Booking It: March

Well, once again it's time for those of us participating in the Booking It challenge with Jessica over at Life As Mom to weigh in with our selections for the month. My selection for the past month has been....

*The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett

This was a Christmas gift from my husband, who picked it up on a whim from the Best Sellers shelf at our local bookstore.

I've got to confess, it's been a crazy month. In the midst of working on a mural project and several commissioned pieces, keeping up with my business and blog, being a bit under the weather, having family in from out of town, and trying to spend some time with my husband when he wasn't buried in the books, I've not had much time for reading over the past few weeks. The novel is rather a whopper to boot, weighing in at 973 pages, so it's not exactly an quick weekend read. I've only read about a third of it so far. I do plan to finish it (along with a shorter selection for next month) in order to be caught up with my self-imposed deadline in April. (UPDATE 3/12/11: I quit reading this book. Scroll down for explanation.) If I have any earth-shattering thoughts to share on this book then, I'll add it to next month's review. But until then, here are my thoughts so far...

First of all, the book is well-written - not in a Charles Dickens sort of way, but in a Tom Clancy or John Grisham sort of way. I wouldn't call it a classic, but it's decent writing. The plot is interesting and easy to follow. The characters, of which there are many, are well-developed and believable. Follett does a good job at creating a number of interesting sub-plots and then weaving them all together over the course of the novel (at least so far).

A brief synopsis of the plot, taken from the book cover, because I haven't finished it yet:
"The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of Philip, prior of Kingsbridge, a devout and resourceful monk driven to build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has known... of Tom, the mason who becomes his architect - a man divided in his soul...of the beautiful, elusive Lady Aliena, haunted by a secret shame...and of a struggle between good and evil that will turn church against state and brother against brother. A spellbinding epic tale of ambition, anarchy, and absolute power set against the sprawling medieval canvas of twelfth-century England, this is Ken Follett's historical masterpiece."
Like the synopsis says, the focus of the novel is the building of this cathedral, and the plot lines are based on the lives and experiences of the characters who come together to make it happen. The story contains just enough intrigue and mystery to remind you that Follett is best known for writing thrillers.

Pros so far:

-Well-developed characterization

- Interesting plot

- Just enough intrigue, suspense, and variety to keep a 973-page book from becoming tedious.

Cons so far:

- Follett can be very graphic and crude. While his descriptions certainly paint a good picture of what made the "Dark Ages" dark, I think he takes it much too far. He uses foul language occasionally, and I have found myself having to skip over several fairly explicit inappropriate scenes.

- Follett also has his characters using expressions and slang that I just can't imagine 12th Century characters using. One example is a pregnant woman referring to her enlarged abdomen as her "bump," a term that I've only heard used in that context in the last few years (that's a new thing, right? Or am I just out of touch?). His language reads more like a modern thriller than a medieval epic.

- There aren't many very noble characters. Philip is the only one who seems to be truly honorable, at least so far. While some of the other characters are likable and interesting in many ways, I certainly wouldn't consider them as role models.

- The corruption of the Church in the novel is driving me crazy, although from what I understand about this period in history, Follett's scenarios are fairly realistic. While a few of the monks/priests/bishops come across as relatively devout, the politics, scheming, and corruption of many of the clerical figures is truly sickening. You can certainly understand why the Middle Ages are often referred to as The Dark Ages. It's depressing. The ignorance and carnality of the common people is pretty disgusting too.... which, of course, is what you would expect if they did not have access to the Scripture themselves and were being taught that they could "pay" for their own salvation by contributing to the cathedral building funds and such, rather than repenting of it and trusting in Christ. Anyway, that whole aspect of the book is maddening, but, like I said, sadly realistic for the 12th Century.

I hesitate to offer an opinion on whether or not you should read it, since I have yet to finish it. But I'm leaning towards the "skip it" verdict. While the plot is entertaining and well-developed, I'm not sure it will be worth having to try to skip over all the crude and inappropriate parts. I'll let you know my final verdict next month.

*UPDATE 3/12/2011 - Last night after reading a few more pages, I decided not to finish this book (which is rare for me - I am a compulsive book-finisher). I had hoped the two inappropriate scenes I had already skipped over would be it, but I began to realize that the trend was going to continue throughout the entire book. Frankly put, he's very crude, and he's very graphic. Although the plot is interesting and I would like to find out what happens, I've decided it's just not worth wading through all the garbage. Final Verdict: Skip it.

Incidentally, while I was working on my mural last month, I listened to the following audio books, which I downloaded for free from Librivox through itunes:

  • The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan -Read my comments on this book HERE.

  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson -Read my comments on this book HERE.

  • Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton - Read my comments on this book HERE.

  • Tremendous Trifles by G.K. Chesterton -Read my comments on this book HERE.

  • Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace - Read my comments on this book HERE.

  • The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain - Read my comments on this book HERE.

  • Click on the links above for a brief review of each - but I will tell you here that I HIGHLY recommend all of them!

    I am also continuing on with my Read-the-Bible-in-a-Year plan as usual, and I have managed to stay current with that. Hopefully next month I will be back on track with my other reading.

    What have you been reading lately? I'd love to know!  


    1. What a wonderful list of books you listened to! A great way to fill your mind.

      I think I started a Ken Follett book and quit because of the language. Can't remember. I've blocked it out.

    2. What a great list of books to listen to! I can't focus on audio books so I'm always envious of people who can (my hubby listens to them all the time in his car). Ben Hur sounds intersting and I've not yet read The Pilgrim's Progress. I think those will be added to my to-read list.

    3. My father recommended Follett's book, and I tried to read it. I had to put it down, though, for the "inappropriate" scenes, too. Ugh! I agree with your pros and cons, but I won't read another of his books.

      I enjoyed reading The Pilgrim's Progress and Treasure Island, but I just didn't get the point of Ben Hur. I'm glad you enjoyed them all, though. And I love audiobooks!

    4. I didn't read very far, but I put it down too. I just couldn't get into the characters. They didn't appeal to me. I thought I would love the book because it got rave reviews, and I generally love good historical fiction. I used to be a compulsive book finisher too, but I gave it up at about your age. Too many good books to waste time on the poor ones!

    5. Hi Beth, Didn't even see this part of your blog site...You are a voracious reader! I adore anything written by E. Gaskell!! Her novel, Mary Barton quite frankly moved me to tears and changed the way I think about my lifes blessings. So many have and do live with so so so much less than I. (am I self indulged) Her Cranford book was marvelous. Like the Mitford series I wanted to find this town and move there!!!! :)


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