Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt (Review)

Savannah is quite a quirky place. At least that’s the impression I got from reading John Berendt’s work of creative nonfiction, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. This one had been on my reading list (and my bookshelf) for several years, and I’d heard a bunch of great things about it, so it was high time I got down to reading.

You meet a lot of funny and interesting people through this book, including snooty high society women, a voodoo doctor, a drag queen, and an eccentric antique-collecting bachelor.

The interesting thing is that the book is sort of a combination of society intrigue and murder mystery, with a switch between the two about halfway through the work. I liked having both parts, because the character profiles alone probably wouldn’t have carried the book all the way home.

The one issue I had with the book was the fact that it was pretty focused on the elite life of Savannah. While a few of the characters did have stories of poverty and missed opportunity, the majority were living in a secluded world of wealth. Not to say that doesn’t make a valid topic for a book, but it did feel incomplete at certain points. In particular I really wanted to “see” the elite from a wider variety of perspectives, especially in such a black/white city.

Berendt clearly wanted to keep his own voice in the background of the story though, with only brief explanations for why he was in Savannah in the first place. He notes some of his reactions to his characters’ more scandalous goings-on, but for the most part he tries to put his characters forward first.

I liked that this book built a picture of Savannah for me. Before I didn’t really have anything to associate it with in my mind, because I simply didn’t know very much about the city, even what it looked like or where it was located within Georgia. Now at least I have some sense of the place, and a lot of interesting stories to relate it to!


Wednesday Quote: John Berendt

Rule number one: Always stick around for one more drink. That’s when things happen. That’s when you find out everything you want to know.

From Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

Welcome to Savannah, Georgia, site of John Berendt’s famous work of creative nonfiction. Check back on Friday for the full review.

You know what I love? I love sharing my reading. And these past few weeks I’ve been sharing my reading in a new way than usual, I’ve been reading a book aloud with my partner. We picked something light and fun and started to read it on longer drives and when we have a few minutes of down time in the evening. It’s a great habit I’d say, reading aloud makes you appreciate an author’s writing style even more, as well as slow down and really take in what’s going on.

New Books?

You know the feeling. You’re browsing in a bookstore. You’ve come in “just to look.” Mostly because you can’t imagine passing the now-rare breed of small bookstore that you’ve stumbled across in the urban wilderness without going in. At least for a moment. Just to see what they have.

And suddenly you’re holding the book in your hand. That one you’ve been looking for at least a year, absently, the title emblazoned on a small wall in the back of your mind, in storage for this very moment when you should see the cover peeking out at you from the corner of the fiction section.

What do you do?

By DS via Flickr

Every bookworm I know has a backlog of books that they intend to read, because we simply love books so much. How strict are you about stopping yourself from buying new ones?

I’ve been pretty good recently if I do say so myself. (If “good” is characterized as holding back a little in the bookstore and overlooks copious library visits.) I went a good few months without purchasing a new book at all, and only recently did I pick up one — Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin (We tried to watch season two of Game of Thrones and couldn’t bear not having read the book). This is one that I know both my partner and I will get through so that was extra justification in our minds.

The flipside of my bookstore “restraint” though is that I don’t end up doing a lot of supporting of my local bookstores. It’s not that I’m always on Amazon buying books, just that I don’t often buy books at all. I usually am surfing the library websites for what I need or trying valiantly to whittle down from what I have on my shelves at home. So I do hope that I’ll keep up my habit of buying something every now and then when I’m browsing nearby book shops.

Zone One by Colson Whitehead (Review)

I’m excited to be sharing my review this week as part of BookLust’s A More Diverse Universe challenge. I also can’t wait to hop over to her page to check out other great reviews of books by authors of color.
So, I chose Zone One by Colson Whitehead as my book for this challenge. To be more precise, I listened to it on audiotape. I picked this book out thinking it was a straight up post-apocalyptic thriller about zombies and fighting for your life. BE FOREWARNED, it is not that. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book.
What Colson really captures in Zone One is a particularly flamboyant brand of social commentary and wit. The end of the world as we know it (taken over by a plague that turns people into zombies) is just a stage for lightly criticizing all our materialism, routines, and oddities. Where better to play out that sort of plot than New York City?
Mark Spitz is the main character of the book. After aimlessly running from calamity since the start of the plague, he gets swept up into a pseudo-replacement for the military — maybe something more akin to the National Guard than the Army. In exchange for protection, food, and camaraderie he and his team are charged with being “sweepers,” moving through areas of the abandoned city that have been previously investigated and eradicated of zombies to put down any of the leftovers.
Mark Spitz spends a lot of time thinking about the way things were before, the things he loved and the things he hated about New York City and society in general. I did get a sense of nostalgia from reading about the way things “were” even as I was living them in the moment. And maybe the book did inspire a few fleeting moments of wondering just how long the world will look the way it does now.
But overall this book isn’t going to scare you. In fact, my main issue with it was that it didn’t move very fast, and I had a hard time getting into Mark Spitz and the other characters. Even most of the way through the book I just wasn’t caring about them that much. I’m not sure exactly what could have drawn me in more, but overall I think the book leaned a bit too heavy on the side of wit and clever phrases and not enough on the side of human emotions.
You know, I read books by authors of color all the time, but in a way it’s funny that this is the one I picked for the challenge, since tough questions about race aren’t really featured in this work. It’s meant to be a narrative that cuts across the cultures with which we identify. But I actually think that’s important too. Not all books by people of color have to been painstaking manifestos about culture. Some messages are more subtle, and I still think there is incredible value to reading books by authors that come from a spectrum of backgrounds.
Looking forward to next year’s challenge!