Coffee Share 210326: Review of Winter’s Tale

This is a Weekly Coffee Share Essay.
I’m part of a small group of bloggers who stay in touch and chat about blogging, writing, or just about anything else that might be of interest.
Link to This week’s full list
Link to my Story Blog:  Table of Contents.

It was a cold night, one that you could feel through the walls of even a well-insulated home; almost like it had a sense of anger, of outrage or spite, and when dealing with weather acting as if it were somehow wronged and anxious for revenge, what exactly is a person to do?

As the sun slices open the gray sky from the east, the person trying to avoid further angering the moist, cold air will nudge the furnace a bit higher, grab a blanket and a hot cup of dark tea or coffee and curl up and bundle up to quietly appease the annoyed air with peace and grace.

fighting robin 1

It is a cold morning here in Sonoma county and as if to remind me that I’m not the only one annoyed by the weak showing I should expect by the sun today, our enraged robin is back from last year.  This guy really should have knocked himself out of the gene pool by now because last year he selected one window in our home as his enemy and oppressor of all things that might comfort a robin and his job, his mission really, is to physically assault the window which, of course is completely futile and oddly entertaining as the house and rooms inside sit quiet, caring for their residents who are reading and just beginning to face their own challenges of the day, when our small flying thug, again throws himself at the window and fills the rooms with a sharp crack followed by the splashing of wings and tiny bird feet against the glass impervious barrier.  He shocks both the concentration and tea cups of those inside.

“Man!  That has to hurt.  Why does he keep doing it?”

“Perhaps he’s defending his territory from an aggressor which is only his own reflection.”

“Hummph. Sound like a metaphor for any number of social ills these days.”

 – – = = ( o ) = = – –

So, welcome to my humble coffee share venue.  Again, I’m thrilled to have a few moments to share and catch up with you.  Today, I’m paying off a debt I created two months back.  Do you recall a previous share when I mentioned a book I was reading, “Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin?  Well, I finished it and wanted to close the topic with a quick review and recommendation.

In short, this book is worth reading, but perhaps for reasons different than expected. I’m estimating this long read is on the order of 265,000 words, so by deciding to read it, you’re making a commitment, longer than many other books present.  If you count the number of books-read each month, this one will depress your average.  But — and this is important. I think it merits your time.

Mr. Helprin clearly loves the English language and bathes his readers in it.  This tale has action, spontaneous romance, flowery imagery, fights, tension, rescues, calamities, social commentary from lower to upper levels of society, time travel, laugh-out-loud scenes, reincarnation, magic and miracles all unfolding for readers with an entertaining and adroit use of English.  The book is page — after page — of English entertainment.

coffee and book I’ve let many mugs of tea go cold as I swam through this long English channel, wonderfully distracted by some of the most clever mental images that I so wish I’d written myself.

I’ve got a pretty good vocabulary and still found it helpful to keep my phone nearby where I could quickly instruct, “Okay Google.  Define {some obscure word}” which allowed me to quickly discern the author’s intent and not lose momentum in consuming the story.

In my list of attributes above, I’ve already spilled a few spoiler beans, so won’t make it worse by detailing the story itself any further.  I will add the comment though, that it is not as important as I normally hope for from a book.  I had read something small from this author that intrigued me enough to want to experience his work without much advance knowledge.  I mostly knew that this story has proved to be popular over time and enough so that a movie has been made from it and that he has several well-respected works.  So, I secured a used hardback, a true dead tree tome that I could entertain myself for many, many hours with no screen interface or battery interruptions.

I’m very glad I decided to take this trip and predict that if, with eyes-wide-open, you decide to take it as well that you will be rewarded with a very memorable read that you’ll not soon forget.

But there are some weaknesses that, in all fairness, I should call out.

First, I doubt that this book would find a publisher today.  This is a very long story. The average reader in 1983 and following, had a much longer attention span that many readers today and “Winter’s Tale” has a lower ratio of story-detail-significance to story length than pretty much anything I’ve read in several years.  If you want each scene to matter to the story — well, this book will likely frustrate you.  Once I understood this, things flowed along just fine but even with that, I was finding myself thinking that this scene or that one most likely doesn’t matter and caught myself looking to see how much longer this trip was going to take.  And, I was right.  There were many scenes that simply did not progress the overall story.

The message of this story is not as important as is the massage of how Mr. Helprin’s words flow.  You have to understand this, accept and enjoy it. Few of us learn much from a good back rub, but, “ohhhh, ummm. Yes, right there. How good it [crack] uuh”, feels. . .

As I neared the end, I could tell that this story was not going to be neatly tied up and all the loose ends resolved, because they were not important to what Mr. Helprin was creating. He took care of the major items but if fairy tale everyone lived happily ever after endings are important, Winter’s Tale may disappoint.

The enduring value of Winter’s Tale is English used as a mental lotion or bath beads you can just lay back and soak in.  I found it unwound me from daily tensions and inspired me to want to write and Mr. Helprin does – very – very – good.

I hope you give it a try and remember to circle back to let me know if you agree that Mark Helprin’s, “Winter’s Tale” is a long reading journey well worth the taking.

That’s it for me.  Thanks for stopping by.  I’ll be around to visit your share shortly.

Blessings all! 

GW bio card 4

19 thoughts on “Coffee Share 210326: Review of Winter’s Tale

  1. I love the good use of words by writers too. A really long book would be daunting if it didn’t engage me. The robin photo is great. I am glad we don’t have any kamikaze birds here. Would it help to put a decal on the window?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah – I like the phrase, kamikaze birds and it certainly fits this guy. We’ve tried blocking the whole window from the inside hoping it was a reflection thing but no joy and it blocks out a large portion of the sun my wife lives for.
      Winter’s Tale was engaging, just long and some parts just felt less-than-needed for the sake of the story. You might love this book page by page, but the length may defeat the enjoyment. It’s too bad, because trimmed down some, the story would be more engaging in my opinion. It was a great read but certainly not for all readers these days.
      Thanks for stopping by Deb.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Try to place a few decals in bird shape on the window, they should help. We use them here to prevent birds flying into windows and break their necks or wings. Thank you for sharing your book review with #WeekendCoffeeShare.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Shari. Thanks for this feedback. I was trying to ‘almost sarcastically ‘ sound like something from Winter’s Tale, but think I’m not made of the same stuff. Still, it was fun to attempt. Given your novel goals for this year, I would not advise you to pick up or engage the story until later after you at least have your project well into its last lap. Thanks for stopping by.
      You’re always welcome here.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You’ve piqued my curiosity there. I’ll have to see if I can find that book. Sounds like the kind of read that would keep my mind and intelligence engaged for more than an hour (the average time it takes me to read an average book). Things are pretty good here after a rough start Monday morning (hubby seizures, fish died). Hubby has an interview Monday with a company in Ohio…. we’re praying. Have a good week. Hossana! It’s Palm Sunday! Got your Palms handy???


    1. Hi Bear.
      We finally went back to real church last week, except it was in a huge tent right beside a perfectly good building 🀨
      It sounds like you are a very fast reader and even knowing you as remotely as I do, think you would enjoy it a lot. I got my πŸ“– from Amazon used and bet there are more copies available there.
      But, as you heard me in my essay, his English usage alone would be enough for me. Let me know if you go for it. Hope your husband is doing well and owns that interview. I’ve done lots of hiring and know something about doing well in an interview. Tell him if he would like to chat about it, I’d be willing to give him an ear and maybe advice if I have any for his opening.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I ‘ll tell him, Gary. He’s pretty good at interviewing. He’s interviewed with this company before over a decade ago… Lost out then because of the no drivers license thing. Now, even without he can boast a perfect attendance record and always a few early. It looks good for him, but doesn’t help me with work. If he gets this position, it’s near people we know who’ve told me recently (last weekend) to let them know and some doors will open for me, too. Part time, which is what I want… And working with children which is what I love. So, we’re being positive and hopeful.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s a commitment and a half to make! At first I thought you were talking about the Shakespeare play but then googled the story. That robin sure looks angry! We have a peewee (you might call it a magpie lark?) who does something similar – but only at certain times of the year when he’s in defence of territory mode against his own reflection. Have a fabulous weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That’s a mighty long book but thanks for the recommendation. I’m reading Barack Obama’s latest book and often need to check the meaning of a few words. My vocab is also pretty large, but I love it when I learn new words.
    We have a window or two with small chips from birds flying into them. I also don’t understand that impulse. Your robin looks pretty pissed off though – not surprising πŸ™‚
    Have a great week.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Regina. I am glad to have read it but it was long. Lacking the author’s use of English I would have been tempted to give up as there were so many patches in this quilt that I knew he was never going to be able to resolve all the dangling threads.
      Yea, I all but cheered when I found that photo of the angry robin. It was perfect for my crazed flying thug. Thanks for stopping by. For you the tea pot is always at the ready.


  6. Hi Gary and Regina, kudos to you both for taking the time to look up words. I think often people gloss over the words or try to guess based on context or what they think the words mean. I learned about dictionaries from my mother (She read them!) and all through college and seminary I always kept my dictionary at arms length and no farther. I wanted to be able to reach it without having to move. I am listening to Michelle Obama’s book becoming and she talks in the book about how well read a nd how smart Mr. Obama is, so it doesn’t surprise that he would use some words worth exploring. I don’t think I have the attention span for a long read, not at the moment, but I can appreciate being drawn to a writer’s work based on how they choose and use their words. Wonderful picture of taht poor Robin. As to Palm Sunday, I cheated this year and ordered Palm Crosses. It’s nice when people are talented enough to make them from fresh palms, but with COVID, even though we have been inside our building since February 21st, I have been planning each week cautiously. Blessings for a thoughtful and fruitful Holy Week and Easter. Michele

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Michelle.
      I too used to love my dictionary but I also hated it. Almost every time I paused reading to use it I would always notice a nearby word that had to be examined, then another until I had to slam it shut to get my brain back to, umm, what was I reading again?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. . . . defending his territory from an aggressor which is only his own reflection . . . . Now that is one heck of metaphor .
    Its sunny and stifling hot this side of the world I almost wish winter would come so I can wish its all summer again

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, to live always hoping, wanting but never able to sit back satisfied, unable to enjoy the sun for lack of rain or the rain for the lack of the sun. Tell me again about metaphors and please pass me a slice of warm cake topped with cold ice cream.
      ummmmmmmmmmmmm. . . .

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for the honest book recommendation, Gary. I am always looking for good book recommendations. Oh, those male birds…they literally knock themselves out trying to rid their territory of potential rivals. I didn’t realize you lived in Sonoma County. What a beautiful location!

    Liked by 1 person

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