Category: Books

A Maze of Death (P. K. Dick)

Some authors you just love reading because they transport you away into another real world. As a writer, you need imagination and creativity to create a completely new world, and it usually ends up being something that is entirely invented – the more bizarre, the better. Take Tolkien, for example, or even Calvino.

Not so for Philip K. Dick. His science fiction novels mostly entail worlds that are "real" – they play in some distant future, but they have all the ugliness and baseness of our own world. Usually it is a catastrophe that forms the background of the story, something that humans have done to themselves. And on this background, Dick paints a subtle portrait of people just trying to survive, struggling to make ends meet, and somehow they always manage to touch the sublime with a fingertip, before they have to let go again. 

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The Satanic Verses (S. Rushdie) – Partial Final

Ok, I give up. After 40 years of slogging through any book I've had to endure – including War and Peace, the Bible, and various heavy-weight textbooks on theoretical physics, I finally found one that could outlast me. The Satanic Verses couldn't hold my interest for more than 2 pages at a time, and the prospect of having to read all 561 pages of it was just way too much. At that rate, I would have read that book for more than three quarters of a year!

What is so wrong with it that it can't hold my attention? Well, several things, really. This book is almost an encyclopedia of what can go wrong if you have talent and skill, and yet manage to bore your reader.

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The Satanic Verses (S. Rushdie)

Well, it's a bit early for a review of The Satanic Verses just yet, since I barely have dented the first 20%, so forgive me for sharing preliminary thoughts. On the other hand, the first impression is probably what is going to be leading into the final review, so I probably should share how the beginning feels, alright.

I always wanted to read this book. Mr. Rushdie had been heralded as one of the greatest writers of the century, and not having read anything by him was a little dirty secret that I couldn't confess to anyone, even to me. I was going to read him, one day, I swore, constantly forestalling the moment whenever I ran into The Satanic Verses at any bookstore. 

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Plan of Attack (B. Woodward)

It's been a while that I wanted to read the Bush trilogy that Bob Woodward put together. In three volumes, the celebrated co-reporter of the Watergate affair describes the inner workings of the Bush administration with the kind of depth that only a journalist with access to the original sources can have.

It sounds like President Bush was eager to have this reporting going on. Maybe he was trying to ensure that there was a full account of what had been going on, so that history could judge on its own with full disclosure, instead of relying on opinions of the uninformed. In any case, the trilogy has been heralded as the definitive account of Bush at War, its tag line.

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His Dark Materials (P. Pullman)

I had completely missed out on this series, and if it hadn't been for the movie The Golden Compass and the resulting review in The Atlantic, I would have probably gone on with my life without ever getting to meet Mr. Pullman's writing.

I read the trilogy in Hawai`i, on my last trip. As a matter of fact, I spent most of my daylight time reading the three volumes, and I sincerely regret not having made more of it. Sure, the books are a good read, but they are after all for a young audience, and it shows. 

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Basilica (R.A. Scotti)

There are two periods in Italian history that would make for exciting movies and novels. One has been taken for good by Umberto Eco, whose masterful telling of the times of upheaval in the Middle Ages in The Name of the Rose define that very time in most people's minds.

The early modern era, which in Italy coincides with the Renaissance, is the other period whose trials, tribulations, and poisoned victims make for good reading and viewing. There is nobody, though, that staked a claim to that period yet. 

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My Name Is Red (O. Pamuk)

Tough review, this time. I bought the book by fortuitious circumstance a few weeks before Orhan Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize, and once the whole bruhaha about his receiving the award happened, I set the book aside not to be biased by it.

In Hawai`i, I had plenty time to read, and I took this book and went from end to end in record slow time. Which is part of what makes this a hard review to write down. 

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Daughter of Fortune (I. Allende)

There is always something magical about South-American writers. They seem not to have forgotten how to write a novel – that it takes a story, then some chuzpa telling it, and a pinch of mystique in the presentation. All those things together make a compelling world in which you can get lost no matter where your physical self is.

The young Marquez had the gift, as the gigantic Isabel Allende. When you read their stories, they sound a lot alike: full of characters that are always described with humor in the mind; redolent with thoughtful and thoroughly researched descriptions of worlds the author does not know; filled with tension that finds its release on time, and slowdowns that never last too long.

Not many authors can do that well. Tolkien comes to mind, who could be the honorary patron of these Spanish writers. Capote would be the closest I can associate here in the States. Maybe Michener on a good day.

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jPod (D. Coupland)

jPod is the kind of book that makes me feel very ambivalent: lots of promise, but a lot of annoyance going along with it. In this, it reminds me of {moscontentlink:Eggers}: an ambitious novel, some excellent writing, but a lot of stuff that is completely unrelated to the main thread. In other words: it could have been a great book, but its shortcomings make it just enjoyable.
The story line follows a bunch of game developers whose last names start with the letter J – they are all placed in neighboring cubicles in a forced cohabitation from which they cannot escape. The jPodders are very different from each other, and their families play active roles in the novel.

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What’s the Matter With Kansas? (T. Frank)

Eureka! Finally a book that manages to be original and not controversial!

Despite frequents jabs against his own home state, Mr. Frank manages to give us an outstanding introduction to how Kansas turned from the most progressive state in the Union to one of the most conservative and (in the eyes of the authore) most backwards states.

And the reason is: elitism! 

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