"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
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Friday, February 17, 2017

GO SET a WATCHMAN (audiobook) by Harper Lee

Published in 2015 by HarperAudio in 2015
Read by Reese Witherspoon.
Duration: 6 hours, 57 minutes

I waited for a while to take a chance with Go Set a Watchman. The blowback when it was released was formidable, so I decided to let it sit for a while and in the meantime stop reading the reviews.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

This book is set about 20 years after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird, in the 1950s. Jean Louise Finch (Scout) has come home to Maycomb, Alabama from New York City for a long visit. 

When she first arrives she falls into the familiar rhythms of a small town where she seems to know most everyone. She rekindles a romance with her father's young protege and soon enough returns to scandalizing her aunt with her forward ways. Atticus Finch has become a physically frailer man, but his mind is still spry.

Harper Lee (1926-2016)
Everything about the trip seems to be going well until Jean Louise discovers a racist pamphlet among some papers of Atticus. She decides that she simply must sneak into a meeting of the Citizens' Council - a group of white men who are concerned about the NAACP and the burgeoning Civil Rights movement.

The meeting is in the same courtroom where Atticus Finch defended Tom Robinson and Jean Louise sneaks into the balcony to watch her father, just like she did in To Kill a Mockingbird. In that novel she saw her father do his best to defend a black man in a town that already knew his client was guilty.

In Go Set a Watchman, she sees her father and her serious boyfriend colluding with men who spout racist nonsense. She sees the hero fall - and fall hard.

Jean Louise's reaction was amazingly similar to my own as I listened to an icon of American literature debase himself - shock and disbelief. In my case, I knew it was coming, but I still hoped that maybe it had been exaggerated.

Everything seems to be falling apart around Jean Louise. She flees to her childhood home only to find it has been torn down and replaced by an ice cream stand. Calpurnia, the only mother figure she has ever known, rejects her. Her childhood is gone, her hero is gone and she is totally alone.

Clearly, there is a large bit of autobiography in this book - every bit as much as there was in To Kill a Mockingbird. One can easily imagine a young Harper Lee taking a similar trip back to Alabama and struggling with two versions of her hometown - the idealized version that she remembered from her childhood and the reality that falls short once she looks upon it with the eyes of an outsider.

Despite it all, I found myself enjoying this book. It is, in many ways, a more mature book than To Kill a Mockingbird. That being said, it is certainly not a stand-alone novel. You must read To Kill a Mockingbird before you read this book.

Reese Witherspoon read this audiobook and her lovely voice was an excellent choice.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

See my review of To Kill a Mockingbird here.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

ONE YEAR AFTER (John Matherson #2) (audiobook) by William Forstchen

The Story Continues...

Published in Blackstone Audio in 2015
Read by Bronson Pinchot
Duration: 9 hours, 51 minutes

In this sequel to the bestseller One Second After, Forstchen continues to tell the story of what happens to a North Carolina community called Black Mountain after the United States is attacked by multiple EMP attacks from nuclear weapons. All of the modern technology is fried (computers, modern cars, the electrical grid, anything with a circuit board) and America reverts back to a pre-industrial technology level.

*********SPOILER ALERT*************

An Apache helicopter
This book starts one year after the ending of the first book which ended one year after the attack. The main thrust of the story is that the federal government has returned in the guise of an appointed administrator working out of Asheville, NC. It is unclear exactly who is in control of the federal government, but they are drafting most of the able-bodied soldiers of the communities that survived the chaos after the EMP attack. The largest cities, like Chicago and New York City, are in complete chaos. A leader of a cult has taken over giant areas of Chicago and has successfully resisted a federal invasion led by largely untrained troops. So, the idea is to recruit local militias into a million man army to re-take America - an army led, in part, by John Matherson, who would be promoted to General.

The main thrust of the book is a burgeoning federal vs. local conflict symbolized by this demand for most of Black Mountain's local militia. If the militia joins the national army the town of Black Mountain is left defenseless The federal administrator is a cardboard cut-out of a toady bureaucrat who does not really know how to lead people but uses his connections to bully them instead. He has the superior military hardware in the form of Apache helicopters, but no particular skill in using his advantage. In opposition we have John Matherson who has become his town's patriarch and is willing to have his town destroyed rather than submit.

The series of fights throughout the second half of the book were interesting but rather pointless. Why would this federal administrator want to destroy one of the few places that can actually feed and defend itself? His style is all wrong for a brown-nosing toady - those guys know how to manipulate people and this guy does not. Most of the conflict in this book could have been solved with two or three short-wave radio conversations that included John Matherson from Asheville to the new federal government location outside of Washington, D.C.

***********End Spoilers************

Bronson Pinchot read the book and, for the most part, he did a good job. However, the accent he created for the bad guy federal administrator kept going in and out and sounded at various times like he was from the midwest or the south. But, the character said he was from Boston. I don't know if it was a really clever intentional thing - something to emphasize the guy was a liar about everything, including his accent, or if it was just a series of mistakes.

In short, there is a large drop-off in quality from book #1 in this series to book #2. I will finish the series but I am expecting a lot less of the third installment. 

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: One Year After