Welcome to our Book-It List. Here is where both of the Book Garden’s friendly owners (and Robert’s son) will read (sometimes) one book per month and write a review.
Be sure to check the latest ones out on our blog and share your opinions too! If you find any intriguing, check out the book at our store.
Do you have a Book-It List of your own? Let us know what you’re reading this year, e-mail us at email@example.com.
This young woman’s wonderful essay captures the role indie bookstores play in defining communities around the world – and make us very proud to be part of what makes Frenchtown Frenchtown.
Searching Among the Stacks and Finding Florence by Cathryn Piwinski
The conceptualization of Florence within American minds consists of two primary characteristics: packed with exceptional art and filled with delicious food. The American education system teaches its students that Italy, specifically Florence, was the creative hub of the European Renaissance, marking it as a city rich in towering architectural achievements, breath-taking statues, and meticulous frescos. Likewise, the love affair with appropriated Italian food – pasta, tomato sauce, pizza, olive oil, gelato – causes Americans to idealize Italy as the land of plenty, the land of delicious, delectable, and desirable food, the land whose menu all other nations should aspire to imitate. However, while these two aspects remain essential to Florentine culture, moving to Florence and witnessing firsthand how it operates daily has shown me that there are more intricacies within this city’s life than I had initially thought. The architectural accomplishment of the Duomo and the equally valued culinary accomplishment of a perfectly made cappuccino do indeed factor into daily life in Florence, but life is not limited to nearly that. After living in this city for nearly four weeks, I am still recognizing and learning to adapt to these other factors of Florence living through the use of a particular establishment that is in no short supply here: the bookstore.
Adjusting to a new city, especially after fully adapting to life in the ever-active New York City, proved to be quite the challenge for me. I arrived in Florence with the anticipation that I would see every piece of art and eat every piece of food that the city had to offer – after all, those were the main characteristics I was raised to expect from Florence. After about a week of living here, however, I learned that I had been anticipating Florence as a tourist, not as an inhabitant. Living in this city for three and a half months meant experiencing smaller day-to-day moments at local cafes, stores, and piazzas, and carving out some moments of my own, which proved to be a challenge. To meet this challenge, a friend of mine who studied abroad in Berlin a few semesters prior advised that I search for local places that would obviously be new to me, but nonetheless recognizable and therefore eventually comfortable. The English major that I am inevitably settled on bookstores and bookshop cafés, which seem to be in no short supply in Florence and even connect with the art and the food that is so often praised in Italy. I began feverishly searching for places that met my conditions, which provided me with the newfound bravery to duck into any building that boasted hard covers and paperbacks in its windows. In this search, I found treasures and places of sanctuary, such as the Feltrinelli in the Piazza della Reppublica, the Paperback Exchange, and Todo Modo; but I also discovered the perfect way to begin connecting with life in Florence. Sitting back in the quiet atmosphere of a bookstore or library with my book let me observe and listen to Florentine exchanges and conversations. Ironically, in these places, a language I do not yet understand, in both the spoken and printed form, surrounds me, but it still seems that I am nonetheless able to connect with the city. Through my experiences within these bookstores, through the moments I have witnessed of Florentine life, I am able to forge my own personal connection with the city and become more than just a tourist, more than just a temporary student, but a knowledgeable and comfortable resident. It is in these unfamiliar, yet familiar places – in my case, the bookstore – that one can begin to become a crucial member of the true Florence and not just a visitor of the Florence found within travel guides.
My first venture into the Florentine world of bookshop cafés was a failed attempt: it consisted of a visit to the distant Café Letterario, located in Piazza delle Murate and recommended to me by an online list of “havens” for book-loving espresso-drinkers. Upon first entering the piazza, I noticed a noisy crowd circled around a few dancers and immediately thought of Washington Square Park, back home in New York City. The strangely urban energy emanating from the spectators coupled with the artistic nature of the performers reminded me of the many dancers, musicians, artists, and writers that populate my park back home. It felt familiar and recognizable to me, but as I joined the crowd to watch the performers, I was met with odd, almost judgmental stares, which caused me to feel as if I was intruding upon some sort of exclusive group that I was no part of. Stealing myself away from the performance, I walked inside to the café, ordered a hot chocolate, and found a small table near the wall that was perfect for not only reading a bit of my book, but also observing the populated lounge area of the café. The energy inside matched the energy outside: it was “urban,” meaning that the dimly-lit room was buzzing with consistent noise and was filled with young Italians who were either studying in groups or socializing in some other way. My observations were disrupted, however, as the groups began to leave and the waitress placed “reserved” cards on the recently abandoned tables. While I was not chased out, I left soon after my initial arrival with a strange feeling. After sitting down later that day to sort through my experience, I settled on the conclusion that Café Letterario was, in fact, too familiar. The energy emanating from the patrons was too New York City-esque, too uncomfortably uncanny, that I therefore found myself yearning for the home that I had left behind rather than forming a connection with the city of Florence. It was with the new conclusion, however, that I was able to move forward in my search of places, specifically bookstore cafés, which were recognizable, but definitively new and certainly Florentine. Café Letterario did not provide me with the connection to the city I was seeking, but it did provide me with the criteria for future bookstores and solidified expectations of what I needed from these places. Though I expect that I will, inevitably, return one day for that extraordinary hot chocolate.
A similar, but not altogether identical, experience happened to me in The Paperback Exchange, an English bookstore within the center of Florence. I have only ducked inside twice so far with the goal of purchasing textbooks for my courses, but seized the opportunity to browse the shelves and read a little in the comfortable armchairs that populate the sales floor. One of the employees, thinking that I wanted to pay for my books immediately, even told me to take as long as I would like reading. Said with a smile, this greeting was far more inviting than the crowd in front of Café Letterario, and I felt comfortable settling in and enjoying the store. Overall, I had a pleasant experience within the store, but after leaving both times I found myself plunged back into the foreign streets of Florence. Despite the comforting atmosphere of The Paperback Exchange, I once again found that it was a shelter for me, as I was surrounded by English books and English speakers – even the Italian employees spoke English flawlessly – and therefore found that I was no closer to connecting with Florentine life. While The Paperback Exchange did not cause me to earnestly wish for home in quite the same way that Café Letterario had, I found that this store instead acted as a means of completely isolating myself from the Italy just outside. Now that the Italian language had been completely stripped from the bindings of the books and the tongues of the people around me, I was able to go about my own business as if I was just another American in an American bookstore. It was an English haven, a place to go when I was missing my language and my books, but not the place to frequent when I desired to connect with Florentine life and Florentine people. I was beginning to learn that I needed to fully immerse myself within a strictly Italian bookstore, filled with strictly Italian people, in order to feel as though I was truly a part of this city. The search for my place – my beloved Florentine bookshop café – therefore persisted.
Another search on the Internet led me to the Feltrnelli bookstore on the a, a giant store boasting thousands of books and a sit down restaurant that requires reservations ahead of time. Clearly a popular spot for both Italians and foreigners, I decided to duck inside and explore the shelves. There were very few places to sit down and observe the store, so my stops were rather quick, but I was nonetheless able to capture a quick taste of life within Florence. What I learned was not particularly shocking – Florentines in bookstores tend to act just like Americans in bookstores: they browse, pick up a book and skim the back cover, perhaps flip through a few pages, and set in back down. One man intently read his newspaper as he profusely coughed and blew his nose. A woman excitedly explained the plotline – I assume – of the book in her hand to a friend standing next to her. This new discovery was not disappointing, however, but rather comforting. As I was in a foreign place for the first time in my life and possessed an incredible desire to connect with it, it was a relief to learn that no drastic changes to my own behavior were necessary in order to assimilate into Italian life. The people here were not aliens, not inaccessible, but rather, they were people. It was through this visit to the Feltrinelli bookstore that made me realize that, perhaps, I could simply be a person alongside them. This wish came true when I visited this store a second time, with a fellow book-loving NYU student in tow, and was able to show her each section and a few interesting books that I had discovered during my previous visit. We stopped in the children’s section, hoping to put our Italian skills to the test, but were amused to discover that even low-level reading was beyond our grasp at this point in our Italian studies. The second trip, nonetheless, felt satisfying, as I felt I knew about a place in Florence well enough to tour a friend around it. It felt as though I was finally beginning to connect with the city, finally beginning to figure out the layout and the lifestyle – even if it was only a bookstore. I nonetheless was at last beginning to feel that connection to Florentine life that I had desired.
My next discovery was based off the recommendation of a professor of mine: La Cite, found in the Oltrarno and conveniently located only about a block away from my apartment. After researching the space a little online, I learned that this particular bookshop café transforms into a rather active bar at night and was almost shut down a few years ago for noise violations. However, the locals that frequented the café fought against this potential threat to their beloved home and managed to keep La Cite open and operational. Drawn in by this fascinating backstory, I stopped by one afternoon for a cup of white hot chocolate, which was almost as delicious as the hot chocolate found at Café Letterario, and chance to read my own book. The atmosphere of the place, which made complete sense when I remembered that it becomes a popular bar at night, immediately struck me. Psychedelic paintings of religious figures and a impressively detailed portrait of Karl Marx decorated the already colorful walls. Each chair and couch was mixed and matched and looked as though they were purchased from an antiques fair. The books, though not as plentiful as those found at legitimate bookstores, were all used and individual members of a particularly eclectic collection. The atmosphere of the café, therefore, seemed distinctly similar to the atmosphere of the local New York City cafés that I had frequented, but did not make me yearn for home in the same way that Café Letterario had. Perhaps the building was more inviting, perhaps the armchairs were comfier, perhaps the Italian couple feverishly talking next me made the place seem a bit more Florentine than American. Whatever the exact reason, I felt connected. While reading my book in the comfortable armchair of La Cite, surrounded by Florence residents and their Italian books and words, I was convinced for a while that perhaps Florence could really come to be my new home.
The final place that I have had the opportunity to visit is the very place in which I am writing this essay: Todo Modo, just across the Arno and little south of the Santa Maria Novella station, it is close to my apartment and acts as a wonderful place to visit early on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Unlike previous bookshop cafés, the shelves of this one are packed with books and even make up a pretty sizable English literature section. There are tables at which you can sit to read and sip a cappuccino, but there are also plastic yet deceptively comfortable chairs at the top of a flight of stairs that allow for a bit of distance from the noise of the café area. I have, quite simply, fallen in love with this place; the atmosphere is quiet and relaxed, the coffee is particularly delicious, and the books are plentiful. What made me truly feel at home here, however, are the interactions I have witnessed between the Florentines that frequent the café. From what I have gathered from my position at one of the tables, a family with one daughter and another child on the way run the café. During my first visit, the daughter parked herself in the children’s section, which is located at the top of the aforementioned stairs, along with her many coloring books. Her father showed up eventually, her jacket in hand, and tried to coax her down to join him – her response to him, however, was to pile her coloring books on top of his head. Her very pregnant mother joined them a few minutes later and succeeded in convincing her to leave her spot and then the store with her father. Moments later, another family – perhaps a grandmother, mother, and daughter – showed up and embarked on a laborious search for a particular book in the children’s section; the daughter’s guardians called up directions to her from the bottom of the stairs and eventually the endeavor was successful. Upon my second – and current – trip on a Saturday afternoon, I have noticed the great amount of Florentines here who have set up their laptops and papers to work at the café, many of whom have greeted one another as though they recognize each other as regulars. These interactions I have witnessed may seem small, but they are incredibly comforting; set up in my armchair, I am an unquestioned inhabitant of the bookstore, also here to browse the shelves and finish some work on my own laptop. Todo Modo, I can confidently assert, is my place, my little corner of Florence that has provided me with a strong connection to life within. When I step through the door of this bookshop café, I become more than just a tourist or a visiting student, I instead become another inhabitant of Florence interested in the books and espresso this little shop has to offer.
It may seem strange, to search for solace in places that immerse me within a written and spoken language that I do not yet understand. This disconnect in understanding, however, is not so isolating, for I truly believe that this unfamiliarity is essential in order to truly feel a part of the new city. My search for the perfect bookstore has taken me to many places that feel both too foreign and too familiar, but it is finding the perfect balance between the two feelings that allow a new resident to blend into a new cultural life, without losing or abandoning their old one. Bookstores and bookshop cafés allowed me to settle down in places that were both comfortable and familiar, yet new and foreign, which, in turn, let me observe Florentine life and helped me in the struggle to forge my own unique connection with the city. Coming to Florence, I expected to spend all of my time within museums and restaurants, viewing the famous artwork and sampling the delicious food. While I have done this, I have discovered that it what is left out of the Italian stereotypes, what is found beyond the expectation of beautiful art and fantastic food, is what truly connects me with the city. Bookstores and bookshop cafés, forgotten within the cracks of these aforementioned stereotypes, is the way that this American is able to transform her everyday life as a temporary student into a life that is undoubtedly and undeniably Florentine.
We at the Book Garden always like to know what our friends think about the books they read.
This ‘report’ was given to us by Becca (age 14).
I just finished Yvonne Prinz’s book “If you’re Lucky.” As soon as I started to read it, it became really hard to put down. The book has a great story line full of twists and turns and it had me on the edge of my seat! It’s a perfect story for someone who likes mystery and suspense.
my guess is: she like it!
tell us of your book experiences too
Like sports teams, artists, vacation getaways and books … everyone seems to have a personal favorite. For our friend just across the street from the Book Garden (Megan Metz at Modern Love) her writer of choice is Haruki Murakami.
Murakami is a contemporary Japanese writer whose work has been translated into more than 50 languages. Thankfully for us, English is one of them. His works of fiction and non-fiction have garnered critical acclaim and numerous awards, both in Japan and internationally including the Franz Kafka Prize in 2006 and the Jerusalem Prize in 2009.
Recently Megan picked up a copy of ‘A Wild Sheep Chase’
(Haruki Murakami http://www.randomhouse.com/features/murakami/site.php) here is what she has to say about it:
If ever i need a moment to escape my everyday, I pick up a Murakami novel. Recently, I read ‘A Wild Sheep Chase’ and it was just the dose of escape I needed. Morality and mortality mixed with the best descriptions of place (I devour his attention to detail!), Murakami delivered yet another perfectly complex exploration of the meaning of life versus the meaning of living. I am always so excited to pick up his novels because I know it will be such an imaginative journey!
Let us know what you’re reading this summer and … why. If you like it enough we can pass the word around and who knows, soon you may be starting a movement.
The Book Garden
Community Reads March 12, 2014
Want Not by Jonathan Miles
First, I have to say this; I am very opinionated and when I get in a room with others I like to lay down the law (as it holds court with my point of view). This usually works when discussing books but alas, during the last ‘Community Reads’ book club meeting the author showed up. So for the discussion centered on Jonathan Miles’s book (Want Not) I couldn’t bring my point of view front and center. In fact, my entire ego sank down to the level of my shoes as I heard first hand exactly what he meant when he wrote ‘What John Rye had done wrong, Micah would do right.’
Seriously; it was with extreme pleasure the ‘Community Reads’ book club was able to discuss Want Not with the author. And, I have to say, I really enjoyed the read (and the discussion). Want Not is different in its delivery from most books and that alone, the uniqueness, gave it value. It reminded me very much of an art-house movie where the theme is interconnected more than the characters themselves and, Jonathan Miles can write.
“Want Not” has a message — the balance between ‘waste not / want not’ no longer seems to register with people. The entire concept of civilization in the throes of waste, decay and pollution, discarding items as soon as the label ‘possession’ is upon them is evident. And, by painting civilization as a whole begs the question, is there salvation?
This brings us to the characters: An abandoned professor of dead languages (Dr. Elwin Cross), AND his neighbor’s wayward son, AND a young couple (Micah and Talmadge) living off the grid and off the detritus of super-consumers like Sara and Dave, AND Sara’s daughter Alexis. AND Elwin’s dying father (Dr. Cross, Senior), AND Matty, Talmadge’s old buddy, who crashes in on him and Micah (when he gets out of prison). It seems too much, too many, and as I mentioned above, there is very little interconnection. Jonathan alternates his delivery between the various characters, their current situations and, of course, their back stories until he is (what seems to me) to be almost three quarters through the book. I have to say, I worried a little, but the writing itself kept me glued. I actually appreciate the honest descriptions of people and how they interact and more importantly, why they interact so … I read on.
What kept me going, the back stories, the paining of the lives which brings the people off the page and into the three dimensional space in which we live. For example, we follow Micah back through her strange and idyllic upbringing in Appalachia to her revelatory trip in India. Micah and all the others grow into, well into people and you can love ‘em or hate ‘em but either way you have to appreciate what the artist has constructed. After this, the character connections begin to emerge though, they are quick, very quick and very sharp. The young Alexis (high school student preparing for college) grapples with a personal struggle which she keeps to herself and all we can do is hope for the best because what people want is not always what they get especially if there is waste involved. Luckily, sometimes salvation is not understood and emerges from the least likely of places.
The message to refrain from waste is brought home by Dr. Cross (junior) too. He is struggling through his divorce when an academic task comes floating his way. He is to help an assembled team of experts (what is an expert but a matter of opinion?) to help craft a warning for future generations (or space aliens) of the untouchable danger beneath (radioactive waste). This is the Waste Isolation Project Markers, and it gives Jonathan a platform on which to discuss the long range forecast for us members of the human race.
My favorite part of the book, I must confess, is when the Alzheimer riddled Dr. Cross senior remembers back and we are treated, really treated, to an analysis of the events which shaped his life. To move from Dr. Cross’s remembrances of concentration camps in Germany to Dumpster-diving outside the hospice in NYC to a Yankees game to discussions of radioactive decay rates is not easy. How does he do it? As I said, the man can write.
Waste Not Want Not, I feel is the underlying message. The more we want, the more we waste and as Dr. Cross’s team is attempting to put together the waste management signage, it won’t even be readable in the ages to come.
The Shipping News
Late again but, as always, I have an excuse. The year ended almost a month ago and I have still not, until now, posted my Book-It list final review. In fact, I never posted for November either (no excuse and so I am sorry about that one). There is a reason I didn’t post for December in December, two reasons really. The first is, I didn’t read The Fault in Our Stars (John Green) so I could not have reviewed this one. Why, you ask? Because I was sidetrack by an old book that came my way. I picked up this tome and it, figuratively, called to me. The book that called was The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx.
At the Book Garden we are blessed with a fast growing horde of ‘previously loved’ books and many times those which cross my desk I have not yet read. For these I make a note and try to find a way to schedule them in. Unfortunately, those higher up on my list tend to be high on our customer lists as well. In other words; they don’t stay in the store long. This is why when I heard the sirens singing of boats in Newfoundland I not only placed The Shipping News at the top of my list, I took it home with me and placed it in front of my December Book-It entry.
Glad I did. Annie Proulx’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Shipping News was published in 1993. I am not sure how I would have taken to it if I read it way back then. Now, simple put, I loved it.
One of the hardest things to do, and what every writer strives for, is to bring the reader into the world they are creating. In a sense, allow the reader to relocate for a while to the locations within the story. Ms. Proulx does this very well. The Shipping News is like an encyclopedia of information starting with the local vernacular (slang) which she uses to post a treatise (or two) on the anthropology of those living (lore) in her designed world. The way her Newfoundlanders talk, the most factual accounts seem like everyday gossip, of course it is usually over a supper of snow crab, cod cheeks, lobster salad and seal-flipper stew.
The protagonist is Quoyle. Quoyle is Joe average, or possible, a bit lower down on the scale. He doesn’t seem to fit in where competition is the norm. He is described as being heavy and his facial features never seem to draw positive attention “head shaped like a crenshaw, no neck, reddish hair” and “features as bunched as kissed fingertips.” He grows up in New York State and by luck or by accident he marries Petal Bear which leads to a month of fiery happiness followed by six years of suffering.
When his two-timing wife dies in a terrible car accident (shortly after she tries to sell their two children) Quoyle is a mess. He now is left with two young daughters, Bunny and Sunshine and no real sense of self. Bunny is plagued with nightmares (of a snarling white dog) that match in intensity Quoyle’s hallucinatory re-enactments of Petal’s grisly death. Life seems stripped of hope until Aunt Agnis arrives and persuades him to travel back to their ancestral home in Newfoundland. The aunt, as she is often referred to, regales Quoyle with stories of their Newfoundland ancestors; Like the tale of his grandfather who had drowned at age 12 after having already sired Quoyle’s father. The stories were both mesmerizing and disquieting and draw Quoyle in, albeit with some hesitation.
Quoyle takes the bait and is soon driving off to Newfoundland with his daughters and his aunt in search of his ancestral house. This is not a story of the noble lad returning to reclaim the family fortune. This is obvious when the ‘ancestral home’ is first encountered. It is a dilapidated place, isolated miles down a barely passable road from the town of Killick-Claw. Quoyle, being, if nothing else, pragmatic had obtained work at the local news paper The Gammy Bird, before he had embarked on the quest.
The story keeps returning to the offices of The Gammy Bird. The staff are true brigands of outback journalism and Ms. Proulx pitches it with strikes. There is Nutbeem, who steals foreign news from the radio; Tert Card, the rewrite man; and Jack Buggit, the belligerent editor. Their spontaneous monologues, spiced with the local patois, are nothing less than oral literature put down on paper for us foreigners to behold.
Winter comes near and Quoyle learns an interesting lesson. The dilapidated ancestral home which he spent a good deal of money repairing is unlivable in the winters. He has to close it up and go searching for a warm, safe place in Killick-Claw for him and his girls for the coming season. Claustrophobic winter arrives, locking in the town, icing over the coves. This is where Ms. Proulx juxtaposes the harsh months where hibernation is the norm with Quoyle slowly digging out from his own past. He begins to court the all but silent Wavey Prowse, herself widowed by a drowning, as he fends off visions of his children’s mother all the while deepening his devotion and delight in his daughters. He seems to be calming, finding peace and at the same time the children and aunt undergo difficult, healing transformations as well.
The winter continued and the unpredictable forces of nature and society ebbed and flowed. The family home, standing alone in a storm with a nameless wind, was even blown into the sea yet by spring’s open water, Quoyle himself had survived physically and drummed out some of his demons along the way and begins to see the possibility of love without pain or misery.
This was my Book-It list for 2013. Of the twelve books I put down I read the first ten, missed eleven (The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson) and substituted The Shipping News for The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Of course during the year I also read The Signature of All Things, Prisoner of Heaven, The Orphan Master’s Son, A Dance with Dragons, King Arthur (Goodrich), Idylls of the King, The History of the Kings of Britain and portions of Parzival. So, all in all, it was not too shabby a year. What did you read?
I know I am way behind in posting my November Book-It (The Psychopath Test; Jon Ronson). The only way I can wiggle out of that commitment is to mention how busy the Garden has been all throughout November and December (thanks to all patrons). I have also been busy rewriting (again) one of my own efforts (the editor still doesn’t like it) and this is driving me further down the path where I will no longer need to read The Psychopath Test, I will be the one tested instead.
But there is good news. A customer (Jan) recently purchased a copy of The Cuckoo’s Calling (Robert Galbraith, a.k.a. J.K. Rowling). She sent along her take on the book which I am sharing below. I am happy to talk about Rowling b/c my hat is always off to her. I feel she has done more than anyone else in the last few decades to bring reading enjoyment back to our children.
If anyone else wants to share their take on books, send me a letter like Jan did.
A few weeks ago, I came into your store with my boyfriend and bought The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (i.e. J.K. Rowling). You asked me to email you and let you know what I thought about it.
Sorry it took me so long to get back to you.
I flew through the book, no pun intended. I really enjoyed it. It’s a suicide/murder mystery. It has her usual very long list of characters, each with their own complicated lives; you never know which one is important and which one’s life will interact with the victim’s (Lula Landry, a famous model). She portrays the main characters as gritty with messy lives; in other words, real and interesting.
She starts off with Robin, a minor character, who helps solve the crime but who has very little to do with the main storyline. Robin brings you into contact with Cormoran Strike, the private investigator who is hired by the Lula’s adopted brother. He investigates Lula’s death and brings you to all the other major and minor characters. Some have a direct impact on the victim’s life and death, some don’t.
There’s the adopted brother, John Bristow. He was reviewing a contract for his sister and came to return it to her the night she died. There’s Uncle Ted who hated his niece and nephew. There’s Lula and John’s mother who’s dying, or is she? Could she be faking to deflect suspicion? The Bestigui’s who live in the flat underneath Lula. She’s a coke addict and he’s a film producer with a crush on Lula. Rochelle, who Lula met in rehab. Did she feel indebted to Lula for all that Lula gave her, or was she jealous of Lula’s success? Evan Duffield, the drug addicted on-again off-again boyfriend. And what about Lula’s biological family who she was secretly searching for. Did she find them? Who really are these people? And the list goes on and on…
I never guessed who the culprit really was, although I never do (I’m bad at that). I don’t want to tell you too much in case you want to read it yourself but if you want more details so you can tell other customers who come into the store, let me know and I’ll give you a much more detailed synopsis.
There is a reason I put Big Fish on my reading list. I loved the movie. Yes I saw the movie first, that happens (see last month’s posting; Babette’s Feast). Now I see the musical version is in the works. Will I go to a musical? Not sure. I have no idea how a musical can do the movie/book justice and sometimes it is better to stay with the positive interpretations. If the musical leaves one with a bland or even bad taste in the mouth everything gets tainted. Then again, if it is good …
Perhaps just commenting on what I have seen will do for now.
It is extremely difficult to either find the truth or, to understand it; take it from me I’ve been trying all my life. In Big Fish Edward Bloom remains a huge mystery to his son Will and by not understanding his father he grew estranged. But when Edward is confined to his deathbed his son tries to get to know the real man and mend their relationship. Will, a journalist, begins piecing together a true picture of his father using flashbacks of the stories told and a bit of investigative journalism.
First the stories (there are so many tales I have to list them):
Edward Bloom tells many tales, many times over the years. For example; on the day Will was born, he was out catching an enormous uncatchable fish, using his wedding ring as bait. Edward also braved a swamp as a child, and met a witch who showed him his death in her glass eye. With this knowledge, Edward said, he knew there were no odds he could not face. Edward also claimed he spent three years confined to a bed as a child because his body was growing too fast. He became a successful sports player, but Ashton, his home town, was too small for his ambitions so he set off with the misunderstood giant named Karl. Edward discovers the hidden town of Spectre, where everyone is friendly to the point of comfortably walking around barefoot. Edward leaves because he does not want to settle anywhere yet, but promises to the town mayor’s daughter Jenny that he will return. Edward also tells of the time he and Karl worked at a circus; Edward works without pay, as he has been promised by the ringmaster Amos Calloway that each month he will learn something new about a girl he fell in love with. Three years later, having only learned trivia about her, Edward discovers Amos is a werewolf. In return for his refusal to harm him in his monstrous state, Amos tells Edward the girl’s name is Sandra Templeton and she studies at Auburn University. The story is based in Alabama so it had to be an Alabama school, right?
Edward learns Sandra is engaged to Don Price, whom Edward always overshadowed during his days in Ashton. Sandra makes Edward promise not to fight Don. Edward doesn’t fight but Don does leaving Edward in bad shape. Don’s actions disgust Sandra into ending their engagement and falling for Edward. Edward later reveals that Don died from a heart attack on the toilet bowl at an early age (Don saw his own death in the Witch’s eye). During his recovery, Edward is conscripted by the army and sent to the Korean War. He parachutes into the middle of a show entertaining North Korean troops, steals important documents, and convinces Siamese twin dancers Ping and Jing to help him escape. He tells them he can make them stars in the U.S. but he is unable to contact anyone on his journey home (no cell phones back then), and the military declares him dead. This limits Edward’s job options when he does return home, so this is why he became a traveling salesman. Meeting the poet Norther Winslow (who was from Spectre), he unwittingly helps him rob a bank, which is already bankrupt. Edward suggests Winslow work at Wall Street, and Winslow thanks Edward for his advice by sending him $10,000, which he uses to buy a dream house.
Now, The investigation:
Will has heard his father’s stories before but as he sits near his ailing father he demands to know the truth. Edward tells his son, that is who he is: a storyteller. Will does go out on the road and finds Spectre. He also meets an older Jenny, who explains that Edward rescued the town from bankruptcy by buying it at an auction and rebuilding it with financial help from many of his previous acquaintances. Will thinks his father had been having an affair with Jenny, to which she replies that while she had indeed fallen in love with him, Edward could never love any woman other than Sandra. When Will returns to his father’s house he is informed his father had a stroke. He goes to visit him in the hospital and finds him only partly conscious. Edward can no longer tell stories, so he asks his son to tell him the story of how it all ends. Will begins to understand and he helps his father escape from the hospital. They go to the river where everyone in Edward’s life appears to him and bids him goodbye. Will carries his father into the river where he becomes what he always had been: a very big fish.
At Edward’s funeral, Will is shocked to see Amos and Karl (who is taller than average, though not an actual giant) arrive. He also catches sight of Norther Winslow speaking with Ping and Jing (who are merely identical, not conjoined). Will finally realizes the truth of his father’s stories. When his own son is born, Will passes on his father’s stories, remarking that his father became his stories, allowing him to live forever.