Gentlemen and Players – Joanne Harris – A Review

The very first book of her’s that I found, I read in a time of great defeat and transition, unknowing of the fact that it was she who authored the book – the original source material, of one of my favorite movies, Chocolate.

The book was called, Five Quarters of the Orange, and followed the strange, startling, stubborn tale of one girl growing up with a distant mother and her one connection to this imposing woman, through a cookbook.

I found the style of writing to be, not only wholesome, but calming in a way I hadn’t experienced before. It didn’t feel like I was reading so much as it felt as though someone was telling me a story. I could taste the book if I wanted to. Orange and berries and pastry and wine. She has a gift for making the reader experience food – a commonality in most of her books. She wants you to experience the hardships in life and at the same time, know the little joys that abound.

That being said, this story was quite a bit different.

Again I find myself in a stage of transition (admittedly a less upsetting one) and another of her books has made it to me by way of a used bookshop in town. The kind with the almost stale paper smell and bookcases almost touching the ceiling, and rolling ladders hooked to the stacks.

It tasted like cigarette smoke and dark beer and fried fish.

“For generations, privileged young men have attended St. Oswald’s Grammar School for Boys, groomed for the success by the likes of Roy Straitly, the eccentric Classics teacher who has been a fixture there for more than thirty years. This year, however, the wind of unwelcome change is blowing, and Straitly is finally, reluctantly, contemplating retierment. As the new term gets underway, a number of incidents befall student and faculty alike, beginning as small annoyances but soon escalating in both number and consequence. St. Oswald’s is unraveling, and only Straitly stands in the way of its ruin. But he faces a formidable opponent with a bitter grudge and a master strategy that has been meticulously planned to the final, deadly move.”

gentsandplayersWhat can I say? It’s a book about scandal, young love, revenge, and violence. Joanne has a way of digging into the truth inside people which is a difficult thing to do. We all like to believe that we know real people and so it should be simple to capture that reality and complication on the page. It’s not. And few have done it as well as she manages.

The characters are complex. Even when you know they are wrong you can feel for their struggle and the heartbreaking reality of their situation.

I don’t want to give too much away, but this book is an expertly crafted ride that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat by the end. With a reveal that left my jaw hitting the floor.

Was it my favorite? No – not really. I’ll still remember Five Quarters of the orange in a vividness that astounded me and I’ll always have a sweet spot for Chocolate. But, this was a fun ride that came just in time for Halloween.

Check it out at your library, or got ahead and buy it here.

David and Goliath – Malcolm Gladwell – A Partial Review

I haven’t finished this book yet.

It’s not a work of fiction, either.

It is, however, a book that teaches through telling stories and that’s worth writing about.

If you were to ask me in high school whether or not I thought of myself as an intelligent person, chances are I wouldn’t know how to answer that. By looking at my grades alone, I might have told you no. Though I might also have to caution you that throughout all my years in school, I never tried.

During my bitter, dark days I like to blame the way education is handled. It’s a system focused more on memorization and thoughtless obedience than the type of creative free thinking that leads to ingenuity in solving long-standing problems like harmful cultural teachings.

By no means am I going to sit here and try to convince you that I’m some type of genius. I am not. If anything I’m a fake masked by eloquent speech, great posture and a slightly inflated sense of importance. If I’m being honest, a great smile also helps. What I want o highlight here, is a word of caution.

Chapter three of Malcom’sDavid and Goliath is titled, ‘Caroline Sacks.’ It tells the story of a young girl who wanted to be a sicentist. Ever since she was little she would go out into the backyard with a sketchbook and a magnifying glass to look for bugs. Unlike me, she excelled in academics – never knowing what it might be like to do less than an A-. In fact, she did so well that, when it came time to find a college, she was accepted into Brown University.

The entire chapter explores the Big Fish Little Pond theory – asking those to ponder whether or not it’s better to be a little fish (Caroline Sacks) in a very big pond (Brown) Or a Big fish (Caroline) in a little pond (Her second choice university.) The simplest way to put it is to imagine being the best at something among the people that you know – and finding your merely average or, worse, under average when surrounded by those considered specialists in that thing. In more cases then not, this leads to giving up.

davidandgoliath-malcolmWhen I was still in school, many friends and close family got to telling me about all the things I was going to regret one day. I was going to regret not going to prom. I was going to regret not getting out to party more. I was going to regret not taking those AP classes. They also said I was going to regret not going to college.

I never regretted a single thing. Not after graduation. Not after years deep into customer service, minimum wage jobs. I already had a dream and once school was over I finally had space and time to tear into all the books, articles, and talks on that one thing I was passionate and excited about. (It was writing in case you didn’t know.)

Here I stand ten years later unpublished and newly moved into a haunted Bed and Breakfast to work as a live-in Inn Keeper, (I will write about this eventually) writing my confession of regret.

I wish I had gone to college.

No, wait.

At the root of it, I regret never learning how to try.

As I was reading this chapter (ignoring all the creaking floorboards over my head) I started to wonder how different my life would look if I hadn’t been so stubborn. Or, rather, that stubbornness was harnessed. what would have happened if someone picked me up and dropped me in the middle of a school or a class that was so far over my head I thought I might drown in it? I like to believe I would have learned what it was like to struggle for my effortlessly average standing.

I graduated without ever doing a single scrap of homework or project. If it required even a small amount of at homework, it wouldn’t be done. That included studying. Maybe if I had tried I would have learned more of my passions in time to strive for something greater. Maybe I would have noticed that my passing love for psychology, was actually an ignited passion for neuroscience and brain psychology.

I regret that.

Don’t get me wrong, the education system needs to change. Every year it seems to become more inaccessible to those of limited means. But it’s important to appreciate education when you have it, and make the most of every tool you have before it’s gone.

I’ll write more on this book once I finish it, but so far three chapters in, I say it’s well worth the read.