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Both Sides Now: What We Learn from Go Set A Watchman

Because Harper Lee’s “other” book, To Kill A Mockingbird has been read and loved by so many people over the last half century, the release of her Go Set A Watchman has received the hype and fever of a Harry Potter book release.  In a way, that’s appropriate.  One of the themes in J. K. Rowling’s series is how a person’s perception of  people and events changes as they receive more information.  Go Set a Watchman challenges everyone who thinks they know everything about To Kill a Mockingbird.  If you don’t like surprises, shut this page down now.  There are Spoilers Dead Ahead. Watchman is the story of young adult reevaluating her past.  Jean Louise is Southern by birth but a New Yorker now by choice.   Like others who start adult life in a new location, she finds visiting home a bit difficult.  Still, she looks forward to spending time with Atticus, the father she’s worshiped all of her life.  Then Jean Louise hears the political opinions of her adored  father and falls into shock.  Atticus sees southern black people as a group without the sophistication and education necessary to handle the privileges of citizenship responsibly.  He fears their full…

A Novel of Infinite Charm
I know a Good Story / July 10, 2015

Some stories are brave as warriors, holding their ideals high toward the sun.  “This is truth.” they say, challanging the status quo, and quiescent crowds.  I love those books.  I also love stories that are beautifully told with graceful sentences and sinuous prose.  I’m a sucker for graceful books.  I love many types of books but these days I rarely find one that captivates me with an idea.  That’s why I’m so enchanted with The Little Paris Bookshop.  It’s a novel of infinite charm. The Little Paris Bookshop is a book-filled barge that’s steered up and down the Seine by its owner, Monsieur Perdu.  His name for the business is The Literary Apothecary and it’s a good description for the place because Monsieur Perdu prescribes books more than sells them.   He listens to his customers and finds the books that will treat their unfulfilled needs.  For example, the woman adrift in heartbreak doesn’t need Fifty Shades of Grey.  She’s still recovering  from a real relationship with a controlling, damaged man, she doesn’t need a fictional one to make her feel worse.  Instead, Monsieur prescribes a book to be read in small doses, one that creates serenity, especially if it taken…

Glimpsing a Turning Point of History
I know a Good Story / July 7, 2015

Americans are fascinated by American history; what we may lack in length of time, we make up for in breadth of incident.  This last weekend commemorated events that created this country but not every turning point can recorded by an arbitrary date .  Sometimes it takes perspective to look back at a group of events and say, “Yes.  At this point we were one type of nation and by here we were another.”  E. L. Doctorow tracked one of those passages in one of his greatest novels, Ragtime.  When the times start changing, we can hear the herald through music. Ragtime is the story of when the US began really seeing itself as a nation of many.  In the beginning are the upper-middle class Family (they have no names beyond their roles, e. g.Father, Mother, and Mother’s Brother.  By remaining anonymous, these become every family) who want and see little beyond their beckoning home in New Rochelle and Father’s interest in exploring Distant Lands.  The family occasionally interacts with the outside world but that world rarely touches them.  Houdini may make their acquaintance or Mother’s Brother may chase after the beautiful Evelyn Nesbit but nothing really disturbs the serenity or…

It’s Hard to Beat a Winner
I know a Good Story / July 2, 2015

There’s a reason to read the classics: they’ve proven their worth over time.  There’s a similar reason for reading the award winners: they’re usually pretty good books. That may sound snobbish but since this time on earth is limited, I prefer to read something that’s good.  Of course “good” is more than round characters and a well-paced plot.  To become something special, a story has to hit you where you live, make you turn over old memories and see something new in the world.  It’s not just entertainment; it’s soul-reviving.  Well, I  hunted through the Newbery finalists and boy, did I find a good book! One Came Home is the third novel of Amy Timberlake, a writer who knows something of sisters and small towns.  It’s a mystery involving two sisters, Agatha and Georgina.  Agatha is the older one, adventuresome and pretty.  Georgie is the practical one, good with figures and strong-minded.  Agatha disappears and then the remains of a red-haired woman are found wrapped in Agatha’s best party dress, which leads to this great opening statement: “It was the day of my sister’s first funeral and I knew it wasn’t her last – which is why I left.  That’s…

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