rich, and such temptations to be content with growing rich, needs saving all the time.'
BOTM: What family today--from the Kardashians to the Kennedys--do you think is the contemporary version of the Lowells?
NS: Seeing how the Lowells followed through on their family creed of obligation to community - the idea that we all have a duty to work hard on behalf of others - made a huge impact on me. Every person has a special talent, they believed, and we should use our talents to benefit our communities, not just ourselves. The Lowells worked hard to make the world a better place, and any family trying to do the same goes down in my book as a great family.
NS: Whether in fiction or nonfiction, readers all love a good strong narrative, engaging heroes, and a satisfying ending. We want to visit worlds that are new to us and to come away with a broadened understanding of what it means to be human. Every book I choose for Book of the Month Club leaves an indelible mark on the reader: you've been changed for reading it, and life is richer.
BOTM: Your Instagram account reveals that you have a black cat named Athena. How many times in a day does she cross your path and what do you do when she does?
NS: Athena is constantly criss-crossing behind me, in front of me, all over my books and papers '¦ she is the guardian of my galaxy! And she is as fervent a book lover as I am, if only because reading keeps me immobile for hours at a time and she can get a good nap on my lap.
BOTM: Your selection, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood, was voted by our members as the 2016 Book of the Year. Did you know you were selecting a winner when you first read this book?
NS: I knew I was really reading something special with this book. It was unsettling on so many levels but also so very true, so gripping, so moving. Ultimately, it was about the connections that make life meaningful. And we are all looking for meaning in life.
Find out more about Nina and her new book, The Lowells of Massachusetts, at Nina's website!