News of the World Book Club Questions and Recipe
*If you are new here, WELCOME! For News of the World, I provide your book club with a brief summary, a recipe, and discussion questions in that order!
Today’s post features News of the World, a finalist for the National Book Award. It’s also slated to become a movie later this year starring Tom Hanks (who doesn’t love Tom Hanks?). Maybe before now you had not heard of News of the World or its author, Paulette Jiles.
This novel is one of the more literary novels featured on Book Club Bites to date, but like the others (The Goldfinch, Peace Like a River, etc), News of the World has both strong characters and strong plot. Sometimes that is not always true of literary novels, which tend to focus on character development over plot.
I love literary fiction and read only books categorized as such for many, many years, but I truly appreciate a smart read that straddles the line between genre and literary and tend to feature those more on this site (think Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine or The Great Alone).
Paulette Jiles is definitely a literary author in my mind, but she is a prolific one, which is somewhat rare. You can see her complete list of books here including her latest release, Simon the Fiddler, which I believe you would love if you’ve already read News of the World and are looking for something similar.
News of the World, like several of Jiles’ books, is set in historic Texas just after the Civil War. Since I live in Texas, I really enjoyed reading the book and visualizing what the landscape and towns would have looked like during that time. It was fun reading about both large and small Texas towns I know, because, if you don’t know, this book follows an elderly man as he braves the open roads through Texas to return a Kiowa captive to her family.
The relationship between Captain Kidd and Johanna as he takes her, almost against her will, back to her home in South Texas, grows from a business transaction to a deep friendship as the book progresses. Jiles does a wonderful job integrating historical details of the time period seamlessly. And, I thoroughly enjoyed the dynamic between the elderly Kidd and the young Johanna, which was a unique pairing. In addition, Jiles’ background in poetry definitely comes into play in beautiful phrasing throughout the novel.
News of the World is a short read and a great book club pick! If your book club hasn’t read it, consider adding it to your list. On that note, I’ve provided book club questions and a delicious recipe for News of the World below for your meeting!
Here’s a brief summary of News of the World:
Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd has endured three American wars in his seventy years. He is a man of honor and principal and when a Kiowa captive is brought to him, he has no choice but to return the girl to the family she was torn from years prior. Used to traveling through Post-Civil-War Texas, Captain Kidd is a man of grit and a loner unafraid of what the open road holds. In twelve-year-old Johanna he’s surprised to find a kindred spirit and, as the trip wears on and they endure momentous obstacles, he finds himself reluctant to lose the unique bond between them.
For the News of the World recipe:
There is very little food mentioned throughout the book. Mostly, we see the Captain and Johanna quickly eating bacon and cornbread before leaving for the next town on their route. However, at one point they stop overnight at a friend’s, Mrs. Gannet’s, and she gives Johanna some divinity candy.
Divinity is a popular treat in Texas. The origins of it are somewhat murky, though many believe that the divinity we know today was not created until Karo Syrup came about in the early 1900s, which would be after the novel’s timeline. However, divinity-like candy has been made since the 17th century. The novel describes the candy as “vanilla and sugar and egg white,” which is exactly what the recipe I’m going to share with you includes.
Divinity is a candy, therefore you will have to have a candy thermometer to make it. Usually you can find one at the store for less than $10.
If you haven’t made candy before, it can be a little tricky, and divinity is no different. However, it is a sweet and unique treat that you will enjoy trying as a book club if you choose to make it (or buy it if you can!).
Divinity requires a long whipping time, so you will also want an electric mixer. You will need to whip the egg whites and then the finished mixture for about ten minutes each, until both stand stiff.
I am also going to show you two pictures of batches that I made. On the left, the batch was overmixed by just a minute or two and the candy came out too dry. It’s VERY easy to do this–like I said just a minute or two over. So, while you are mixing, if you think it’s getting close, you might stop and try to spoon the mixture onto your parchment before you continue mixing. If it spoons in a smooth, taffy like circle, then you can probably quit mixing. If it melts or bleeds and doesn’t hold shape, then you will need a little more mixing. The photo on the right is the consistency you are aiming for.
Either way, it will still taste delicious! I ate the dry pieces too and they were just as yummy, but a little more crumbly. If you’ve ever had divinity you know it has a very unique texture, almost between a soft taffy and a fudge. It’s also VEEERRRY sweet, which is why I recommend topping it with a pecan, although that is optional.
So, if your book club is looking for food suggestions for News of the World, look no further!
Other food suggestions from News of the World:
- Chapter 6 – Johanna makes a supper of cornbread, bacon, and coffee
- Chapter 9 – Mrs. Gannett gives Johanna divinity
- Chapter 15 – Johanna decides to fix roast (stolen) chicken with an egg cooked in the ribcage for Captain
- Chapter 20 – Johanna’s return celebration with Alsatian foods, smoked brisket, and potatoes with cream and cheese
- Electric mixer
- Candy Thermometer
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- ½ cup light corn syrup Karo
- ½ cup water
- 2 egg whites
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup pecan halves
- Place your egg whites into a bowl and allow to rise to room temperature.
- (Steps 2 and 3 should be done simultaneously if possible so that the egg whites and sugar mixture are ready about the same time.) Place the egg whites into your mixer and beat on high until stiff peaks form. This took about 10 minutes on my stand mixer.
- In a saucepan, over medium-high heat, bring the sugar, corn syrup, and water to a boil. Stir continuously until the sugar has melted and the temperature of the mix rises to soft ball stage on a candy thermometer.
- Once soft ball stage is reached and the egg whites are stiff, pour half of the sugar syrup into the egg whites.
- Continue beating the egg whites on medium and place the sugar syrup back onto the burner. Allow the syrup to rise to hard ball stage on the candy thermometer.
- Once hard ball stage is reached, slowly pour the remainder of the syrup into the egg whites.
- Add in the vanilla.
- Continue beating on high until the mix holds stiff, glossy peaks. This took about 10 additional minutes on my stand mixer, but watch carefully! Overmixing will cause the candy to have a crumbly, dry texture. If you are unsure, try step 9 to check readiness.
- Once ready, spray a teaspoon with cooking spray and drop by the spoonful onto parchment.
- Top each piece with a pecan half.
- Allow to cool and store in a closed container.
News of the World Book Club Questions:
*WARNING: May contain spoilers!
- The novel takes place in Texas just five years after the Civil War. It depicts a state fighting not only the remnants of war, but hostile Indians, outlaws, and politicians. What historical detail about the feuds going on in Texas at the time surprised you? Do you have any other knowledge about the time and place that you would like to contribute to the conversation?
- Jefferson Kyle Kidd is a man in his seventies. Yet, he is largely unperturbed about taking a Kiowa hostage across dangerous territory to her home. Was this believable to you? Why or why not? Do you think it was his character, morals, or something else that made him do it?
- Johanna Leonberger was captured by Kiowa Indians at the age of six and watched her entire family die at the hands of her captives. However, we never once see her long for her original family but only her Kiowa family. The author mentions several times that captive children always long for their Indian families, even if they return to their original families. The reason for this is largely unknown. Why do you think this happens? Do you have any personal experience with this type of situation? Share any insights.
- Johanna is transferred to Captain Kidd’s hands and, to the reader’s surprise, never really turns on him. In fact, she bonds with the elderly man. At what point do you think Captain Kidd earns Johanna’s trust? Do you believe children are innately able to sense who is trustworthy and who isn’t, as the author hints?
- Captain Kidd buys a wagon that has “Curative Waters” painted on the side. In the end, Johanna calls him her Curative Water. And, during the book the Captain shares this thought: “If people had true knowledge of the world perhaps they would not take up arms and so perhaps he could be an aggregator of information from distant places and then the world would be a more peaceful place. He had been perfectly serious. That illusion had lasted from age forty-nine to sixty-five. And then he had come to think that what people needed, at bottom, was not only information but tales of the remote, the mysterious, dressed up as hard information. And he, like a runner, immobile in his smeared printing apron bringing it to them. Then the listeners would for a small space of time drift away into a healing place like curative waters.” Discuss this symbol of curative waters and how it weaves through the book.
- While Captain Kidd takes the side of offering his audience stories from afar to entertain and comfort them, Doris points out that “The newspapers, they say nothing about this (captive children) at all or about the poor at all. There are great holes in your newspapers. Nobody sees them. God sees them.” Which view point to you take? Is there a way to bridge the gap?
- When Johanna returns to her family, we expect there to be issues around her and her actions. Instead we find the issues lie in her family’s behavior. Did this surprise you? How does this speak to the overall message of the book?
- This book is relatively short but covers a lot of territory (pun intended). Did you feel left wanting for more? What could have been expanded from your view point?
- Have you read any of Paulette Jiles’ other books? Discuss how this book compares.
- Share with the group any other books you have read about Texas, Indians, captives, or post-civil-war history that you have enjoyed.
Have you read News of the World? What did you think? Did it satisfy you or were you left wishing for more? What are some similar books you’ve read?
Until next time, Happy Reading!
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Other Books by Paulette Jiles that you might enjoy!