Tag Archives: John Berendt

Book Review: “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”

This week’s book, John Berendt’s historical non-fiction, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was the 8th book in our book challenge, and the first non-fiction book of the challenge! With murder, voodoo and… drag queens… Berendt’s novel was a great choice for October’s Halloween themed reading.

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Berendt’s novel is less of a “story” and more a dictation of Berendt’s years in Savannah, Georgia. Berendt narrates his own experience in the city, explaining his interactions with the various sides of Savannah society, ranging from the elite, 7th generation Savannahians, to the nouveau riche, to the outcasts of society. Set in the 1980s, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil seems a pretty outlandish story – made even more interesting by the fact that it is true!

A visitor to Savannah, Berendt is immediately swept up by Savannah’s beauty – from it’s gardens to it’s stately mansions – and decides to split his time between Savannah and his hometown, New York City. The longer Berendt spends in Savannah, the more friends he makes, and the more friends he makes, the more exposed he becomes to the underlying tensions in the city. Berendt clearly outlines the still prevalent “caste system,” that places importance not only on socioeconomic background, but on upbringing and, most importantly, race. Savannah may have lead the way in integrating in the 1960s, but it seems it was only to seem “proper” rather than “right.” The defined classes – “old blood/old money, old blood/no money, new blood/old money, new blood/new money, white middle class, white lower class, black” – are ingrained in Savannah more so than the beautiful architecture. These classes also help drive the main drama in Berendt’s novel – a shooting in a stately mansion.

Berendt spends the first half of his book introducing you to the characters. He could have left this out, and the main point of the story (the shooting and the trial) would still have been interesting, but by including such a deep explanation of the characters, Berendt really makes you feel like you are in Savannah, interacting with these people. From the shooter, Jim Williams, to local con-man, Joe Odem, to the “Grand Empress of Savannah” (drag queen) Lady Chablis, Berendt seems to have met everyone of note in Savannah, and been exposed to the various faces of the city. A lot of time and words are spent explaining and introducing characters who have no sway on the main plot line, but these words make the book much richer and much more interesting. It’s hard to believe there are such diverse and interesting people all in the same few blocks of Savannah.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is exceptionally well written! The pages turn quickly, and soon you feel like you are there, walking the beautiful streets of historic Savannah. The story is the perfect combination of drama, snobbery, humor, history and mystery. It really does have something to offer every reader. Personally, I felt the most interesting part of the story was the explanation of the revival of Savannah starting in the 1950s, and how the city was rescued and restored. I’ve always been interested in the beautiful Southern city, and now I’m determined to visit as soon as I can. Berendt tells a wonderful narrative of a typical Southern town – complete with Cotillion balls and elite, membership only organizations – and introduces the “seedy underbelly” that comes with every city – drag queens running a muck, Voodoo priestesses spreading curses. It’s almost too much to believe, but Berendt takes you there.

I really enjoyed this week’s reading. As I said, the beginning of the story was a little slow, but getting to know the characters made me feel like I was really part of the story. I hope anyone who read along with me enjoyed this book, and look forward to your thoughts on this book!

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Week 8 Reading: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

As we move into Week 8 (sorry… day behind here, folks! It was a busy weekend!), we’re picking up John Berendt’s non-fiction book (yay! first of the challenge) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

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The story revolves around a crime that happened in Savannah society, and should prove to be both thrilling and intriguing. I’m excited to read this book. I found it in the mystery section of the used book store, and both the cover and the title made me think of the book as a good (and different) selection for our Halloween themed reading for October. The exciting part is that the book is non-fiction, and the crime in it actually happened!

I hope you are reading along with me, and if you are, I hope you’ll discuss this book with me at the end of the week!

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October Reading

The end of September is rapidly approaching, and with it the first month of my 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge is coming to a close! It’s hard to imagine that: 1) I’ve actually kept up with my schedule so far; and 2) It’s almost Halloween!! Cannot wait!

Speaking of Halloween, the holiday was the inspiration for the book selection for October. That’s right – October’s theme is “Halloween” (surprise surprise)! Now, I didn’t want to just pick horror novels, so I dug deep (and asked for inspiration from some great friends) and came up with a list of books I’m happy with. So, without further ado, here is October’s book selection!

Sept. 29 – Oct 5. – Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

  • This novel is a good crossover between September’s “Movie/TV” theme, and October’s “Halloween” theme. Shelley’s classic horror novel has been adapted into dozens of different movies, and her monster has been played by everyone from Boris Karloff to Robert De Niro. In 2014, Aaron Eckhart will don the bolts in “I, Frankenstein” (the verdict is still out on that one…). What better way to start off our Halloween month than with the real story?!

Oct. 6 – Oct 12The Mist – Steven King

  • Here comes a really embarrassing admission: I have never read a Steven King book before. Not once. I’ve seen plenty of the movies (I love horror films), but never picked up one of his books! I should probably be rewarded for this feat considering that it’s almost impossible to avoid his book with how many he’s written, but… it’s just never happened for me (my mother is probably gasping in horror at this point because I know she encouraged me to read The Stand at different points in my life… sorry, Mom). Why did I choose The Mist? Well, if I’m being honest, it was the only one at the used book store that I hadn’t seen the movie adaptation for, and I was anxious for a new scary story!

Oct. 13 – Oct. 19Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – Seth Grahame-Smith

  • Well, we finally have our first comedy book on our list! This “biographical horror story” tells about Abraham Lincoln’s secret life as a vampire hunter! Did you know he not only created great social change in America, but also rid our country of vampires? Join me in reading all about his heroic life! This should be a good break from the horror novels, and bring some “light” to our Halloween theme! This book was  a recommendation from a friend (thanks Shannon!!!), and I can’t wait to give it a shot!

Oct. 20 – 26 Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – John Berendt

  • This book is our first non-fiction on our list, as well as our first mystery story. It tells about a group of society ladies in Georgia who are somehow connected to a shooting that is being investigated … but is it murder or self defense? To be honest, I wouldn’t have picked up this book if it weren’t $2.50 at the used book store (and the lovely cover art and intriguing title helped, too). I’m not much into non-fiction or mystery, but I have been surprised before!

Oct. 27 – Nov. 2 – Guilty Pleasures – Laurell K. Hamilton

  • I’m always excited for recommendations from friends, and this was the first book my wonderful friend Katrina handed me when I told her about my book challenge idea. Guilty Pleasures is the first in a series of books called “Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter Novels” and revolves around the heroine’s attempts to rid the world of vampires – in a time when vampires are protected by the law. I always love a strong female lead. Apparently there are some strong sexual undercurrents in this novel. To be honest, I was thinking about incorporating one of the Sookie Stackhouse (“True Blood”) novels into this challenge, but Katrina’s recommendation that I give Anita Blake a chance won me over. I’m sure the title give enough of an idea what kind of “smut” to expect.

So there you have it, folks. My carefully prepared list of “Halloween” themed books for the month of October. I hope this gives you enough time to get to the library, find the ebook, hit up the used book store, or find a friend who can loan them out to you! I can’t wait to read these books with you, and start getting into the Halloween spirit!

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