Water for Elephants Is This Week’s Most Wanted

Topping our 25 Most Wanted list this week is the New York Times bestselling novel by Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants. Here’s the Amazon.com review:

Jacob Jankowski says: “I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.” At the beginning of Water for Elephants, he is living out his days in a nursing home, hating every second of it. His life wasn’t always like this, however, because Jacob ran away and joined the circus when he was twenty-one. It wasn’t a romantic, carefree decision, to be sure. His parents were killed in an auto accident one week before he was to sit for his veterinary medicine exams at Cornell. He buried his parents, learned that they left him nothing because they had mortgaged everything to pay his tuition, returned to school, went to the exams, and didn’t write a single word. He walked out without completing the test and wound up on a circus train. The circus he joins, in Depression-era America, is second-rate at best. With Ringling Brothers as the standard, Benzini Brothers is far down the scale and pale by comparison.

Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob’s life with this circus. Sara Gruen spares no detail in chronicling the squalid, filthy, brutish circumstances in which he finds himself. The animals are mangy, underfed or fed rotten food, and abused. Jacob, once it becomes known that he has veterinary skills, is put in charge of the “menagerie” and all its ills. Uncle Al, the circus impresario, is a self-serving, venal creep who slaps people around because he can. August, the animal trainer, is a certified paranoid schizophrenic whose occasional flights into madness and brutality often have Jacob as their object. Jacob is the only person in the book who has a handle on a moral compass and as his reward he spends most of the novel beaten, broken, concussed, bleeding, swollen and hungover. He is the self-appointed Protector of the Downtrodden, and… he falls in love with Marlena, crazy August’s wife. Not his best idea.

The most interesting aspect of the book is all the circus lore that Gruen has so carefully researched. She has all the right vocabulary: grifters, roustabouts, workers, cooch tent, rubes, First of May, what the band plays when there’s trouble, Jamaican ginger paralysis, life on a circus train, set-up and take-down, being run out of town by the “revenooers” or the cops, and losing all your hooch. There is one glorious passage about Marlena and Rosie, the bull elephant, that truly evokes the magic a circus can create. It is easy to see Marlena’s and Rosie’s pink sequins under the Big Top and to imagine their perfect choreography as they perform unbelievable stunts. The crowd loves it–and so will the reader. The ending is absolutely ludicrous and really quite lovely. –Valerie Ryan

And of course, the Water for Elephants film is in production, starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon. Here’s the official trailer:

BookLending.com’s 25 Most Wanted

Week of February 13, 2011

1. Water for Elephants: A Novel, by Sara Gruen

2. The Hangman’s Daughter, by Oliver Pötzsch

3. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

4. Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games), by Suzanne Collins

5. The Inconvenient Corpse: A Grace Cassidy Mystery, by Jackie King

6. Freedom: A Novel (Oprah’s Book Club), by Jonathan Franzen

7. Sizzling Sixteen, by Janet Evanovich

8. Switched (Trylle Trilogy, #1), by Amanda Hocking

9. Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games), by Suzanne Collins

10. Running with Scissors: A Memoir, by Augusten Burroughs

11. The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, by Kevin Malarkey

12. Forget to Remember, by Alan Cook

13. Wicked Appetite, by Janet Evanovich

14. The Basement, by Stephen Leather

15. The Kane Chronicles, Book One: The Red Pyramid, by Rick Riordan

16. Coders at Work: Reflections of the Craft of Programming, by Peter Seibel

17. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

18. Saving Rachel (A Donovan Creed Crime Novel), by John Locke

19. Calling Home, by Janna McMahan

20. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Wiki content for your Kindle), by AMencher19, AbsoluteGleek92

21. Fourteen Days Later (Romantic Comedy), by Sibel Hodge

22. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert | Summary & Study Guide, by BookRags.com

23. My Horizontal Life, by Chelsea Handler

24. Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days, by Jessica Livingston

25. To Tempt A Scotsman, by Victoria Dahl

One Response to “Water for Elephants Is This Week’s Most Wanted”

  • Thanks for the list – very interesting. I have only read a few of the books on it.

    I love Running with Scissors. I have seen a lot of discussion about Water for Elephants and The Hangman’s Daughter. I’ll check out some of the others.