The Source – A Review

The SourceThe Source by James A. Michener
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Set aside plenty of time for this read – it’s a lengthy tome. But you’ll be glad you did put in the effort.

I love this book. I use the present tense because I’ve just read it for the third time and I anticipate I’ll read it again and again. My first reading was when my grandmother bought it for me not long after I returned from a stint on a kibbutz. The second time was when someone bought the book for me after I lost the original – I gave it to someone and they never gave it back, don’t you just hate that?. And now I’ve re-read it for the third time.

The Source is a hugely ambitious novel, taking in the history of civilisation and religion. It starts with a fictional archaeological dig and it takes the form of a series of short stories related to each layer of the dig interspersed with what is going on in the present day. Primarily, it’s about Judaism, but it also includes the birth of Christianity and Islam (and all the schisms in between).

If you love history and you find religion fascinating, you’ll love this book. I’m an atheist, but the explanations at the beginning for why a group of people might have started to believe in some kind of greater being were wonderful. All through the book, you see the various religious, political, cultural and societal issues emerge, and their contribution to what happens next.

It’s also darn good story-telling. Each of the short stories that take place years apart (in some cases thousands of years) is actually quite a long short story, but I found myself wanting to read on every time, even though I knew what was going to happen because I was reading the book for the third time.

At times, the archaeological dig pieces feel a little heavy-handed, two of the main characters basically serve as mouthpieces for two different peoples. But the extended end piece pulls everything together terrifically. The book was published in the mid-1960s, and there are several predictions in it about what will happen in the future. See if you agree with what Michener’s characters predict…

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Editing – the Difference

Recently, I sent a sample of my work to a professional proof-reader/editor out of curiosity. What could she do? It was an interesting exercise. I didn’t agree with all the changes the editor made, but I really liked what she did.

Here are the before and after versions.

BEFORE

Combine the world’s most delicious cheese sandwich (trade-marked) with drug and alcohol-fuelled hunger, and a soft-hearted, impulsive gesture and there you have it. The basis for a romance. Who’d have thunk it?

Nell and Daniel Murray met at university – that is to say, Nell was a student at university and Daniel was a 20-year-old young entrepreneur who had figured out that the students who occasionally wandered off course and into his Glasgow High Street deli shop for gourmet sandwiches might appreciate the closer availability of those sandwiches at other times. Times such as a Thursday night, post the weekly disco held in the union hall.

Daniel persuaded his father to lend him the money to buy a cheap van. He then converted the van to a mobile sandwich-making and preparing venue, and he parked outside the union hall every Thursday from 10pm. At that time, he targeted the swotty students who weren’t prepared to sacrifice study time on a Friday for a hangover.

As the night progressed though, sales rose dramatically. Daniel had always been a practical person. He couldn’t understand why students wouldn’t reason to themselves that they were only yards from their student halls and bedsits so why not conjure up their own sandwiches at tiny costs to themselves?

As he said to his Thursday night sandwich assistant, “ours is not to reason why”, congratulating himself on the high-brow sound of the phrase which seemed imminently suitable for the university setting. Not reasoning why left him to enjoy raking in money as leery students crowded around the van and demanded sandwiches, often two at a time.

Nell wasn’t a frequenter of the Thursday night disco. Not because she was a swotty type – though she had progressed well in her studies so far – but because she loathed not being able to hear herself think and being chatted up by drunken morons. Her words, not theirs.

AFTER

Combine the world’s most delicious cheese sandwich (trademarked) with drug and alcohol-fuelled hunger, and a soft-hearted, impulsive gesture. And what do you have? The basis and foundation of a budding romance. Who would have thought it?

Nell and Daniel Murray met at university – that is to say, Nell was a student at the university and Daniel was a 20-year-old young entrepreneur. He had figured out that the students, who occasionally wandered off course and into his Glasgow High Street deli shop for gourmet sandwiches, might appreciate its closer availability at other times…times, such as a Thursday night, post the weekly disco held in the union hall.

Daniel persuaded his father to lend him the money to buy a cheap van. He then converted the van to a mobile sandwich-making venue. He parked outside the union hall every Thursday, 10 PM onwards. This was the time he targeted the swotty students, who weren’t prepared to sacrifice their study time on a Friday, for a hangover.

As the night progressed, the sales rose dramatically. Daniel had always been a practical person; he couldn’t understand why the students wouldn’t reason to themselves that they were only yards away from their student hall and bedsits and could easily conjure up their own sandwiches at a marginal cost?

As he conveyed this to his Thursday night sandwich assistant, he retorted that “ours is not to reason why” and congratulated himself on the high-brow sound of the phrase, which seemed imminently suitable for the university setting. Not reasoning why, allowed him to enjoy raking in the money, as leery students crowded around the van and demanded sandwiches, often two at a time.

Nell wasn’t a frequenter of the Thursday night disco; not because she was a swotty type – though she had progressed well in her studies, so far. In fact, it was because she loathed not being able to hear herself think and being chatted up by drunken morons – her words, not theirs!

 

Pic thanks to Nic McPhee.