#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.



#3 – Revolutionary by Alex Myers

#3 – Revolutionary by Alex Myers

Kinda funny this book would get chosen at random from the The Staircase at a time when women are marching for their beliefs again.  When I purchased this book I hadn’t realized all the implications behind the story or the author, I’m not sure which part of the back cover blurb caught my eye, but I was quick-shopping and this one made it’s way into my basket, so, imagine my delight when I read about the author and his realtionship (in more ways than one) with the hero(heroin) of the story and how their struggles are pertinent in today’s world… although it is kinda sad that we STILL have to fight for this crap.  No.  No politics here.  Just books.

Okay, just a little ‘splainin’…  quick-shopping is something I do on occasion to branch out and expand my reading base.  I avoid the sci-fi/fantasy section (although I hate that they have been lumped together… but that is another story for another time) and browse the front tables.  You know the ones.  They have catchy signs with wordings like Book to Movie or Employee Pick, or Dark Fantasy.. okay, that one probably will never happen, but you get my meaning and know exactly where I’m talking about.  I browse and pick.  I only allow myself the quick cover blurb, no delving deeper.  If the snippet on the back makes me go hmmm, it goes in the basket.  I stop at a preset monetary value, go to the register and check out.  No thinking, no debating, nada.  Is fun.  I’ve found some really cool books this way.  You should try it.


Alex Myers began life as a female, grew to know himself, and worked towards becoming the male he wanted, needed, to be.  Deborah Samson, the main character of the story began life as a female, changed herself as best she could to be a male, enlisted in the army and served during the last part of the US’s revolutionary war.  According to the bio, Alex is a descendant of Deborah.  Pretty cool.

As the book begins to unfold we learn of Deborah, her life, her discontent.  To be quite honest, I would have been pretty discontent myself.  I am not known for being meek or demure or subservient.  She dresses like a man and attempts to sign up for army service, but silly girl does it in her home town and gets recognized and caught.  Before she can be brought to trial she is attacked, attacks back and makes a run for freedom.  She has adventures and gets far enough away from home to try enlisting again, with greater success.  The book goes on to tell her tale as a soldier in the continental army.  There are times when I wonder and worry that the book is straying into what I call “preach it land” where the author’s ideals and principals take over and the story is lost in the message the author wishes to get out there, but it never actually does.  Alex does a very good job of portraying what he believed Deborah might have been thinking and feeling.  In the end, she discovers much about herself and returns to being a woman.  I have to say, her life did not end up the way I thought it should… but… that’s life for you I guess.

This was quick and engaging read that was fun and thought provoking at the same time.  I liked the way details of daily life were dealt with, sometimes in depth, other times glossed over as not necessary for the story.  My questions of how she dealt with her female body and its functions was answered a bit vaguely, but, to be honest, those details were not necessary to the story and probably strayed into the realm of serious speculation.

I liked this book.  Overall a rating of 3.

Oh… and here is The Staircase.  Do not be fooled.  It is not a to-read pile.  My entire library is a to read-pile.  The books found here have yet to be scanned and cataloged.  Every couple of months I set a day aside to scan, catalog and shelf… read or not.  Just so’s you know.  I don’t do to-read piles.  😀  I will say though, that all of these have yet to be read.  There is an even bigger pile on a designated bookcase that is still waiting for catalog.  I guess I really need to set time aside and do that.