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"So it goes."

Ella Mc's book blog. Brand new 2018 - Only books read after 1st January 2018

Currently reading

The Witches of Eastwick
John Updike
Progress: 100/307 pages

Five-Carat Soul - surprising, imaginative short stories

Five-Carat Soul - James McBride

James McBride is probably best known for his moving memoir The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother. He's been writing for a long time, and these short stories are a priceless glimpse into an original mind.


The stories are tremendously varied and full of imagination and wonder. Some stand alone, and others are grouped. As it happens, my least and most favorite were among the grouped stories. Least favorite, sadly, has the best title - The Five-Carat Soul Bottom Bone Band. It's about a group of kids in a place called "the Bottoms" who have wait for it.... a band. The biggest problem was that the best story came first and they just went on without another high point. None is awful, but they don't stand up to the level of every other story gathered here.


My favorite grouping was five connected stories about a group of animals living in a zoo, Mr. P & the Wind. These stories are just beautiful, imaginative, fantastic and strangely: the most human, despite all coming from the point of view of said animals, AKA "Higher Orders." If this is what zoos are really like, I might start to visit them again. They all were so enchanting. I could easily read a book-length group of these if they stayed at this caliber. Interestingly, at the end of the whole book, McBride notes:

In 1986 I took my two nephews, Dennis and Nash McBride, who were little boys back then, to visit a major zoo in one of America’s big cities. They were so horrified by what they saw, I wrote Mr. P and the Wind for them.

Somehow, days after finishing, as I argued with my Kindle to just let me finish the book without writing a review on that silly little keyboard (they never actually post anyway,) reading that bit made the stories even better.


The Christmas Dance is also superb. Of course, he gives away some of the magic with his title, but it's the getting there that makes the difference in all good reading, so I wasn't upset to land where I expected, and it didn't make my eyes any drier when we arrived. In fact, I'd mostly not thought about the fact that I knew where it was headed since the title! A lovely gem right in the middle of the book.


I doubt if I'd just read The Under Graham Railroad Box Car Set - the first story (and yes, it's Graham, not ground, you'll have to read it to find out why) - without the audio I borrowed from the library to go along with my copy (I started, read a glowing review of the audio, found the audio on the library site & grabbed it...) OK, that sentence was long, even for me.


So, without the audio, I doubt the first story would have grabbed me the way it did. But since I had the joy of wonderful audio, I completely bought into this story. It's long and detailed, about a topic I have zero interest in (toy collecting.) Nonetheless, I was entranced. The voices didn't always stay at the caliber of that first one, but when they were good, they were tremendously good. The zoo stories were also fabulously acted. I find that I tend to read and listen twice when I have two copies, and I'm wondering how this might affect my memory for things I read in tandem, but that's a research project I don't have the energy for right now.


The imagination in these stories is fabulous. Truly amazing to think about, given the breadth of the topics covered. Other stories that deserve mention are The Moaning Bench and The Fish Man Angel was quite touching.


You can't go wrong with this group of surprising and imaginative stories.