Book Review: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

I suppose that I first heard of the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” when the movie came out, although I never saw the film.

Going to Savannah earlier this month was not purely because of the book, but my decision to read the book was all because I was going there.

I started, of course, by reading the jacket cover and realized that I didn’t know anything about this book except it was tied to Savannah and the image of the statue on the book and movie cover. I didn’t even know that the statue on the cover had a name; I know now it’s called The Bird Girl.

I didn’t know that Midnight is non-fiction. I didn’t know that author John Berendt didn’t set out to write a book about Savannah; he just visited there and was seduced by its mysterious charm. He didn’t set out knowing what was going to come out of his time in the coastal Georgia town. He couldn’t have, since there was no way of knowing about the  high-profile murder case that would take place in during his time there and that would eventually become the crux of his story.

The book tells the true story of various Savannah citizens who author John Berendt encountered in Savannah and the four-year high-profile murder trial of Jim Williams. It’s a glimpse into Savannah society, which is almost indescribably unique. The people in the book read like made-up characters, and perhaps Berendt took some creative license, but I believe some of his descriptions are truly how it was.

I can’t separate my reading of the book from my visit because the two are so intertwined. I intended on finishing the book prior to my trip, but  I ended up taking the book with me and reading the last few chapters in Savannah, which was actually kinda cool. A little like wearing the concert shirt to the concert, but I’m ok with that. I read a few pages or passages while sitting in Ellis Square, just a few blocks down from the Mercer-Williams House where the murder took place. It was just the Mercer House in the book, but the fame of Williams, due in part, I imagine, to the book, resulted in the change in name.

In fact, that’s the thing I can’t shake, is that the book changed Savannah, in ways small and great. The name of the house is different, for example. Maybe it would have been named that even without the book, but I imagine that the fame of Williams because of the book was a big factor.

The statue featured on the cover of the book used to be in the Bonaventure Cemetery just outside the city; it had to be moved in 1997 (the year the movie came out) because so many fans came to see it. It’s now in the Telfair Art Museum in downtown Savannah, and you have to pay to see it.

Tourism in Savannah has certainly benefited from the book, the movie, and the publicity surrounding them. I read a statistic that tourism in Savannah has more than doubled since the best selling book and subsequent move were released. There are entire bus tours devotedly solely to taking tourists to the sites in the book. Midnight, by the way, is referred to as “The Book” in Savannah, as if there is no other.

Gift shop walls are covered with Bird Girl statues of all sizes and other book paraphernalia — bookmarks, postcards; you can buy almost anything with the book cover image on it.

Then there’s shelves full of what I would call spin off books, one about the Bird Girl herself and others about Bonaventure Cemetery.

As a writer, I can’t imagine writing something so powerful to inflict such change. I wish I could interview John Berendt and ask him what’s that like, to change a community with the telling of a story, and if he’s even realized that that’s what he’s done.

As for the content of the book, it’s a mixed bag. The story of the court case is as good as any John Grisham court story I’ve read. The characters aren’t well-behaved, to put it lightly.

Thoughts on October Baby

I finally saw October Baby. I say “finally” because I had plans to see it when it came out with friends from church but wasn’t able to make it. Then I was invited by some women I volunteer with at the Choose Life pregnancy test center, but I wasn’t able to make that either. When this week’s movie schedule showed it was coming out of the theater this week, I caught the last matinee in my city. (Although if the dollar theaters pick it up several of us want to go see it there.)

There were a total of five of us in the theater. I slipped my flips flops off, munched on popcorn and Coke Zero and knitted. Yes, knitted, in the dark at the movie theater. (This knitting project which is to be blogged about in the future must be finished, so I’m knitting anywhere and anytime I can!)

October Baby is a Christian film, yet the conversations about God and faith are very natural and unforced like in some Christian movies. I didn’t feel like I was watching a “Christian” film, which I think is a good thing. Those who need to most hear the message of God’s love are turned off when beat over the head with salvation, but are receptive when seeing what God’s love is really like. So I was impressed that the filmmakers included the Christian message yet it wasn’t awkward or weird.

I was amazed at how many circumstances and people came together to save a life. A failed abortion. A nurse who had had enough of helping to abort babies. The scared birth mom. The doctors at the hospital where she was born. The cathedral that spread the word about babies in need of a home. The adoptive parents. The story in October Baby is fictional, yet every day are true stories of women in similar circumstances — women with unplanned pregnancies, post-abortive women, birth moms, adoptive moms, adopted children. In fact, unbeknownst to the writers and producers before the casting, the actress who played the birth mom had an abortion as a young woman and says that this film contributed to her finally dealing with that in a way she never had before.

Shari’s Story

I cried for pretty much the last 30 minutes of the film.

I cried for Hannah who struggled to feel wanted. Even after she found her birth mother, the woman still didn’t want anything to do with her.

I cried for the nurse who had helped abort so many babies, yet after the birth of Hannah she left the abortion industry to become a labor and delivery nurse.

I cried for Hannah’s brother who didn’t survive the abortion.

I cried for the adoptive parents who lost their babies, adopted Hannah and her brother, lost the brother and gave their life wanting and raising another woman’s child.

I cried for myself and some of the ways that I could relate to the various characters’ feelings of rejection and abandonment and trying to figure out “Who am I?”

See the movie. Don’t let all my crying keep you away. :)

Affirming our Children

“You is kind.

You is smart.

You is important.” — Aibileen, The Help

The Help made me cry, not just once but a few times. Movies that depict racial injustice do that to me. I’m often in disbelief at how people treat others and how stupid they look when doing it.

While the film’s depiction of the mistreatment of blacks in the south saddened me, I also cried each time Aibileen, one of the black maids in the story, told the little white girl she cared for those three sentences above.

“You is kind.

You is smart.

You is important,”

and the little girl repeated after her in the most darling toddler southern drawl.

In the book, Aibileen says of the first white child she took care of:

“I loved that baby and he loved me and that’s when I knew I was good at making children feel proud of themselves.”

Making children feel proud of themselves is affirmation and love. It’s not the kind of self-serving affirmation where every child on the team gets a trophy. Those kind of gestures are about actions and teach children that it doesn’t matter whether you do a little or do a lot, every one gets the same reward in the end. That is not how life works and we are doing our children an injustice by fostering that lesson.

The kind of affirmation where you make a child feel proud of themselves is not about what they do but who they are.

One of my sons told me this afternoon that he had not been a good boy at school today. I smiled and lovingly corrected him that he was a good boy; he just had bad behaviors. No matter how unruly or “bad” children behave they are not a “bad child.” What’s bad is their behavior.

I try not to tell my sons that they will be rewarded if they are a good boy but rather if their behavior is good. I think that’s what most parents mean, but there is a difference in those two statements. I want my sons to know they are kind and smart and important and special and loved and … so many other things, for one because they are but also so they can be. We become who others tell us we are. Let’s tell our children things that we want them to become rather than the things we’d rather they not.


I am Known

I’m intrigued that companies — like Amazon, who recommends what books I might like, or Netflix, who recommends what movies I should see, or my beloved Target who prints out coupons for things I buy — know me so well. Their fancy computer algorithms  predict, based on things I’ve bought, watched or rated, other things that I might like, and they do so quite accurately.

A few years ago, Netflix described my taste in movies, as

Action & adventure based on real life
Feel-good teen dramas
Dark military movies
Sentimental wedding movies

and those descriptions were pretty spot on. Today, Netflix describes my tastes as

Emotional dramas based on a book
Psychological thrillers
Suspenseful action & adventure based on real life
Family feature animation.

Once again, that’s a pretty accurate depiction of things I like.

People sometimes act shocked when they hear that companies use data about spending habits to learn about their customers and market more specific products to them. I’m not surprised at all. It’s nothing new really. They’ve been doing it for a while, and if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Why should the Target coupon printer give everyone a coupon for the same product when they can look at the kinds of things you buy and customize deals that you might actually use, ya know? It helps them and it helps you, a win-win.

How Do You Like Your Eggs?

I love the movie Runaway Bride. Julia Roberts, weddings, wedding dresses … love it!

In the movie, Julia Roberts’ character keeps backing out of getting married, leaving guy after guy after guy at the altar. One of the things discovered by Richard Gere’s character (who plays a reporter covering the infamous runaway bride’s upcoming wedding) is that she takes her eggs the same way as the person she’s dating/engaged to. She doesn’t even know how she prefers them because she just conforms to the person in her life and lacks independence. That ends up being the problem with why she doesn’t want to get married, also — fear of losing independence that she doesn’t even really have to begin with.

I only like scrambled eggs with cheese. But I’ve never tried eggs any other way because honestly — fried eggs look yucky when the yellow yolk runs everywhere. And scrambled eggs and cheese are so delicious!

But eggs aren’t really the point.

My point is that in a lot of areas I’ve never really explored how I like things because I’ve never really been on my own. I went from my parents’ home to my college dorm for just a year before meeting and marrying John my second year of college. I was never really “on my own,” or not for that long. I’m technically still not — I have the boys — but I have the opportunity now to explore what I like as just me, and I think that’s what I’m gonna do.

I may even try yucky-looking runny fried eggs.

Well, no need to get carried away. ;)

Book Review: Water for Elephants

You know a book is a good when you read it in less than a week because you just can’t put it down.

Well, that was the case this week with Water for Elephants: A Novel.

I read a good review of it and added to my Amazon Wish List a few weeks ago — not realizing at this point its popularity as a book or that it was being made into a movie. About the same time, my co-worker Jo loaned the book to me unsolicited saying I had to read it and it was so good.

Last weekend at the movie theatre we saw the preview for the  movie (which looked good, by the way). I figured I needed to read it soon if I wanted to get it read before the movie came out next month. Little did I know that the book would be so captivating that I couldn’t stop reading and would have it finished so fast with weeks to spare!

The  book’s format reminds me a lot of Nicolas Sparks’ “The Notebook” — an old guy in a nursing home telling the (love) story of his youth. That format, I think, is a big reason that I liked it as well as I did. Format aside though, it’s a great story and a very fun read. A brilliant, believable story and story-telling.

It’s a tad graphic in parts (both in imagery and language) so I wouldn’t recommend it for young readers. Kudos to author Sara Gruen for all the research she did into circuses and circus life. All of those small yet real details are what makes the story so convincing and compelling.

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You: Something Borrowed

I read Something Borrowed a couple of years ago (review here) and now it’s been made into a movie, the trailer for which was released this week.

I had higher hopes for the trailer, actually. If I hadn’t read the book I’m not sure the trailer would have captivated me, but there’s no way to know that since my view is obviously obscured by being a fan of the book. Being a fan could even be the reason it didn’t measure up — maybe my expectations were too high.

However, I’m happy that the trailer makes the movie look fun and cute. I’m not sure I like the look of the actor playing Dex (John Krasinski) but then that’s the dangers of books becoming movies — the actors in the movies are never gonna be what you imagined them to be while reading it. In fact, the only actor that resembles anything remotely to what I pictured while reading is Darcy (Kate Hudson). Actors in movies not matching the visions the book readers imagined is what sometimes makes book readers disappointed with the movie versions of their favorite books. Too, in one scene he resembled a young Tom Cruise and since I don’t really like Tom Cruise all that much, maybe that shaded my opinion as well.

Either way, I’m looking forward to the film.