19 February 2008

[Belated] January Book Report

I forgot until today that I had never posted about what I read in January. This is largely because I didn't get a whole lot of reading done that month, but I did give it the old college try, so to speak.

The Known World, by Edward P. Jones, was my January choice for the Book Awards Reading Challenge. This title won the 2004 Pulitzer, as well as the 2005 IMPAC Dublin Award. I remember when it came out, reading several reviews of it, and knowing that someday I really wanted to read it. It sounded very interesting, and very different from other books of its overall type.

The book tells the story of a free black man, whose freedom was purchased by his parents when he was a child, in rural Virginia. The twist, if you want to call it that, is that he owns quite a number of slaves, who work on his small plantation farm, the same way that his parents worked on the plantation of a wealthy white landowner until they could purchase their freedom from him.

I tried. I really did. I read slightly more than half of the book, but I had to just call it quits. The story changed viewpoints and time periods too often for my taste, even though that is not usually a problem with other things I read. But primarily I couldn't finish the book because it just disturbed me. At one point, I realized that I didn't have to finish it, so I just returned it to the library.

I can't pinpoint one single thing that was the problem, and maybe it's just a case of "white man's guilt" about slavery and the treatment of African Americans, particularly during the period in our country's history when slaves were property and little else - certainly not real human beings. I guess one thing that disturbed me was the idea that someone who had been born a slave, and had been a slave, not only owned slaves of his own, but didn't really treat them with any more respect than anyone else did. I realize that he was a man of his time, and that he was not individually responsible for all of the other slaves, past, present, and future. But the main character was just not appealing to me, and it made it hard to appreciate his story.

I will say that the book is well-written, as far as the language goes. I had no trouble picturing the primary characters, the houses, streets, the slave quarters, or any number of other things, as Jones' prose was quite evocative.

But I didn't finish the book, and instead moved on to my next choice, which has been enjoyable so far.

However, speaking of books ...

I did not have to go to work today, as the power was off in our building for electrical work (this was more than fine with me, by the way). So I headed up to Barnes & Noble for a booksigning by Lisa Scottoline. I *love* Lisa Scottoline, she is an absolute hoot in person, and getting the signed book is just a bonus. She talks a mile a minute, while throwing Tastykakes (a Philadelphia specialty) to the audience. She is originally from South Philadelphia, and her books name places and introduce characters that are familiar if you live here, and I would think make it sound pretty interesting if you live someplace else!

Today she talked about how she writes, why she writes, and what she has learned about herself from creating her characters. She fascinates me, and though she has several best-sellers under her belt, I am certain that if you ran into her someplace, she would want to stop for coffee and talk about the latest episode of "Deal or No Deal," or something like that. You know, a regular person (who happens to be a lot of fun, and famous to boot). If you are anyplace where she will be signing books, treat yourself to some time with her and all of her stories.

She did say that she thinks everyone has at least one good book in them, whether it's something that is published by a publishing company or not. She admitted that she spends "way too much time" reading blogs, and that she sees a lot of good writing in many of them. There was a gentleman in the audience who said he was hoping to write a book in the next year or so, and she told him to e-mail her if he had questions. Which is pretty nice, when you figure that there were probably at least ten other people there who will e-mail her as well - and she will respond to them all!

Someday - when I'm a famous author [ahem] - I hope I can be as gracious, and even half as much fun ...


Anonymous said...

At least you enjoyed one of your books last month! She sounds really fun but I'm not sure I've read any of her books.

OTOH, I've got The Known World on my TBR shelves. Maybe it'll stay there even longer.

Mr Puffy's Knitting Blog: said...

You know, last month I had to quit Belinda half way through! It just didn't engage my interest - it wasn't anything more than that - nothing like the distaste for the main character in your book. Thank you for introducing Lisa Scottoline - her books look like fun reading!

teabird said...

If Lisa Scottoline is right, then maybe it's not such a waste of energy to work on one's book -- I'll have to read some of her work. What title would you suggest?

As for the other book - life is way too short to finish books that just don't do it for you. It's not like we're in school anymore (praise the Goddess!) and have to account to someone else for our reading!

Carol said...

A great review! I'm not at all surprised, but I will have to pick up her books now! If someone were to throw Tastykakes at an audience here, no one would appreciate them for what they are! You can't get individual TKs here. Certain types are sold in the grocery stores by the box, but no pies (I miss pies), no Chocolate or Coconut Juniors. wahhh

Lorraine said...

I agree with that- we all have a story to tell. Whether they should actually be published or not, that's another thing.

I don't waste time on books if I'm not feeling the love.

mary said...

Isn't it amazing when a famous person tells you to email them? I paid for a private lesson once with a very "famous" dog trainer who was passing through MN and she told me to call her when we were done competing the next weekend and she gave me her cell phone number. Unbelivable. So, I actually called her and she gave me even more tips and ideas on how to be more successful the next time. I was totally amazed and very impressed. She could have blown me off easily.

Great review of TNW.

Wish I didn't have to go to work today. It's been a long week. TGIF tomorrow!