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To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my all-time favorite books. I was completely shocked this morning when it was announced that Harper Lee was coming out with a followup. Go Set a Watchman, which will be released in July, is essentially a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, despite being completed first. From Lee:

“It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman and I thought it a pretty decent effort. My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel (what became `To Kill a Mockingbird’) from the point of view of the young Scout.”

The premise of the book is that Scout (Jean Louise Finch) has returned to Maycomb from New York to visit her father, Atticus. She is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand her father’s attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood.

While I don’t think anything can live up to Mockingbird, I’m absolutely looking forward to reading this.

To age is to embrace a slow hurt inside and out, to collect scars like rings on a tree, dark and weathered and sometimes only visible if someone cuts deep enough. Scars keep the past just close enough to touch, but healing is forgetting. Healing invites another cut. Healing is the tide that smoothes away our line in the sand. For life to begin, the damage must be permanent.
– Dale Sampson, The Samaritan

Thanks to the great people over at Blank Slate Press I received an advanced copy of their debut novel, The Samaritan by Fred Venturini. I wasn’t sure what to expect after reading the description on their site.

Dale Sampson is a nobody. A small town geek who lives in the shadow of his best friend, the high school baseball star, it takes him years to even gather the courage to actually talk to a girl. It doesn’t go well. Then, just when he thinks there’s a glimmer of hope for his love life, he loses everything.

When Dale runs into the twin sister of the girl he loved and lost, he finds his calling–he will become a samaritan. Determined to rescue her from a violent marriage, and redeem himself in the process, he decides to use the only “weapon” he has–besides a toaster. His weapon, the inexplicable ability to regenerate injured body parts, leads him to fame and fortune as the star of a blockbuster TV reality show where he learns that being The Samaritan is a heartbreaking affair. Especially when the one person you want to save doesn’t want saving.

The Samaritan is a brutally funny look at the dark side of human nature. It lays bare the raw emotions and disappointments of small town life and best friends, of school bullies and first loves, of ruthless profiteers and self-aggrandizing promoters—and of having everything you know about human worth and frailty questioned under the harsh klieg lights of fame.

I started reading the book and instantly knew it would be something right up my alley. Dale, the main character, is painted in such a way that I immediately related with his middle and high school social struggles. I really felt for Dale when he was unable to speak to the girls in his class (and as we learn, this never went away). Because the character felt so authentic, I could picture myself (or almost any of my friends) in his situation. Dale wasn’t the only character spewing authenticity. His best friend Mack encompassed parts of many of my friends as well. It felt like I really knew these characters as I read the novel.

The setting was also something that seemed to take on a life of its own. Perhaps it’s because I’m also from the Midwest, but I could picture any number of the places described in the book perfectly. In fact, the only issue I had with it is how quickly it jumped from location to location. One minute he’s in a town fighting the local meth dealer and the next he’s meeting with a studio executive to create a television series. I really think that the stories that took place in each of those settings could have been developed more. Perhaps some more confrontations with the abusive husband meth dealer and his wife or perhaps a bit more conflict with Doc before Dale jetted off to California. It would have really been great to see Dale suffer a bit more while in California. Sure, his battle with his inner demons and the people creating the show were apparent, but it could have used a little more story development to show how truly conflicted Dale was.

All in all it was a great read. I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to read more from Venturini. Venturini’s story and style reminds me a lot of Chuck Palahniuk, and that’s a good thing. I’m constantly looking for authors that can tell a story where everything about it feels real. This is one of those. I don’t want to go into great detail about the story and plot, read it for yourselves, it’s worth it.

I’ve been craving some new history books lately. I really like early 20th Century American history. Topics that I’ve enjoyed reading about the most seem to be about business. The rise of advertising, franchising, and rise of an urban society interest me a great deal. I’ve read books about Franchising in America, the creation of American food in Selling ‘Em by the Sack, the story of American beer in Ambitious Brew and the Rise of Modern Business in Great Britain, the United States, and Japan.

Last night, I purchased a book called 1920: The Year of Six Presidents. I never knew that six men who were/would be Presidents of the United States ran in that election. It should be a very interesting book. Does anyone have any suggestions for some more reading regarding 20th Century American history?

A natural part of growing up for most of us is the loss of imagination. It doesn’t totally disappear, we just stop using it as much or start using it in different ways. Instead of imagining being an astronaut and flying to the moon we imagine that two-story house with the white picket fence. Our dreams are more down to earth. I think that’s why books that have magical qualities, books that stretch the imagination and push it to its limits are rare in books written for adults. There are obvious exceptions. For example, sci-fi and fantasy genres are full of magical and imaginative settings, characters, and adventures that take us to our youth. When you look at those books though, those are targeted to a specific set of people, people who never lost that great imagination. It’s rare that something will grab the mainstream and make us feel like kids again. The Lord of the Rings, thanks to the movies, found a new generation of fans. The Harry Potter series made adults remember what it was like to be a kid. Those seem to be exceptions to the rules though.

A couple years ago I read a book entitled The Iowa Baseball Confederacy. It was written by W.P. Kinsella, the author of Shoeless Joe (which became the excellent movie Field of Dreams). This is one of those books that is so over the top and out of reality that it makes you feel like a kid again. It makes you feel the magic as you read it. It’s not only about that though. No, not unlike Shoeless Joe, The Iowa Baseball Confederacy also has deeper meaning, and that is about a young man’s relationship with his dead father. The setting is in Iowa where a young man is trying to save his family’s legacy that a game played by the Iowa Baseball Confederacy All-Stars and the Chicago Cubs was played in 1908. No one remembers it ever happening, and there is no proof of this game ever existing, except in the main character and his dad’s heads. What ensues is a story so magical that you can’t help be caught up in it. It’s so good, I just started reading it again. Do yourself a favor, forget you’re an adult for a day, or maybe two, or three, and pick up this book, or any book that hits you with that same type of magic that you felt when you were a kid. It’ll be worth it, if only for a short while.

I’ve been in a reading mood lately. I don’t know what it is but I can’t get enough of it. Friday night I bought two books, A Good and Happy Child and The Husband.

A Good and Happy Child was a pretty good book by first time novelist Justin Evans. It’s a book that explores demons, both literal and figurative. The book seemed pretty good at the store and the reviews made it sound excellent. I have to admit, it was a pretty decent book. I enjoyed the way it was told, in the present and through journal entries about what the main character remembered from childhood. I was a bit disappointed in the scare factor. Some of the reviews were equating it to a modern Exorcist, but it wasn’t anywhere near as creepy as said novel. It was still a decent and quick read. I was able to finish it in a day.

The other book was Dean Koontz’s The Husband. This was on the bargain shelf, and I am a Koontz fan, so I picked it up. I really like the direction Koontz has gone over the past few years. He’s done less supernatural-type novels and done more thrillers. This was a great thriller that kept me turning the pages wanting to know what was to happen next. The only disappointing thing in the book was how quickly everything was resolved. Usually Koontz is fast at conflict resolutions, but this one seemed too easy. Too fast.

Yesterday I went to Barnes and Noble because Chuck Palahniuk came out with a new book called Snuff. I also noticed that Koontz came out with a fourth book in his Odd Thomas series called Odd Hours. I’m almost finished with Snuff, which is classic Palahniuk, and can’t wait to start Odd Hours. I’ve basically been reading a book a day for the past five days. I can’t get enough.