elsewhere, but the main part of that story is that I do have personal respect for the man, after a chance encounter with him at a Books-A-Million years ago.
A huge crowd of women were fluttering around an author. He was a clean cut, preppie-ish kind of guy (I remember that his blue shirt had an unfortunate white collar.) Normally, I like to meet authors, but when I found out it was Nicholas Sparks, doing a book-signing, I tried to skirt around the crowd. His handler stopped me.
"Don't you want to meet the author?"
"No thanks," I replied.
"But he's rather good. Have you read his books?"
"Umm. Yes, but I'd rather not meet him."
"You've read his books and don't want to meet him? Why not???"
"I'd rather not say," I said, trying to break the iron grip she had on my arm.
"He'll sign one for you."
"No thank you."
At this point, my struggling to get free caught the author's attention. He rose from his signing table, the red sea of women clustering around him parted and he came over to me. He was quite polite, and attentive, and inquired why I was so adamant about not participating in the book signing. Again, I demurred. He insisted. Did I like his book? Well-- no, not exactly. He pushed for details. I'd had enough and let loose with what I thought.
To give him credit, he didn't blanch though his handler did, and I actually heard a hiss from one of the ladies in the crowd. He thanked me for my opinion, and said he would rather have someone who vehemently disliked his book that someone who said it was so-so. At least he'd stirred a strong emotion in me. For a long time, that was the only thing I liked about Nicholas Sparks. Now, there's this book.
Three Weeks With My Brother tells more than the story of two brothers on what would, by any counts, be a fabulous trip. Mr Sparks takes the reader back to the beginning, invites us into his home, warts and all. The Sparks children had a unique upbringing: laissez-faire in some senses, but with certain iron-clad principles and a lot of love, that held the structure together. That the family was financially strapped is somewhat of an understatement. That they were resourceful, is another. In some senses, I was reminded of my husband's childhood in upstate New York. But the bonds in the family were strong, as became apparent when tragedy struck, again and again.
This story, of the Sparks family, interwoven with the brother's story of a round-the-world trip fascinated me. I thought so much of my two brothers finding both similarities and disparities. There's a lot of humor and honesty in the telling. Sparks' faith is evident, as is his strong love for his family. Clearly it was what has carried him through the deaths of the rest of the family and other obstacles that would have felled many others. I can relate to that handing on that combination of love and faith, because it got me through my own periods of grief. And now, like Nicholas Sparks, I am grateful for the love of a phenomenal spouse and the love of the only remaining member of my family, my older brother. I'll probably never take a round the world trip with him, but thanks to this book, I can read of one.
Though it's hard for me to believe, I really liked this book. I still won't read his fiction, even knowing from this narrative where the inspirations were. But remember that respect I felt after our brief encounter in that Books-A-Million? It's skyrocketed. I hope some day to have the chance to tell him that in person -- just as long as I don't have to read The Notebook again to do so.