An Evening with Ken Follett

Two years ago, I was talking with my fellow English-teacher friends about books whose characters we still carried around with us.  (Yes, we actually have discussions like that.) One of the women said without hesitation, Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.  And all of a sudden two others seconded that nomination and the three of them sat and gushed over it for ten minutes, all the while I wanted to crawl under my desk because not only had I not read it, I hadn’t heard of it.  (This, friends, is actually even more humiliating in my Englishy-teachery world than I am making it sound.)  I immediately got my hands on the nearest copy and nearly fainted when I saw its breadth–900+ pages.  I had never in all my years of reading tackled a book that long.  But lest I be left in the dark from that discussion again, I started the epic story of characters in a medieval setting called Kingsbridge and followed them over decades of the building of a cathedral in Europe.  I couldn’t put it down.  I was obsessed with carrying the book with me everywhere I went.  I read at the dentist, at the park, between my classes, at red lights, in standstill traffic on the downtown connector, and any other chance I could find.  I took it with me to a cabin with friends, and I was absolutely anti-social and distant all weekend, as all I could do was sit in the rocking chair on the screened-in porch and read about Tom Builder, Ellen, Jack, Aliena, and other characters that I still reflect on wistfully.  I missed them when the book was over.  As soon as I finished Pillars, I started its sequel, World Without End, which is set in the same town, just in the next generation.  I loved it just as much as its predecessor, all 1050 pages.  And so has everyone else in whose hands I have placed these books.  They are that memorable, that powerful.

Tonight I had the opportunity to hear the author of those two fantastic books, Ken Follett, speak at the Jimmy Carter Center in Atlanta.  He actually recorded a Between the Lines session with Valerie Jackson for NPR, which was a thrill for me just being associated with my beloved public radio.  Follett was everything I wanted him to be:  charming, funny, self-deprecating, smart, witty, and a pleasure to listen to.  He was lovely and patient as he signed our books and listened to us acclaim his novels and grin goofily at him.  Yesterday he released a new title, Fall of Giants, the first of The Century Trilogy, which will go all the way through the 1900s. Which characters will I love?  Which will break my heart?  Who will I hate and wish death upon?  How will the Great War affect their stories?  My mouth is watering with anticipation…