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The Poet of Tolstoy Park
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Group Reads: Moderator's Choice > Initial Impressions: The Poet of Tolstoy Park: January 2018

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message 1: by Tom, "Big Daddy" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tom Mathews | 2461 comments Mod
Lawyer has decided to ring in the new year with The Poet of Tolstoy Park by Sonny Brewer. Based on the life of Henry Stuart , a retired professor and widower who, at age 67, moved south from Idaho to Fairhope, Alabama, to live out his life in a most unorthodox manner.
The Poet of Tolstoy Park by Sonny Brewer
Comments on this board should be written with the assumption that not all readers have finished the book. Please avoid revealing any spoilers.


message 2: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 3822 comments Mod
I read this book a little early, since my library had it on the shelf. My only comment at this point is that pictures of Henry Stuart and his hut can be found on Wilipedia, and gave me some valuable visuals not found in the book. My early question is this: Does anyone know how much information was available to Sonny Brewer, and how closely he followed the actual history? I'm thinking particularly about the people Henry met in Alabama who became his friends. Were they real, or made up for the novel? Lawyer, I'm looking at you.


message 3: by Tom, "Big Daddy" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tom Mathews | 2461 comments Mod
Diane wrote: "I read this book a little early, since my library had it on the shelf. My only comment at this point is that pictures of Henry Stuart and his hut can be found on Wilipedia, and gave me some valuabl..."



It is a most unusual home. I sense we may be getting into Thoreau territory with this book.


Sara (phantomswife) | 924 comments I started this today and find it fascinating. I already love Henry.


message 5: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 3822 comments Mod
I loved Henry the minute he left his boots on the porch.


Sara (phantomswife) | 924 comments Exactly, Diane!


message 7: by Lawyer, Moderator Emeritus "Lawyer Stevens" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Diane wrote: "I read this book a little early, since my library had it on the shelf. My only comment at this point is that pictures of Henry Stuart and his hut can be found on Wilipedia, and gave me some valuabl..."

Diane, I will leave this one till final impressions. A good bit of the novel is true. Just how much? Flip to final impressions. :)


message 8: by Franky (new)

Franky | 313 comments I just ordered this one but probably won't get to it till later this month as it will take a week or so to deliver.


message 9: by Tom, "Big Daddy" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tom Mathews | 2461 comments Mod
I'll be starting mine today. I was leafing through it this morning and discovered that my copy is signed!


Carol | 17 comments Thanks for suggesting this book. I am really enjoying it. I hope Sonny Brewer writes more novels. His writing is beautiful so I'm reading it slowly to enjoy the phrasing. I'm new to this group and southern literature, so this may be a stupid question, but why was there a Union Jack flag flying on the steamer boat that took Henry to the Stedman pier?


message 11: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 924 comments I went back through that chapter, Carol, and I didn't find the reference. Can you point me to it? You have aroused my curiosity.

I think Sonny Brewer has written a couple of others. I marked them for myself to read. Like you, I enjoy his writing style very much. BTW, welcome to the group...nice to have you here.


Carol | 17 comments Sara wrote: "I went back through that chapter, Carol, and I didn't find the reference. Can you point me to it? You have aroused my curiosity.

I think Sonny Brewer has written a couple of others. I marked them ..."


Thanks Sara! In my hardback copy, it is on page 75, chapter 13, the paragraph that begins with, "May I stand here and share this claim of yours?" The last sentence says, "Atop a twenty-foot staff rising from the center of the bow, the union jack fluttered and snapped madly in the wind."


Carol | 17 comments Sara wrote: "I went back through that chapter, Carol, and I didn't find the reference. Can you point me to it? You have aroused my curiosity.

I think Sonny Brewer has written a couple of others. I marked them ..."

http://digital.archives.alabama.gov/c...
I found a picture of it and it looks like there were multiple flags!


message 14: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 924 comments Thank you, Carol, for the reference and the photograph (very interesting). I can only think of two reasons an American boat would fly a British flag...either the boat is owned by a British company or the boat is flying the flags of all the nations the territory has ever belonged to. The South has always been very conscious of its ancestry. I wonder if anyone else has a theory.


Carol | 17 comments Sara wrote: "Thank you, Carol, for the reference and the photograph (very interesting). I can only think of two reasons an American boat would fly a British flag...either the boat is owned by a British company ..."

I was thinking of your second suggestion as well after looking at the photo. It appears that there are several flags of other nations or counties. It wouldn't surprise me if they also had a french and spanish flag. I couldn't expand the photo to see. But the American flag was certainly the largest. Good to know that the South has been conscious of its ancestry. I don't get the same feeling about the North, but I could be wrong. I live in Virginia which is mid-atlantic. Certainly Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown are big here....and the West has a lot of native american and spanish references.


Carol | 17 comments Sara wrote: "Thank you, Carol, for the reference and the photograph (very interesting). I can only think of two reasons an American boat would fly a British flag...either the boat is owned by a British company ..."

I was able to enlarge the photo but it is not in color. It does look like one of the other flags could be the french flag. But I can't tell what the other one is. I looked up the flag for Mobile and it has an emblem in the middle but a horizontal bar on the top and bottom so that is not it. It isn't the spanish or Alabama flag either. But at least we know the union jack was just one of many flying.


message 17: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 924 comments I'm in VA myself, Carol, but I was born and raised in Georgia. The part of VA I am in is very rural and still has its Southern roots. When I was living up around the Washington beltway, I found Northern VA to be very Northern indeed, since it was an amalgamation of people from all over the states.

I think it is safe to assume that the British flag was flying secondary to the American flag. I wonder why Brewer chose that particular detail. We might have to write and ask him.


message 18: by Lawyer, Moderator Emeritus "Lawyer Stevens" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Carol wrote: "Thanks for suggesting this book. I am really enjoying it. I hope Sonny Brewer writes more novels. His writing is beautiful so I'm reading it slowly to enjoy the phrasing. I'm new to this group and ..."

Carol, I'm glad you're enjoying this novel. Sonny Brewer has also written A Sound Like Thunder in which Henry Stuart makes an appearance, The Widow and the Tree, and edited numerous volumes of short stories by Southern authors in the Stories From the Blue Moon Cafe Series.

On the flags flying over the steamer: Alabama had six flags to fly over it throughout its history. France, Spain, England, the United States, The Confederacy, and the United States.

It's a delight to welcome you to The Trail!

Lawyer


James Mitchell (jamesmelvinmitchell) Thank you for the suggestion on this book trying to find a copy.


message 20: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 924 comments Lawyer--the six flags (Georgia had six as well) was what I initially thought this might be. I like the idea that it is.


message 21: by Lawyer, Moderator Emeritus "Lawyer Stevens" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
James wrote: "Thank you for the suggestion on this book trying to find a copy."

James, persevere. I think you will love the read. This is my second read and it remains as wonderful to me as my first meeting with Henry Stuart.


message 22: by Lawyer, Moderator Emeritus "Lawyer Stevens" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Tom wrote: "I'll be starting mine today. I was leafing through it this morning and discovered that my copy is signed!"

You scored a gem, Tom. I got my copy when it was first published at a big box store. I had the good luck to meet Brewer at Over the Transom Books in Fairhope. However, it wasn't until 2013 that he signed my copies of his novels at the Alabama Festival of the Book. He's a fine man. We had a good talk.


message 23: by Lawyer, Moderator Emeritus "Lawyer Stevens" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Sara wrote: "Lawyer--the six flags (Georgia had six as well) was what I initially thought this might be. I like the idea that it is."

Those six flags were drummed into my head by my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Rebecca Welch. She turned me into an avid student of Alabama's history which has continued to this day. :)


message 24: by Lawyer, Moderator Emeritus "Lawyer Stevens" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
One of the many things that has added to my enjoyment of this novel is Brewer's frequent allusion to poetry, among those some of my favorites by Frost, Dickens, and Stevens. And, as Tom mentioned there is a strong flavor of Thoreau here, too. How about Emerson and the Native American Wisdom of Black Elk? A mish mash? Or does Brewer meld all these sources into common themes?


message 25: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 3822 comments Mod
I enjoyed the allusions to poetry too, but also Henry's connection with nature, as evidenced by his bare feet. The descriptions of the natural world, the birds, the storms, and yes, even the snakes, made the book a special place to retreat from "The real world" we all live in today.


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

Sara (phantomswife) | 924 comments A testament to how many strong suits Mr. Brewer has in his writing arsenal. I loved the poetry as well, and the connection to nature (which is enhanced by his allusions to Thoreau and Black Elk, and his way of presenting characters who step right off the page, as if you had met someone of flesh and blood.


Carol | 17 comments His friend Will lived by verses in the bible. Henry lived a parallel life in which he found strength and meaning through poetry and the wisdom of Tolstoy, Thoreau, Black Elk, etc. I remember my Grandfather quoting poetry and lines from prose that meant something to him. I'm guessing that most of us on Good Reads can relate to how literature helps to comfort, prod, echo, stimulate, and question our thinking. The older I get, the less I know about life and am willing to read and hear about others' experiences. We recognize that everyone's life is a journey of their own making. I'm not against religion at all. It just made me sad that Will couldn't accept that Henry's choices gave meaning to his life. For Henry, Will's answers were not his solution. So I'm definitely enjoying where Henry is taking me on his quest.


Carol | 17 comments Sara wrote: "A testament to how many strong suits Mr. Brewer has in his writing arsenal. I loved the poetry as well, and the connection to nature (which is enhanced by his allusions to Thoreau and Black Elk, an..."

I'm definitely going to give some of his other works a try!


PirateSteve | 21 comments I've been enjoying this book so far. I'm to the point that Henry is well under way with the construction of his hut. Hauling in materials, pouring and setting the blocks. He has made the course across the top of his windows and it is there that I think I will stop reading for now.
My plan may sound a bit crazy, Henry would approve, but I hope for a day of better weather, when I might travel across the head waters of Mobile Bay and visit the hut. Once there, in the most solitude that I can manage, finish reading this story.
A little on-site reading to ground myself in the spirit of Tolstoy Park.


message 30: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 3822 comments Mod
What a great idea, PirateSteve! Henry would certainly approve.


message 31: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 3822 comments Mod
If the temperature cooperates, you should be barefoot.


PirateSteve | 21 comments Diane wrote: "If the temperature cooperates, you should be barefoot."

I've grown into a tenderfoot but I may have to give it a try.


message 33: by Lawyer, Moderator Emeritus "Lawyer Stevens" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
PirateSteve wrote: "I've been enjoying this book so far. I'm to the point that Henry is well under way with the construction of his hut. Hauling in materials, pouring and setting the blocks. He has made the course acr..."

If it isn't too overcast, go inside. Sit near one of the windows to finish the novel. Alas, Henry's bed no longer hangs high over the floor. I imagine some pesky lawyer (AHEM) advised it be removed since the hut is open and there is no supervision. Liability issue...mutter, mutter, mutter. I, too, think Henry would approve. Sonny Brewer, too. Still a bit chilly round these parts. Eschew heavy boots. Consider a soft soled shoe. Long as it's not leather. Henry'll give you a pass. He didn't expect others to go shoeless. :)


PirateSteve | 21 comments Lawyer wrote: "PirateSteve wrote: "I've been enjoying this book so far. I'm to the point that Henry is well under way with the construction of his hut. Hauling in materials, pouring and setting the blocks. He has..."

I been to the hut a few times over the years but I never knew the full story behind it till this group read and of course, google helps.
My dad first pointed the hut out to me back some time in the 1960's but he called it the hermit house. So I thought a hermit lived there. One thing for sure, when you grow up in this area, you know a good storm shelter when you see one.


Carol | 17 comments Wow that would be great! Maybe you can go to Sonny's bookstore and meet him too someday soon.


message 36: by PirateSteve (last edited Jan 15, 2018 08:31PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

PirateSteve | 21 comments Carol wrote: "Wow that would be great! Maybe you can go to Sonny's bookstore and meet him too someday soon."

I don't believe Sonny still runs a book store in Fairhope.
There is a nice bookstore there, Page and Palette.
http://www.pageandpalette.com/
I've been to book signings there but that I know of, I've never run into Sonny Brewer.
Fairhope claims to have more authors per capita than any other place. And the Page and Palette does have a once a month local talent night, so I will keep a look out for him.


Janice (JG) | 113 comments I've had this book on my shelves for a few years now. I wanted it, had to have it, because of the title, which is one of those perfect titles... so perfect in fact that I didn't want to risk any disappointment by reading its contents and discovering that it just couldn't live up to its title.

Well, I was wrong, this story of Henry is all that I could have wished for.


message 38: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 924 comments Steve, I am green with envy. I would love to sit in the solitude and conjure up Henry's ghost while reading this.

Janice...maybe fate was just waiting for the right moment so you could read it along with all of us.


message 39: by Dawn (new)

Dawn (goodreadscomdawn_irena) | 252 comments Hey Y’all ~ Just popping in to say Happy New Year friends on the trail ! If anyone still remembers me down here in Oxford, Mississippi ! I am trying to get a copy of this book right now. I loved Walden and if you say HENRY ! that is close enough for me! I taught American Lit. for years and to teach American Lit. you must teach history. But of course, I am a firm believer in teaching the two subjects together and I always have for the full benefit of the learning experience for my students. You must make something relevant to someone for the subject to feel important or for a student to become hungry for the knowledge of a new dish at supper that smells good, looks good, yet the student has not full knowledge of the ingredients and oh what a scary thought or risk of tasting something new !

About the flags , as I am a military brat and traveled a bit while in school, I knew about the flags in Georgia only because of our history teaching there and our once great theme park Six Flags Over Georgia ! We loved that place as kids and had a Senior Day there in high school! The South is good for tradition and respecting and honoring the dead no matter what. It has never been a racial issue or a discrimination issue of any sort. The South just prefered to practice more emotional or spiritual beliefs. How was it once entitled in one book I loved , Crimes of the Heart ! Loved that book and it does show you a direct relationship between your heartfelt emotions that create certain behavior . Some can be considered crimes because they break a heart but not recognizing a powerful love for someone or their honor will feel just like a crime . I sort of feel that the mixture of all cultures and immigrants in the South had some really strong spiritual ties that have blended together in some new literary examples we have read this year.

Not letting go of traditions, beliefs, practices, were seen in two major books this year ; Lincoln in the Bardo and Sing Unburied Sing. Ward’s Sing Unburied Sing was a definite display of a modern South merging in our new world . Some try to hold onto the old and then some try to let it blend all together as if that is the only way the spirits in the past will be settled . It is time for the bird to fly free and the world to sing any song it wants.

Just as Henry is choosing freely to change his life so should we always have that free choice in the beautiful USA ! What a great book to start the New Year by reading .

Celebrate our Freedoms and Recognize all of the Spirits upon which it took for us to get this far ! Sing ! Sing ! For the time has come to Celebrate and move forward together . Books help take us places. 2018 we will go far as long as we open our minds to new knowledge and new food for thought and never ever forget how and who suffered to bring us this far.

Dawn


James Mitchell (jamesmelvinmitchell) Well I'm just a bit behind, but I finally got my copy of this book really looking forward to this read.


message 41: by Tom, "Big Daddy" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tom Mathews | 2461 comments Mod
I've reached the midpoint and am really enjoying the story. Sometimes you really need to read a gentle story that gives you a chance to sit back and reflect on life or, in this case, death. I love Henry's desire to face the end of his life without fear. I'm less thrilled about his insistence on maintaining his solitude by pushing away all who would befriend him.


message 42: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 924 comments James wrote: "Well I'm just a bit behind, but I finally got my copy of this book really looking forward to this read."
Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I think Henry is one of those characters that will always stay with me.


message 43: by Lawyer, Moderator Emeritus "Lawyer Stevens" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Tom wrote: "I've reached the midpoint and am really enjoying the story. Sometimes you really need to read a gentle story that gives you a chance to sit back and reflect on life or, in this case, death. I love ..."

Tom, I know exactly what you mean. There were moments that I wanted to wring Henry's neck. I think it was a necessary part of his spiritual journey. Read on. Another point you made, it is nice to read a gentle story from time to time. We've read some very tough reads here on the Trail. Henry's journey is one that will stick with you for a long time. I'm enjoying watching folks' reaction to this one.


message 44: by Lawyer, Moderator Emeritus "Lawyer Stevens" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
James wrote: "Well I'm just a bit behind, but I finally got my copy of this book really looking forward to this read."

James, I'm so glad you got hold of your copy. Enjoy! I look forward to your impressions.


message 45: by Lawyer, Moderator Emeritus "Lawyer Stevens" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Dawn wrote: "Hey Y’all ~ Just popping in to say Happy New Year friends on the trail ! If anyone still remembers me down here in Oxford, Mississippi ! I am trying to get a copy of this book right now. I loved Wa..."

Happy New Year to you, too, Dawn. We HAVE had some remarkable reads this year. I'm sure we'll continue to have those in the coming year. Please keep us posted on what's new and upcoming as you visit Square Books in Oxford. Nice to see you back with us on The Trail.


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