Genre: modernist, southern gothic, classic lit, american lit
Setting: rural Mississippi, 1930s
There are some books that leave a distinct mark, and boy is this one of them. William Faulkner’s novel Light in August contains a cast of characters who collectively span the full spectrum of social outcasts. Anyone who loves brutally honest social commentary on American society should pick up this book and devour it.
The good: When I started reading this book I was not prepared for the emotional impact it would end up having. Despite how much I read, I somehow went into this novel knowing the bare minimum about Faulkner as a writer. The book maintains a startling amount of relevance regarding its treatment of racial tensions and crises of identity considering it was written around 85 years ago. Any novel that can continue to draw that kind of visceral emotional response 85 years down the line is an excellent piece of writing in my opinion. Each of the characters that the novel focuses on is marginalized in some way by the society they operate within. America is still a Puritanical society to a large extent so the story and the characters resonate deeply. I think that absolutely everyone should read this book and that is a very rare thing for me to say.
The bad: I have no real criticisms of this book, so for this review I am going to use this section as a warning to the reader. When you read Light in August, prepare to get uncomfortable. It is difficult to read about violence so bluntly described and stated. The casual observations of the lives of these characters seems almost voyeuristic, and there may be times where you wonder “What am I doing here?” I promise it will all come together for you. There are no heroes in this novel, only very real, very hurt people. And get ready for some heavy self-examination by the end. It isn’t going to be a book you can just read and then forget. You come out of reading this forced to face some ugly truths about society, or perhaps about yourself. If you like easy reading without any intellectual or emotional challenges, do not expect that here.
As promised, I went out to snap a few photos today. In the morning I went to central market in my hometown of Lancaster, PA. I love visiting the market because it’s a cogent reminder of the combination of vibrant diversity and hominess that make Lancaster such a wonderful community.
After milling around among the vendors I ventured up to the balcony area where I was able to capture a few shots of the market from a higher vantage point. For people watching looking down on a farmers market from a birds eye view is second to none.
After enjoying a hot tea and a massive freshly baked cinnamon bun, I decided to see how my camera and lens could tackle some outdoor architecture shots. The best part was a surprise performance from a one-man-band. He was enormously talented and definitely earned all the tips he received from me and my fellow audience members. I was definitely pleased with the shots I got, especially because today was my first time using this new camera and lens.
Thanks for checking out my first photo blogpost! Please leave a comment if you have any feedback or advice!
Genre: Fantasy, Alternative Historical Fiction
Setting: 19th century England and Europe
Magic has returned to England in this novel, spurred on by the determined will of two magicians who hold very different opinions on what English magic should look like.
The Good: This novel is deeply imaginative and despite its mammoth volume it maintains relatively quick pacing. There is no dearth of British humor in this book and the various ironies throughout provide endless enjoyment to the reader. I was particularly enchanted by the alternate history that Susanna Clarke created detailing the history of English magic, and the use of footnotes to provide this background to the reader is both clever and charming. This book was fun to read and brings a particularly unique view on the practice of magic. It was also good enough to be turned into a BBC series that aired in 2015. I have not watched this yet, but I am definitely going to check it out.
The Bad: Despite the quick pacing, 1000 pages is excessive. There are plenty of moments in this novel that seem to lead nowhere or could have been cut out entirely. Authors need to ask themselves whether what they are writing serves the story, and if not that is a good sign that material should go. I found out after reading that Clarke wrote the novel in a very fragmented manner and then just sort of stitched together all the sections at the end. She says she was writing for herself and not the audience. I can understand this point of view, but the result is obvious so just be prepared for that when you go to read the novel. I also wish some of the characters had been a little more fleshed out considering within 1000 pages she had plenty of room to do so. The work has been compared to Jane Austen’s writing in its dealing with social comedy and this is perhaps where that slight barrier between the reader and the characters occurs, as Austen’s work has a similar quality of maintaining a slight distance between reader and story.
Would recommend? I would! For those of you who are able to stick to a long story it is definitely worth the read. For those of you who think you might be able to but are unsure: try it out! As I mentioned before it doesn’t feel as long as it is, and you might be surprised by how much you like it.
Genre: non-fiction, true crime, very Southern Gothic
Setting: Savannah, Georgia 1980s
The true story of how the author took up part time residence in Savannah, Georgia shortly before one of his most esteemed new acquaintances in the neighborhood is charged with murder. Berendt traces the case and the lives of those involved in intimate and entertaining detail.
The good: Damned enjoyable read. John Berendt sure knows how to spin a yarn (the work is nonfiction but for the sake of storytelling slight fabrications were obvious and permissible). He paints vivid pictures of both Savannah and its inhabitants. The players in this one are dramatic, bizarre, and fascinating. Berendt is an excellent writer which makes this book a very easy read for those of you who have a difficult time committing to a book long term (or picking one up to begin with).
The bad: Once again, this is a matter of personal taste. Although on the whole I found the anecdotes about the various characters entertaining and fresh, there were times I felt the story could have done without them. They were fine setting the scene in Part I, but once we really had a main character established in Jim Williams they started to drag the pace a little towards the end. For the most part I would only clip out little bits here and there, when the story was entertaining or important but had too much flourish. In particular, I found the scene with Chablis in the chapter “Black Minuet,” almost entirely unnecessary-useless to the story, contributing no character development, and at times painfully awkward.
Random Tidbit: As I was reading, the characterization of Jim Williams caused me to think of Kevin Spacey ( a la House of Cards). He just had flavors of Frank Underwood about him. I did a cursory google search to find out more about the crime and saw there was an IMDb page for a movie version of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Wouldn’t ya know it, Kevin Spacey was cast as Jim Williams! Which seems a little strange thinking about it now because the film was from 1997 and I can’t imagine Spacey playing a man in his 50s, over 20 years ago. Might have to give this one a watch.
*Here be spoilers. Ye’ve been warned*
I know I am seriously behind the times on this review. We’ll call it 4 years because I will be focusing exclusively on the book as I’ve not yet seen the movie. I am still undecided as to whether or not I will. I will forgo detailing the skinny and the fat on this one considering now that its a movie, most people already know its premise.
The good: Gillian Flynn knows how to write a compelling story. It was mostly a very smooth read which is a rare jewel these days.
The bad: On the subjective end of the scale, it was really difficult for me to emotionally invest in this book because I couldn’t identify at all with any of the main characters. This is kind of the point though, so I won’t linger on that particular disappointment.
On the objective end, the most glaring fault I find is that the story would have been better served had the book ended about 150 pages sooner than it did. It isn’t that the book was dragging, Flynn manages to maintain a swift pace up until the last page. It simply would have been a better story had it ended on the “big reveal.” Amy could have detailed fully her deception in one final triumphant chapter and the reader would be left with an image of her driving away to freedom.
Even though this might leave some readers upset about justice unserved, and worrying over the fate of the “innocent” Nick, it would be a far better ending than the weird anticlimactic tango between Nick and Amy upon her return. And in the original ending justice is still unserved.
The problem with Amy’s return is that it lead the book into some clichés. The scheming necessary for Amy’s return began to produce what I call “Sherlockian fatigue.” It’s the ennui that occurs when reading novels, especially crime and mystery novels, when situations (or characters) are a little too perfect, forcing the reader to sustain their disbelief a little too much. That Detective Boney, Tanner the attorney, Nick, and his sister would all know the extent of Amy’s schemes, and that they wouldn’t attempt to make a case? That Amy literally killed a man and because she claimed self-defense nobody looked into it? I am going to lay some of the blame on the editor this time. Somebody should have told Gillian to reign in a bit on this one.
Would recommend? Yes. This one is worth the read.