Tuesday, March 29

Review Four

Continental Drift, Russell Banks

3 Stars

I am a big fan of Russell Banks. Around 2004, when I was living in Vermont, I went on a Russell Banksathon and read a bunch of his books back to back. I strongly recommend The Sweet Hereafter and Affliction to anyone who hasn't read them. (And the movie for The Sweet Hereafter is also amazing.)

Continental Drift never grabbed me in the same way. The plot felt contrived. In Affliction, in contrast, the protagonist's problems seemed so real I could almost feel the severe toothache that afflicts him throughout the book. Reading Continental Drift, you can't shake the sense that Banks is making a point and it gets in the way of the story.

I was disappointed to read a Banks book I didn't thoroughly enjoy. Little did I know he would later inflict the execrable The Reserve on the world.

Saturday, March 26

Review Three

The Road, Cormac McCarthy

4.5 Stars

I read this book before I'd bought furniture for my apartment. So I mostly read it while lying on a mattress on the floor in an otherwise bare room. I think the setting helped me identify with the protagonists ("the man" and "the boy") who spend much of the book squatting in the abandoned houses of the post-apocalypse. My defining memory of reading The Road is of when pure dread caused me to involuntarily put it down. I don't recall a book ever causing me to do that before.

It's a cliche, but this is a book that stays with you. I think for months afterward I was returned to its world every time I saw a hobo pushing a shopping trolley down a San Francisco sidewalk (which is every few minutes in this town).

Friday, March 25

Review Two

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling

2.5 Stars

Having set out on a pretentious project of reviewing 78 books, I find myself undermined by a very light-weight start. But I decided to review the books in the order I read them so this is how it must be.

I've read most of the Harry Potter books (I think I missed one) and, despite the perfunctory writing, the flat characters and the repetitive plots, I still find them entertaining. I'm sure I would have loved them if they'd been out when I was a kid. Since all the Harry Potter books follow an identical structure, I can't with confidence remember anything specific about the plot of this one (is this the one where Dumbledore dies?). I vaguely remember enjoying this book a little more than the earlier ones.

That's a pretty uninformative review.

Monday, March 21

The 78 Books I Read As A Corporate Lawyer

In the 3+ years I was working hard at corporate litigation, I managed to find time to read 78 books. I can thank SF Muni's slow service on the J-Church for giving me some reading time each morning.

Now that I have a bit more free time, I plan to post a short review of all 78 books I read during my time at the firm. These reviews will be fairly cursory (especially as I read some of these books over 3 years ago). My goal is to give a quick sense of how I felt about the book, whether I think it's any good, and whether the limited readership of this blog might want to check it out.

As I finished each book, I posted it to an app and gave it a rating out of five stars. I'll be giving the rating I gave right after reading the books, even if I have changed my mind a little in retrospect. Here's a rough sense of what the ratings mean:

5 = beyond fucking amazing
4.5 = fucking amazing
4 = excellent
3.5 = very good (this is my default rating for a book I enjoyed a lot)
3 = good
2.5 = ok (might be worth a read if it's your kind of thing)
2 = not good (2 and below should be avoided)
1.5 = shitty
1 = very shitty
0.5 = lowest ranking that can be given (if you gave yourself a paper cut with each page, you'd have a more pleasant experience than actually reading the book)

My ratings averaged 3.3 with a mode of 3.5. My reading list reflects my taste and thus the ratings trend high. Here's a complete break down of the ratings for all 78 books:

5 stars = one book
4.5 stars = five books
4 stars = thirteen books
3.5 stars = twenty four books
3 stars = twenty books
2.5 stars = ten books
2 stars = one book
1.5 stars = three books
1 star = zero books
0.5 stars = one book

I'm going to post reviews one at a time with a goal to post them all within a hundred days or so. I'll post them in the same order that I read them.

So, here goes. My first review . . .

Review One: Dogs of Winter, Kem Nunn

2.5 Stars

Nunn's fiction is sometimes described as "Surf Noir." I don't think that anyone else who reads this blog will be jumping out of their chair to hunt down some Surf Noir. And I didn't even like the book all that much.

has plenty of surfing (check) and North West scenery (check). But it also has some very unpleasant violence and I don't feel like Nunn ever does anything (i.e. characterization of the perpetrators) to justify (if that's the right word) the violence. It's just there. Some bad dudes come along and do bad things. The end. It feels like the book equivalent of the low-budget cable thriller (but with surfing and cool scenery).