South of Broad

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Today's book was suggested by Ashley, who has thrown me a reading challenge in the form of a book that is 512 pages long. My brain is feeling slightly fried at the moment, so tonight's entry isn't going to be really long. Sorry dear readers, but I can only force my brain to do so much, and right now my brain is saying "We're done for the day, and we're not reading another page again until you let us watch a lot of really bad TV."

Today's book, "Against the sumptuous backdrop of Charleston, South Carolina, South of Broad gathers a unique cast of sinners and saints. Charleston, S.C., gossip columnist Leopold Bloom King narrates a paean to his hometown and friends in Conroy's first novel in 14 years. In the late '60s and after his brother commits suicide, then 18-year-old Leo befriends a cross-section of the city's inhabitants: scions of Charleston aristocracy; Appalachian orphans; a black football coach's son; and an astonishingly beautiful pair of twins, Sheba and Trevor Poe, who are evading their psychotic father. The story alternates between 1969, the glorious year Leo's coterie stormed Charleston's social, sexual and racial barricades, and 1989, when Sheba, now a movie star, enlists them to find her missing gay brother in AIDS-ravaged San Francisco."

Shallow thoughts:

  • I really struggled to read today's book because of how long it is. It wasn't so much an issue of time since reading the book start to finish would have taken me a little over eight hours. The problem was that it's hard to read a book that long without hitting some serious walls. I didn't encounter that problem as much when I was reading Little Women (537 pages) perhaps because it is familiar, or maybe because I love the book so much. I got through the first several hundred pages, and then I started to feel like I had spent enough time with the characters for one day, and I would have really liked to stop and come back to it another day. I have the same problem with real people as well. I have a three hour limit for how long I can stand to be around anyone before I desperately need solitude. At the three hour mark I start to feel like I'm wilting, at the four hour mark I start to feel like all of the life is draining out of me, at the five hour point I start to become hostile. I have a slightly longer tolerance for characters in books, but not much. Normally this is not a problem because I can read a hundred pages or so and then come back to the book later. But with a 500 page book that must be read in one day, it become necessary to get the show on the road.

  • The most believable parts of the book were when the author was describing Charleston (some of the other parts, not so much), "I carry the delicate porcelain beauty of Charleston like the hinged shell of some soft-tissued mollusk. My soul is peninsula-shaped and sun-hardened and river-swollen. The high tides of the city flood my consciousness each day, subject to the whims and harmonies of full moons rising out of the Atlantic. I grow calm when I see the ranks of palmetto trees pulling guard duty on the banks of Colonial Lake or hear the bells of St. Michael's calling cadence in the cicada-filled trees along Meeting Street." - Of course reading that passage led to me looking around the town I live in and thinking, What a dump. Of course I was kind of thinking that already since I live in the most boring place on earth, so I suppose it's not really fair to blame the book for that.

And so we come to the time when I share my opinion on whether you should read this book - otherwise known and the time when I pretend like I am actually qualified to hand out advice on picking good books - and my recommendation is that if you do read this book don't read it all in one day.