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Book group makes historic choice

Four committee members, Monica LaVold, Nancy Miller, Mary Greatens and Heather Johnson, stand at the public library before a bust of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War historical novel, "The Killer Angels," selected as the spotlighted book for the 2013 River Falls Reads. Other committee members involved in the book selection were Mike Norman, Katie Chaffee, Kurt Leichtle, Mary Louise Olson, Jean Ritzinger, Kirby Symes, Jera Terreng, Ruth Wood and Bonnie Carroll. <i>Phil Pfuehler photo</i>

So many things seemed to come together to make "The Killer Angels" the right choice:

--These (2011-2015) are the sesquicentennial years for the American Civil War.

--The popular and critically acclaimed movie "Lincoln" is playing at theaters.

--The public library will be staging a major Civil War exhibit in February and part of March.

The River Falls Reads committee, which each year highlights a book for local residents to read, capitalized on the Civil War interest by picking a Pulitzer Prize winning historical novel.

"Those other influences didn't hurt when we were trying to decide," said committee member and public library director Nancy Miller. "The novel we selected is very readable and also informative.

"The focus is the major Battle of Gettysburg, but it includes different perspectives from both sides. Even though it's fiction, you learn some things about that period and war."

Miller said that Michael Shaara's novel, "The Killer Angels," is at the top of every critic's list of best Civil War books. His son, Jeff, went on to write two sequels. reviewed the 1974 classic novel like this: "...Reveals more about the Battle of Gettysburg than any piece of learned nonfiction on the same subject. Michael Shaara's account of the three most important days of the Civil War features deft characterizations of all of the main actors...The most inspiring Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, whose 20th Maine regiment of volunteers held the Union's left flank on the second day of the battle.

"This unit's bravery at Little Round Top helped turned the tide of the war against the rebels. There are also plenty of maps, which convey a complete sense of what happened July 1-3, 1863. Reading about the past is rarely so much fun as on these pages."

River Falls Reads for 2013 will run from Feb. 3 to March 10. Copies of "The Killer Angels" to check out or buy will be made available at the public library in early January.

There will also be a suggested reading list of other Civil War book titles, both fiction and nonfiction, including books for juveniles. These will all be posted and made available to check out at the library.

As with past River Falls Reads, the six-week period beginning in February will include various events and programs with Civil War themes.

There will be book-discussion groups and movies, a Civil War re-enactment group and an appearance by a professional actress from Racine who impersonates historical characters and will do Mary Todd Lincoln.

The public library's Civil War gallery exhibit is being organized by Kirby Symes and Katie Chaffee. It will be displayed on the library's lower level starting Feb. 3 with an afternoon reception.

River Falls Reads was begun in 2003 with the selection of the Willa Cather frontier novel, "My Antonia."

Other book selections include "Undaunted Courage," by Stephen Ambrose; "Standing in the Rainbow," by Fannie Flagg; "The Grapes of Wrath," by John Steinbeck; "Rising Tide: The Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America," by John M. Barry; "Three Cups of Tea," by Greg Mortenson; "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," by Mark Twain; and "Grand Opening" by Jon Hassler.

As for the group's latest selection, Miller said: "I hope people get excited about this one. You can always learn something new during River Falls Reads, and you may also meet people you didn't know before.

"Anyway, it gives you something to do during the doldrums of winter."

The Journal will publicize more of the events and programs for River Falls Reads 2013 as they're finalized.