A Book A Day: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

Image source: Goodreads

This is my first audiobook. Once upon a time I had a 50-minute commute and to preserve my sanity and keep a nasty road rage habit in check I started listening to this book about a man who was put on trial for murder four times in Savannah, Georgia.

Ostensibly a true-crime book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, in Berendt’s hands, reads like a larger-than-life novel. Indeed, after the book’s publication and subsequent film adaptation (spoiler: the movie pales in comparison to the book), tourists flocked to Savannah to experience all the places Berendt mentions. The statue on the cover of the book was moved from a local cemetery to a museum because of concerns about damage. 

My husband and I went to Savannah for our 10-year-wedding anniversary a few years ago; we’d been newlyweds when I first listened to the book and miracle of miracles, Mr. Offal, Resister of All Things Literary, read it in time for our trip. You can visit the house where the murder occurred and tour the historic district, where most of the action takes place. We even toured the cemetery where the statue originally was and let me tell you, the South really does it right when it comes to cemeteries, in my opinion. (The actual Garden of Good and Evil is in South Carolina.)

One odd thing: Savannah, a walkable city, is made up of squares, and the names of the squares do not match up with streets or statutes in the squares. My husband and I were all, “How did city planners not lose their jobs over this?”

Also, if you’re ever there, try and visit the birthplace of Flannery O’Connor if you can. It was a spur-of-the-moment stop for us (it’s a private residence with limited visiting hours) and the tour guide was so fantastic (enthusiastic, knowledgeable, fun) it became one of my favorite places. 

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A Book A Day: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

A Book A Day: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

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Before there was Katniss of Hunger Games and Tris of Divergent, there was Lisbeth Salander, a pierced and tattooed hacker who teams up with Swedish private investigator Mikael Blomkvist to solve a 40-year-old mystery: the disappearance of heiress Harriet Vanger.

My caveat to this book is the first 50 pages of slog you have to wade through before the story clicks and hums along. At first I thought it was the translator but then I read that after delivering the manuscript for this and two other subsequent novels, author and journalist Stieg Larrson promptly dropped dead. Among other things, he was studying extremism and violence against women in Sweden, and in the books Lisbeth—who’d been abused in her youth—is particularly nasty and vicious in exacting revenge. (Interestingly, ho-hum Blomkvist gets a ton of action in these books, mostly because he unreservedly loves women.)

Larrson never married but his longtime partner insisted the novels he wrote were joint projects and fought bitterly so that his estranged family couldn’t profit from their success. 

Whoever wrote them needed a good editor and the last book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, is just plain boring. (Also, the Swedish adaptation of the book is so good there was no need to make an American movie, in my opinion.)

A Book A Day: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

A Book A Day: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Image source: Goodreads

This lyrical novel, the story of a man desperately trying to find his roots so he can fit in somewhere, won the Nobel Prize. It chronicles the life of Macon “Milkman” Dead III, from birth—the novel opens with a man trying to fly off the top of a hospital, triggering his mother’s labor—until possible death; the ending is uncertain.

Born in Michigan, Milkman wants to learn more about his family and the mysterious treasure his father had buried on a farm. He makes his way first to Pennsylvania, then eventually Virginia, trying to understand his family’s legacy while simultaneously being alienated from his family.

Besides the title, there are Biblical references throughout the novel: Milkman’s mother is Ruth; his sisters are Magdalene and First Corinthians (no, really) and he has an aunt named Pilate, whose daughter is Reba and whose granddaughter is Hagar.

There’s also Guitar, a family friend who belongs to a group called Seven Days, whose mission is to kill white people in retaliation of the racial killing of blacks. Guitar’s revenge extends to him wanting to kill nearly everyone by the end of the novel, setting himself up in a showdown with Milkman.

Unlike the Poisonwood Bible, the use of religious undertones here about family and revenge is what makes the story so compelling. Milkman wanders through three different states before ending up in the same place he started. And like the hymn on which the book is based, Milkman learns how to fly.

A Book A Day: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

A Book A Day: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Image source: Wikipedia

Some advice from your friend Online Offal: Lord of the Flies is not that long of a book but it’s quite possibly the worst novel you can read during your honeymoon, especially if it happens to be on a tropical island.

Lord of the Flies should be required reading, especially for boys, for it explicitly describes toxic masculinity (i.e., men traditionally being considered violent, unemotional and sexually aggressive). A bunch of boys survive a plane crash and create a haphazard society which quickly and violently devolves. Eventually the boys separate into two groups: the ones who have a pair of glasses that’s used to create fire and the ones who don’t. (Interestingly enough, the owner of the glasses is in the have-not group.)

After murdering the boy who owned the glasses, the leader of the have group literally hunts down the leader of the have-not group. He’s rescued at the last minute by an officer who’s shipwrecked on the island.

Even though it was written in the 1950s, this book still holds up today. (I’d argue there are a group of haves and a group of have-nots in this very country, for example.) It shows me as a parent of a boy I have to cut through the garbage of a “macho man” entertainment seems to emulate and show my son he can still be kind and sensitive and a leader, too.

A Book A Day: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

A Book A Day: Lucky by Alice Sebold


Image source: Wikipedia 

Alice Sebold was raped and beaten near her dorm during her freshman year at Syracuse and police told her she was lucky she hadn’t been murdered.

Alice was so lucky that every time she told someone what happened to her, she changed in their eyes and a little piece of who she was before it happened fell away, until she was scared she’d never get back to being that person.

Alice was lucky she not only ran into her rapist again, but he recognized her and knew he had gotten away with what he did. She failed to recognize him in a lineup but eventually he was convicted and sent to prison. Soon after he was in jail, someone broke into her home and raped her roommate. Alice was lucky enough to relive her own trauma all over again.

Alice was raped in 1981 and wrote her memoir in 1999, years before the #MeToo movement. She wanted other people who were raped to know they were not alone, although their experiences may have been different.

We’re lucky to have this book.

(It’s better than Lovely Bones.)

A Book A Day: Lucky by Alice Sebold

A Book A Day: Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand

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Before I read Seabiscuit, I read Hillenbrand’s biography of runner and World War II hero Louis Zamparini, Unbroken. And before I read Unbroken, I read a fascinating essay she wrote in The New Yorker about her diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome. She started writing about horses because the magazine Equus was the only place with forgiving deadlines (meaning she could work on a story for months).

I knew nothing about horses before I read this book. I’ve only seen one or two races in person: at Saratoga racetrack, the week before the opening day of the season. The horses were huge, beautiful and delicate, especially around the legs. Their bodies gleamed with sweat after each race and they were panting loudly. 

Seabiscuit, who got more newspaper ink than Hitler or Mussolini in 1938, was not only a classic underdog himself, but so were his owner, his trainer and his jockey. It was like the Miracle on Ice multiplied by the 2004 Boston Red Sox, to the Rudy power. 

What makes this (meticulously detailed) book so compelling is Hillenbrand’s prose. It’s clear, concise and above all, entertaining. It’s also like a big thank-you note for the people who took a chance on her as a writer.

A Book A Day: Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand

A Book A Day: Snow by Roy McKie and P.D. Eastman

Image source: vegbooks.org, via Google image search

  • This is the only legitimate snowfall of the season even though this is the kids’ fourth snow day, which means more days are added to the end of the year. (Weather people had a huge miscalculation for a storm two weeks ago. Schools closed the night before and we got nothing.)
  • Kids are bored by 10:30.
  • No one is allowed to even ask about sledding until they help shovel.
  • Helping shovel does not mean taking a break every three minutes.
  • Snow is not an acceptable breakfast. It is not acceptable inside the house. I don’t care what the kids in the book do.
  • I am not in the mood for Risk or Monopoly.
  • Be quiet about Minecraft.
  • I still don’t know how to fix the Wii. Read a book.
  • Regular book posts will resume tomorrow.
A Book A Day: Snow by Roy McKie and P.D. Eastman