Have You Read This Book?

A good book should leave you… slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it. ~William Styron, American novelist

Normally, I’m reluctant to hop on the bandwagon when it comes to books everybody says I must read.

Maybe my taste in reading differs from that of the masses, or maybe I’m just flouting my rebelliousness.

Last week I went to our public library to check out Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens for my mom. When I heard it was “sweeping the nation” in popularity, I had to force myself not to roll my eyes.

Mom finished it with rave reviews and urged me to read “just a few pages.”

Okay, why not?

Where the Crawdads Sing is a coming-of-age tale about a girl abandoned by her family and left on a North Carolina marsh to fend for herself. It’s also the story of two young men drawn into her world and the mystery of what happened to one of them.

Beginning with the 1950s and continuing through the ensuing decades, Crawdads depicts a South segregated by race and social standing, steeped in prejudice and the good ole boy network.

If I’d listened to Mom and read only the first chapter, I’d have tossed it aside. The author didn’t hook me, didn’t give me a character to root for (or worry about).

Still, I kept reading and I’m glad for it.

Owens is an American author and zoologist, who published three bestselling nonfiction books depicting her time as a wildlife scientist in Africa. This is her debut fiction work. If you like description, you’ll love her prose:

A few birds pecked gently between her toes, and she laughed from the tickling until tears streamed down her cheeks, and finally great, ragged sobs erupted from that tight place below her throat. When the carton was empty she didn’t think she could stand the pain, so afraid they would leave her like everybody else. But the gulls squatted on the beach around her and went about their business of preening their gray extended wings. So she sat down too and wished she could gather them up and take them with her to the porch to sleep. She imagined them all packed in her bed, a fluffy bunch of warm, feathered bodies under the covers together.

But I nearly stopped reading when I got to the courtroom scenes. Owens must not have sat through any jury trials; in fact, she must not have had any technical advice in this area at all.

As a working journalist, I covered oodles of trials and can attest to the drama played out. No lawyer or judge would have acted the way Owens had her characters act (John Grisham she’s not!)

But she made up for that failure by drawing in her readers, coaxing them to follow her plotline to its conclusion. Her female lead character is intriguing. Strong, resilient, and clever. The other characters are believeable. The pacing is steady, and short chapters ensure you’ve got a stopping spot if you need one.

In an interview, Ownes, a native Georgian, said it took her nearly a decade to write this book. She began writing from the end and worked backward, weaving the story between past and present. The title, she said, comes from advice her mother gave her when growing up.

I won’t say anymore in case you haven’t read it. The comments on Goodreads are all over the board, from high praise to thumbs-down. Perhaps this is another case where you just have to read the thing for youself to decide.

11 thoughts on “Have You Read This Book?

  1. I’ve never heard of the book, but on the basis of that paragraph you quoted, I’d never bother with it. She could have used a good copy editor. Look at the beginnings of these four consecutive phrases/sentences: “…finally, great ragged sobs…When the carton was empty… But the gulls squatted… So she sat down…”

    She could stand to lose a few commas and that first run-on sentence too. (Should I tell you what I really think?)

    • HaHa, love your comments, Linda! Just goes to prove that sometimes *everybody* hasn’t a clue what GOOD writing is. I didn’t want to be too hard on her — after all, I know how hard it is to write fiction, and she did spend the better part of a decade doing it — but it never ceases to amaze me how the “power” of a few well-timed reviews can send a book clear to the top of the heap!

  2. Debbie, excellent review because you didn’t tell the whole story, nor did you say that you loved it didn’t love it. You gave your own insight; positive and negative, then at the end left it up to those who decide to read the book for themselves.

    No, I haven’t read this book.

    However, I will say that the prose you shared was so beautifully described because it visually came to life for me.

    I also found it fascinating that she started at the end of the book and then moved forward. When I was still a stage actor doing work in the theater, I would very often develop the character I was portraying by studying how the character behaved by end of the script (the storyline), to better understand and develop his motivation at the start of the story.

    Thanks so much for sharing this review, my friend. Enjoyed it!

    Have a super Sunday!

    • Thank you for noticing that I didn’t say one way or the other how I reacted to this book, Ron. That was on purpose, of course! And I’m still not going to say. There were parts that I found pure tedium and parts that *sang* for me. I don’t know whether that’s enough for me to actively seek out her next endeavor though.

      I don’t usually do book reviews in this space. I hated writing them when I was in school, and I haven’t learned to like them since! Still, as an author, I know how valuable reviews can be in talking up a book . . . and letting the writer know what worked and what didn’t. What a great technique, for actors to work backward in fleshing out their roles!

      Enjoy your work week ahead, my friend! xx

    • I can’t advise you on this one, Monica. There were parts of the book I enjoyed and parts I found ridiculous. Perhaps it’s the author’s background in zoology and nature writing that led to all her descriptive passages. After all, we write what we’re familiar and comfortable with, right? But when she got on what (I’m assuming) was unfamiliar territory, it felt like she was struggling. How I wish publishers would employ a slew of editors and fact-checkers to really make stories like this resonate!

  3. I’ve seen lots of mostly glowing reviews of this one but somehow they’ve never quite convinced me to read it. I think maybe I’m allergic to hype too. It is always intriguing to see how some books capture the market while other, often much better, books sink into obscurity. I reckon the superhyped ones usually have quite a short shelf-life though – like whatever the latest fashion is in clothes…

    • “Allergic to hype” is a great way to express it, FF! This one, I believe, is yet another example of a publisher rushing a book into print before its time. She could have used a good editor, plus a few technical advisors. Not for the nature scenes — those felt pretty realistic to me — but for some of the other areas, which I’d better not elaborate on because I don’t want to spoil the read for those yet to complete it. And it was LONG, but the ending felt abrupt to me, especially after the detailed beginning.

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