When you find a gem, share it with the world
One of my favorite things is curling up with a great book. When I find one that resonates with me, I feel so grateful that I go out of my way to become a fan. I’m a fast reader, but when I meet up with one of these beauties, I dole out the pages a few at a time, wanting the magic to go on forever. My most recent lucky collision with literary greatness was with a small gem of a book: News of The World by Paulette Jiles.
The book is set in Texas during the aftermath of the Civil War. It tells the story of an elderly veteran of three wars, Captain Jefferson Kidd, who scrapes out a living traveling through Texas and reading the news aloud to citizens in rural outposts. For $50, he reluctantly agrees to transport a young girl, Johanna, through 400 miles of desolate terrain and return her to white relatives. Though she was kidnapped by the Kiowa at 6 during a brutal raid that left most of her family dead, she considers herself a member of the tribe and has forgotten the English language.
The story of this unlikely pair’s harrowing journey was riveting to me. Paulette Jiles is a poet and her writing shines with imagery that I found searing and luminous. It speaks to me much as poet Mary Oliver’s work does. In Jiles’ deft hands, the relationship that develops between Captain Kidd and Johanna is at first halting, bittersweet, and riddled with frustration. But soon a profound connection between them blooms.
The grief Johanna feels for the Kiowa family she has lost—and the bafflement she exhibits when faced with the niceties of “civilized” society— made my heart ache for her. Captain Kidd is, it turns out, an ideal guardian for such a fragile soul. He exhibits a willingness to engage in savage battle tactics for survival’s sake, while always holding true to his core values of decency and compassion. His stoic acceptance of the trials they face along the way and his patience with Johanna’s meteoric moods made me care for him with real tenderness. When he is faced with a terrible choice near the end of their journey, the weight of his decision brought me to tears.
Spreading the word to future fans
Since I read News of The World, I’ve been evangelizing on its behalf. I recommended the book to my book club and it’s on for next month’s meeting. I reviewed it on Amazon and Goodreads. Basically, I’ve been talking it up nonstop. I’ve spent the last 6 months promoting The Girl from Oto. I love my book, but there’s something freeing about promoting someone else’s book—mainly because there’s no pressure. I have absolutely no stake in being Paulette Jiles’ fangirl, other than I want other people to experience the magic of reading her book.
I’m now working my way through her other historical novels. I browsed in bookshops and found Stormy Weather, which is set in the 1930s, also in Texas. Next up is Enemy Women, which I ordered from my local bookseller. After that, The Color of Lightning.
Wait, we’re not all fans of the same books?
Even though I am Paulette Jiles’ number one News of the World fan (no, not like Annie Wilkes of Misery fame—not that kind of number one fan) I know some people hate her book. How? Try this: go to Goodreads or Amazon and check out the reader reviews of your very favorite books. As crazy as it seems, it turns out some people were not fans of those books. In fact, some people hated those books. I felt so indignant reading bad reviews of All the Light We Cannot See and other books I consider my favorites. But every highly-touted book has at least 1% 1-star reviews online. It doesn’t matter what Kirkus Reviews or The New York Times Book Review or Oprah’s Book Club says. Some people will hate a book no matter what. This is very helpful to remember when you get a bad review of your own.
Here’s what I learned when I checked out reviews for News of the World. Most of the reviews are glowing and effusive. Some are just so-so. But there are also people, it seems, who are indignant to the point of apoplexy when a writer does not use quotation marks for dialogue. Jiles chose not to use them for News of the World. If you’re one of those people who can’t stand the absence of quotation marks, I just saved you the agony of finding that out for yourself. But if you love writing that conveys a poet’s eyeview and can tolerate dialogue without quotation marks, please please please put News of the World on your reading list.