My book club chose Beautiful Ruins this month as it is also the Centre County Reads book. Jess Walter will be coming to town next month, so we thought it would be fun to read the book and then attend the talk. I’ve actually had multiple copies of this on my bookshelf over the past two years, but I’ve given it away to people interested in reading it. Have you ever just not been pulled in by the description on the book jacket? And yet, once you start reading you think, “had I known this book was about THIS, I would have been reading it sooner!” This was one of those books. I could not put it down once I picked it up. Plus, a number of people I work with are also reading it right now, so it was fun to talk about it in class. I even decided to incorporate it into my College Prep English 11 class as there is a writing contest for the county. We are reading A Streetcar Named Desire in class and I thought they could write about the concept of Beautiful Ruins in the play, and then submit a separate piece of writing about Beautiful Ruins of their own imagining/observation as the final assessment.
Books with multiple perspectives/narratives are some of my favorites. This one hops from person to person and from 1962 to modern day. From the set of Cleopatra to small Italian islands, to modern day Hollywood to clubs in Edinburgh, the characters, inextricably tied to one another, pull you in to their stories. When you step back, you can see the people, places, and things throughout the book that might be classified as Beautiful Ruins, but you can also see the beauty there is in truly connecting with another human being, in seeing beauty in unexpected places, and finding hope in an initially hopeless story.
If I were asked to name my favorite character in this story, I’m not sure I could do it. Often in a story told from multiple perspectives, I become impatient with one of the storylines, but in this book, I felt and equal pull to all the stories that made up the mosaic of this tale. I highly recommend it, and if you’re anywhere near Central Pennsylvania, come hear Jess Walter speak on March 17.
- “His life was two lives now: the life he would have and the life he would forever wonder about.”
- “Life, he thought, is a blatant act of imagination.”
- “He found himself inhabiting the vast, empty plateau where most people live, between boredom and contentment.”
- “At peace? Who but the insane would ever be at peace? What person who has enjoyed life could possibly think one is enough? Who could live even a day and not feel the sweet ache of regret?”
- “All we have is the story we tell.”