Sunday, May 27, 2012

1,000 Moments

When I read the NYT review of A Moment in the Sun by John Sayles, I thought that it would be a modern day version of John Jakes' Kent Family ChroniclesThe review indicated that it was an epic novel, set at the turn of the 20th century, with famous people making appearances, and informing the reader about the trivia and the inventions of the time.  Moment in the Sun is specifically set from 1897 through 1903, whereas The Kent Family Chronicles span a greater amount of time in several volumes.  Moment is different, however from the Chronicles in an important way - the writing is really good. 

Sayles chose five main character groupings, and created his story around them.  The first involves Hod, who goes West to be a miner, but finds himself continually running from the law and men who he has defied.  Eventually, he becomes a volunteer in the Spanish-American and then the Philippine-American Wars.  Next, there are Niles and Harry Manigault, who are the sons of a Judge in Wilmington, North Carolina.  Niles is the black sheep of the family who is always finding trouble.  He meets up with Hod out West, and rejoins him as a volunteer in the Wars.  Harry has a physical handicap which makes it difficult to walk, and is thought of as "the good son."  He finds his place in the world, separate from his family and the roles that it has dictated.  The third grouping is the Lunceford family.  The father is an African American physician in Wilmington, until he is driven from his home in the 1898 riot.  Then he, his wife, and daughter move to New York, while his son remains off fighting in the Wars, on behalf of a country that doesn't treat him as an equal.  The fourth grouping includes Royal and Jubal Scott.  Royal fights in the Wars beside Junior Lunceford, while Jubal stays home and tries to make his way as a hard working African American who is still bound to abide by the rules of the past.  The final grouping focuses on Diosdado, and his band of rebel fighters in the Philippines.  There are enough minor characters with substantial roles, that I am sure some readers would come up with different groupings involving even more characters than I have.  Although famous people make appearances, they don't alter the course of the story, and seem to fit in naturally, with the exception of Mark Twain, who was inserted in Jakes' style. 

Have I mentioned that A Moment in the Sun is almost 1,000 pages?  I managed to read the book in about four weeks, and was never bored.  The story moved along quickly, and kept my attention.  I had never read anything about the Spanish-American War before, and never even knew that we fought a Philippine-American War, so those were interesting to read about.  The comparisons to the more current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were obvious, and thought provoking.  The stories about the African Americans still trying to prove themselves decades after slavery ended were really touching, and those were the stories that I liked best.

Some criticisms?  Oh all right, if you insist.  There was not a woman with a meaningful role in the first third of the book.  Also, in a thousand page book, I don't want to meet any new characters after about page 750.  The book should be so long because it takes time to wrap it up, not to keep adding new things.  I would have cut out the whole story line involving the jail in  New York (this began around page 800), and conveyed all of the important details that we got from that section through a combination of the newsboy and Harry.  Although the book does wrap up nicely in the last 50 pages, that was just a decision that Sayles made.  He could have kept the stories going for another 500 pages, as he left the characters with futures set to unfold which will certainly be just as interesting as their pasts.

This book was published by Dave Eggers' publishing house, McSweeney's, and was a 2011 NYT Notable Book.  My guess is that a more commercially motivated house would have cut this book down to a more marketable novel half the size of Moment.  All told, I can't think of any friends who I would insist must read this novel, but, if you are (1) looking for a long book to read over the summer, (2) interested in the Spanish-American War era, or (3) want to know more about early African American soldiers, this would be a great book for you.

Although I eventually broke down and bought the book on Kindle (the hardcover version kept making my arm fall asleep), I did check it out from the library to begin with, so I am counting it for the Support Your Library Challenge.  That puts me at the half way mark for that challenge!

Next Up:  Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

Still Listening to:  The Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Author Stalking

The most simple description of The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, would be that it is a story about a boy who finds a book that he loves, and when he can't find any more books by the same author, he tries to find out why the author's works are unavailable.  The boy is Daniel, and the author is Julian Carax.  The story takes place in Spain, during and after its revolution.  It has hints of a ghost story, a Spanish language soap opera, and a mystery, but what I really think Shadow is, is a story about boys who attended high school together, and the grudges and friendships that they held on to from high school until death.  Much of the story takes place in the crumbling estate of a formerly wealthy family, but other interesting settings include a maze like cemetery of forgotten books and a hospice where one just might find a prostitute.

This was a fantastic story, with interesting characters.  Daniel's friend, Fermin, is funny, tragic, likable, obscene and true, all at once, and he quickly became one of my favorite characters that I have read or heard in a long time.  I listened to the book in audio form, and benefited from the reader's pronunciation of the names (Julian is "Hoo-li-on", and Bea is "Bay-ah", for instance), but for some reason, hokey music played whenever something important was happening, which contributed to the soap opera feel.

My friend, Ann, recommended this book to me, but she said that she thought that it was about 100 pages too long.  Knowing that, I kept waiting for the boring part to come.  It never did.  I also kept thinking that I knew what was going to happen next, only to be surprised by what occurred.  There were some obvious twists that I didn't see coming, which is a credit to the author.

One thing that I didn't like about the author's style, is that he incorporates an 80 page letter from one of the characters into the story, in order to tell the story more fully than Daniel may have otherwise been able to discover.  I complained about Jonathan Franzen employing this technique in Freedom as well.  In both Shadow  and Freedom there was an awkwardness to the new point of view that just didn't work.  Throughout Shadow, Daniel's father is a bit of a shadow himself, in that the action takes place around him, but he is left in the dark as to what is happening.  I would have preferred if the 80 page letter had instead been a 1 page letter saying "Talk to your father - he knows more than you think" so that what was told in the letter could have been detailed in a conversation between Daniel and his father.  This would have both strengthened the relationship between Daniel and his father, and given the father a lacking dimension.  My guess is that Carlos Ruiz Zafon tried something like that, but found that the back story could be explained more fully through the letter.

Shadow is action packed, and charming.  According to Wikipedia, it is one of the  best selling novels of all time.  Anyone who has ever loved a book and felt connected to the author will understand Daniel's determination, and will root for his success.

One more down for the Support your Library Challenge!

Next up on CD: The Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer

Still Reading:  A Moment in the Sun  by John Sayles.  I'm 67% complete . . .

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Oh No She Didn't

Oh yes, I did.  How, when I was out walking my dog, and noticed that a neighbor who is moving has left a card catalog by the curb, could I not stop?  My favorite scene in my favorite book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer, involves Oskar looking up his dad's name in a card catalog.  And now I have my own.

There it is!  Yes, there's a water spot on the top, but nothing I couldn't hide with a place mat.  Of course, my ultimate plan would be to refinish it.  However, if I zoom out, and show you the rest of the garage, you might notice that I already have a china cabinet (left) and a barrister's bookcase (right) waiting for my tender loving care.

You might also notice that my husband's car is missing.  Do you really think that I would be able to garbage pick an out of date storage unit if he was home? 

Did you see my ball of twine?  Here it is up close:

Now that's some twine!  What will I ever do with it?  I have no idea, but it was $5.00 at an estate sale, and I couldn't resist. 

If you are in need of the perfect garbage picking vehicle, I highly recommend the Little Tikes Explorer Wagon pictured below:

We got ours about 14 years ago, when I was pregnant with my son.  It has hauled everything from kids to coolers to landscaping pavers.  We have two cracked wheels now, so I know it won't last forever.  It's sort of funny to be in the market for a new wagon (exactly the same, please) when my youngest child is 12. 

Not such a literary post, but I had to share my good fortune with someone!

I missed the Typical Book Group meeting this week.  They discussed Sister of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.  I read the book before I started blogging, but I did mention it in passing when I wrote about The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai.  They also picked the BFB (Big Fat Book) that we'll read over the summer.  The official word hasn't come out to us absentee members yet, but rumor has it we'll be reading 11/22/63 by Stephen King.  It's been on my TBR list for a while, so I hope that rumor is confirmed.

Still Reading:  A Moment in the Sun by John Sayles.  I had to go on a flight this week, and wanted to take it with me, so I bought the Kindle version.  I didn't think that a 968 page hard covered book would be the best traveling companion.  Plus, now I know that I am 61% complete.

Almost Done Listening to:  The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  I am really liking this book and will be blogging about it soon.

Friday, May 11, 2012


It's that time again!  Time for my library's used book sale!  I got some great picks tonight that I'm really excited to read.  The ones that I can't wait to start are:

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell - I really loved Black Swan Green by Mitchell, so I'm looking forward to reading this one.

Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross - this book has been on my radar for a while now though I'm really not sure why. 

I am really (dorkishly) excited about reading The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer, after reading Helen of Troy by Margaret George.  The trick to picking these copies was to find some that were used by the less studious students who didn't underline everything their teachers read.

Finally, I was intrigued by Happy Families  by Carlos Fuentes, probably because I just referenced Tolstoy's opening to Anna Karenina in talking about the mother inspired memoirs.  Speaking of memoirs, I steered clear of that section, since it seems like I have read so many of them lately.

I also got a couple of books by authors that I had read other books by and liked, including Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks and My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey.  Goodreads has recommended some other books for me that I picked up, including The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, In the Woods by Tana French and Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. 

All told, I got 8 hard cover books (all in great shape), 12 paperbacks, and a dvd for my daughter, all for $30.00.  Not bad!  Now I have to find a place to put them . . .

Still Reading:  A Moment in the Sun by John Sayles.  I am about 40% into this one, and I'm liking it, but hoping it doesn't slow down.

Still Listening to:  The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Friends Book Report - 5

The Friends Book Group met tonight to discuss The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski and Following Atticus by Tom Ryan.  There were 6 of us there tonight, and 4 of us had read both books, while the other two were both half way through Edgar, and had not started Atticus

We generally only discuss one book at a time, but the last time we met, we couldn't decide on the next book, and decided to do these two, since they are both dog books, and since some of us had read one but not the other, but none of us had read both.

As with The Typical Book Group, we all loved Edgar.  It was hard to discuss while trying not to ruin it for the two who were still reading, but we agreed that Wroblewski is a fantastic writer.  We're hoping that he comes out with something new soon.

Atticus, on the other hand . . . well, we encouraged those who had not yet read it to skip it.  We felt that Tom seemed selfish and self centered, but wondered if anyone who is not self centered has ever written a memoir.

I had to leave early to study for an Algebra test (obviously not my own), so I'm not sure what we will be reading next.  When I left, the candidates were The Dogs of  Babel  by Carolyn Parkhurst, and Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James.

Still Reading:  A Moment in the Sun by John Sayles.  I am not even a tenth of the way into this one yet, but it has got my attention!

Still Listening to:  The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. 
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