Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
This book follows New York-based writer John Berendt’s move to Savannah, Georgia in the 1980s and the unbelievable events that transpired during his time there. The book’s initial focus is on the people Berendt befriends in Savannah and the general Southern way of life. However, it later transitions into an account of a real-life murder mystery when one of Savannah’s very own residents—and John’s friend— Jim Williams, is caught up in a highly publicized trial.
Berendt’s style of writing is seamless as he explores the strange, yet charming Savannahian atmospherics and how one big trial shook up one little town.
“The music continued in that vein, off and on, throughout the day and late into the evening. It did the same the following day and the day after that. The piano was a permanent part of the atmosphere, apparently, and so was the party—if a party was what it was,” (39).
“Joe started to play the piano in the middle of Mandy’s story. ‘In the morning,’ he said, ‘three bottles of liquor and a half dozen glasses were missing. That doesn’t sound like a burglary to me. It sounds like a party. And the only thing that annoys me about it is that we weren’t invited,” (48).
“‘Did I ever tell you about them? Well, we keep a lot of insect colonies in big glass jars out there. Some of them have been breeding for twenty five years. That’s a thousand generations. All they know about life is what goes on inside their jar. They haven’t been exposed to pesticides or pollution, so they haven’t developed immunities or evolved in any way. They stay the same, generation after generation. If we released them into the world, they’d die. I think something like that happens after seven generations in Savannah. Savannah gets to be the only place you can live. We’re like bugs in a jar,'” (75).
“Joe had nothing against convicted bank robbers—or getaway drivers either—but he felt foolish entrusting his cash register to a dedicated thief,” (92).
“‘Is everyone out?’ the fire captain asked.
‘Everyone I know about,’ said Joe.
‘You mean there might be people in your house you don’t know about?
‘Captain,’ said Joe, ‘there have been times when there were people in my bed I didn’t know about,'” (93).
“Savannahians drove fast. They also liked to carry their cocktails with them as they drove. According to the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, more than 8 percent of Savannah’s adults were ‘known alcoholics,’ which may have accounted for the disturbing tendency of motorists to run up over the curb and collide with trees,” (95).
“Burt had a shiny bald head and sad eyes. ‘How you doing Chablis?’ he asked.
‘Well, I ain’t on food stamps yet,’ she said. ‘But I’m gettin’ real close. It’s a good thing y’all don’t pay me any more than you do, or I might never qualify.’ Burt did not answer,” (120).
“‘When people like that see someone like me, who’s never joined their silly pecking order and who’s taken great risks and succeeded, they loathe that person. I have felt it many times. They don’t have any say-so over me, and they don’t like that at all,'” (237).
“Joe ignored the order. ‘The best response is always no response,’ he said. ‘It buys you two or three months’ breathing time, six if you’re lucky,'” (262).
One of my best friends back home loaned me MGGE a couple of weeks ago telling me she fell in love with it extraordinarily quickly and couldn’t get it out of her head. It was difficult for her to identify why it had such a notable impact on her, but she wanted me to read it and see how I felt. Coincidentally, I had briefly heard of this book beforehand on a tour of Savannah as a couple of summers ago. It was my first time in Savannah and the tour fell on the hottest day of the entire summer which meant every tour guide was vehemently fanning herself as she explained the sights from our open-air bus. When our bus approached the main house mentioned in the book, the guide explained Berendt’s book was a wild success and brought a good amount of tourism to Savannah. However, I had no idea then that it would take me two years before I reached for this book. Reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was a way for me to return to Savannah and understand a little bit more about the general culture there as well as reflect on how I felt when I visited.
As I touched on at the top of this review, part of the book’s beauty is the atmosphere evoked on each page. It doesn’t feel forced by any means. In fact, the way each park and house are brought to life is smooth and effortless. It’s easy to fall into and I loved that about it.
One thing I was somewhat taken aback by was the subject matter and general lack of true crime. Maybe I misunderstood what the book was about beforehand, but I was expecting much more mystique and in general something completely different than what the story actually turned out to be. Although the book is arguably more focused on the shooting in Jim Williams’ house than it is on anything else, a substantial piece of the plot (mostly the beginning of the book) explores the varying social circles within Savannah. This big plot point simply put is: Savannah doesn’t want change. Savannah welcomes outsiders, but she will have you know she is fine with the way she is and she definitely doesn’t need outsiders to tell her otherwise. This us vs. them mentality is partly owed to the fact that Berendt himself is an outsider, yet also contradicted as he is able to join the high-flying social circles of Savannah quite easily.
All in all, I enjoyed this book immensely. The writing reminded me of Erik Larson’s, Devil in the White City which made my experience that much better. It highlights Savannah’s good and bad points fairly while also shedding light on a captivating trial and even stranger people. My friend and I both repeatedly said we had to keep reminding ourselves it was non-fiction while reading because everything seemed so outrageous and unrealistic. If that’s not great non-fiction, I don’t know what is.
If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend you read this book!
A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir (An Ember in the Ashes #3)
***There may be spoilers in this review, so mark this as your official warning.***
A Reaper at the Gates is the newest installment in Sabaa Tahir’s stellar An Ember in the Ashes fantasy series. It is book 3 out of 4 and continues the tangled narratives of Laia, Elias, and Helene/Blood Shrike as they face the Nightbringer and the terrifying war to come under Emperor Marcus’ rule.
“Forget him now, Laia, she had said. It’s damned stupid to fall for a once – dead ghost – talker , I don’t care how pretty he is,” (page 20).
“Darin’s mouth curves in a brief, crooked smile. Mother’s smile. ‘Laia, I know you’re angry at him, but he—’
‘Skies save me from the men in my life and all the things they think they know. Get out of here. Afya needs you. The prisoners need you. Go,’” (page 12).
“Her voice changes, multiplies. It is a child’s voice and an old woman’s layered over her own, as if all the versions that Shaeva was and ever could be are speaking at once,” (page 42).
“For a moment I see what we could have had: Laia and her books and patients, and me and a school that taught more than death and duty. A little one with gold eyes and glowing brown skin. The white in Laia’s hair one day, and the way her eyes will mellow and deepen and grow wiser,” (page 66).
“Love. I sigh. Love is joy coupled with misery, elation bound to despair. It is a fire that beckons me gently and then burns when I get too close. I hate love. I yearn for it. And it drives me mad,” (page 173).
At this point in the series, our characters are much different than they were the last book or the book before. In AReaper at the Gates they have hardened tenfold, but their potentials are much more potent because of this. Almost all of the book’s characters have had to endure extreme loss and trauma—Izzi’s death, Helene’s family’s death, Darin’s torture in Kauf, Marcus’ declining mental health, Laia’s discovery of her mother’s identity, etc.— and Tahir does an effective job of portraying how these multifaceted transformations affect these characters’ mindsets. (Although it’s not an openly explored avenue, I’ve recently been intrigued by the ways trauma is subtly explored in YA novels.)
I began reading Reaper around the middle/end of June abroad in Europe. I was excited about its release because I love this series, but when I finally bought it on Kindle I had a difficult time getting into it (I feel like I say this in every review, but whatever, deal with it). I was so distanced from what had happened in the last two books that I lost a good deal of the momentum that had been built up by the previous books. This is not necessarily a criticism of this particular series as much as it is a concern with any newer series with forthcoming books (or movies, or tv seasons)—it’s hard not to lose steam while waiting for the next installment. There’s inevitably going to be details your readers forget and at worst, a loss of character or plot investment.
Luckily, I did manage to re-build my interest as I flew home to the States from Europe (10 hour flights will do that). Once I ignored what I didn’t remember and plowed along, the book was both monumentally enjoyable and savagely frustrating at times. Reaper kicks the Ember game into high gear, as it should, so there’s a lot of fight scenes and a ton of unresolved angst. There’s also a lot of twists and turns which was by far my favorite aspect of the book. (It feels like there’s one every couple of chapters, I don’t know how Sabaa Tahir does it.)
What more can I say? I’m invested. I’m hooked. I’m a little broken-hearted, but I’m hoping it will mend with the series’ conclusion. Maybe I’ll re-read all three books before the fourth and final book is published.
(Small rant: I JUST WANT ELIAS AND LAIA TO BE TOGETHER AND NO MORE SOUL CATCHER STUFF AND OMG HELENE AND HARPER ARE SO CUTE AND I’M ANGRY AND WHY SABAA TAHIR?! Reader, you should start the series immediately.)
Barbie Chang is a collection of poems written by Victoria Chang. The overall narrative revolves around several topics such as her parents’ illnesses and her exclusion from a group of moms at school she calls the “Circle”. With brilliant wordplay and stunning stanzas, Chang creates a persona named “Barbie,” who is desperately caught in-between trying to become visible and invisible simultaneously within her life. This collection of poems is very unique because it showcases Chang’s thoughts without any punctuation whatsoever, yet it still brings forth a beautiful narrative about race, death, exclusion, motherhood, and meditations about love.
“the Circle will school her if she lets them they have something to say doves come out of their mouths that explode into splinters in the sky,” (7).
“there are hints of fingerprints on the window but no more fingers” (8).
“Chang was younger she thought the quiets before the storms would last now she knows the storms will come in any form at any time in the quiets she worries about the Circle in the storms she thinks nothing about them and their fables,” (12).
“it’s impossible to outline a beating heart,” (19).
“is a windcatcher still a windcatcher if there is no wind moving it is Barbie Chang still a woman if there is no man hunting her if she does not look in the mirror does she exist if she walks past men and they do not look at her is she still alive is a signified without a signifier really impossible,” (20).
“when you brush a child’s hair the mother can also feel the pain she heard the ice skating party was a hit little girls going in figure eights their breath coming out in clouds shapes like little white hearts,” (27).
“if Barbie Chang perches on a hill with binoculars waiting for deer and sees someone else looking for deer but watching her instead does that mean she exists or that she’s a deer,” (62).
I was assigned this book for my special topics “Beyond XOXO” writing class and I was initially hesitant about reading it. This is the third book we’ve had to read for this class and I haven’t enjoyed the other books, so I had a lot of doubts about diving into this one. I also am typically not a huge fan of poetry, so I dreaded the thought of drudging through an entire book dedicated to just that. However, as you can expect, all of my negative expectations were challenged after I began reading Barbie Chang.
What I liked most about these poems was the imagery. I always love the crunchiness of alliteration and word play when I read, but I enjoy beautiful images and scenes much more. I included a couple of my favorite lines above where I felt the imagery captivating me as I read them. For example, the line about the fingerprints on the window was eerily breathtaking. I kept imagining a cold window with frost and tiny fingerprints prints, but no people around to leave them. I felt colder just reading that line. It was gorgeous.
I’ve found that the poetry Chang writes functions in two different ways. She includes crunchiness with her words while also preserving the dignity of her imagery which is really intriguing. I had a writing professor last year who said some people (including herself) don’t picture a book’s plot progression like a movie on a screen, but instead they hear it as music with each line providing a note. I think this poetry is perfect for both types of readers. For the more visually focused, Chang provides evocative illustrations. For her musical readers, she composes songs with each word. In the end, it’s all hauntingly beautiful. I think the poetic structure also gives Chang a lot of room to play with diverse literary devices simply because her stanzas are so short and they aren’t very wordy. Having less room and therefore less words, forces her to carefully craft and emphasize every word to make sure it really belongs in the poem.
What I didn’t like about the poems were the vague metaphors. A lot of times they were confusing and hard to picture. However, with a little re-reading, I was able to plow along just fine. Something I also think is important to note is that this collection of poems deals with complicated and heavy/depressing topics which have the capability to turn a lot of readers off. However, because they are poems with some sort of distance from the speaker (i.e. “Barbie Chang”), the emotional tone is shifted more towards the abstract. Because of this, the emotions in the poetry come off feeling much more detached than in your face. This isn’t to say that there aren’t hard-hitting lines, but simply that their emotional impact is dulled because of the distance between author and persona/speaker.
I loved this book and I want to read another one of Victoria Chang’s poetry collections so I can further explore the genre. I would like to get a better sense of what contemporary poets are doing with their work and become more comfortable with poetry. If you’re like me and you know you usually don’t like poetry but still want to try to get into it, I would suggest you preview this collection and see what you think.
How do I always manage to get to this point? Procrastination is such a beast. I think I’ve made quite a few of these life/excuse/procrastination posts on this blog which is interesting given that I only have a limited number of posts… but hey, that’s okay!
Life has been good, although it has had its rough patches. This semester my schedule is much different than it was last semester so I’ve been trying my best to adjust accordingly. In the fall, I started working at my school’s nursing department which I’ve loved. I deal with a lot of spreadsheets and paperwork for the school which is a great experience because it’s so different from the other jobs I’ve had and what I want to do in the future. I also love it because I really enjoy spending time with all of my wonderful co-workers who are just so fun to talk to. Back in September, I also worked a couple of months as a PALS* assistant which was insanely rewarding and just a great overall experience. I never realized how much I loved pre-schoolers!
This semester I have class five days a week, and I work three of those days. This in itself has been a little rough just because last semester I alternated working and school days which streamlined my week nicely. This semester I can’t do that. I also have a couple of four-hour writing workshop classes before and after other two-hour classes, so I end up having some six/twelve hour days when I factor in work and music lessons. (Do you feel bad yet? Kidding, kidding!) Other than that, I’ve been enjoying myself immensely. I’ve also been trying to get out and do fun things once in a while, cook new recipes, and of course, read.
I have to admit folks, reading has been hard. I’m taking two different writing workshop classes where we do read, but not enough to warrant material for reviews. One of my classes is a non-fiction workshop where we focus on essays and shorter pieces so there’s not a lot of review-ready material with that class. The majority of the class is actually focused on reading our peers’ original non-fiction essays which is incredible, but I can’t talk about them here as these pieces are vulnerable in their beginning stages of life. The other is a class solely focused on the way authors write love where we do read some longer books, but not usually ones I’m interested in enough to write a review. Maybe this needs to change?
I think the problem is that by the end of the day I’m so tired of reading peoples’ essays and critiquing them that I kind of just give up and listen to a podcast. I’m going to actively find a way around this because I really do love to read, and I want this blog to flourish.
My goal is that this will be the first post of many because I miss reviewing books I have chosen to read on my own. So anyways, this long post is basically another lousy : I’m sorry for the hiatus, and I’m back again. I didn’t create this blog with other people in mind so it’s funny I’m writing as if someone is reading this, but if you are, hopefully you will be able to see some new posts in the next coming weeks.
To close out, here’s some cool pictures from the last couple of months!
*PALs is an early literacy assessment for pre-k students aimed at helping their kindergarten teachers determine literacy skills such as how they’re reading or what letters they recognize.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter on a dying planet. It is the year 2021 and war has nearly decimated the entirety of Earth’s population. With issues from radioactive dust flying through the air to “kipple” overtaking houses, most of Earth’s residents have already sought shelter on Mars while the rest still remain on Earth. However, the environment is not the only aspect of Earth that has changed. Androids who have been enslaved by the new people of Mars now roam the streets of Earth hoping to camouflage themselves as humans.
Rick’s job is to hunt down these “andys” and retire them for good. After all, an android doesn’t feel empathy the way humans do, do they?
“‘You androids,’ Rick said, ‘don’t exactly cover for each other in times of stress.’
Garland snapped, ‘I think you’re right; it would seem we lack a specific talent you humans possess. I believe it’s called empathy,'” (124).
“‘There’s something very strange and touching about humans. An android would never have done that.’ She glanced icily at Phil Resch. ‘It wouldn’t have occurred to him; as he said, never in a million years,'” (133).
“‘You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in the universe,'” (179).
Just to preface this post let me quickly tell you: I am not usually a hearty fan of Science Fiction. It’s not that I dislike or purposely avoid Sci-Fi, but more so that it is such an intimidating genre I have never known where to start. The honest reason I chose to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? boils down to the simple fact that it happened to be on sale at Green Apple and I had heard friends rave about it before. And as I may have previously mentioned, I do want to branch out and find some science fiction I enjoy.
Long story short, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a fantastic book for anyone from someone who is just starting to delve into science fiction to a sci-fi addict. It’s fast-paced, not too hard to visualize (although it is a bit strange in the first few pages), and extremely engaging. When I first sat down to read, I became sucked into the world of Nexus 6 robots and the people who hunt them.
This review is coming months after I read this book, but something which still sticks with me is the idea of alien creatures and whether or not they have values. One of the key issues of the book is the takeover of robots on a now vacant Earth. However, the biggest motive for “retiring” these androids is because they have become too humanoid, but cannot process human values such as empathy. But as the book goes on, the reader begins to wonder, is this the real reason androids must be retired, or is there something else going on?
Offred is a direct product of before and after the establishment of the new Republic of Gilead. Once a free woman who could do as she pleased, Offred wakes up in a world of nightmares where her life has drastically changed in a short span of time. After the leaders of Gilead have decreed all capable women must dedicate their lives to reversing the country’s fallen birthrates, Offred becomes nothing more than a vessel waiting to be filled. In turn, women who cannot conceive nor give birth are assigned other roles and and become stuck to the bottom of the societal totem pole. The women who do not fit into either category, otherwise known as the old and unruly, are sent to the dreaded Colonies.
Offred’s duties as a handmaid are to respect her Commander, serve the Commander’s wife, and deliver the family a baby after a successful ceremony. But Offred can’t help wonder, is all female automony really gone, or is there a resistance flickering in the distance?
“We learned to whisper almost without a sound. In the semidarkness we could stretch out our arms, when the Aunts weren’t looking, and touch each other’s hands across space. We learned to lip-read, our heads flat on the beds, turned sideways, watching each other’s mouths. In this way we exchanged names, from bed to bed: Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June,” (4).
“I once had a garden. I can remember the smell of the turned earth, the plump shapes of bulbs held in the hands, fullness, the dry rustle of seeds through the fingers. Time could pass more swiftly that way. Sometimes the Commander’s Wife has a chair brought out, and just sits in it, in her garden. From a distance it looks like peace,” (12).
“There are no more magazines, no more films, no more substitutes; only me and my shadow, walking away from the two men, who stand at attention, stiffly, by a roadblock, watching our retreating shapes,” (22).
“The chances are one in four, we learned that at the Center. The air got too full, once, of chemicals, rays, radiation, the water swarmed with toxic molecules, all of that takes years to clean up, and meanwhile they creep into your body, camp out in your fatty cells. Who knows, your very flesh may be polluted, dirty as an oily beach, sure death to shore birds and unborn babies. Maybe a vulture would die of eating you. Maybe you light up in the dark, like an old-fashioned watch. Deadwatch. That’s a kind of beetle, it buries carrion,” (112).
“They [men] aren’t a patch on a woman except they’re better at fixing cars and playing football, just what we need for the improvement of the human race, right?” (121).
“How easy it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all. What an available temptation,” (146).
“Night falls. Or has fallen. Why is it that night falls, instead of rising, like the dawn? Yet if you look east, at sunset, you can see night rising, not falling; darkness lifting into the sky, up from the horizon, like a black sun behind cloud cover. Like smoke from an unseen fire, a line of fire just below the horizon, brushfire or a burning city,” (191).
“There are more important things. For instance: keep the others safe, if they are safe. Don’t let them suffer too much. If they have to die, let it be fast. You might even provide a Heaven for them. We need You for that. Hell we can make for ourselves,” (195).
“There is something powerful in the whispering of obscenities, about those in power. There’s something delightful about it, something naughty, secretive, forbidden, thrilling. It’s like a spell, of sorts. It deflates them, reduces them to the common denominator where they can be dealt with. In the paint of the washroom cubicle someone unknown had scratched: Aunt Lydia sucks. It was like a flag waved from a hilltop in rebellion. The mere idea of Aunt Lydia doing such a thing was in itself heartening,” (222).
“I don’t want her to be like me. Give in, go along, save her skin. That is what it comes down to. I want gallantry from her, swashbuckling, heroism, single-handed combat. Something I lack,” (249).
It’s been awhile since I’ve picked up a book that is a page-turner yet difficult to read. Somehow I think this is what Atwood intended, but it still startled me. I figured it would be shocking and a call-to-action, but in some ways I guess didn’t really expect how much the topic matter would affect me. I picked up this book a couple of months ago on Independent Bookstore Day at the Green Apple on Clement Street. I had heard of it and had wanted to buy it for awhile but for whatever reason I held off until that day. Currently The Handmaid’s Tale is surging in popularity due to the release of the new Hulu series (which I have yet to watch, but I’m sure it’s great) and the current political climate.
About 25 pages or so into the book I updated my progress on Goodreads and noted: “I love the way Margaret Atwood keeps me on my toes. At times the atmosphere will feel idyllic. She illustrates soft pastels of the wives’ clothing, neat gardens, and gentle whispers. And then suddenly, she brings the tension back with one unsettling line. It’s a striking balance.” When I think about the beginning in particular, this is something which makes The Handmaid’s Tale feel unique so I’m glad I wrote down my first impressions.
The setting Atwood creates is meant to be disquieting, but parts of it are familiar. In my mind this vague familiarity helps orient the reader while also keeping them off-kilter long enough to know something about this world is very wrong. Offred lives in what appears to be some kind of town but it’s a community (of sorts) nonetheless. She lives in a house, shops for groceries (with a partner for supervision of course), takes baths, and eats meals. There are blooming gardens in the background and cars to be washed on the driveways. But life is not anywhere close to normal. Often Offred will go from being treated as a prized farm animal to a slave and there isn’t too much in between.
Offred’s situation isn’t revealed in the beginning, but there are hints along the way. About halfway through I got a good sense of what was going on but it was also mysterious enough to keep me reading. I appreciated these small unveilings throughout the book because they sustained a web of tension and prompted character development. Most of all, I felt a sense of patience reading each clue which really made me respect Margaret Atwood as an author. When I’m writing I always want to give away the punchline, but Atwood does an amazing job of holding off until she’s ready to reveal her secrets.
The ending wasn’t quite what I pictured, but it was everything I could hope it would be. Even though I finished this book a couple of days ago I still find it hard to think about. Maybe it’s because there’s never a definite conclusion about how to reverse the wrongs. How do we re-orient ourselves after everything has turned upside down? In a world where women have been stripped of their rights and turned into objects only good for housework and babies, it’s a terrifying future to conceptualize. The power in The Handmaid’s Tale is it extends beyond a grim prediction into a warning. What that warning is may be up to you. For me, this may be a book I need to re-read because it just hits so close to home.
The Devil in the White City centers around the grit and grime of Chicago during 1893 right before the famous World’s Fair. Despite being rampant with grime and crime, many people moved to Chicago in hope of growing their fortunes and pursuing the excitement of the city. Illustrated as a diamond in the rough, Chicago becomes a beacon of hope for the few hopeful architects who dreamed of creating a fair that would rival the previous World’s Fair in Paris and alight Chicago with national and international glory. However, while the city’s architects pour their blood, sweat, and tears into the project, a dangerous serial killer runs loose in the streets. As the title suggests, The Devil in the White City recounts the “murder, magic, and madness at the fair that changed America” for good.
“No matter where you were on the ship, you felt the power of the Olympic’s twenty- nine boilers transmitted upward through the strakes of the hull. It was the one constant that told you—even in the staterooms and dining chambers and smoking lounge, despite the lavish efforts to make these rooms look as if they had been plucked from the Palace of Versailles or a Jacobean mansion—that you were aboard a ship being propelled far in to the bluest reachers of the ocean,” (page 6).
“In Minneapolis there had been only silence and the inevitable clumsy petitions of potato-fingered men looking for someone, anyone, to share the agony of their days,” (page 64).
“He entered a bright green coach, one of George Pullman’s Palace cars, where the air hung with the stillness of a heavy tapestry. A bell clanged and continued clanging in a swinging rhythm as the train surged at grade level into the heart of the city at twenty miles an hour, despite the presence at arm’s reach of grip-cars, carriages, and pedestrians. Everyone on the street paused to watch as the train leaped past crossing gates waving a raccoon’s tail of white and black smoke,” (page 75).
“McKim had opened this meeting with a wandering talk about the fair and its prospects. Hunt cut him off: ‘McKim, damn your preambles. Get down to facts!'” (page 79).
“Half a century later, in his path-breaking book The Mask of Sanity, Dr. Hervey Cleckley described the prototypical psychopath as ‘a subtly constructed reflex machine which can mimic the human personality perfectly…. So perfect is his reproduction of a whole and normal man that no one who examines him in a clinical setting can point out in scientific or objective terms why, or how, he is not real,'” (page 88).
“The lake was gray, darkening to a band of black at the horizon. The only color in the vicinity was the frost rouge on the men’s cheeks and the blue of Burnham’s and Olmsted’s eyes,” (page 95).
“Closer at hand a far stranger creature raised his head in equally intent anticipation. ‘I was born with the devil in me,’ he wrote. ‘I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing,'” (page 109).
“As the light began to fade, the architects lit the library’s gas jets, which hissed like mildly perturbed cats. From the street below, the top floor of the Rookery seemed aflame with the shifting light of the jets and the fire in the great hearth,” (page 115).
“He [Olmsted] wanted the lagoons and the canals strewn with waterfowl of all kinds and colors and traversed continually by small boats. Not just any boats, however: becoming boats. The subject became an obsession for him. His broad view of what constituted landscape architecture included anything that grew, flew, floated, or otherwise entered the scenery he created. Roses produced dabs of red; boats added intricacy and life. But it was crucial to choose the right kind of boat. He dreaded what would happen if the decision were left to one of the fair’s many committees. He wanted Burnham to know his views from the start,” (page 116).
“Atwood had a secret, as it happens. He was an opium addict. It explained those eyes and his erratic behavior. But Burnham thought him a genius,” (page 121).
“Eiffel had done it first and best. More than merely tall, his tower was grace frozen in iron, as much an evocation o the spirit of the age as Chartres had been in its time. To build a tower would be to follow Eiffel into territory he already had conquered for France,” (page 135).
“As he sat among his peers, an idea came to him ‘like an inspiration.’ It arrived not as some half-formed impulse, he said, but rich in detail. He could see it and touch it, hear it as it moved through the sky,” (page 156).
“The countryside itself, however, charmed him: ‘there is nothing in America to be compared with the pastoral or with the picturesque beauty that is common property in England. I cannot go out without being delighted. The view before me as I write, veiled by the rain, is just enchanting,'” (page 171).
“She [Harriet Monroe] watched with pride as an actress read it [her poem] to the few thousand people close enough to hear it. Unlike the majority of the audience, Monroe believed the poem to be rather a brilliant work, so much so that she had hired a printer to produce five thousand copies for sale to the public. She sold few and attributed the debacle to America’s fading love of poetry,” (page 182).
“Men working on the Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building heard the shriek of failed steel and ran for cover. In a great blur of snow and silvery glass the building’s roof—that marvel of late nineteenth-century hubris, enclosing the greatest volume of unobstructed space in history—collapsed to the floor below,” (page 196).
“They saw the first moving pictures on Edison’s Kinetoscope, and they watched, stunned, as lightening chattered from Nikola Tesla’s body. They saw even more ungodly things—the first zipper; the first-ever all-electric kitchen, which included an automatic dishwasher; and a box purporting to contain everything a cook would need to make pancakes, under the brand name Aunt Jemima’s,” (page 247).
“The electric launch carrying Burnham, Dora Root, and the foreign dignitaries cut silently through the lagoon, scattering the white city reflected upon its surface. The setting sun gilded the terraces on the east bank but cast the west bank into dark blue shadow. Women in dresses of crimson and aquamarine walked slowly along the embankments. Voices drifted across the water, laced now and then with laughter that rang like crystal touched in a toast,” (page 253).
“The ball ended at four-thirty A.M. The exotics walked slowly back to the Midway. The guests climbed into their carriages and slept or softly sang ‘After the Ball’—the hit song of the day—as their liverymen drove them home over empty streets that echoed with the plosive rhythm of hooves on granite,” (page 315).
“Elihu Root had said the fair led ‘our people out of the wilderness of the commonplace to new ideas of architectural beauty and nobility.’ Henry Demarest Lloyd saw it as revealing to the great mass of Americans ‘possibilities of social beauty, utility, and harmony of which they had not been able to even dream. No such vision could otherwise have entered into the prosaic drudgery of their lives, and it will be felt in their development into the third and fourth generation.’ The fair taught men and women steeped only in the necessary to see that cities did not have to be dark, soiled, and unsafe bastions of the strictly pragmatic. They could also be beautiful,” (page 374).
Other than the typical bouts of horror that come from reading about a serial killer, this book is a joy through and through. It’s elegantly written and engaging from beginning to end. If you get ahold of the book and look at the reviews, you’ll find that many of them mention how it reads like fiction, and I too, found that to be a striking feature of Larson’s writing. As I’ve probably mentioned before, I’m not a huge nonfiction reader. Normally I only test out something nonfiction if it revolves around a subject I’m really interested in, but other than that I normally stick to fiction. Originally, I bought this book because the story of America’s first serial killer sounded equally creepy and interesting. I hadn’t heard of H.H. Holmes before, so that facet of the book piqued my interest, but the longer I read the more I began to realize I was reading the book for the fair.
Larson begins his story at the end, and this is something I’m a sucker for as I love coming full circle. He describes the lasting impacts of the fair on Burnham (one of the main architects involved in planning and organizing the fair) as he’s aboard the RMS Olympic and then connects the tale of Holmes’ well-deserved demise. I was captured, but I needed to know more. Who was Burnham? Why is he reflecting on the fair? What did Holmes really do? Larson’s choice to provide a vague closure to beginning of his book is strange but immediately effective. After that I couldn’t put the book down.
My favorite quote from this entire book is the quote from page 253 (third up from the bottom) and I think this is very representative of Larson’s writing style. It’s gorgeous and concise; every word feels genuine and magical. I could see the fair in front of me and I felt proud of the architects who worked so tirelessly to build it. And not only does Larson do an amazing job of describing the fair, but his other great strength lies in his persuasive powers. Larson’s description of the Chicago World’s Fair was enough to make me want to travel back in time to see it. I can hardly imagine having to live the life of a woman in 1893, but Larson made me feel very at home in the city and in the time period. (Of course Holmes is another matter, but we’ll get to that.) Part of this comes from how Larson paces the book. As I mentioned before, everything begins at the end, but he takes his time mapping out the scenery and setting the stage. I never felt confused about who was who and what was going on which is amazing given I hardly knew anything about the World’s Fair, let alone who built it.
Larson’s masterful characterization also shines through in his portrayal of Holmes. It must have been tricky to write about him at times, but it’s clear Larson did his homework. He begins from Holmes’ childhood to his life as a physician, his many marriages and scams, all the way to his arrest. His story is difficult to read at times as he was a horrendous person, but Larson makes sure to switch back and forth from the fair’s history to Holmes. At the back of the book he notes:
“The thing that entranced me about Chicago in the Gilded Age was the city’s willingness to take on the impossible in the name of civic honor, a concept so removed from the modern psyche that two wise readers of early drafts of this book wondered why Chicago was so avid to win the world’s fair in the first place. The juxtaposition of pride and unfathomed evil struck me as offering powerful insights into the nature of men and their ambitions. The more I read about the fair, the more entranced I became. That George Farris would attempt to build something so big and novel—and that he would succeed on his first try—seems, in this day of liability lawsuits, almost beyond comprehension,” (page 393).
The Devil in the White City is a fantastic book. Although it’s a bit of a cliche, I felt the story come to life. Definitely would recommend.
I realize I should probably just wait and post this tomorrow because I don’t think I’ll be finishing my current book tonight, but I’m really impatient and motivated today. This is a pretty personal post, so if you don’t mind that then feel free to read ahead. At the beginning of this summer I had my fourth knee surgery so I’ve had a lot of time on my hands. (It’s a fairly intense surgery, but since I’ve had it in the past I had good idea of what I was getting into beforehand. I’m also doing a lot better now so no it’s no biggie.)
My biggest hope has always been to express myself in some way and this blog feels like one of the only ways I can do so. The only stipulation is I don’t post as nearly as much as I would like to. In general, one of my biggest continual goals is working on self-discipline. This goal is aimed towards every facet of my everyday life, but in general, I want to apply it to the way I read and write. One thing my writing professor said that stuck with me was the people who become writers are the ones who sit down and make themselves write every single day. The people who have self-discipline and push themselves to keep going are the ones who survive, and I intend on being one of those people. I guess I just need some sort of starting point.
But at the same time, do starting points ever reveal themselves? Maybe not. For example, I have this idea for a short story I want to write. I know exactly how I want it to feel and the atmosphere I want to create, but I haven’t really sat down to write it and I’m afraid that if I keep putting it off I’ll lose the inspiration to write it. It’s whiny, but hey, it’s true.
The same writing professor I mentioned a little bit ago marked up my short stories I turned in and wrote some great comments, but I can’t help but feel what I’ve written is pretty average. But maybe that’s the point? Maybe feeling over-critical about your own work is the best way to push forward because you know you care that much. That every syllable of every word and each sentence you write will face a certain direction and move in a specific way. There are a lot of things I’ll never be, but I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I think the first time I thought of writing as something I could be good at was in fifth grade. I had always loved reading about the Titanic* (*not because of the movie, but because the idea of being on a sinking boat in a freezing ocean horrified me) and I wrote about it for a fiction assignment. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote word-for-word, but I remember the feeling of writing it and seeing the picture of the boat I had colored in next to it. It was displayed on the wall for back to school night and it was the first piece of writing I was truly proud of.
Then came the eighth grade poetry writing assignment. I composed a portfolio of poems, each in a different style, for a class assignment. One day before lunch my teacher called me to her desk. I’m not exactly sure how she asked it, but she pulled me aside and said, “how did you come up with the ideas to write these [poems]?” I explained to her that my dad was a great writer. She then perked up and asked, “so your dad helped you?” I then replied no, he hadn’t. I had written them myself. The knack for writing had come from him.
I miss my writing class a lot. It wasn’t perfect, but every day the professor expected us to send her a daily notebook of 100 words Monday through Sunday. A lot of people hated the assignment, but I adored it. Writing at least 100 words every day kept me accountable and I loved venting to someone I knew probably wouldn’t read what I had written. The fact that my homework was something I loved to do made the class that much more exciting (although a bit soul-sucking at times). However, I was my own worst enemy last semester in a lot of ways. I closed myself off because I felt like I was protecting myself by doing so, but writing (and C of course) was my cure. This summer I hope to find the benefits of that cure once again. I’m a lot happier now, but I have my moments. I want to satisfy every version of myself—whether it be the ten-year-old me or the thirteen-year-old me. I like to do these check-ins where I imagine myself in the future and reach out to whoever that is. And then when the moment comes, I reach back to the past version of myself like some sort of weird parallel universe thing. Yes, I made it. We’re here and we’re okay. I mostly use it for high-anxiety situations, (i.e. presentations, big tests, interviews, etc.) but sometimes I use it to check-in with my goals. I think that trying to nail down aspirations is a big part of life, but I wonder if the life of a creator or artist (not sure if I am either, but I’d like to be) has to be so dramatic and unstable. I don’t want my life to feel like that, but I want to create some form of art. I want my voice to be heard, and I want to feel some shift from the world around me; some response that says what I’m doing is right and I’m heading in the right direction.
Anyways, my goal starts with this blog. We’ll see what happens. I’ve made a lot of unfulfilled promises in the past so I won’t stress myself out or self-flagellate over a couple of missed posts, but I can’t keep sitting by. I don’t think I could live with myself if I didn’t start writing. So here’s to trying to be a better version of myself.
On a lighter note, I’ve put up some lights on my new bookcase and I couldn’t be happier!
On the eve of his fifteenth birthday Kafka Tamura prepares to run away from his home in Nakano, Tokyo. Plagued by the absence of his mother and older sister as well as a cursed prophecy, Kafka dreams of running away in order to escape both his destiny and a form of himself. With every bit of courage he has, Kafka gathers all the money he can manage, packs his things, and jumps aboard a night bus headed for Shikoku.
Meanwhile, Nakata is an elderly man living in Nakano Ward on a meager subsidy from the government. Permanently disabled by a strange accident that occurred during his schooldays around the middle of the second World War, Nakata is unable to communicate clearly with other people. However, he finds solace in looking for family cats that have gone missing from around his neighborhood. What no one knows is Nakata spends most of his days talking (yes, talking) to the these cats in order to discover the whereabouts of the families’ missing pets. But when one day a certain cat goes missing from its beloved family, Nakata finds himself wrapped up in a dark situation that forces him to leave Nakano for good.
Through fleets of destiny too great to be simple coincidence or chance, Kafka and Nakata’s paths wind together to create a brilliant story full of mystery, misplaced time, magic, love, loss, and self-discovery.
“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing direction. You change direction, but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step, There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine,” (page 3).
“All the students dress neatly, have nice straight teeth, and are boring as hell. Naturally, I have zero friends. I’ve built a wall around me, never letting anybody inside and trying not to venture outside myself. Who could like somebody like that?” (page 7).
“Your heart is like a great river after a long spell of rain, spilling over its banks. All signposts that once stood on the ground are gone, inundated and carried away by that rush of water. And still the rain beats down on the surface of the river. Every time you see a flood like that on the news you tell yourself: That’s it. That’s my heart,” (page 9).
“Some time in the middle of the night a hard rain begins to fall. I wake up every once in a while, part the chintzy curtain at the window and gaze out at the highway rushing by. Raindrops beat against the glass, blurring street lights alongside the road that stretch off into the distance at identical intervals as if they’d been set down to measure the earth,” (page 10).
“‘Gosh, what a long trip,’ she says tiredly. ‘I thought my lower back was going to give out. And my neck’s killing me. You aren’t going to catch me on an all-night bus again. I’m taking the plane now on, even if it’s more expensive. Turbulence, hijackings—I don’t care. Give me a plane any day,'” (page 32).
“When I open them, most of the books have the smell of an earlier time leaking out from between their pages—a special odour of the knowledge and emotions that for ages have been calmly resting between the covers,” (page 39).
“‘Your father sounds like an alien from outer space or something,’ Sakura says. ‘Like he came from some far-off planet, took on human form, kidnapped an earth woman and then had you. Just so he could have more descendants. Your mother found out, got frightened and ran away. Like in some film-noir science-fiction flick.’
I have no idea what to say,” (page 95).
“Most things are forgotten over time. Even the war itself, the life-and-death struggle people went through, is now like something from the distant past. We’re so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past, like ancient stars that have burned out, are no longer in orbit about our minds. There are just too many things we have to think about every day, too many new things we have to learn. New styles, new information, new technology, new terminology… But still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us for ever, like a touchstone. And for me, what happened in the woods that day is one of those,” (page 104).
“Silence, I discover, is something you can actually hear,” (page 148).
“‘Speaking of contradictions,’ Oshima suddenly says, ‘when I first met you I felt a kind of contradiction in you. You’re seeking something, but at the same time you’re running away from all you’re worth,'” (page 164).
“The fish struck people, cars and roofs, but not apparently, from such a great height, so no serious injuries resulted. It was more shocking than anything else. A huge number of fish falling like hail from the sky—it was just positively apocalyptic,” (page 181).
“‘Narrow minds devoid of imagination. Intolerance, theories cut off from reality, empty terminology, usurped ideals, inflexible systems. Those are the things that really frighten me. What I absolutely fear and loathe. Of course it’s important to know what’s right and what’s wrong. Individual errors in judgement can be corrected. As long as you have the courage to admit mistakes, things can be turned around. But intolerant narrow minds with no imagination are like parasites that transform the host, change form and continue to thrive. They’re a lost cause, and I don’t want anyone like that coming in here,” (page 196).
“I look for the 15-year-old girl in her and find her straight away. She’s hidden, asleep, like a 3-D painting in the forest of her heart. If you look carefully though, you can spot her. My chest starts pounding again, like somebody’s hammering a long nail into the walls surrounding it,” (page 267).
“My second day on the mountain passes leisurely, seamlessly. The only thing that distinguishes one day from the next is the weather. If the weather were the same I couldn’t tell one day from another. Yesterday, today, tomorrow—they’d all blur into one. Like an anchorless ship, time floats aimlessly across the broad sea,” (page 393).
“Even so, as I walk I get the feeling that something, somewhere, is watching me, listening to me, holding its breath, blending into the background, watching my every move. Somewhere far off, something’s listening to all the sounds I make, trying to guess where I’m going and why. I try not to think about it. The more you think about illusions, the more they’ll swell up and take on form. And no longer be an illusion,” (page 413).
“‘It all really happened, so you can’t undo it,’ Crow tells me. ‘She shouldn’t have abandoned you then, and you shouldn’t have been abandoned. But things in the past are like a plate that’s shattered to pieces. You can never put it back as it was, right?’
I nod. ‘You can never put it back as it was.’ He’s hit the nail on the head,” (page 430).
**First note: I’d like to address the quotes I chose to include in my “Memorable Quotes” section. If you read through every quote I included, (which I understand is a lot so no judgement from me if you didn’t) you may end up with the impression that this book is extremely long-winded and too caught up in itself to be enjoyable; maybe even cheesy in a sudo hyper-intellectual way. And while there are brief bits of overwhelming themes present in this specific book, that would be a misplaced impression overall. I want to stress that I chose those specific quotes because they stood out and were some of the most meaningful lines of text to me as a reader. But overall, the book is about five hundred pages so those quotes aren’t exactly representative of the writing style of the entire book. In fact, Kafka on the Shore is incredibly easy to read as it’s engaging and written beautifully.
This is my third Murakami book I’ve read and it certainly won’t be my last. Thinking back on my experience reading Kafka on the Shore I can confidently say its strongest point is the atmosphere it creates. When I think about Murakami’s books in general I mentally correspond them with colors. This may sound a little weird, but in my mind color and atmosphere are very much linked. And to give a better example of what I mean, I thought it would be fun to include some pictures of the places the characters visit in Kafka on the Shore.
So to start, below I’ve pasted a general map of Japan I found online so you can see the distance between Tokyo and Shikoku.
Next is a picture of some buildings in Nakano Ward where both Kafka and Nakata begin their journeys.
The next set of pictures capture the beauty of the Great Seto Bridge leading into Shikoku. When Nakata and Hoshino drive to Shikoku, Nakata describes a breath-taking bridge and I believe this is the one he is referencing.
Lastly, here is a picture I found of Takamatsu City on Shikoku Island. This is one of the main destinations for both Kafka and Nakata.
One thing that delights and frustrates me is the simple fact that I can’t explain to you what this specific book means. I have ideas about certain allusions or themes, but it would take too long to explain and I highly doubt I could. Whenever I try everything just becomes a jumbled mess in my mind. As with After Dark, there are many things left unsaid and circumstances which ripple in the wake of the main plot. This used to bother me, but I think I’m slowly getting used to it. To me, this is the magic of Murakami and Kafka on the Shore. I love Haruki Murakami’s writing, although at times I think he overuses metaphors a little too much. (But hey, he writes them elegantly af so I think I can forgive him.) There is a mystical feeling I get whenever I read something he’s written even if it’s just a scene describing someone hitchhiking.
The characters all have distinct personalities which makes you fall in love with them and cry for them when the time comes. Kafka is interesting, but I think my favorite character is Nakata. In a way, I want to think Murakami meant for his readers to fall in love with Nakata. I love him not just because he talks to cats, (although that in itself is strangely endearing) but because he is able to let go of time and live in the moment in the most simple and heartwarming of ways.
Kafka on the otherhand, is complicated. He’s broken inside, and haunted by a dark prophecy. Although he does manage to somewhat find his way, he becomes even more lost and confused as he begins to work at a library and fall in love with the older woman who runs it. I won’t spoil too much, but the identity of the woman also plays into part of Kafka’s confusion.
I’m not sure what else I can say about Kafka on the Shore without spoiling it. The story seems simple at first; a runaway and an old man whose life turns upside down, but it becomes much more than that. Fish fall from the sky, cats lead humans to new discoveries, people face sexual awakenings, and a young boy runs through a forest that represents the complexities of his inner psyche. All I can say is you’ll have to read this book to discover what I’m talking about.
In 1908, Sara Harrison Shea and her husband Martin were found dead at the edge of the woods behind their home. This is the beginning and end of their stories.
Meanwhile in the present, Ruthie wakes up one morning and discovers her mother has disappeared without a trace. With the responsibility of an entire farm to run and two young daughters to look after, Alice’s disappearance is shocking and uncharacteristic. While Ruth and her younger sister look for their mother, we meet another woman named Katherine who is still recovering from the shock of discovering her husband, Gary, has been killed in a fatal car accident not just two months after their son’s death. As she sorts through his lasting memories and oddly enough, bank statements, she notices a bill for a meal at a restaurant hours away from her home. Immediately she senses something is wrong. As Katherine seeks the truth of Gary’s whereabouts before his death, she too, becomes woven into the fatal tapestry of Alice’s disappearance.
Set in wintry Vermont, The Winter People, jumps in time and shifts between three main narrators who separately explore the chilling prospect of life beyond death.
“Madness is always a wonderful excuse, don’t you think? For doing terrible things to other people.”
“If snow melts down to water, does it still remember being snow?”
“She was his great adventure; his love for her had taken him places he’d never dreamed of going.”
“I think people see what they want to see… But think about it: if you’d lost someone you love, wouldn’t you give almost anything to have the chance to see them again?”
“We all do what we think is best. Sometimes we make terrible mistakes, sometimes we do the right thing. Sometimes we never know. We just have to hope.”
I picked this book up on a whim back in January. I haven’t read many mysteries/thrillers/horror novels, (I would think this book could fit into all three categories) so I decided to give this book a shot. Given the title and the nature of the plot, I immediately decided it would be a perfect book to read in the gray months of winter. While I wasn’t wrong, I also didn’t really finish the book until February. (It seems my lack of apt scheduling has done me in once again. And yes, this review is out of order and very late. Not quite sure what happened to my queue, but I’ll go along with it.)
In the beginning of the book the biggest inconvenience is the constant shift between characters and it’s something I would do myself while writing. When you are just starting to read and are not quite situated into the plot, it can be difficult to keep track of who is who. I know I complained about this in my last review, so at least I’m being consistent. However, if you encounter this issue, I would encourage you to just keep reading. It may take awhile, but (if you’re like me) you will become more aware of the characters and have an easier time keeping track of what’s going on within thirty pages or so.
There were no characters in the book I was drawn to or found myself thinking about after I finished, and I think this is the book’s weakest point. However, I appreciated that the story itself was spooky, but nothing so horrifyingly awful that I couldn’t sleep at night (which is a definite plus in my book). The plot is entertaining and will keep you reading. There’s lots of suspense and twists, but there are parts that seem pretty improbable so it’s best to keep an open mind while reading. Likewise, there are still some questions that remain unanswered in the end which can be slightly disappointing for some readers. Overall, I would give this book three stars. Fairly entertaining plot, but not the best horror/thriller novel of the year.
(I cheated a little by meshing a part of my review from Goodreads with the review I wanted to write on here… sorry not sorry. To anyone reading, thank you! Hopefully I’ll have a new post up by tomorrow or the next day. I just finished a Murakami novel a couple of days ago and I’m still sorting out my feelings about it so I can finally write a review.)