Friday Book Whimsy: And the Winner Is…..

Back in June, I wrote a blog post in which I admitted that I had just learned that PBS was sponsoring a contest of sorts in which people would vote for their favorite book. Through some process that I never bothered to research, 100 books were nominated by readers like you and me as their favorite book — as my 8-year–old granddaughter Mylee would say — in the whole entire world. Let me remind you that it was expressly defined as the favorite book and not the best book. As such, books such as Fifty Shades of Gray and The Notebook were among the 100 that were nominated. As Jerry Seinfeld would say, not that there’s anything wrong with them.

Each day, readers were invited to vote for our favorite or favorites. I will admit that most days I forgot to vote. I will also admit that every day that I remembered to vote, I voted for the same book — Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. Haters, don’t hate. I am a sucker for that book. It’s got everything: a dashing hero (never mind that he actually ends up being a murderer), a lovely, yet wimpering heroine (who remains nameless throughout — as Mylee would say — the whole entire book), an evil housekeeper (who may or may not have been one of Rebecca’s lovers), and a beautiful mansion on the shores of the raging sea in Cornwall, England (because Manderley, you see is most assuredly a character in the book. Rebecca has one of the best opening lines in any book: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”)

Alas, Rebecca did not win. And it probably didn’t deserve that honor, despite this reader’s love for the cleverly-written and decidedly creepy story. Instead, the winner was To Kill a Mockingbird.

The Pulitzer-prize winning novel by Harper Lee has been newsworthy for nearly 60 years. Most recently, a school district in Canada has banned the book from its curriculum, saying it is racist and hurtful to African American students. I choose not to weigh in on that controversy at this point but (cough) bulldoodoo.

Here are how some of my favorite books that were included among the 100 nominees fared: Little Women came in 8th; Jane Eyre was in the 10th spot; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was number 13, and Then There Were None took 19th place. As for Rebecca, it did quite well, landing in spot number 25. As for Fifty Shades of Gray, it was 86th out of the 100 on the list.   

Click here for a complete list of the results.

Friday Book Whimsy: Go Set a Watchman

urlIf you are a reader, and unless you have been living on Mars for the past couple of years, you know that Go Set a Watchman is a novel written by Harper Lee, best known for her amazing To Kill a Mockingbird. The controversy surrounding the book almost erases the value of this novel. While the publisher advertises it as a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, the reality is that it was the first novel submitted by Harper Lee long before Mockingbird. The publisher to whom she submitted the novel apparently told her it wasn’t ready for prime time and sent her back to the drawing board.

In Go Set a Watchman, a grown-up Scout, who goes by her given name Jean Louise, returns home to Maycomb, AL, from her current residence in New York City, to visit her aging father Atticus. Losing her mother at a young age, she has long hero-worshiped her father, and has tried to model her life after him.

Not long after arriving in Maycomb, after she finds an anti-Negro pamphlet among his things, she follows her father and a young man who she may – or may not – marry named Hank to a citizen’s council meeting where the speaker – who is introduced by Atticus – is a blatant racist who calls for the crowd to stop the rise of Negroes. Jean Louise is horrified, and spends the rest of the novel trying to make sense of what she has learned about her father.

According to what I’ve read, the publishers to whom the author originally submitted the story advised her to work further on the story, telling her that the most interesting parts of the book are the flashback scenes in which Jean Louise remembers growing up in Maycomb. Thus, you have To Kill a Mockingbird.

I had to remind myself throughout the book that it was written BEFORE To Kill a Mockingbird, as Jean Marie’s memories include things that are actually integral to her subsequent classic. For example, she recalls Atticus handling the legal case for a black man wrongly and unjustly accused of raping a white girl. Sound familiar?

The book really is more a series of vignettes up to the point in which Jean Louise confronts her father. That scene, along with a couple scenes featuring Atticus’ brother, make up the bulk of the novel, and really are the only parts of the book that make one think.

It’s difficult to imagine the world in the south back in the 1950s and before. Being so far removed, both in time and geographically, it was a wake-up call to be reminded that the Civil War had taken place less than a hundred years previous to the days around the Dred Scott decision. It was fresh in many people’s memory. Another point made by Jean Louise’s uncle that is remarkable is that only about 5 percent of the southerners who lived and fought and died in the Civil War actually owned slaves. For them, it really was a fight for states’ rights.

Sure, it was confusing and disappointing to see Atticus, but all-in-all, it wasn’t shocking.

The book would create fabulous discussion for a book group. I’m certain it already has.

Here is a link to the book.

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Friday Book Whimsy: 2015 Must Reads

I have read a few 2015 releases already – World Gone By, by Dennis Lehane; Under the Same Blue Sky, by Pamela Schoenewaldt; and A Spool of Blue Thread,  by Anne Tyler, to be specific. I enjoyed all three, and have posted reviews of them all.

But there are a few 2015 books that have either recently been released or are yet to be released that I wouldn’t even think of missing for a variety of reasons.

In no particular order….

Few would argue that To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most important American books of all time. The characters are unforgettable. Scheduled to be released on July 14, Go Set a Watchman is, for all intents and purposes, a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. What makes this book particularly unique is that it was actually written and submitted years before To Kill a Mockingbird. Thought to be lost, the manuscript was found and will be released. Go Set a Watchman features the same characters as To Kill a Mockingbird, but 20 years later.

Sadly, author Kent Haruf passed away last year, but not before completing Our Souls at Night, which was released May 26. Set in the same fictional eastern Colorado town of Holt, Our Souls at Night is the story of two elderly people, both who lost their spouses several years ago, who find friendship and love in their later years amidst the small town gossip. Kent Haruf writes the most unbelieveably beautiful prose imaginable. I have this book sitting on my ebook shelf, and am eagerly looking forward to finishing the books I have borrowed from the library to dig into this one. I’m certain I won’t be disappointed.

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows was released June 9 to much acclaim. Barrows is the author of the much-loved (including by me) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Barrows’ newest novel takes place in 1938 in a small West Virginian town, and tells the story of a young girl forced by her father (a United States Senator) to live in this small town despite her boredom. Boredom that is until she meets the Romeyn family and begins to unravel some family secrets. Sounds very good.

Julia Keller has become one of my favorite authors, and her protagonist Bell Elkins is one of my favorite characters. Last Ragged Breath, which will be released on August 25, is the next in the dark mystery series that also takes place in a fictional town in West Virginia. Her novels are contemporary, however. Keller’s writing is phenomenal and richly realistic. I can’t wait for this book to come out.

Speaking of mystery series, I’m eagerly awaiting Louise Penney’s next book The Nature of the Beast, featuring my beloved Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. The mysteries take place in a fictional small town near Quebec in Canada. Penney’s writing is imminently readable, but for me, the series is all about C.I. Gamache. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I want him to be one of my BFFs.

Our favorite bail bondsman Stephanie Plum and her gang of hilarious friends will be back November 17 in Tricky Twenty-Two. I am compelled to include this book, not because it is great literature, but because every single one of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels have been so funny that I am in danger of, well, never mind. There is no way in the world I would miss a single one of these mysteries. The Stephanie Plum books are one of several that I really prefer to listen to as opposed to reading simply because the woman who narrates the books – Lorelei King – is absolutely tremendous.

Author Sue Grafton will be releasing the next in her so-called alphabet series featuring private investigator Kinsey Milhone on August 25. I used to love this series, but as of late, it has began to feel repetitious. Still, there are only so many letters in the alphabet, and this novel, entitled X, is the third from the end. I can’t quit now. For the past 23 books, I have been wondering what Grafton would title the X-book. You know, like A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, L is for Lawless, O is for Outlaw, etc. I haven’t been able to think past X is for X-ray. Instead, Grafton went for simplicity with the title simply being X.  Who knows? Maybe Grafton will start over with double letters. You know, like AA is for Awesome Aardvark.

All the Single Ladies, by Dorothea Benton Frank, is a must-read for me simply because I absolutely love her settings, all of which are the low country of South Carolina, near Charleston. Her books always feature a strong-willed woman facing difficult circumstances and coming out unscathed. I like Frank’s writing. All the Single Ladies was released June 9. The story centers around three women facing the death of a fourth woman. I hate books where characters die, but I will undoubtedly give this one a try.

My new favorite author, Karen White, has a new novel out, released on May 12. The Sound of Glass follows a familiar Karen White theme – a young woman learns she has inherited a family estate that, of course, has a secret attached. The Sound of Glass takes place in Beaufort, South Carolina, which is a draw for me. I’m not sure I’ll get to this novel right away as White is very prolific and I have only recently begun reading her books. But I will definitely read it sometime soon.

Are there books either recently released or soon-to-be-released that you are going to read?