How to Buy Your First Parker 51

Since there’s a good chance that people reading this post, about buying your first vintage fountain pen, will want to purchase a Parker 51, I thought I’d write a separate post with a few extra tips on how to get a good, working Parker 51 at a decent price.

So, one of these pens costs upwards of $400 and the other can be purchased for closer to $40. Which is which?

This is one of the dilemmas facing a new Parker 51 buyer: you’ve heard that this is a great vintage pen, but you can’t make heads or tails of its market value. How do you know what to buy and that you aren’t being ripped off?

Here are a few things worth knowing, if you want to buy a Parker 51 that you actually intend to use. If you’re looking to buy a pen to collect, this is not the guide for you. I’m assuming that you want a good, writing pen that will last you for years and won’t break the bank.

  • Check if the pen is a vacumatic or an aerometric Parker 51. You can either ask the seller, or take a quick glance at the pen body. If there’s a visible seam near the end of the pen, its a vacumatic. You want an aerometric, because they’re cheaper, easier to use and clean, and generally have less issues requiring repair than their earlier counterparts. Aerometric Parker 51 have a filling system that looks like a modern squeeze converter: a sack covered in a metal sleeve. The sack is transparent when the pen is brand new, but 95% of the time you’ll see sacks that are discoloured to a black, opaque state. That doesn’t affect the workings of the pen, but the more transparent the sack is the higher the pen’s price will be. You don’t need a pen with a clear sack to enjoy your 51. Just press the sack to check that it’s still supple (it usually will be. The sacks aren’t rubber so they don’t crumble with age), and remember: you’ll need 4-5 presses to fill the pen properly.
  • Most of the value of a Parker 51 pen lies in the cap. I know, that sounds weird, but since the body has no markings (usually), there’s really note much else that can differentiate between one Parker 51 and another (we’ll get to the colours later, I promise). Gold, gold-filled, coin silver and sterling silver caps will make the price of the pen skyrocket. Telling the gold apart from the Lustraloy (regular) caps is easy, but don’t worry, you won’t get any silver capped 51 for less than $150, so that’s how you can tell even if you don’t want to ask the dealer. But by all means, ask the dealer. Sterling silver caps are stamped, as are the gold ones. The gold filled caps are merely marked as gold filled, and if your heart is set on them they aren’t wildly expensive usually (they actually cost less than a modern Edison or Franklin Christoph pen, so long as you’re going for an aerometric in a common colour).
  • Caps that are even slightly dinged or nicked, visibly scratched or have lost the frosted lustre in their Lustraloy also seriously devalue the price of the pen. A brand new Lustraloy cap has a frosted finish and shiny bands on the top and bottom. The pen in the middle of this photo is NOS, and you can see that it looks different than its well worn neighbour to the right (the black pen). Gold filled and gold caps are usually dinged in some way if they were used, and this is the case of the demi Parker below (the grey one). Needless to say, the state of the cap doesn’t affect the writing experience with the pen, so you can get 51s for a song if you’re willing to go with a common coloured pen with a Lustraloy cap that’s seen some wear. It doesn’t even have to be dinged – just the existence of significant micro-scratches is enough.
  • In order of rarity the common Parker 51 colours are: Black, Navy Blue, Grey, Burgundy, Teal. None of these colours are rare, and none of them should raise the price of the pen.
  • If the pen is NOS or stickered and sold as almost NOS, walk away. That significantly raises the price for a pen that’s meant to be looked at, not used.
  • All Parker 51s use a slip cap mechanism. That means that oftentimes a well used pen will have scratches, abrasions and visible scuffing on the section (the part of the pen above the band, near the nib). That also devalues the pen, but like other cosmetic flaws it does nothing to affect its writing capability.
  • So what does affect the Parker 51’s writing capability? The tipping material. The thing you absolutely must check before buying a Parker 51 that you intend to write with is how much tipping material it has left. This may be a little tricky, because in finer 51 nibs you may not see how much tipping material there is on first glance. The trick is to look at the pen nib not from the side, but from below. Look at this 51 pen nib for example. Without a loupe it’s difficult to see from the side how much tipping material is left on it:

 

  • Hard to tell if there’s a lot of tipping material left there or not.

The answer is to flip the pen and look at the flip side of the nib. The tipping material looks like a shiny dot on the tip of the nib. If there’s no shiny dot and you just see the gold nib, the tipping material is gone. You’ll also feel it immediately when writing, as the pen will drag over the paper instead of floating on it, and may even be scratchy. Parker 51 nibs don’t get misaligned very often, so a scratchy nib usually means the tipping material is gone.

  • A medium Parker 51 nib with plenty of tipping material left

    A fine Parker 51 tip with some tipping material left. This should still last for years of use.
  • Parker 51 pens have gold nibs, unless they’re Parker 51 Specials, in which case they have steel nibs, shiny caps and a black jewel on top. I personally am not a fan of the 51 Special, but if you are, they’re usually an inexpensive way to get into your first vintage fountain pen.
  • There are two lengths of pen body, the full size Parker 51 and the shorter Parker 51 demi. I don’t recommend buying the demi because they’re too small for even my tiny hands  to use with comfort (without posting), and they tend to cost more because there were less of them made.
  • As usual, personalization of any kind on the pen body or cap makes the price of the pen severely drop.

Bottom line: you can get a phenomenal gold nibbed pen in a beautiful Jetson design for less than $100 if you know what not to pay for. Now can you tell which pen is the Plum?

How to Buy Your First Parker 51

How to Buy Your First Vintage Fountain Pen

I just listened to the latest Pen Addict Podcast, where a listener asked for tips on buying their first vintage fountain pen. I have well over 100 vintage fountain pens, and I’ve been buying vintage fountain pens since the early 2000s, so I decided to take the time and write a guide to buying your first vintage fountain pens (for the sake of this guide vintage fountain pens are those made before the ’70s).
  1. First, set a budget. Vintage pens are no different than modern pens in this respect, but somehow vintage fountain pen buying guides tend to skip this step. You can get great vintage fountain pens for under $50 and well over $500. Pick a number you’re comfortable with, and stick to it, no matter what.
  2. Decide why do you want a vintage pen:
    1. Flex – You’re looking to add line variation to your writing or drawing. Apart from dip pens, vintage fountain pens are the cheapest way to get that desirable flex. No modern fountain pen, despite any manufacturer promises, offers the line variation of a vintage flex fountain pen, and the premium you pay for a bit of springiness in modern nibs is painfully high. Vintage fountain pens also offer flex “combos,” such as italic flex, needlepoint flex, etc. And if you’re considering the Noodler’s fountain pen lineup, I recommend going dip pen instead. They require less fiddling and are more reliable.
    2. Gold/Specialty Nib – You want to get into gold nibs as cheaply as possible, or you want non-standard nib configurations (a fountain pen that works on carbon copy paper, perchance?). You can get fantastic gold and crazy nibs on vintage fountain pens for much, much less than certain manufacturers ask for a generic steel nib pen with a colourful plastic body.
    3. Looks – You can find a vintage fountain pen that utterly matches your style, whether it’s an understated elegant pen, a stunning showstopper one, or an out of this world wacky wildcard pen. Did I mention also that these lookers will likely cost you much less than any modern equivalent?
    4. History – You’re looking for something with a past, with a story. It can be something that’s passed down the family, a treasured pen found in an estate sale and begging to be researched, or a bold attempt by a brazen small company to create something completely new.
    5. Quirkiness – Things were wild in the heyday of the fountain pen, and you want  a piece of that. Retractable and adjustable nibs, crazy filling mechanisms, pens made out of strange materials: works of genius and madness that call out to you.
    6. Collectable Value – This is the first thing people think about when they hear about vintage fountain pens, and there’s a reason it’s the last on my list. If this is what interests you, I highly recommend walking away before you even start. This isn’t a money making venture. There are no great deals or finds to be made. All the good ones have been taken long before you, and are now passing from hand to hand, available only to people in the know. If you get into vintage pens for another reason and then decide you want to collect a few of the same kind, maybe nab one that’s a bit hard to get – fine. Otherwise, you’re getting into a losing game.

    P1010319
    Ugly no name lever filler with phenomenal gold wet noodle nib and feed, in utter user-grade condition. Bought for $30. 
  3. Your next move depends on what you chose in the last step:
    • Flex – Get thee to a vendor. Writing samples on the internet are lovely, and they’re a great way to shop for inks. Vintage flex needs to be held in hand and tested. Go to a pen show or a vendor and specifically ask for pens with a flex nib. Then ask to dip them, and try writing with them. Be very gentle at first, until you figure out how the nib works. The magic of vintage flex isn’t so much the nibs themselves, it’s the feeds. A good vintage wet noodle can keep the ink flow going even when you’re writing in giant poster letters. A modern pen’s feed will give up and you’ll end up with railroading. Things to remember:
      • A vintage flex nib may look wonky (dropping, slightly wavy). Ignore that – the test is in the writing. If the vendor won’t allow you to dip test, say thank you politely and walk away.
      • You’re interested in the nib, not the pen. Ask if the filling mechanism works (99% of the time vintage flex are lever fillers), and check the body for cracks. That’s it. It can be a black chased hard rubber (BCHR) Waterman brown with discolouration, brassing, and 3 different personalizations, it shouldn’t matter. You’re there for the nib, and the uglier the pen, the cheaper it’s likely to be. Vendors used to not even repair these ugly ducklings until recently, when the interest in vintage flex spiked and people figured out that you can get a wet noodle for $30.
      • The maker doesn’t matter. Waterman made great vintage flex nibs, but people know that, so you’re going to pay a premium for it. Some of my best flex nib pens are from no-name small manufacturers, and I got them all for a song. Waterman is great, just don’t get locked in to looking only at them. Test the nib and let it speak to you.
      • If you want to be extra sure that the pen works, ask the vendor to fill the pen for you once you’ve completed the purchase but before you’ve left the table. Just don’t forget to empty the pen out if you’re going on an airplane later on.
      • Never touch a pen, especially not a flex nib pen, without talking to the vendor first.
P1010317
Ugly no name Italian pen with personalization, bought for the phenomenal flex italic nib. Bought for £25
    • Gold/Speciality Nib – Much of what applies to flex nibs applies to these types of nibs. Unlike with flex nibs, online shopping for vintage gold/specialty nib pens is an option, but going to to a pen show or a vendor and try them out is still the best and safest approach. Don’t buy for the pen’s looks or condition (beyond checking that it works and there are no visible cracks), but for how it feels to write with this nib. Things to remember:
      • Great vintage pens with gold nibs are very common. If the price for a pen is high, you’re not paying for the nib, you’re paying for something else. Walk away.
      • If you just want your first gold vintage fountain pen, I recommend the Parker 51. You can get a great one for well under $100 (often under $50 if the body’s been personalized), so long as you aren’t fixated on one of the rare colours or an early year. Focus on aeromatics, in Black, Navy Grey, Burgundy, Forest Green, Midnight Blue, Teal Blue with a lustraloy cap. You pay a premium for special colours, caps in gold and sterling silver, red band vacumatic filling systems, and the cap condition. If the cap is dinged or lost its frosting, or if the pen is personalized, you can get it for a song. The Parker 51 nibs are PHENOMENAL. There’s absolutely nothing like them, and they make your writing look great. This is a large part of their appeal. The nibs aren’t graded, and most of them are in the fine-to-medium range. Just make sure there’s plenty of tipping material when you buy the pen (try out the pen and feel if it’s scratchy/look at the tip/ask to see a close up of it when buying online). The Parker51 website and the Parker forum on the Fountain Pen Network are a great place to learn more about these pens.
      • Speciality nibs are harder to find, so focus on two companies: Esterbrook or Pelikan. Both made great pens with a wide variety of interesting nibs, and both can be had relatively cheaply. These pens were also built like tanks, so they’re very likely to be in great working condition when you buy them, just be sure to ask. If you’re in Europe, Pelikans will be cheaper for you to acquire, and if you’re in the US Esterbrook is your friend. These are also pens that you can buy online relatively safely. Start with the Fountain Pen Network Esterbrook/Pelikan forums (FPN is still the #1 resource for vintage fountain pens), Esterbrook.net or the Pelikan’s Perch to educate yourself and purchase pens. I’ve purchased great vintage Pelikans from Berlin Collectibles, but again, I’d recommend trying the pen in person before going to the online shopping route. Esterbrook is going to be significantly cheaper than Pelikan, and you can buy one pen body (I recommend the J) and several nib units. But Pelikan has phenomenal OB, OBBB, OBBBBB… nibs that Esterbrook just never made.
P1010318
Esterbrook J double jewel (i.e. super common) with a 9556 nib. Bought for $16.5
P1010310
Pelikan 140 with a flexible OM gold nib. Piston filler, bought for 120 euros.
    • Looks – this is probably the hardest one to give recommendations for, except go to a pen show and look around to see what catches your eye, but there is one thing worth noting. If there’s a particular design you like but it’s beyond your budget, look for “knock offs” made in the same era. Smaller makers made great pens “inspired” by more expensive ones made by the big manufacturers. You can get a Parker Vacumatic Golden Web look alike for $50-$80, gold nib and all, and only you’ll know that it’s a lever filler made by a no-name Italian maker and not the real deal (don’t sell it as such, though).
  • P1010309
    Waterman, bought for the crazy look and the superflex nib. Notice how the nib looks dented.
    • History – tell friends and family that you’re into fountain pens, and you’ll likely be inundated with old pens that they’ve found in the back of desk drawers. Most of them will be ruined, but you may get grandpa’s Parker 51, or grandma’s Esterbrook nurse pen, you never know. If it’s something from the family, I recommend investing in having it professionally repaired and restored if the history aspect interests you. Otherwise, this category of purchase requires dedicated research. I’d check the Fountain Pen Network, and go on from there. If you like to know that your pen had a past, skip stickered pens and go for personalized ones and you’ll also save a lot of money.
    • Quirkiness –  this is the most fun category. Go to a pen show or vendor and ask if they’ve got anything strange. A pen with a weird body design/colour. A pen with a strange filling mechanism. Something wild engineering attempt to make the pen leak proof. The prices here can vary a lot, depending on whether the pen works or not, and if you plan on restoring one of these and they have a strange nib or filling mechanism take into account that it will add a lot to the price, and not every restorer will take the job. I wouldn’t start with one of those.
    • Collectable Value – don’t. If you really, really want to, go to the relevant Fountain Pen Network forum and check what everybody’s wild about. Don’t go by what eBay sellers call “rare,” and remember that not everything that’s rare is desirable.
P1010308.jpg
One of these is a user grade black Parker 51, and the other is a plum Parker 51. Would you pay well over 4 times the price of one for the other?
How to Buy Your First Vintage Fountain Pen

Zebra Mildliner Review and Journal Comic

I love highlighters, so long as they’re not the blindingly neon ones, as I find them distracting. So when JetPens first offered the Zebra Mildliner Double-Sided highlighters, I had to give them a try. Theoretically, like all highlighters, they are supposed to help you organize your notes. In reality they just add a little colour to my usual mess.

Highlighter pen bodies tend to be on the chunkier side, oftentimes square shaped. The Zebra Mildliners are just slightly thicker than usual pens, and very light. If for some reason you have hours of highlighting ahead of you, these ought to be pretty comfortable to use.

As their name suggests, these highlighters are double-sided. One size is a small chisel tip, and the other is an even smaller bullet tip. I had a hard time achieving coverage with the chisel tip in one go, but I’m not a stickler for these sort of things so it didn’t matter much to me. I was more interested in the Zebra Mildliner’s muted, and rather original colour palette.

This is a close up of the three Mildliner colours that I got: Mild Grey, Mild Orange and Mild Smoke Blue.  None of these colours are standard: the orange looks more like a peach than a traditional orange, the mild smoke blue looks like a muted teal or a light blue black, and I’ve never heard of a gray highlighter before. It sounds like an oxymoron: grey highlighter. But here it is, and it’s pretty cool (no pun intended, plus it’s a warm grey anyway).

Apart from having fun with these in the journal comic above, I tried these on a variety of pens and inks. I’ve been using these highlighters for over six months now, but I don’t highlight over anything but gel pens normally. As expected, these behaved the best with fineliners (see the comics above) and with ballpoint pen. This being Clairefontaine paper may have made the Uniball Signo gel refill drying times long enough for the highlighter to smudge the text a bit even after a full minute. The Ohto Flash Dry is just a miracle refill, but the Noodler’s Lexington Grey just floored me. I never expected to see a fountain pen ink stand up to highlighter so well, so quickly, especially with such a broad nib and on this paper. Phenomenal.

The Zebra Mildliner Double-Sided highlighters come in 15 colours. I don’t recommend buying them all; find yourself a “standard” colour, a “wild” colour, and another that’s your favourite. Despite what I personally may think, you can have too many highlighters.

Zebra Mildliner Review and Journal Comic

In Case of Loss

One of the most iconic things about Moleskines is the “In case of loss, please return to” on the front endpaper. You are supposed to write your name and address on the supplied four lines, together with an enticing, but not too enticing reward. According to Adrienne Raphael this feature of the Moleskine sees little use. If you’re Casey or Van Neistat you label every notebook cover with Whiteout, offering a cash reward.

img_0125-1.jpg

I just write my name and email, and with “let’s talk” in the reward line. I started filling the “In case of loss” at first because at the time I could barely afford to buy a Moleksine and they were really difficult to obtain, so I wanted a chance to get them back if I ever misplaced them. Over the years filling these lines has become a habit, a ritual that makes the notebook mine instead of just another notebook. I never thought that I would come in use.

Until last year.

I used my Moleskine to journal during a night flight from London to Tel Aviv. In the rush out of the plane I didn’t notice that I forgot my notebook in my seat pocket, together with my beloved Ti Arto. I got home at around 3 AM after a sleepless night, and crashed to sleep. When I woke up a few hours later and realized that I lost my journal you could hear my howl around the block. I beat myself up and then contacted the airline (the brilliant British Airways), as well as the Ben Gurion and Heathrow lost and found, in the faint hope that someone found my notebook and didn’t toss it out with the garbage.

A few hours later, while I was still mourning my loss, I got an email.

The Customer Service Manager on my flight had found my notebook, saw my email address on the “In case of loss” page, and had emailed me. There are good people in the world, and one of them was the manager on my BA flight.

Two weeks later my journal arrived through the mail, and I nearly cried when I saw it.

You see, when I first filled that from page this wasn’t a special notebook. I had bought it on sale, it wasn’t a favourite limited edition of mine, and I had just randomly selected it from the shelf when I filled my previous Moleskine.

But then I wrote in it.

By the time I lost it the notebook contained memories of my dog, which died two months before, notes from my London trip, ideas for a short story, and a lot of snippets of everyday life. It had become meaningful, irreplaceable.

So when you crack open a new notebook, any new notebook, take a moment to jot down your name and email at least. You may plan on only using it for grocery lists right now, but you never know what the future holds.

In Case of Loss

Moleskine Fall 2019 Catalog

Moleskine has issued their Fall 2019 catalogue and it’s even more interesting than their Spring 2019 one. As usual, here are the highlights:

  • Classic Notebook Expanded. Johnny Gamber will be happy to see that these are staying on. 400 pages of goodness, which are for some reason also offered in soft cover. <shrug>
  • Classic Leather Notebooks. These got wider release (not just Barnes and Noble) and get more vibrant options besides Black —  Amber Yellow, Forget Me Not Blue, and Bordeaux Red. They feature thicker, 100gsm paper (as in the Two-Go notebooks), and are fountain pen friendly (as are the excellent Two-Go notebooks), but come with 176 pages instead of the regular 192 (soft cover) or 240 (hard cover).
  • Two-Go. These just got a colour change to one of their ribbons (it’s white now).
  • Blend Collection. Four new fabric designs/colours in the FW2019 Blend collection that are added to the four new fabric designs/colours in the SS2019 Blend collection. The covers on these are phenomenal and Baron Fig has a lot to learn from Moleskine when it comes to using fabric. These are still only offered with ruled paper, which in some ways makes sense (still what Moleskine sells the most) but I wish that they at least offered them in one other kind of ruling (dotted?). These all look smart and professional, and they do have a more “wintery” look to them.
  • Planners/Diaries. Fall is the time of year for these and Moleskine offers a LOT of them, in various colours and designs. This year’s limited editions are Alice in Wonderland, Star Wars (so, so pretty), Le Petit Prince, Dr Seuss, and Doraemon. My guess is that the Alice in Wonderland and Star Wars ones will sell much faster than Le Petit Prince or Dr Seuss, so if you like them, pre-order them.
  •  Limited Edition Notebooks. My favourites! Let’s dig in, shall we?
    • Harry Potter. The Boy Who Lived keeps getting new limited editions and that’s not really surprising. What is surprising is that Moleskine is coming out with 7 (!) Harry Potter notebooks, one dedicated to a pivotal moment in each book, with four coming out this year and three more coming out in Spring/Summer 2020. All the notebooks share a design language, and the four that are coming out this year are very good looking. The very popular Marauder’s Map edition is getting a fresh take as part of a limited edition, numbered box with a poster as an insert (something that Moleskine hasn’t done for a few years now).
    • Star Wars. Also not the first limited edition for this franchise, and this one has everything I look for in a Moleskine Limited edition. Somebody really thought about the design, the quotes, the colour scheme, and they’ve managed to create a nostalgic feel for a Sci Fi themed notebook.
    • Dragon Ball. THE FIRST DOT GRID LIMITED EDITION, you guys! Who’s excited? I’m excited! Is there anything else that needs to be said? (OK, quickly then: four notebooks, two ruled, two dot grid, really well designed, and there’s a chance that the covers are cloth covers, which gives the whole edition 10,000 more points in my book).
    • David Bowe. I kind of expected Bowe to get a limited edition before Bob Dylan, but Dylan got his in the spring. I think that these are nicer than the Dylan notebooks, but I really need to see one without the paper band to tell.
    • James Bond/007. Moleskine’s second attempt at making a 007 notebook and overall it looks better. Two notebooks, one blue and one black, with the 007 logo and the iconic swirling gun barrel, a secret code table on the B-side of the paper band and a themed sticker sheet. Simple but effective.
    • Year of the Rat. Chinese New Year! It’s nice to see Moleskine trying some new and interesting things with their limited editions, and these are puh-retty! Two notebooks (one red and one blue) and one boxed notebook (not numbered), each with 2 lucky red envelops, and all of them very well designed. Simple, evocative, beautiful.
  • Watercolour Blocks. These are interesting but a little strange. Moleskine’s appeal has always been that they are one of the few to offer halfway decent hardbound watercolour notebooks that can be used on the go. There’s a lot of fierce competition in the watercolour pad market and I really don’t understand what Moleskine are doing there. Waterford, Canson, Strathmore, Bockingford, Windsor Newton, Daler-Rowney, Fabriano, and even Clairefontaine offer artist grade and student grade watercolour pads. Why buy Moleskine’s, especially when they still offer only 35% cotton paper?
  • Log Book. I assume that this was created with the Bullet Journaling crowd in mind, but the dotted paper, index, numbered pages, thicker paper, pen test section, flap and double ribbons will have a wide appeal.
  • Voyageur. This popular, themed notebook is getting two new colours: Hibiscus Orange and Elm Green.

That’s it for me. I’m not interested in the “Smart” stuff or the accessories, and there’s enough here as there is. It looks like 2019 is going to be an excellent year for Moleskine, and I can’t wait to get my hands on several of these notebooks.

 

Moleskine Fall 2019 Catalog

Tournament of Books: House of Broken Angels

I finished reading the last Tournament of Books  novel a few weeks ago, but I waited with the review until I could gather my thoughts about the whole experience. That’s a little unfair to what’s turned out to be one of the best books in the tournament, so my apologies to Urrea. The “The House of Broken Angels” by Luis Alberto Urrea was up against “So Lucky” by Nicola Griffith in the sixth round of the competition.

To call “The House of Broken Angels” heartwarming seems somehow insufficient. It is a heartwarming tale of a man celebrating the last days of his life with his extended family. It’s also an immigrant story, a story of overcoming abuse, poverty, racism, and your own preconceptions even when you’re on the verge of death. It’s a story of one generation passing the torch on to another. It’s a story of women finding their voice in a world of men. It’s a story with tremendous tragedy and a lot of humour. It’s a story about the poetry of everyday life.
But most of all it’s a story of family and love, created without cynicism or cliche: unique, realistic, flawed, and intensely powerful.
In two days life, in its mundanities and most profound and heroic moments, unfolds before your eyes and leaves you at times laughing, crying or merely breathless with anticipation. Urrea moves you from past to present, from one character to another, effortlessly and seamlessly. It’s one of the few cases that I’ve seem where a complex narrative structure feels like a light read simply because it’s so well created.
This is a must read, especially these days, when the Mexican and Latino population in the US is constantly under attack.

There’s not much in common between “So Lucky” and “The House of Broken Angels” apart from them both being centred around people who have fallen seriously ill. “So Lucky” deals with the first days of dealing with illness, and the “The House of Broken Angels” with the last. The protagonist in “So Lucky” is a lone woman, and in “The House of Broken Angels” it is a man surrounded by a large, loving family. The trick lies in reading the acknowledgements in the end, as it is then that you discover that both narratives are based on the true life experiences of the authors. That adds impact to the stories in some ways, but I think that it mainly creates a level playing ground where they both have a similar gravitas and you can simply judge them by their merits. I highly recommend reading both, but that being said “The House of Broken Angels” is a much better work of fiction. It’s also more enjoyable to read despite its oftentimes tough subject matter, and unlike “So Lucky”, it’s a literary novel and a story of its time that is also timeless. Imagine comfort food that isn’t boring and provides you with all your daily nutritional needs and you’ve got “The House of Broken Angels”.

Have you not read it yet, mijo?

Tournament of Books: House of Broken Angels

Tournament of Books: There There

There There” by Tommy Orange was originally going to be the last Tournament of Books  novel that I read, but because “The House of Broken Angels” was delayed by the post office, it turned out to be the penultimate book to be read. It was up against “America is Not the Heart” by Elaine Castillo in one of the toughest rounds to judge, at least for me.

Wow this book was quite a ride. There are 12(!) protagonists in this book, and a good deal of the subject matter is difficult, but the challenge is worth it. The stories of several Urban Indians converge as they gather to celebrate the Great Oakland Powwow.
Are all the characters necessary? No. But most of them are, and the story that emerges, of urban Native American life is worth reading. It’s a tight-knit and small community so there are a lot of ties between the various characters, and it could have been a very small, very anecdotal story if not for Orange’s moving interstitial background passages. The tragedy of the characters’ lives is made manifest through these pieces, and the result is not unlike a patchwork quilt, where a lot of small parts make a beautiful, interconnected whole.
Not an easy read, well worth your time.

Tournament of Books: There There