BOOK & BLOG
October 23, 2005
Book of the Week: The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
Along with thousands of English-speaking people, I spent the last week reading The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt. A few years ago, Berendt wrote a little book called Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It was on the New York Times Bestseller List for something like three years, and some of you may have seen the movie, with John Cusack. Obviously, Berendt spent many years trying to pick a suitable follow-up, and it must have been a very difficult decision.
Midnight was all about Savannah, its quirky people, its beautiful setting, and the oddness under the surface. All this was explored through a murder that took place in one of Savannahs oldest homes, the shooting of a white trash handyman (actually more of a male prostitute) by Jim Williams, an upstart whod risen quickly on the Savannah social scene.
Theres a crime at the center of Falling Angels, too. Its the burning of the Fenice Opera House in Venice, Italy. The question of whether the Fenice, an old and much-loved building in a city full of even older and more loved buildings, was set on fire by sheer carelessness or by design is never completely answered, at least to my satisfaction. But Berendt uses the investigation of the loss of the Fenice to explore Venetian society and the people who make it up, giving us an indelible portrait of Venice as he does so.
Berendt cant write a bad book. But I have to say The City of Falling Angels is just not as engaging as Midnight, which is one of my all-time favorites. The burning of a building is just not as fascinating to me as the death of a human being, and Venetian society simply doesnt interest me as much as that of Savannah. Im glad I read City, but I dont think Ill ever read it again, and I must have read Midnight three times. But no matter what John Berendt writes next, Ill be first in line to read it.
The Season of Demands is officially open. Ill bet all of you are getting dozens of catalogues in your mailbox every day, like I am. And Ill bet youve noticed, like I have, that the only other boost in envelopes in your mailbox is from charities.
Balancing the desire to give specifically, to someone you care for, and the desire to give generally, to people you know need help, can be a very hard decision. Shall I give a goat to Nigerian children, or an extra sweater to my daughter? Should I help the Heart Association or have a different fruit sent every month to my mother? Should I order Christmas paper at an exhorbitant price from my nephews school fundraiser, or sponsor a child in the Special Olympics? (Please dont take any of these personally, theyre just examples.)
The prospect of picking from among so many worthy and attractive choices can be daunting, if you feel you have any extra cents to send anywhere, which some years is debatable: perhaps especially this year, with the cost of gas so high, and the fact that many Americans have already given generously to Katrina relief. You find yourself staring at the envelopes, thinking Who needs help most? Multiple Sclerosis, or Pediatric AIDS? St. Judes, or Doctors Without Borders? The Animal Shelter, or the Shelter for Battered Women?
I havent come up with a good answer yet. The only rules of thumb I have formulated run something like:
I need to give at least one donation, no matter how small, this season. Thats what Christmas is all about. If youre not a Christian, then you probably celebrate this season for some other reason. At any rate, this is a time to think about how fortunate we are and how we can share that good fortune.
I can donate my time, or my money, or, if Im lucky, both. (Dont discount giving your time thats something a lot of people cant or wont do. If you dont have any spare money, see if you have two spare hours.)
I can give a donation in someones honor. Some people seem to have everything they really need. In that case, a donation to your favorite charity for the amount you would have spent on that individual can be a very touching gift.
Now that Ive blown that horn, Im going to relapse back into non-preaching mode. Maybe Ill go look at a few catalogues . . .
® 2010 Charlaine Harris