Reader Reviews of Field Notes: A Life Story

Field Notes: A Life Story -  Book Cover

A succinct and endearing novel, February 4, 2008

From Reader Views (Austin, Texas)

Reviewed by April Sullivan for Reader Views (1/08)

In “Field Notes” Sheila Clapkin has written a succinct and endearing novel. Sunshine Joy Epstein is the main character. Using wit and humor, she tells stories and relays advice given to her from throughout her life. She specifically focuses on stories that relate to her friendship with her neighbor Fields. Fletcher Fields was a childhood friend and neighbor of Sunshine’s. They spent many hours, days, and years together before Fields died an early and unexpected death. His life and death impacted Sunshine immensely in all aspects of her life, as we read in “Field Notes.”

The title of the book “Field Notes” is a clever one. In the technical sense, field notes are observations from social scientists about their surroundings. Sunshine is in a sense a social scientist, soaking up the minute details of her surroundings and relaying stories about them. “Field Notes” is also a very literal title for the book in that it is filled with notes about Fields and it is also the title of the journal that Fields kept throughout his life and that was later given to Sunshine by his mother.

Sheila Clapkin writes this novel through the voice of Sunshine. Like her namesake, she envelopes the reader with warmth and love. She is a memory-keeper and a storyteller. Each chapter starts with a short quote such as “Always trying to be perfect can ruin a perfectly good life,” or “Generally you aren’t learning anything when your mouth’s moving.” The chapter goes on to tell some story or other from her bank of memories.

Sunshine sometimes tends to chat in a stream of consciousness sort of way. She is telling one story and it reminds her of something else and she will go off on that tangent, and then she daydreams about a third thing in the middle of that. I found it best to just get caught up with the flow and know that she will get back to her point and you will learn something.

I was very impressed with this book. I was drawn in by the cover art, done by author Sheila Clapkin. I find her to be a very talented artist as well as writer. I was delighted by so many parts of this book. Two specific moments stick in my mind. In the chapter “The Long Train Ride” Sunshine is riding from San Francisco to Seattle to meet Fields. On this short ride she meets a man and has a deep conversation with him. She then describes the experience of the BLT she eats on that trip in great detail. Later in the book Fields and Sunshine are on a trip to the Sierra Nevada Mountains and they board a small charter plane. Sunshine describes the experience:

“I began to feel a sense of accomplishment from being up in the air. If I were an insect or a bird, I thought, I would have to beat my wings and give it all the effort in my body to gain altitude. This plane surrounding me did all the work; I sat there contemplating that I had indeed performed a feat that in past times was only a dream.”

In both of these examples, Sheila Clapkin writes with such clarity thoughts that I would never be able to express so well, such as the delicious beauty of a perfect sandwich or the chance encounter with a stranger that you never forget. And she so perfectly describes the feeling I get each time I am taking off in a plane, the amazing feat of humans in flight. I recommend “Field Notes” to anyone who wants a good read that treats your brain to the enjoyable act of remembering friends, family, the good times and the bad, and all the little things that add up to life.


Also check out the many great reader reviews of Field Notes at Amazon.

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