Book Reviews, Feminism, Fiction Friday, Guest Blogs and Featured Spotlights, TGIF

Jean Louise the Silent: My Review of Go Set a Watchman, Part One

“It’s always easy to look back and see what we were yesterday, ten years ago. It is hard to see what we are. If you can master that trick, you’ll get along.”
–Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman

I thought I’d heard it all, as far as negative news since Go Set a Watchman’s release, until I read this of course:

Disappointed by Go Set a Watchman? Sorry, that’s the risk inherent in fiction. – The Guardian

A bookstore actually offered to refund the price of the book, if someone wasn’t happy with its contents.

What?

John Mullan and The Guardian are correct. How many theatres will give me a refund if I don’t like the movie I’ve just seen on their screen? This is a ridiculous thing for a bookstore to do. I don’t care how many complaints they received.

I wanted to start my review off with this story because it illustrated the unique craziness circling around the release of Harper Lee’s first book in over fifty years.

No matter how funny, touching, or smart a book is, there will always be someone who didn’t see those things in its pages.

I saw it all and more.

I am the first to admit I was unnerved and hesitant when I first heard of GSAW’s existence. I worried that this was some greedy scheme and that the aging author might be unaware of its upcoming publication. I thought long and hard about whether or not I could even read it. With so many unanswered questions about the road to this release, I would hate to find out Harper Lee was completely unable to consent to her pre-Mockingbird manuscript being published after so long.

Big News For Harper Lee Fans Everywhere

This would be the only reason I might want my money back for this book.

Then I wondered at so many people’s determination to not take part in this phenomenon. They assumed Lee must be incapable of making this decision, of having any competent ability at all. Her stroke, blindness, deafness are all reasons for contemplation and caution, of course; however, I let my curiosity get the better of those doubts. I would shake her hand and tell her how much this book touched me personally, give her the money directly, if I could.

“Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.”
–Dr. Jack Finch

***

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

I first discovered to Kill a Mockingbird, as required reading, when I was in high school. I read it again last winter, wanting to see if my feelings might be different after more than fifteen years, and in preparation for the summer release, just in case I decided to join the crowd.

It’s a Sin to Kill a Mockingbird

I did not take the book to heart, that first reading, like so many have. For a lot of people, To Kill a Mockingbird is near and dear to their hearts, with the messages it speaks. It is a snapshot of America in the 20th century and before. It was fiction that illustrated what it was like, race in the south.

As a white girl living in Canada, at the turn of this new century, I hadn’t encountered a whole lot of the racial issues so many others had. I could relate on the question of equal rights for all, being born with a visible disability, and so that I knew something about.

Admittedly, I found the book to drag in spots. It felt like short stories woven together. I did enjoy the childhood point of view, main character Scout’s toughness, and father Atticus and his admirable attempt at freeing an innocent black man from the injustice that was so much a part of the south at that time.

Dusty Old Books

Those are the things that stuck with me over the years. It was never at the top of my list of favourite books, but it left its mark. When I heard this was happening, I wanted to reread TKAM so I could make that connection a fresh.

GO SET A WATCHMAN

Note: possible spoilers may be ahead, but I try to avoid this in my reviews, as I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading. However, my ultimate goal is to intrigue the reader, just the right amount, to get you to give the book a chance, to sell it to you on its brilliance and poignancy.

“INTEGRITY, HUMOUR, AND patience were the three words for Atticus Finch.”

Would they still be applicable after finishing Go Set a Watchman?

I, too, was nervous at what version of Mr. Atticus Finch I would find in the pages of this newly unearthed manuscript, but I was highly curious and reading on to find out.

There’s a lot going on when this story begins, with all the news articles, the NAACP, and the white supremacists.

Miss Jean Louise (Scout) Finch must decide “if she can’t beat em or join em” either, when her community is held up, south against her new northern place of residence. Her father has been held to impossible standards, ever since he became her world when she was left without a mother, as a small child. Now she sees her perfect role model as a man, someone with faults and weaknesses, but still with the strong conviction he’s always held.

The climactic scene between Jean Louise and Atticus is powerful and a different sort to what any reader may have been used to from To Kill a Mockingbird. She is no longer a child and Atticus is revealing himself to her, while still desperately pleading for his daughter’s understanding and compassion.

***

Surprises on reading:

**I was taken aback by its length. When I got to the end I automatically thought, is that all?

I thought that, not in any “thank goodness that’s over” sort of way. It was the complete opposite of that, actually. I wanted the sageness to continue on, a few pages more.

**I was stunned by some invisible club of the sort I’d heard of with readers of Mockingbird. I have felt it about very few books over the years.

Scout’s Back with a Bang!

Scout is charming and loveable, even though she is now an adult. There’s a glimpse of the strong child she once was, especially with the flashbacks Lee had planted throughout.

“She was a person who, when confronted with an easy way out, always took the hard way.”

She is tough and headstrong, but it’s obvious, adult Jean Louise can still get herself into the craziest predicaments, even when she isn’t trying.

**My main shock comes on hearing about the death of Jem from the same illness which took Atticus’s wife. This, I fully admit, I had not been expecting. I wondered how this might effect my enjoyment of the rest of the book. I wondered why Lee had chosen to kill off one of the Finch children.

Okay, so that counts as a “spoiler”, does it? Oops, but please do read on.

🙂

I will try not to do it again. Promise. But you knew that one already, right?

**I was pleasantly surprised by the frequent passages filled with humour and wit. I actually laughed out loud a few times, which I honestly did not do with TKAM, but Jean Louise (whether as a child or an adult) is always saying the shocking thing, improper southern lady behaviour, or she’s standing out and accused of not holding her tongue.

Whether it’s the incident where she gets herself folded up in the train’s wall-mounted bed, only half clothed. Or else, on her return to Alabama and the play fight between Jean Louise and Henry (her suitor) which resulted in the two of them ending up in the river, fully clothed.

“Right now I’d just as soon push you in as look at you.”

Would the town of Maycomb be able to resist the spreading of rumours and passing along of gossip, which entailed them being naked in that river?

In one flashback, there’s the instance where Scout, still struggling with her perceived farewell to being a tomboy and struggling with being a young woman, walked around for days, believing another girl’s story that being French kissed lead to being impregnated. Or one flashback in particular, of a teenage Scout, where her underwear ended up high on a school billboard, with Henry coming to the rescue in a big way.

Other flashbacks, scattered throughout, brought a little piece of Mockingbird to this new tale and make the absence of Jem a little bit easier to swallow.

These flashbacks, such as a pretend revival and a baptism, resulting in Scout ending up in her neighbour’s fish pond and being caught by real life clergymen, make the perfect melding of past and present.

Well loved characters, mentioned only in passing in Watchman, such as Dill Harris bring To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman together rather nicely when flashbacks are included as they are.

It was wonderful to discover Harper Lee’s humorous side, with Jean Louise as the central component, which is a nice alternative to the more serious sociological writing she shares, with Atticus as the moral barometer for so many.

Will Atticus fall from grace? Does Jean Louise find a way to live harmoniously in Maycomb, Alabama?

“I can take anything anybody calls me so long as it’s not true.”
–Atticus Finch

Stay tuned for Part Two.

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Book Reviews, Spotlight Sunday, The Blind Reviewer

Book Review: Leading You Out of the Darkness Into the Light

Leading you out of the Darkness Book Cover

“Take many small steps and never stop stepping,” Max says. Truer words have never been spoken.

First there was Helen Keller, there’s Erik Weihenmayer, and now we’ve got Maxwell Ivey Jr. and his wisdom and generous spirit, total willingness to help others.

Here is: “A Blind Man’s Inspirational Guide to Success” – in his own words and through concrete steps he guides the reader toward finding their own.

He is a peer advisor for

The American Foundation for the Blind.

I met him through social media and he has happily advised me on numerous occasions and now he wants to help you.

I had never met a fellow visually impaired person who had experience running and selling carnival rides. When I first spoke with him I checked out his only website at the time:

The Midway Marketplace

Within months of knowing him he began his second website and from there he was unstoppable:

The Blind Blogger

He wrote a book. Seriously. He wrote a book. I was impressed by this, when I heard it, because this is an admirable thing to have done, and no small feat.

This book lays everything out in a neat and orderly fashion, leading the reader through with eleven clear-cut steps, such as:

Step 1: Begin by determining your end goal.

Step 2: Assess the situation

Step 3: Do what you can, one thing at a time

Step 5: Ask for help when you need it

Step 6: Staying motivated by taking small steps

Step 7: Celebrate your accomplishments

And much more. For the rest of Max’s steps, check this book out.

“Don’t delay – sign up today!”

Catchy lines like this are great, but he offers so much more within this short ebook.

Role model. Mentor. Coach.

These are just a few names Max goes by and a few ways he wants to help anyone who might be lost, needing to be pointed in the right direction.

This book is reflective, motivational, and practical.

You’re only truly in the dark when you have lost purpose. In this book, Max aims to help you find it again, all while referring to his own process of finding it himself.

Most people figure, if this blind gentleman is able to find his way, there is no real excuse or reason for me not to. This gives credit where credit is due, to the author, and makes the idea of coming out of the darkness and into the light a hugely powerful image.

He believes in the best in people. If I could choose the single biggest message from this book, it would definitely be that asking for help is encouraged and an important step for human growth and self-development, for reaching one’s goals.

It is impossible to get through life, as someone who is blind or visually impaired, without seeking help from others at one time or another. This can cause one to become extra stubborn and self-reliant, but sooner or later help is needed and necessary. This, following by example, is the most essential lesson I took away from Max in this book and I believe you will too.

He shows that it’s okay…perfectly healthy…the key to success. Nobody does it alone.

Having trust and faith in people and to be willing and open to asking for and accepting other people’s help are two things one learns from the start when visually impaired. These are important lessons anyone can learn and should adopt.

Unexpected things can come from reaching out to others. This one lone thought is highly motivational for me and the best thing I took from reading Max’s words and meeting Max to begin with. Max is proof of this and this is the most inspiring part of his story and of this book.

One foot in front of the other.

Eagle Scouts gave Max badges to track his progress. There are often no physical badges given out in life for your accomplishments, but Max’s above words are true all the same.

His experiences as an Eagle Scout, having gastric surgery, and just learning to persevere in life with a physical disability clearly taught him some valuable lessons, which he outlines here through clear and action-oriented steps. These sound easy to follow on paper, but they take work. His unique approach in this book is to continually remind the reader to stop reading and make good on the suggested exercises and then to contact him to discuss how each step of the process went. This personal connection he cultivates with each and every reader is what sets him apart from most self-help books on the market.

Yes, often, historically, self-help guide books have been overrated, but Max truly follows this well-known line, “putting your money where your mouth is”. Max does this and more. He doesn’t just “talk the talk”, but he “walks the walk” that is necessary for any real and lasting success in life.

Once you experience how good it feels to have accomplished steps toward your goal it will become a feeling you want to repeat over and over again.
I am on this journey myself right now and reading this book has confirmed all I have been telling myself and everything I have been applying to my own life in recent months.

Gratitude:

Being visually impaired teaches also that it is important, to get through life, to be able and willing to look for the good wherever possible. I may not have one first prize, but I wrote my story and had the courage to share it. I may not have gotten what I hoped for in a particular experience, but once I could get past the disappointment I could find the valuable lessons I did learn and that is enough.

I know I am not the only one to get something from this book, to apply to my own life, and I won’t be the last to find strength and encouragement from it.

Friend…coach…rock.

What does success mean to you? Max wants to know. He is genuinely interested.

HE shares his own definition of success.

Failures and accomplishments.
Negativity and positivity.
Overcoming adversity.

He invites readers to share, not only their successes, but their failures too.

He has learned to be persistent and to never give up or give in, using the example of banging on the door and if you receive no answer, to check the tool with which you are using.

Thank you Max, for writing this, and for being the example we all need.

Purchasing links:

(Ebook Format)

SELZ

(Kindle version)

Amazon

(Print copy)

Create Space

Acknowledgements:

As Max continually says in Leading You Out of the Darkness Into the Light, nobody does anything of real worth and value by themselves. Max had help from his friends at every step of the way.

He needed help with the visual aspects, specifically cover images and formatting: Jenny Rollo and Angela McCall.

His editor, Lorraine Reguly, can be found at her website:

Wording Well

Her site’s motto is “Helping writers become authors” and that is what she has graciously done for Max and what Max has done is truly remarkable.

If you feel like you are lost in uncertainty, adrift in the darkness that life sometimes brings, let Max help guide you out of that darkness and back into the light.

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