I picked up my copy of this book just 11 days before Maya Angelou died last spring. I’d always had this book (Amazon link) on my list, but I’d never found a reason to pick it up and for some reason at the library book sale last year I finally added it to my pile. I knew I wanted to read it because it is one of those books that is mentioned by everyone and has such a place in American culture, but not as widely read as I probably assumed.
As I read the novel I was floored at the breadth of experience Angelou faced before she turned 17. At times the novel reminded me a lot of The Color Purple and Bastard Out of Carolina, but I have a feeling both Alice Walker and Dorothy Allison were inspired/influenced by this. That being said, of the three this is the most profound work. Perhaps because it is explicitly an autobiography (and Bastard is semi-autobiographical and Purple is a fictional novel).
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hesitant at first as Bowles’ work was very well written but I just didn’t like the characters. Thankfully, Welch’s characters were a bit more accessible for me. This is two shorter stories (Amazon link) so I’ve separated my response into two parts. The publisher provided a copy of this book and I received no compensation for my honest opinion.
The one over-arching them the two pieces have in common is the idea of sexuality, specifically homosexuality, before it was commonly talked about and/or accepted. I tried (aka did a brief google search) to find out about Welch’s sexuality, but again this was a long time ago before our out and proud mantras of today. Welch died young, he was only 33, and there is only speculation outside of his written works which in today’s society seem pretty explicit. Regardless, I enjoyed both of these snippets of the past for completely different reasons.
23 days! 23 DAYS! That is how long it took me to read this book and it really shouldn’t have.
Sure it was over 1,000 pages and it took almost 200 pages to hit the “OMG I have to finish reading this” point, but it definitely shouldn’t have taken this long. It was very well written and the story (Amazon link) was fascinating. Unfortunately due to work and trying to edit my podcast it just took me forever.
You might be wondering why I didn’t just give up? Well, that’s complicated you see. A certain someone, who recommended Last Summer and The Bitterweed Path, also recommended this and I promised I would read at least one book every other month that he recommended. And like I said above, it wasn’t a bad book, it probably just wasn’t the best time for me to read this particular book. I’m definitely glad I read it and will read the sequels to complete the series and find out WTF happened!
The only other Hornby I’ve read is High Fidelity (the film adaptation was meh). And I loved the film adaptation of About A Boy, so I wasn’t sure where this novel would go. I hadn’t planned on reading it, but one of my favorite podcasts, Pop Culture Happy Hour, announced they were going to do an episode a few months ago so I put it on hold and timed it almost perfectly to listen! (I missed the exact episode by a little less than week.)
I think the podcast hit the nail on the head when they talked about the story (Amazon link) being more focused on “the show [Barabara (and Jim)] rather than the funny girl of the title, Barbara/Sophie. But what Hornby didn’t do, was show us the show; he only ever referred to specific gags, situations or dialogue. Someone on PCHH said it should’ve been called “The Show” and I can’t agree more. It would be a better title and I would definitely have chosen to read it if that were the title too!
Ever since I read Seraphina back in 2012, I’ve been patiently waiting to the conclusion of her story! It was well worth the wait and I couldn’t be happier about this book. I received a copy from the publisher in return for my honest opinion, and honestly, it’s EXCELLENT!
I wasn’t sure how Hartman would go about improving on the story (Amazon link), but she definitely did. She made it more inclusive, more exciting and a lot more enthralling. I have no idea how she did this, apart from taking almost three years, but it was definitely worth the wait. I know I talked about her amazing story telling and character building in my response to Seraphina, but Hartman brought it to a new level in Shadow Scale. If anything, I wish the book were longer to flesh out more of the “grotesques” and what happens after the story ends.