#8 – People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks

#8 – People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks

Okay.  You might have noticed that I skipped a number.  There is indeed a number seven in this reading  journey, however…  it is the first two in a series and I want to write about them as a whole so you will have to wait as I read one, order one, read one, order one…   it will be worth it.  Promise.  So, until then, here is numero eighto…

Okay.  I loved this.  I am taking the history with a grain of salt, but knowing what I know about medieval manuscripts, illumination and book making, I’m guessing she did a similar level of research on the rest of the info.  There is a lot of speculation, and she tells you that, but it is done well and an engaging story.  It almost got me wanting to take up paintbrushes again.  Almost.


For many many years I played in the SCA or Society for Creative Anachronisms.  I had the extreme pleasure of being one of the driving forces in Drachenwald to get away from printed and marker colored in awards “scrolls”.  I loved, still love, the art form and really hated the Xeroxed and even mimiographed back then copies of the awards that were being given out.  I worked hard at encouraging others to try their hand, I taught, I entered the Arts and Sciences competitions, I scrounged and hunted and acquired as many books as I could on the subject.  I wound up getting left behind by the incredible talent out there in the world, but I know that my scrolls, personalized from arms to drolleries in the vines, are still loved by their recipients today.  Now, after so many, many years of giving my artwork away for free and getting a little burnt here and there I have swung the other way and think the establishment needs to get away from encouraging artists to give 40+ hours pieces of art away for free.  But.  No soapbox here today.rountree-albions001

Lousy photo from long ago… but one of my all time favorites made for two very dear friends, husband and wife, receiving this amazing service award.

pic… and this little gem, a more recent work, showing my most favoritest style of all.

So.  I come to this book about an illuminated manuscript with a lot of love in my heart and skepticism about how the whole thing will be portrayed.  But.  She did a very nice job IMHO of bringing the beauty of the hand written and hand illustrated book to life.

People of the Book is a tale of several people’s lives told through the conservation of a rare and precious real, live, manuscript known as the Sarajevo Haggadah.


You can read more about it HERE …

It is an unusual manuscript in that it has very western illuminations in a book that should not have had an imagery in it at the time, and seems to have had a life wrought with peril.

The story jumps back and forth in time, linking things discovered as the book is restored such as a white hair and a butterfly wing with people and places of the past, working backwards to the manuscripts creation.  Although the “main” human character, the woman who drives the story forward by researching and hunting down answers to her questions about the document never seems to really grow as a person the true main character, the book itself, becomes more of a treasure as each piece of its past is uncovered.

haggadahAndrea Pataki is the real artist who did the restoration work on the actual book.

My favorite character, however, aside from the book… okay.. the book was my favorite character, but… the book would have not come to be if it wasn’t for Zahra bint Ibrahim al-Tarek, a Moorish slave whose artistic talent brought the images to life.  She put herself into one of the pictures illustrating the sedar…

sarajevo  Down there… bottom left…

I really did enjoy this book.  It read quickly and had me smiling and nodding and wanting to slap that silly Hanna woman and could not help but thinking that her family life situation reminded me of Meredith Grey in Grey’s Anatomy.

This story got me to thinking about my own collection.  How many of them were purchased new, how oh so very many of them were purchased second-hand and how many of those were purchased because of something found tucked between the pages or the inscription hand penned on the title page… Geraldine Brooks wrote “I think you have to accept a book as you receive it from past generations and to a certain extent damage and wear reflect that history”… so… don’t obsess about dog ears, broken spines, jotted notes or even crayon scribbles.. each one of those things is like the laugh lines around your own eyes… they show that the book was read, thought about and loved.



#6 – The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North

#6 –  The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North

Alright.  To be honest, I didn’t love this book at first.  To be honest, I started it and then put it down for something else.

When I picked it up again and started reading it must have been the right time and the right place in my life as I easily overcame what I had thought I didn’t like the first time and quickly got into the meat of the story.

An interesting and engaging story about a man (and some of the others) who live their lives, die and then are reborn back into their previous life.  At around age 3 or so they begin to remember who they are and the life they lived before.  Sometimes it goes well.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  Once the person is found by an organization of similar folks, their successive rebirths become easier.  But not necessarily their lives.  I was intrigued and very much liked the main character.  So much so that I got angry at him when he was a numpty.

But more than a good story this book got me to thinking.  About my own life.  About dying.  About what lies in store after… and could it be that I might die and be reborn back into my life once again.  An interesting twist to the age-old conundrum… If you could go back to 16, your 20’s or any other age, what would you do different?

Now, normally I skim through the book club questions that are becoming more and more prominent in the backs of books today.  Often they give me a chuckle, but more often they annoy the crap out of me.  Why on earth would you want to tear this story apart and over think all that as just happened?  This time, the very first question really got in the feels and I have been pondering it all day.  “Do you envy Harry in any way?  If you were destined to live your life over and over again, would you see it as a blessing or a curse?”  What I have come to decide, I think… for now… is that it would totally depend on how each life went.  Harry’s life was never quite the same.  Each time he would try different things and the people from previous lives never quite lived the same lives either, whether that be a linear life or a oroboran one.  I find that I would go to my death desperately afraid I would not have my beloved Beardface in the next one.  And what of my children?  Would I be able to go forward with different people?  Would I be able to watch Beardface go off and do the things he didn’t do because of our relationship and how we grew together?  I have a feeling that if I were to become aware of my past life as a child I would become a very quiet and withdrawn thing, afraid of never having the love the joy that I have had so far in this one.

And then… the devil on the other shoulder gives me a poke and points out all the adventures I didn’t have in this life that I could have in another if I lived it different….

Claire North you get a definite 5.  I will be looking for your other book “Touch” when next I go to the bookstore.  Very well written, very engaging and intriguing story.  Thank you for entertaining me and making me think.