23. The Best Book I’ve Read Lately

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

The best read I’ve had in a while. Quick summary: Family secrets come out when a man is found wandering outside a studio exec’s office. But it’s really so much more than that.

Dude. Read this book! It’s funny, it’s well written, and it’s got a beautiful message. It’s been 4 days since I finished the book and I’ve already recommended it to people 6 times. I even recommended it to a stranger on the El. Every person in my 8-person strong book group liked this book.


On a shallow level, you could tell people it’s an unkind look behind a Hollywood picture, the epic disaster (at the time) of Liz Taylor’s and Richard Burton’s movie, Cleopatra. But on a literary level, it’s about the difference between right and wrong. This book is about creativity. This book is about the algebra involved in living; the choices we make that add to or subtract from the sum that is our life.

Every one of Jess Walters’ messed-up and enjoyable characters’ lives has a purpose: sometimes to their detriment, sometimes to their glory.

I’ve complained before about books that bring up other formats in the story arc that the reader never sees. Like in Snow, the narrator is a poet, but the reader never experiences a single poem (just an uninteresting diagram of poetry in the shape of a snowflake). This book mentions a play, a movie script, and a WW2 biography. And eventually each format is naturally entwined into the plot line. The other formats add a lot to the story arc and they are just as entertaining (read in: fabulously ridiculous!) as the main story.

One of our members mentioned the care the author took to use font and style choices appropriate to the time in which the play, script, and novel would have been written. For instance, the WW2 novel was in very blunt typewriter font – appropriate for a novel that was written in 1942.

The only criticism that was brought up was the scene with Valeria cursing Michael Deane over the water. Her reasons for cursing Michael weren’t clear. I believe as far as the reader knows, the two characters had never interacted.



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