Reply
Thread Tools Display Modes
#1
Old 01-21-2011, 12:07 PM
Guest
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Ravenswood (Chicago)
Posts: 1,987
James Michener novels

I read Centennial years ago and absolutely loved it. Which one should I read next? Which is your favorite? Any you didn't like? Any thoughts about the guy in general?
#2
Old 01-21-2011, 12:14 PM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Indianapolis, IN
Posts: 1,942
I've read most of Michener's stuff - he's one of my favorite authors. What you should read next kind of depends on what you liked about Centennial: did you like the character development or did you like the "location through history" piece?

In my experience, he writes two different styles of novels: there's the "location through history" novels, like Centennial, which have good character development but the location is the "main character", so to speak. The he writes more standard novels which focus almost exclusively on the characters and their development; Sayonara and The Fires of Spring are good examples of these.

My personal favorites, in no particular order are:
  • Caravans (characters)
  • The Source (location)
  • The Drifters (characters)
  • Centennial (location)
  • Chesapeake (location)
  • Texas (location)
  • The Fires of Spring (characters)
  • The Novel (a mix of both, but mostly characters)

You've opened yourself up to a lot of good books, my friend. Also, on a "about the man" point, he was a very interesting guy who was nice enough to write back to an aspiring 14 year old writer (many years ago) with encouragement and kind words.

Last edited by Indyellen; 01-21-2011 at 12:17 PM. Reason: Added style
#3
Old 01-21-2011, 12:17 PM
Guest
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 1,355
When I was in my teens (back in the 1970s), I read pretty much all of the Michener books. I haven't read any in the past 30 years, though.

My favorite was probably The Source, about Israel. I also liked the one about South Africa, but the name escapes me. Hawaii was pretty good. I didn't really like Centennial, but that could be because I think it was the last one I read, and I may have been burnt out on Michener by the time I got to it.

I read something about him a long time ago, and I don't have a cite for it. From what I remember from the article, he would go to the location of his book and live in the culture for a year. IIRC, he would take notes, but when he wrote the book, he didn't refer to them, preferring to rely on his feelings and senses.
#4
Old 01-21-2011, 12:19 PM
Guest
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 1,355
Indyellen, thanks for that breakdown. I recall reading Sayonara and not liking it as much as The Source. The way you described it, though, makes a lot of sense to me, because I really like the "location through history" piece.

There was a time when I gave serious consideration to writing a Michener-style book about Jakarta, Indonesia.
#5
Old 01-21-2011, 12:22 PM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Indianapolis, IN
Posts: 1,942
Quote:
Originally Posted by BobArrgh View Post
I also liked the one about South Africa, but the name escapes me.
The Covenant. I liked that one too. It falls in the category of "location", but it's really good and gave me a better understanding about South Africa and their culture.

Quote:
Originally Posted by BobArrgh
I read something about him a long time ago, and I don't have a cite for it. From what I remember from the article, he would go to the location of his book and live in the culture for a year. IIRC, he would take notes, but when he wrote the book, he didn't refer to them, preferring to rely on his feelings and senses.
That's true; the letter he wrote to that 14 year old so long ago was on University of Texas - Austin stationery; he was researching Texas at the time.
#6
Old 01-21-2011, 12:23 PM
Guest
Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: The swamps of Jersey
Posts: 1,170
I read The Drifters and I really liked it a lot. I don't think I read Centennial, if I did I don't remember it. I started reading Chesapeake and I didn't finish it, it didn't grab me like the Drifters did. Chesapeake reminded me of Edward Rutherfurd's (Sarum, Russka, London, The Forest, etc.) books that tells the history of a place through the eyes of the people who live there in different eras. I see Indyllen has them listed as good for characters or places, I guess I would like the ones for characters.
#7
Old 01-21-2011, 12:43 PM
Member
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: Bedrock
Posts: 26,079
I really loved Centennial too and want to go back and read it again since in the interim I've married into that part of Colorado. We've land next to Bent's Fort, hunt the same rivers and prarie, see the sugar beet works, pass by Rattlesnake Buttes, the Sand Creek Massacre site, etc. It's great having a sense of what the region went through, what's changed and what's disappeared.

I especially liked The Source, The Covenant and Chesapeake. I'll never forget reading of the skiffs with small cannon used to hunt waterfowl.

Texas for some reason didn't grow on me as well, even though I've spent most of my life there. Maybe I too was just suffering from a bit of Michener overload at the time.

Those all were enjoyed 25 or so years back. I think at the time Centennial and The Source were my favorites.
#8
Old 01-21-2011, 12:52 PM
Charter Member
Charter Member
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: A nice chunk o' NJ
Posts: 14,187
My #1 tip any time anyone asks about reading Michener: Go to a used book store and get the rattiest copy you can find of the book you want. It makes life so much easier when you can just tear out the pages and toss them away as you read them.

Actually, I always take his books and tear them into three or four smaller, more manageable sections before I even begin.
#9
Old 01-21-2011, 12:56 PM
Guest
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Almost Silicon Valley
Posts: 9,095
Hawaii is my favorite. I like to think of him living on the islands, and how pissed off the ruling missionary/merchant/Hawaiian royalty descendants must have been after he exposed their sensitive financial and religious histories.

I also like Caribbean. The explanations of the region's economy and ties with Europe, especially England, dovetail in neatly with my reading of 19th century English literature. I now understand the "rich West Indian heiress" meme which occurred so frequently.
#10
Old 01-21-2011, 01:02 PM
bup bup is offline
Guest
Join Date: Sep 1999
Location: glenview,il,usa
Posts: 11,905
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hal Briston View Post
My #1 tip any time anyone asks about reading Michener: Go to a used book store and get the rattiest copy you can find of the book you want. It makes life so much easier when you can just tear out the pages and toss them away as you read them.
That's not bad. I picked up Chesapeake a year ago at some garage sale or something and it's seen many better days. I just might rip as I go.

Last edited by bup; 01-21-2011 at 01:02 PM.
#11
Old 01-21-2011, 01:23 PM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 2000
Location: Somewhere
Posts: 3,077
The only one I ever read was Hawaii. I liked it okay, I guess. I picked it up because I was about to go live in Hawaii for a while, and I wanted to get in the mood. But unless I wanted to read a novel about some particular place, I don't think I would pick up another James Michener book. The style and the pace of Hawaii didn't appeal to me as much as the subject matter. I don't think he would ever become one of my favorites.
#12
Old 01-21-2011, 02:19 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: Tottering-on-the-Brink
Posts: 19,218
I loved most of Michener's books, and really admired his writing style.

I once wrote to him, and got a reply. I'd asked where he thought the characters in The Drifters would end up, say, twenty years after the novel ended. I was honored that he wrote back, I hadn't really expected him to.

I don't know if I have a favorite, but it may be Hawaii. There's a passage in which, after the fleeing Tahitians see the North Star for the first time, one character is trying to figure out the significance of a star that doesn't circle through the sky, but only changes elevation. He took the evidence the heavens put before him and figured it out, and, as Michener put it, "a greater thing than this no mind can do." For whatever reason I really liked this episode.
#13
Old 01-21-2011, 03:02 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Jul 1999
Location: omaha, ne
Posts: 2,956
When discussing Michener's novels, no one seems to ever mention The Source. This was the first Michener novel I read and is a fascinating read.
#14
Old 01-21-2011, 03:16 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Apr 2001
Posts: 22,458
Quote:
Originally Posted by longhair75 View Post
When discussing Michener's novels, no one seems to ever mention The Source. This was the first Michener novel I read and is a fascinating read.
It is cited by a few folks here as a favorite and is what I came in to recommend. That was the one I enjoyed the most...
#15
Old 01-21-2011, 03:23 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Oct 1999
Location: Gainesville, VA
Posts: 3,380
I read The Source when I was about 12 and really liked it. Never got around to reading any of his others, though.

Last edited by divemaster; 01-21-2011 at 03:23 PM.
#16
Old 01-21-2011, 03:28 PM
BANNED
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Tampa, Florida
Posts: 78,508
Has anyone here read The Source?
#17
Old 01-21-2011, 03:30 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: Near Philadelphia PA, USA
Posts: 11,682
I've read Hawaii, The Covenant, Centennial, and possibly one or two others. I loved all of them. That was years (decades!) ago. I haven't thought about Michener in a long time. This gives me some ideas for my Kindle.
#18
Old 01-21-2011, 03:30 PM
BANNED
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Tampa, Florida
Posts: 78,508
Quote:
Originally Posted by Indyellen View Post
What you should read next kind of depends on what you liked about Centennial: did you like the character development or did you like the "location through history" piece?
"Character development" is of course limited by Michener's standard format -- the book is never about a small set of main characters, because no one character is going to be in more than a fraction of the pages.

Of course, in The Source there was a modern archaeological team serving as a kind of tie-in throughout; but, that hardly counts, I mean, who has ever read it?

Last edited by BrainGlutton; 01-21-2011 at 03:32 PM.
#19
Old 01-21-2011, 04:52 PM
Member
Join Date: Apr 2003
Location: Seattle
Posts: 2,486
As a teenager I loved Hawaii, Centennial, Chesapeake, Poland, and Space. Not sure how much I'd enjoy them as an adult, though.
#20
Old 01-21-2011, 04:55 PM
Guest
Join Date: Aug 2002
Posts: 36,258
Another The Source vote. I read it many years ago and it taught me a lot (or led me to read things that taught me a lot) about the history of that region of the world and of Judaism.

I didn't care for Hawaii because it felt to me like I was reading a genealogy more than a novel, but I liked both movies based upon it. Centennial was made into a very long miniseries which allowed them to do real justice to the scope of the novel.
#21
Old 01-21-2011, 05:08 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Jun 2003
Location: Portlandia
Posts: 39,941
I've read pretty much all of them. I didn't care for Alaska, as it seemed he was just pasting together the reports of his research assistants. The Source was the first one I ever read, and the first quarter of it was a slog for me at that age. I really enjoyed Caravans for the descriptions of the Karakorum and the Hindu Kush. I also liked The Drifters for its descriptions of Spain. I was able to travel to Torremolinos and Malaga years after reading it.
#22
Old 01-21-2011, 05:26 PM
Guest
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: Vermont
Posts: 9,965
Quote:
Originally Posted by Baker View Post
I once wrote to him, and got a reply. I'd asked where he thought the characters in The Drifters would end up, say, twenty years after the novel ended. I was honored that he wrote back, I hadn't really expected him to.
Well??? What did he say?
#23
Old 01-21-2011, 05:29 PM
Guest
Join Date: Sep 2010
Location: Valley of Ki-moo-e-nim
Posts: 1,344
[QUOTE]
Quote:
Originally Posted by Baker View Post
I loved most of Michener's books, and really admired his writing style.

I once wrote to him, and got a reply. I'd asked where he thought the characters in The Drifters would end up, say, twenty years after the novel ended. I was honored that he wrote back, I hadn't really expected him to.
James Michener was genuinely appreciative of his fans, and always tried to answer letters personally, although sometimes the sheer volume of mail made it difficult. I'm curious about his response to the "twenty years after" question...would you mind divulging some of what he said? I've speculated on that question a bit myself, since The Drifters has always been one of my favorite novels. FWIW, here's what I came up with:

Joe would go to Canada to avoid prosecution for dodging the draft... probably ends up a forester working a national park somewhere.

Britta would grow old roaming the world with Harvey Holt. I figured she would lose her looks and gain a lot of weight.

Cato once a revolutionary, always a revolutionary. He'd probably be shot down in the street or wind up in prison.

Gretchen Writer or just possibly, a musician.

Yigal Finally gains tenure at Harvard or MIT

The Drifters was, I think Michener's best novel, although Centennial was nearly as good. But the Michener book I personally enjoyed the most was his own autobiography, The World is my Home.
SS
#24
Old 01-21-2011, 05:44 PM
Guest
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Australia
Posts: 1,104
It's not quite a 'location' novel, but a similar theme (and not mentioned yet): Space is one of my favourites of his. It's based around four families who play a part in a fictionalised version of the US space program in its early days. Dieter Kolff is a German engineer who escapes to the US; Norman Grant is a Pacific-war hero become senator; John Pope is a Korean-war aviator turned astronaut; Stanley Mott is an engineer who initially plans to rescue Kolff and ends up as one of the fledgling NASA's star engineers. Historical characters - Von Braun, LBJ, some of the astronauts - are visible as silhouettes, but the main action is with fictional characters.

Last edited by tavalla; 01-21-2011 at 05:44 PM.
#25
Old 01-21-2011, 05:50 PM
Guest
Join Date: Feb 2009
Location: Nowhere, WA
Posts: 538
I read Caravans a few times in my early teens and have had a weird fascination with Afghanistan ever since.
I have always wanted to travel there, but there hasn't really been a good time to do that in the last 30 years or so.
#26
Old 01-21-2011, 06:02 PM
Guest
Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Atlanta, GA
Posts: 7,713
I liked the few books of his that I've read. However, I thought Chesapeake told the same story over and over again, at times.

I think my (extremely well-read) uncle summed it up best when he saw what I was reading: "Michener? He wasn't a writer, he was a typist."

He meant it as a joke.
#27
Old 01-21-2011, 06:35 PM
Guest
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: Vermont
Posts: 9,965
Quote:
Originally Posted by tavalla View Post
It's not quite a 'location' novel, but a similar theme (and not mentioned yet): Space is one of my favourites of his. It's based around four families who play a part in a fictionalised version of the US space program in its early days. Dieter Kolff is a German engineer who escapes to the US; Norman Grant is a Pacific-war hero become senator; John Pope is a Korean-war aviator turned astronaut; Stanley Mott is an engineer who initially plans to rescue Kolff and ends up as one of the fledgling NASA's star engineers. Historical characters - Von Braun, LBJ, some of the astronauts - are visible as silhouettes, but the main action is with fictional characters.
Historical novels present history as it could have happened within the historical record. Having the last mission to the moon end in fatalities on the moon's surface represents a MASSIVE change to history, one which would have had major consequences for the space program, the country, and, potentially, the world.

I love Michner's writing, but I can't forgive him for this.
#28
Old 01-21-2011, 06:41 PM
Guest
Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Atlanta, GA
Posts: 7,713
Quote:
Originally Posted by BrotherCadfael View Post
Having the last mission to the moon end in fatalities on the moon's surface...
I guess I'll never read that book...
#29
Old 01-21-2011, 07:12 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: The land of the mouse
Posts: 46,774
What? Not even a mention of Tales of the South Pacific? It's not technically a novel, but a series of interconnecting short stories, that still are far more interesting as a story than the R&H musical. Plus, it isn't 1000+ pages long, nor does it start with the creation of the Earth (Jimmy did get self-indulgent and under-edited after he got famous).
#30
Old 01-21-2011, 08:14 PM
Guest
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: right here
Posts: 156
I like to read an author's works in the order they were written, if that can be determined. It's usually, but not always, the same order they were published. It's interesting to see how the author has developed his style and ability over the course of a lifetime of writing.

I had the impression that in his later books Michener had lost his love of writing but he was still one of the best.
#31
Old 01-22-2011, 06:17 PM
Guest
Join Date: Sep 1999
Location: Liverpool NY USA
Posts: 9,722
I loathed The Drifters. I hated every character and hope they all were dead 20 years later.

I loved Hawaii, must have read it a half dozen times.
#32
Old 01-23-2011, 10:29 AM
Charter Member
Join Date: Jun 2003
Location: Portlandia
Posts: 39,941
For the OP, after you finish the Michener books (which should take you a few years), you should start in on the Leon Uris books, if you haven't already read them. Mila 18 was probably his best and Exodus his most well-known.

Last edited by Chefguy; 01-23-2011 at 10:29 AM.
#33
Old 01-23-2011, 11:06 AM
Suspended
Join Date: Mar 2002
Posts: 18,476
Mitchener wrote novels like "Sunlife" made movies. He had a research division that came up with ideas that people liked. Then he had a staff of ghostwriters who wrote the body of the novel-Mitchener himself would fill in the details.
he was like a "Old Master" painter-he paid assistants to do the bulk of the picture-while he painted in the faces.
Nothing wrong with that-Tom Clancy does it all the time.
Which is why his stories all read alike.
Or John Gresham with his "idealistic young lawyer takes on corruption" series of 'novels"-you only have to read the first chapter, and you will know exactly how things turn out.
#34
Old 01-23-2011, 12:56 PM
Guest
Join Date: Sep 2010
Location: Valley of Ki-moo-e-nim
Posts: 1,344
Quote:
Originally Posted by ralph124c View Post
Mitchener wrote novels like "Sunlife" made movies. He had a research division that came up with ideas that people liked. Then he had a staff of ghostwriters who wrote the body of the novel-Mitchener himself would fill in the details.
he was like a "Old Master" painter-he paid assistants to do the bulk of the picture-while he painted in the faces.
That particular rumor got repeated a lot, even during his lifetime. Michener, however, catagorically denied it. Per his autobiography, he did hire (at his own expense) research assistants to search out reference material that pertained to the work-in-progress, but he did all the research himself as well as all the writing. He was meticulous in constructing his books, and did solicit input and suggestions from his editors for the extensive rewriting he did, but again the words were all his own.

For his large novels, he would move to the area he was writing about and spend on average three years on each book. The first year was generally spent in research, the second, at the seven-day/week job of writing the draft, and the third at rewrites and publishing. He did the initial draft more-or-less off the top of his head, then spent a great deal of time revising and refining the work. Michener said, only half-jokingly, "I am not a good writer, but I am a masterful re-writer".

I am unable at the moment to locate my hard copy of "The World is my Home" to get an exact cite, but the author was sensitive to the charge that he did not do his own work, and went to some lengths to disprove it.
SS

Last edited by SeldomSeen; 01-23-2011 at 12:57 PM.
#35
Old 01-23-2011, 01:10 PM
Guest
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: South Bay
Posts: 83,789
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chefguy View Post
For the OP, after you finish the Michener books (which should take you a few years), you should start in on the Leon Uris books, if you haven't already read them. Mila 18 was probably his best and Exodus his most well-known.
Good call. Michener is a great writer of "light" reading material. IMHO, Uris is a bit more serious. I really enjoyed Trinity. Of the Michener novels, I'd definitely say Centennial was my favorite. The mini-series was not bad, either.

ETA: For the OP, I'd recommend Hawaii next. Either that or The Source.

Last edited by John Mace; 01-23-2011 at 01:12 PM.
#36
Old 01-23-2011, 08:10 PM
Guest
Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: Maine
Posts: 1,137
Quote:
Originally Posted by John Mace View Post
Good call. Michener is a great writer of "light" reading material.
Light! You must be kidding! I swear all of his books weigh 10 pounds at least!
#37
Old 01-23-2011, 09:18 PM
Guest
Join Date: Nov 1999
Location: DC
Posts: 19,401
I enjoy reading his books, and they are great in "desert island" situations where you need something that is light but still takes a long time to get through.

But I can never quite get past his inability to write female characters. Obviously he's not known for his nuanced characters, but this flaw is especially apparent when he writes women. They are all beautiful, busty, a little bit feisty but still sensual, etc. It really grates on my nerves.
#38
Old 01-24-2011, 07:39 AM
Member
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: Bedrock
Posts: 26,079
Quote:
Originally Posted by ElvisL1ves View Post
What? Not even a mention of Tales of the South Pacific?
Apologies for a huge oversight on my part as I adored this book. Yes, a fantastic series of shorts. Remember the one about the pilot that was shot down near an Japanese-held island? He started to drift toward it and the soldiers began to fire at him so the still circling members of his squadron began to strafe the island until they ran low on fuel. Then a PBY came in to rescue him and it too was shot down. Another rescue effort finally was sucessful and, afterwards, the point was made that despite the huge cost for all the planes and effort, the PR bonus alone probably made it all worthwhile. American servicemen knew that no matter what they were going to be protected and the Japanese knew that their country would never ever mount such an operation to save one life.

Anecdotally, I was working in the Texas Panhandle back in the 80s and got to talking to a grizzled, old veteran that owned an area store. Our conversation turned to the war and I mentioned Michener, that I was reading Tales of the South Pacific and about this story in particular. His eyes began welling up with tears, he got very choked up and then said three or four times "Son, I was there, I WAS THERE!" I asked if he meant in the war and he said no, he was part of that actual rescue effort.

We talked for probably another hour and I stopped by frequently afterward just to visit. The stories that old man had would reach into my very soul and hold me spellbound.
#39
Old 01-24-2011, 09:19 AM
Guest
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: N.O.T. Land!
Posts: 6,061
I liked Alaska, Hawaii and...one about somewhere in
Spain, hrm...Iberia, that's it. Admittedly I don't think I've read any others, but I sure did like those.
#40
Old 01-24-2011, 08:14 PM
Registered User
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Soplicowo
Posts: 2,083
Quote:
Originally Posted by Taomist View Post
I liked Alaska, Hawaii and...one about somewhere in
Spain, hrm...Iberia, that's it. Admittedly I don't think I've read any others, but I sure did like those.
Iberia is not a novel, but it's a great book. Most of my itinerary in Spain was influenced by it.
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 03:56 AM.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: [email protected]

Send comments about this website to:

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Copyright 2018 STM Reader, LLC.

Copyright © 2017
Best Topics: proform 775s spyder definition vision puns mairzy doats alternative to nutmeg packard straight 8 microsoft hearts croaker sacks modelo translation urine plus bleach loafer lightener new beard itch white veal salary discrepancies types of scary movies was bingo the farmer or the dog pink floyd doctor who how to get prescribed oxycodone for back pain what to wear to an informal interview how long does it take for blood to dry buying airline tickets for someone else aol mail search doesn't work what is jesuit university what was your high school mascot? how to open a car door that is stuck why do deer poop pellets