Archive for category Book Review

People of the Book

Perhaps the most challenging thing to adjust to so far is living with roommates I hardly know. Getting to know them with our varied schedules is hard. But worse is when I’m ready to crank my music in the morning, but they are all still sleeping, being night people not a morning person like myself. Saturday mornings I typically clean the house while dancing around to my thumping music. The best I can do is crank the headset and bounce around in my chair. It’s not nearly as satisfying.

Book Review time! This second of my book reviews is a far more interesting read than my first.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Several people suggested this book to me, and when I went looking for moving reads it jumped off the shelf at me before I recalled the multiple suggestions and picked it up. I’m glad I did.

It is the story of a book and the way it passes through people’s lives throughout history. Although its journey is narrated by a book conservator, Hanna, the story is about the intersection of lives around a book. In other words, it was about that experience which draws me towards archiving: the way words and experiences coalesce around books and written documents; they collect and shape people, and in the best cases pass the experiences down through generations of readers. Books are truly magical even if the circumstances and the people who handle them are not.

It begins with Hanna’s experience re-binding this precious illuminated manuscript in post-war Bosnia and the few pieces of “junk” she finds in the pages and the binding. As she tries to identify the things in an effort to piece together the book’s physical journey, Brooks takes the reader on the emotional journey the book shares with the few individuals who by chance leave said junk. In most of the cases, the book is not the focal point of these historical characters. It is there, standing witness to the struggles of these humans in ethnically dividing times. The artifact gives the reader a chance to watch the personal struggles of Jews, Christians, and Muslim women and men during the moments when they are swept away in tides of ethnic, religious, and cultural hatred. I suspect that other authors would have passed moral judgment on the choices of these characters, but Brooks manages to walk the line between explaining the forces working up on the individuals and understanding their reactions to said forces without judgment. For that reason, if no other, the book is worth reading, especially in light of America’s current struggle against its own hatred of Muslims.

The story of Lola, a Jewish girl who barely escapes Sarajevo with her life in 1940, tied into another book I read a year or so ago about the Bielksi Partisans and their Jewish guerrilla group in Poland’s forest. She escapes the city, and manages to join one of the independent sects for a year before Tito disbands them and sends those unusable persons home.

Another piece of the book’s history, set in Venice in 1609, again tied briefly into the novel I recently read, The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi by Jacqueline Park. That one followed a Jewish woman scholar through Renaissance Italy and the testy relationship the Jewish and Catholic communities maintained entering the 17th century. Brooks’ story is set a little later than the end of that novel, and my previous exploration of that world was nicely complemented by this world where the Catholic inquisition had to approve any book or else it would be condemned to the flames.

The combination of historical fiction with the power of the book fascinated me, and was a perfect read as I’m getting ready to start my own archival training. I’m not going the way of the conservator, but I don’t doubt that my own experiences will give me an intersection of cultural and personal history. I shall have to look for her other novels.

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Bones to Ashes

Author and Title: Bones to Ashes by Kathy Reichs Bones to Ashes coer

Review: I picked this one up from my sister’s pile of books while helping her move. Technically she was doing all the heavy lifting, I was mostly there for moral support and the car keys. I read the first page or so waiting for more stuff to strategically tetris-into the car, and managed to plow through the rest of it later last night. I love the tv show based off the series, Bones, and figured why not go back to the inspiration.

Having not read any other books in the series, I had no problem picking up backstory or characters’ identity. It stands alone quite well. It was, as I alluded, a quick read that took me maybe three hours or so. In that time, I picked up a little french, realized that the characters, setting, plot are almost nothing like those on Bones, and learned that as interesting as the detective work for a forensic anthropologist might be the grossness of some of the aspects of the job are not for me. It was a clever little story with a fairly predictable outcome. Whether because of my mood or the actual nature of the writing, I found that the seemingly accurate descriptions of the science clashed with the short, snappy sentences that Reichs prefers. The style made it move quickly through the tale (including all the incomplete sentences), but it meant that as a reader I got even more bogged down in the science lingo. Also knowing virtually nothing about Canadian geography meant I was frequently lost by the tales of relocation and Acadia. A map would have been helpful in that case.

Would I recommend it? : Probably yes. Although I would like to read the first in the series to see how her style has evolved. The series isn’t one I would buy for myself, but as a one-time airport read, it was worth it.

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