Amanda's Reviews > People of the Book

People of the Book by Geraldine  Brooks
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
1219253
's review
Apr 21, 12

bookshelves: book-club-made-me-do-it, blog, in-praise-of-books
Read from May 23 to 30, 2010

A Review of People of the Book
(or, Why I Hate the Kindle)

Brooks's novel is a fictionalized account of the real Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish religious text noteworthy for its inclusion of an illuminated manuscript and for its survival through turmoil and the hostility towards Jews that has erupted time and again over the centuries in Europe and Eastern Europe. The novel is told from the perspective of Hanna Heath, an expert in book restoration, who is called in to restore the text for display. While working on the book, Hanna finds a few curiosities that she keeps and carefully labels: a butterfly wing, a small sample of some wine stained pages, salt crystals, a white hair, and the notation of some missing decorative clasps. As Hanna investigates each of these items and their origins to gain insight into the Haggadah's past, the reader is presented with the story of each noteworthy item in its own stand alone chapter (stories that Hanna herself can never learn as the evidence she finds only provides her with a basis for conjecture and hypothesis). Each story is unique and not necessarily connected to the others. While the novel has been compared to The Da Vinci Code, it's a far cry from Robert Langdon's action-adventure chase through Europe in pursuit of an explosive secret that might change religion as we know it. Instead, the pacing is slower--the pacing of a scholar motivated by the desire to simply know, even if definitive answers aren't available. And, though the novel explores the nature of Jewish/Muslim/Christian relationships throughout the ages, it doesn't seek to lecture about morality or about what one should (or should not) believe.

Despite enjoying it, I will admit that People of the Book has some flaws. The story of Hanna Heath and her strained relationship with her ultra-feminist, professional mother is cliched and not given enough room to become a realistic exploration of a such a complicated relationship. In addition, a few plot points are contrived, but I can forgive that simply because the book appealed to the book lover in me, which is a nice segue way into . . . WHY I HATE THE KINDLE (and all other eReader devices).

First off, don't lecture me about how this is the future and I need to embrace it. If you own a Kindle, fine. Enjoy. I'm not suggesting that the privilege be taken away from you. However, I'll not be tempted by the siren song of fashionable technology. I love books. I love the way they feel. I like physically seeing the progress I've made as I turn page after page. I love the cover art. I love how books look on a shelf (in home decorating magazines, I delight in trying to identify the books on the shelves of well-appointed dens and studies). I like to select which books are going on vacation with me, agonizing over which ones might suit my mood. And, when I see someone reading a book, I will often become a creepy Peeping Tom of sorts as I try to catch a glimpse of the book cover so I can see what they're reading. I judge you by what book you're reading--if you're reading Neil Gaiman, I want to know you; conversely, if you're reading Twilight, I may be silently hoping that you get to join the undead (but in a more permanent dead sort of way). So much of that is lost with an eReader. And, after reading People of the Book, I'm aware of how much history can be lost. Not just the tiny fragments that get wedged into the bindings and between the pages, but the history of the people who owned and cherished the book. A world where physical books become obsolete and everyone has an entire library on one portable reading device is also a frightening possibility. How easy then for the next dictator to destroy our beloved texts. Smash one eReader and hundreds, thousands of books are permanently lost--far more efficient than book burnings. It's the impermanence of it all that scares me. Not only that, I think that obsession with books, recognizing and identifying with others because you notice the Christopher Moore font on the book cover or the tell-tell cover art of a Tim O'Brien paperback, helps create a reading community that we're connected to and a part of. How many chance encounters, spontaneous conversations, or just the simple nod of respect to complete strangers with whom we briefly feel connected when we realize we're reading the same author on the same bus--how many of those moments are lost when we're all carrying around the same reading device that indicates no individuality or reading preference to those around us? Will we feel as open to asking a complete stranger, "What are you reading?" Obviously, not all books are as important as the Haggadah, but I like to think that we all cherish our own quaint libraries and someday perhaps they will tell the world about who we were.

Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder
111 likes · Likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read People of the Book.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

05/23/2010 page 1
0.27%
show 5 hidden updates…

Comments (showing 1-37 of 37) (37 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Kristen (new)

Kristen Gurri You should read "Confederates in the Attic" next to have a fun Wife/Husband author moment.


Amanda Lol--I'm doing that, but kind of backwards! I read and loved Confederates in the Attic first, so I was curious to read something by his wife.


message 3: by Kristen (new)

Kristen Gurri Wonder what their dinner conversations is like.


message 4: by Gary (new)

Gary All I can say Amanda is "Hear Hear!" Long Live the Book!


message 5: by Courtney (new)

Courtney I think someday you and I should have a serious discussion about the positive aspects of the Kindle.


Amanda I will grant them this: Amazon Kindle commercials are kick ass.


message 7: by Robert (new)

Robert Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds has humanity split into two cultures; one where knowledge is kept in physical formats, the other where everything is electronic.

I don't like the idea of my entire book collection being vulnerable to such a simple thing as a magnet...


message 8: by Carol. (new) - added it

Carol. Nice review! Do you still hate e-readers? I tried one but found it unsatisfying, and not conducive to bathtubs. Portable, though.


message 9: by Suz (new)

Suz I love the irony of the rant about kindles and reading/communities on an internet community dedicated to reading. Technology Hee (though I see what you're saying). When I ride the bus, I peek over readers' shoulders to see if I can identify the book on their e-readers.
And as for the bathtub - that's how I convert my friends to Kindles. By reading in pools/hottubs. No more crinkly/soggy pages! (I throw my kindle in a ziplock - so awesome for reading around water).


message 10: by Suzanne (new)

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson Amanda, I truly enjoyed your rant about ebooks! But I'm of two minds about my wn feelings. I still love books, but I've found that when my insomnia kicks in, it's nice to reach for my back lit ereader rather than turn on the bedroom light. On the other hand, I visit the library once a week and love it! Cheers for a fun review!


message 11: by Kolleen (new)

Kolleen i hear ya! i myself do own a Kindle, but I will NEVER let it replace books for me. I like to read every other book in actual book form. Also, I've noticed that books I've read on the Kindle somehow just aren't as good. Coincidence?


message 12: by James (new)

James Thane I'm 95% in your corner on the e-reader issue, Amanda. The only reason I have one is because it's much easier to load a bunch of books onto one when you are going to be travelling and have limited space in which to pack. The other argument in their favor is that you can now suddenly have access to lots of books that are otherwise out of print and unavailable. But I will always prefer a "real" book...


Amanda Robert: So very, very true. The thought of everything being wiped out makes me shudder!

Carol: Yup, my hatred is still there, maybe toned down a little, though. I understand why some people love them, but I wonder if it's a difference in how we perceive books. Many of my friends think of books as ephemeral and disposable, and therefore buy mass market paperbacks or old school it and check them out from the library. But I worship at the altar of books and will gladly shell out $25 to own it forever, give it a place of reverence on a shelf, and disembowel anyone who defiles it with cookie crumbs or dog-earred pages. It is possible that I have a problem.

Suz: Ah, but my rant isn't about technology, per se. Just e-readers, but I am glad that you enjoy yours and would certainly never try to convince you that you're wrong to love it as much as I love my books. To each her own--and that does sound like a very clever trick for reading in a pool!


Amanda Suzanne: I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Kolleen: It can't be coincidence--it must be part of an insidious plot by Amazon to rule the world! Get thee behind me, Kindle! :)

James: I will grant you that--if I traveled extensively, I would give in to the e-reader. I can definitely see where it's convenience and portability would be a bonus. However, since I'm such a curmudgeon and refuse to leave my house for fear it will bring me into contact with the general populace, most of my traveling is done from my comfy reading chair. If work or life ever force me to overcome my aversion to wanderlust, the first thing I will probably do is buy a Kindle.


message 15: by James (last edited Apr 23, 2012 06:53PM) (new)

James Thane Amanda wrote: "I worship at the altar of books and will gladly shell out $25 to own it forever, give it a place of reverence on a shelf, and disembowel anyone who defiles it with cookie crumbs or dog-earred pages. It is possible that I have a problem.

Amanda, Rest assured that you definitely do not have a problem. The people who don't revere books as you do are the ones with the problem!


message 16: by peg (new)

peg Amanda,I love the physicality of books as well. Today I shopped in a used bookstore that sells collectables and other books that are out of print and I was elated when I discovered that an old book I chose was signed by the author. The stacks on the floor and the scent of old books was intoxicating. I even read portions of a novel written by Mark Twain that had been owned and passed down for generations in the Clemens family! I could have spent the entire day sitting on the floor while thumbing through these treasures. I,too,love cover art and am guilty of spying on others to discover what they are reading and I often judge strangers based on their book selections. LOL. I love to look at my book shelves and often revisit books that I have read. I have found small mementos between the pages of some books that remind me of what was going on in my life at the time that I read them. Sometimes I write notes in the margins,jot down personal cross references and mark significant passages. I also enjoy reading and handling books that have been read by people I have known. I feel an uncanny connection with others when I read books they treasure. I don't enjoy books to this extent on a Kindle. There is nothing like a physical book!

However,I am a bit schizophrenic. I also own a Kindle. I love the portability of it and am thankful that I no longer have to lug 5 to 10 pounds of books around with me when I am traveling,and I don't have to worry about damaging a book when it is shoved in a traveling case along with other necessary items. Once I am in a book,I am IN the book and am not aware of what form of the book I am holding. My Kindle is easier to hold,especially when I am curled up in a chair or snuggled between the covers before calling it a night. And I can even "preview" a book before I purchase it. With a little practice I have learned how to highlight passages and make personal notes as I read. I also have foreign newspapers and periodicals on my Kindle that don't end up in a pile in my garage. My Kindle is a modern-age wonder that I would not want to give up.

I will never part with my "real" books and I will continue to add to my physical collection.(I confess that I have even purchased hardbound copies of books after reading them on the Kindle. How weird is that!) But,conversely, I have also read many books that don't necessarily need to be kept on my bookshelves.

Perhaps there is a place in this world for books in either form.


Sherri But Nook is cool, right? ;)


message 18: by Catherine (new)

Catherine And the smell of books...nothing like a deep breath of paper and ink to get you in the mood for your next adventure! I also agree with the necessary evil of carrying a kindle when traveling. It allows me to fill the extra spaces in my suitcase with books found during my travels!


Amanda Catherine wrote: "I also agree with the necessary evil of carrying a kindle when traveling. It allows me to fill the extra spaces in my suitcase with books found during my travels!"

Now that is a point with which I can't argue!


message 20: by Stuart (new)

Stuart I'm interested in reading this book, but even more interested by the number of people who seem to share your apparent conviction that books and e-book cannot co-exist, at least not in the user's affections. For people with limited space to store books, limited money to buy them, and limited physical motor skills to read them, ebooks are a godsend, trust me. As for your implicit rebuke of ebook readers for daring to hide what they are reading from your self-confessedly judgemental eyes, that privacy is BIG plus for me in using my Kindle. I would not read Twilight, but I like that my reading choices are just that, mine. If I choose to share them with the world, I do so, through websites like this one, through Twitter and Facebook. Physical books have unique attributes, but a preference for using an ereader does not, as rants like yours always seem to imply, give evidence of moral, intellectual or aesthetic deficiency. I'm sure I can't be the only person who's bought many more paper books since buying a Kindle than prior to doing so.


Amanda Stuart wrote: "Physical books have unique attributes, but a preference for using an ereader does not, as rants like yours always seem to imply, give evidence of moral, intellectual or aesthetic deficiency."

And rants like yours don't particularly interest me.


Karen Actually, loving books is why I love my Kindle, it keeps books in print. I have found more books to love because of my Kindle. It is another way to preserve the written word.


Karen Oh, and I have met many authors, and connected with them, because of my Kindle.


Crystal Excellent review & your thoughts on the e-reader mirror my own. I do have a Kindle & enjoy carrying so many books around in my purse, but I have discovered that the e-reader lacks that personal connection that I feel with the hard copy. I like seeing the creases in the spine of paperbacks, smelling that old book smell from certain library books & seeing my progress with every page turned. E-readers just don't have that. Hopefully, we will soon inhabit a world where e-readers & hard copy books can coexist peacefully! ;-)


Amanda Crystal wrote: "Excellent review & your thoughts on the e-reader mirror my own. I do have a Kindle & enjoy carrying so many books around in my purse, but I have discovered that the e-reader lacks that personal con..."

Thanks! I will admit that, if I were a traveling kind of gal, I would probably have an e-reader, but since I do all of my reading at home I don't think I would personally have much use for one. I will grudgingly admit that I don't think they suck as much as when I first wrote the review, but I'll always love my paper whenever possible. So *grumble grumble* I guess peace may be possible. :)


message 26: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Jones I too have resisted the move from real books to online. Though I admit the space saving would be great, I love opening a new book; the texture and smell; the ability to share it with other book lovers; and the decision of when I look at my bookcase - what shall I re-read next?


Amanda Lisa wrote: "I too have resisted the move from real books to online. Though I admit the space saving would be great, I love opening a new book; the texture and smell; the ability to share it with other book lov..."

Agreed. One of my favorite things is to stand in front of my bookcase and ponder what's next? Space saving would definitely be an advantage since I hoard books like a dragon hoards gold, but I think I would miss the teetering stacks and crammed bookshelves. Plus, if I saved all that space, I'm afraid the book buying sprees would be even worse since I wouldn't be able to physically see the damage I've done!


Corinne Copelan It was not hard for me to resist reading electronic devices, as most of my reading hours are on friday night and saturday, and I keep Shabbat(meaning I don't touch electrics... etc on it). besides, like many of you, I also love the feel of a real book...


message 29: by Rex (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rex Miller An eBook can have nearly infinite copies and would be impossible for one dictator to destroy like this one of a kind book nearly was many times. A hard drive the size of a dorm refrigerator costing about $60,000 could hold nearly every digital book copy. How hard would a few thousand of these hard drive repositories dispersed in every country be to destroy?


message 30: by Rex (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rex Miller Fortunately, Killer we can have both digital and hard copies. Everyone wins.


Amanda Killer wrote: "My nightmare: One day Al Gore comes to my house to take away all my paper books and make me actually use my Kindle. Then I turn into Charleton Heston and yell, "You'll have to pry my paper books fr..."

Ha! Yes, many a forest has perished only to now reside on my bookshelves.


message 32: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Ann Gallagher I read about 90% of new books on the kindle. But if I really like the book, not only do I buy myself a physical copy, I wind up buying additional copies for friends and family. I loved "People of the Book" and now, I want to slip tiny artifacts of the day into some of my absolute favorite books. Perhaps someone, someday may stumble upon them and wonder what they mean.


message 33: by peg (last edited Dec 18, 2014 09:26PM) (new)

peg Lisa wrote: "I read about 90% of new books on the kindle. But if I really like the book, not only do I buy myself a physical copy, I wind up buying additional copies for friends and family. I loved "People of t..."

Lisa,I had an interesting experience when I stuffed an artifact in a book. While I was reading "The Red Tent" I used a blank check from a defunct bank for a bookmark. I left that check in the book when I was finished reading it and forgot about it. A few years later, I loaned the book to a friend. My friend kept the book for a long time but I wasn't concerned about the book. My friend always had returned my books in great condition. One day a letter came in the mail with my old blank check in the same envelope. The letter was from a stranger who jokingly said that he was going to write the check out to himself until he realized that the bank was no longer in business. He told me how much he loved the book and thanked me for passing it on. It turns out that he had bought my book at a library book sale. Alas, my friend had inadvertently donated my book to the library when she was cleaning!!!


message 34: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Ann Gallagher See... just imagine if that 3rd person had kept the check in the book, and passed it on a decade or two later... and so on, and so on for a couple hundred years. I bet you in 200 or 300 years nobody will even know what a check is. Not that a check is as magical as, say, a fragment of a butterfly wing. But I'd like to know I left a tiny mystery on the planet when I left and where better to place that mystery than in a book!


Madelon I loved your review as much as I enjoyed reading PEOPLE OF THE BOOK. I was a collector of the real world book even after I started reading on Kindle. In fact, one of my first Kindle purchases, on my first Kindle, was prompted by arthritic pain in my hands from holding a worthy, but really heave tome. I would have had to put the book down and pick up reading it at another time. Instead, I purchase said book on my Kindle, found where I left off, and continued reading for another couple of hours. When I moved to a house that couldn't accommodate the more than 5,000 books in my collection, I had to sell most of my collection. There are some first editions, signed copies and all my Stephen King books that I keep for nostalgia, but I read everything on my third Kindle.


message 36: by Xdyj (new)

Xdyj E-books are a good way to get around the censors if you live in e.g. China. Also, pirated ebooks can be very useful in 3rd world countries where imported books can be very expensive.


message 37: by Toni (new) - added it

Toni I agree with you totally, Amanda. I do have a simple ereader that I take with me on vacations. But my first love is books, libraries, cozy rooms filled with shelves of books and preferably a gentle fire in the fireplace. (Imagine a 1940 film say with Cary Grant.) I also love the feel, the smell and pages of a book. We'll just have to coexist in our crazy world.
I volunteer at our library twice a week, and all our branches plus our main library have been increasingly busy year after year.


back to top