Sitzbook Review: “The Pillars of the Earth”

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As you may know, this isn’t actually a baby picture blog… or at least that hasn’t been the purpose of this blog since I started it in 2006. But then we had a baby, and of course I had to show him off. I love Will, but I also like to write about other stuff as well. Like books.

As I mentioned on my Sitzbook page, this year I’m doing things a bit differently, reading just one book per month, instead of one per week. I knew that having a baby would cut into my reading time, and I was right. However, I did make it at least a bit interesting and challenging by setting a minimum number of pages for each book: 500. I’ve already had to fudge that limit for February, but it was pretty close. I didn’t have to do that at all for January’s book, though. The excellent Pillars of the Earth came in at a honking 1008 pages.

Honestly, I can’t believe that I read this less than three months ago. It seems like half a lifetime has passed. That, combined with the book’s huge scope, means that I’ve forgotten some of the details. I do remember having a general impression of being…well, impressed. The book is about a village’s efforts to build a cathedral in the 12th century. On paper/screen, that sounds like it could be dull, but the characters are very well-developed and interesting. Except maybe the women. I’m not sure if this book is really progressive or really chauvinistic. On the one hand, the women characters do seem fairly strong, but in reality they probably were oppressed pretty uniformly, and I wonder how many of the strong women could have actually existed. Basically, I’m not sure if it’s patronizing or not.

In the end, though, the 1000 and change pages flew by quickly. Angela had to go to quite a few doctor’s appointments, and although Costa Rican doctor’s appointments always involve hours of waiting, I always seem to be the only one reading in the waiting areas. Who knows why, but that helped speed my progress along nicely. When I was done with the book we also watched the 8-episode miniseries on Netflix. It was also very good, although of course they had to condense and cut some parts out. But on the whole it was a pretty faithful adaptation, and it was nice to visualize a lot of the structures and churches, which I’m not very good at doing when I read.

I’d give the book a 15/17. It was very entertaining, but I have to admit I’d be unlikely to re-read it in the future due mainly to its bulk. I’d maybe check out the miniseries again, though.

So, that’s my first review, and it’s only a few months late. I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to keep up with a monthly review as long as I have a bit of time to write them. Has anyone else read this book or seen the miniseries? If so, I’d love to hear what you thought of them.

Thanks for reading, and have a good Easter weekend!

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2 thoughts on “Sitzbook Review: “The Pillars of the Earth”

  1. I read it! Actually, I never would have known the book existed, but my stepmom highly recommended it and passed it on to me when she’d finished. And then I passed it on to a couple of my book club friends, who also thought it was riveting. I agree with you–I never would have thought I could enjoy a book about building a cathedral, set in that gritty, unpleasant era, but I did. And I sort of felt like I learned from it, too, both general culture of the time and architecture, as well as a little history since it’s SO up close and personal. Witnessing (and actually understanding the complex motive behind) Thomas Becket’s assassination? I’ll never forget that.

    • I agree! I’d known next to nothing about that era, but I feel I learned a lot. I did have to do some searching after I finished the book to determine what parts were real and based on true events (like Thomas Becket’s murder), and what was just historical fiction. But I also like that it woke up my mind and made me interested enough to actually do that.

      I probably would have written Ken Follett off as the type of author whose books you always see for sale on racks at airports (mainly because you CAN find them there), but now I have a lot more respect for him. And maybe I’ll have to think again about my opinion regarding other airport bestseller authors!

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