Book Reviews: October 2016Posted: October 26, 2016
It’s been a super busy month with my script reading job, so I only managed to read three books, and unfortunately they’re not very good books, so I’m feeling kinda angry. Bad writing always makes me angry. But anyway, here are what I read:
I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid:
It being October and all, I wanted to read at least one spooky books to get into the spirits of Halloween, and this book was mentioned in a book forum as having a total mindf*ck of a twist. My curiosity piqued, I got the book and devoured it in one afternoon. The good: it’s a super quick read and does a good job of creating a sense of foreboding. The story starts out simply enough – the unnamed narrator and her boyfriend Jake are driving to see Jake’s parents, and the young woman is “thinking of ending things”, i.e. breaking up with Jake. Then, as the story unfolds, things begin to get weirder and spookier. But here are the bad: the twist, when it happens, is a total cop-out. I won’t spoil it, but you know those cliched “it’s all a dream/it’s all their imagination” twists in movies? This is like a bad version of that – because everything is a dream/imaginary so anything can happen and there is no logic to anything. It renders the entire plot pointless because nothing is real. Basically, the book spends all that time building things up and never paying them off. 1.5/5
Perfect Spy by Larry Berman:
This is the biography of Pham Xuan An, a Southern Vietnamese journalist who worked for Reuters and Times during the Vietnam War and corresponded with a lot of important American as well as Southern Vietnamese officials, but was, in fact, a Northern Vietnamese spy. Naturally, he was an enigma, and his story is a fascinating one. Unfortunately, the author, despite being chosen by Mr. An himself to be his US biographer (there are two other biographies written by Vietnamese authors, but I haven’t read them), is not a very good writer, in my opinion. Everything is meticulously researched, but the author has no story-telling skills, so the book ends up as little more than a pile of documents and interviews loosely strung together. It’s too bad, because in the right hand, this could’ve been captivating. 3/5 (and that’s more for the subject matter than the book itself.)
The Atlantis Gene by A. G. Riddle:
I only read this because I’m recently hired to translate this. And after finishing it, I’m telling you, I am not looking forward to the translating process. It makes The Da Vinci Code look like a masterpiece. First, there is the story. I’ve read all 450+ pages of it (and it took me a long time too; it was so bad I had to keep putting it down and reading something else to take my mind off it) and by the end, I’m still not sure what happens. There’s something about the lost city of Atlantis, a mutating gene that can make humans stronger, two secret organizations, more conspiracies than you can shake a stick at, time warp, worm holes, and a bunch of other sci-fi/thriller clichés that I didn’t even remember. Second, it’s the characters. Every stereotype you can think of – the tough action hero with the tragic past, the beautiful damsel in distress who’s actually a brilliant scientist and a secret badass, the obsessive villain, etc. – this has them all. Finally, there’s the writing. The book is written sort of like a screenplay – each chapter is a scene/sequence, complete with a heading telling you the location of the scene. I’m used to reading scripts so I don’t mind it too much, except that there are too many storylines and too many characters to keep track off, so breaking up the story like that makes it difficult to follow (this sounds exactly like I’m criticizing a script, btw.) And it also has the annoying habit of stopping the story in the middle of the scene to tell us the backstory instead of weaving it into the actions so that the readers can discover for themselves. If I could give this 0/5 I would.
So that’s what I had to slog through in October. I think I’m going to have to do a Discworld marathon next month to calm myself down – and by a happy coincidence, The Color of Magic was first published on November 24th, 1983, so it’s fitting that I make November my unofficial Discworld month.