Really short book review: “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”

“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” is the Pulitzer Prizing winning novel by Junot Díaz. I loved this book, but it’s kind of like reading Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. You need to have a web browser open in front of you to look up the references that you don’t understand. I saw a video of Díaz doing a reading and talking about the book. He said that the obscure references were intentional, but that you should be able to enjoy the book without understanding all of it. I know that’s true. There are plenty of books, movies, and TV shows where I don’t understand all the references and allusions, but I enjoy them nonetheless. But I’m a curious geek and sometimes I just have got to know what people are talking about.

This book is the story of a fat Dominican-American nerd named Oscar from New Jersey. He’s a sci-fi geek who loves to write and who is a hopeless romantic. It’s also the story of his mother and of the Dominican Republic under the dictator Trujillo. Apparently, Oscar’s family is cursed, and the curse originates with Christopher Columbus. The narrator is Oscar’s friend Yunior who dates Oscar’s sister off and on. The whole family is unlucky in love for the most part. And Oscar is both the luckiest in one sense and the unluckiest in another. I’m still trying to figure out whether the ending was unhappy, and whether Oscar was able to break the curse.

Really short book review: “Nothing to Lose”

“Nothing to Lose: A Reacher Novel” is Lee Child’s 12th book in the Reacher series. It came out in hardback in 2008, and paperback in 2009. In this latest story, Reacher is hitch-hiking across the country from Calais, Maine to San Diego, California minding his own business and living the drifter lifestyle (except that he has no money worries now thanks to some profitable adventures in his previous stories). He stops in a diner in Despair, Colorado, where he is promptly arrested and then given a ride to the city limits of Hope, Colorado. He befriends the female cop from Hope who picks him up where the Despair cops drop him off.

The story goes on as Reacher latches on to the powers-that-be in Despair to figure out why they are so rude to strangers. Reacher hooks up with the cop, and beats the baddies from Despair into the ground. It was another good page-turned from Child. I highly recommend it, but of course, I think that you ought to start with the first book and work your way up to this one.

Really short book review: “Blink”

“Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” is by Malcolm Gladwell from 2005. Like all the other Gladwell books I really enjoyed it. He’s a great non-fiction writer. I think it is his mastery of the anecdote that makes reading his work so enjoyable. Some critics give him a lot of grief trying to claim that he makes simplistic arguments, but I have to wonder if they’ve actually read this book.

His main thesis is that people can make instant judgments that turn out to be spot on, and that the value of those judgments is often underrated. He provides plenty of caveats about where these snap judgments can go wrong and how important it is to be careful with them, and I think his critics failed to read those parts of the book.

I definitely agree with his thesis. I like to think that I am one of those people who can make instant evaluations that work out quite well. In my case, it’s with technical problems at work. After 9 years debugging and troubleshooting the same application, I can usually diagnose a problem very rapidly. Sometimes I’m wrong, but all-in-all, I try to listen to the instincts born from years of experience.

Anyway, it was a good book, and I highly recommend it.

Really short book review: “Bad Luck and Trouble”

“Bad Luck and Trouble” is the 11th book in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. (I’ve only got one more to review after this one.) In this one, Reacher reunites his old crew from his MP days to investigate the murder of one of their colleagues. It’s set in Los Angeles, and the action gets pretty wild and woolly. Child writes like a screenwriter, which makes sense because he used to be a television director. Any one of his books could be made into a good action flick.

This one in particular would call for a lot of special effects. There’s a lot of night action and even some dropping of people from helicopters. The Reacher legend keeps growing with each new novel. By the time the 14th novel comes out, Reacher will be a superhero. He’ll have to be a superhero to keep up this action. They character will be 50 years old by the time the next book comes out, and I just can’t see him continuing with the physical feats that I’ve grown so fond of. Child will either have to kill him off or write more prequels. Or, of course, turn him into a superhero.

At some point Reacher will have to give up the homelessness and the wandering and settle down, and that will be a sad day. I would love to live his carefree life too, but I don’t see how such a thing could last.

Really short book review: “One Shot”

Yes, “One Shot” is yet another Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child. I actually read this book awhile ago, but I’m behind on adding books to my web page that lists all the books I’ve read since about 2000. I’ve got five books to go, and three of them are Reacher books. As I’ve said before, I’ve read all 12 of the Reacher books that have come out in paperback.

“One Shot” is the ninth book in the series. In this one, Reacher shows off his investigative skills again. An army sniper who got away with murder in Kuwait when Reacher was an MP has apparently killed again. At the invitation of the suspect himself, Reacher shows up in the guy’s home town to make sure he gets put away for good this time.

It’s a great read, and it’s hard to put down. (Damn, I’m a terrible book reviewer. I just keep spouting cliches.) I particularly like Child’s writing because I am able to successfully suspend disbelief and enjoy the story. Far too often in most of the detective fiction I read (and see on TV), there are just clunkers that pull me out of the story because of the ridiculous grasp of reality. I suppose if I were a real detective there would be parts of the Reacher books that would bother me, but as it is, I love reading them. I highly recommend them to you if you like the detective genre.

Really short book review: “Die Trying”

“Die Trying” is the second book in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. It’s in the mystery-thriller genre. It was written back in the late ’90s when the militia movement was still taken seriously. In this book, Reacher and an FBI agent are kidnapped off the streets of Chicago by militia idiots and taken across the country to their rural compound.

This book would make a good movie. It’s well plotted and paced, and kept my interest the whole way. I wish the Hollywood folks would hurry up and make Reacher movie.

So now I’ve read 9 of the 13 Reacher books. Just 4 more to go.

Really short book review: “The Hard Way”

This is the 10th book in the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child. I didn’t read the books in order, but it really doesn’t matter. You still get the most important parts even if you read them in non-chronological order. In this episode, Reacher is in New York tracking down a mercernary’s kidnapped wife.

The mercenary ends up being a bad guy, and the whole thing ends with a great standoff on a British organic farm. There is plenty of the trademark Reacher violence and attitude. It’s a real page-turner as real critics say. I highly recommend it.

Really short book review: “Outliers: The Story of Success”

I picked up the latest Malcolm Gladwell book a few months ago at the Barnes and Noble. I had really loved The Tipping Point from 2000, and I’d seen a couple of videos of talks that Gladwell has done, so I was really looking forward to this book. I know that he has to take a lot of guff from popular reviewers who try to claim that he has too simplistic a theory of success, but that’s bullshit. They clearly are not reading the same book, or aren’t paying very close attention.

Gladwell is good at building the case to support his ideas. Actually it seems as if his ideas are the result of studying the topic rather than coming to the topic with preconceived notions. He issues plenty of caveats at all the appropriate places, and he definitely recounts a lot of great anecdotes.

He is where I first learned about the 10,000 hour rule and that led to a fruitful strain of further research that I really enjoyed. Gladwell is definitely one of my favorite writers.

Really short book review: “The Broken Window”

The Broken Window is by Jeffrey Deaver, copyright 2008. It’s another book I snagged from the shelves of the Wal-Mart during a fit of boredom. Deaver is the same guy who wrote “The Bone Collector” which was made into a movie with Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. Having read this book, it’s fairly clear to me that Lincoln Rhyme is a white guy, which seems odd with a name like Lincoln who has a cousin named Arthur. I suppose it could just be my prejudice coming through, but it seemed odd to me that the movie character is of a different race than the character in the novel. I don’t know why I even had to bring it up, but it nagged at me as I read the book.

Also, nagging at me as I read the book, was the ridiculous portrayal of computer technology. Deaver couldn’t write a “Hello World” program in TRS-80 BASIC. He just hasn’t the slightest clue how computer systems work. I suppose reading this book for me would be a similar experience to the way actual crime scene investigators feel when they watch CSI on TV.

I suppose the story was readable and engaging enough once you get past the terrible misunderstanding and misrepresentation of technology. I think I’d rather just read Neal Stephenson if I want believable technology in my stories.

Really short book review: “Killing Floor”

Yes, it is yet another Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child. This one is the first in the series. It was written in 1997. I read it about 10th out of the 12 Reacher books that I’ve read so far. (There is a 13th book that just came out, but I’m waiting for the paperback version.)

Having read the later books first, you can see that this one is definitely the prototype. Reacher gets in trouble with local law enforcement, but then shows them how things are really done. His crappy attitude is also apparent here. I think he’s one of the better characters in the genre of detective serial fiction. I suppose that’s obvious since I’ve read the whole series to date.