Thursday, September 27, 2012

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway *****

What can anyone say about a book written in 1940 by a Nobel Laureate? I can imagine Ernest Heminway sitting in the great library in the sky, wine in one hand and a hand-rolled cigarette in the other, watching the the creation of yet another review. He'd probably quote his Protagonist Robert Jordan, "Bring it on."

Like it is for much great literature, For Whom the Bell Tolls seems strangely current after over 70 years. Here is Robert Jordan again ...
Robert Jordan, wiping out the stew bowl with bread, explained how the income tax and inheritance tax worked. "But the big estates remained ...," He said.

But surely the big proprietors and the rich will make a revolution against such taxes. ... They will revolt against the government when they see that they are threatened ...," Primitivio said.

"It is possible."

 "Then you will have to fight in your country as we fight here."

"Yes, we will have to fight."
In reading For Whom the Bell Tolls, it seems like every action film screen writer owes royalties to someone who wrote before they were born. Often the characters and the dialogue seemed cliched ... until I realized that this was written before these thing were cliches.

Certainly worth reading, rereading, just enjoying. The plots is not much, but the setting, characters, and dialogue might be 10% better than anything your read this year, ... or this decade, ... or ever.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Now You Can See It by Cathy N Davidson **

With the rise of the Internet, You can't tell a book by its cover has never been more important. For example, Now You See It by Cathy N Davidson is most like annoying link bait, promising brain science on the cover, but delivering an Internet-style memoir full of hyperbole, anecdotes, and opinion. With equal parts self-aggrandizing remembrances and paeans to Internet browsing and video games, this book demonstrates how the Internet provides a echo chamber where everyone can be a self-appointed pundit and hits are more important than facts or reason.
When you have all the possibilities of your imagination at your disposal for interacting with colleagues around the globe, why would you choose to replicate practices where those matters were fixed by the walls and rules of the industrial-age workplace? [You need a good imagination to even figure out what that could possibly mean.] That is the central question of this entire book. [Well OK then.]
On the Internet, experts proudly say things like:
I warned you that I wasn't going to be objective
...but I'm convinced...
in place of traditional data and analysis.

The irony here is that I am also an Internet and video game fanboy, but I believe the discussion needs to go beyond ADHD browsing to the issues of how the Internet is restructuring society. The impact of the Internet has little to do with chat, which predates the Internet (remember AOL and GEnie?) and hyperlinks (the storied invention of Tim Berners-Lee). Many of the important impacts of the Internet (search, online commerce, and other real-time application) owe their existence more to the twin, unsung technologies of cheap data storage and databases than hyperlinks and cables.

Much of the Internet's impact has been in areas of traditional efficiency, efficiency that has changed the structure of work and play. Banks no longer close in the early afternoon to allow the staff to update the books, and I can play game with my children even if they are miles away.

As I come to the end, I notice that I've said nothing about brain science, the topic on the cover and one in which I'm very interested. That is because the book has little to say on this subject either, much to my disappointment.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Book for Today: Blessed are the Cheesemakers by Sarah-Kate Lynch ****

Continuing with foreign authors, Sarah-Kate Lynch is from New Zealand, even though Blessed Are the Cheesemakers is set in Ireland, with some action on a primitive island off Australia and at a Wall Street firm in NYC.

In a optimistic and cheery kind of magic realism, where two old men, Corrie and Fee, run an artisan cheese operation at Coolarney House producing such fantastic cheeses, such as one that can cause two people to instantly fall in love. Much the story involves hiring personnel for Coolarney House. The first challenge is to hire a dairymaid. The time honored advert reads:
Must have short nails, a good singing voice and enjoy a strict vegetarian diet.
Part of the interview process is to listen to The Sound of Music for three hours. All of this seems unnecessary because Fee will know as soon as he sees the right girl. Incidentally, all of the hired dairymaids always turn out to be pregnant.

Fee knows everything from what bottle of wine Corrie will select for the daily wine and cheese, to the important news that he and Corrie have lost their touch and must be replaced by a new generation of cheesemakers.  As might be expected in a book like this, on that very day, Corrie's granddaughter Abbey from the aforementioned primitive island, and the disgraced Wall Streeter name Kit Stephens, arrive at Coolarney House. You might guess the rest from here.

This is a delightful tale, except for the plot twists, some of which seem not so much like plot twists but total surprises neither foreshadowed to explainable by anything that came before. Regardless, an enjoyable read.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Nightmare by Lars Kepler *****

The success of Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series has opened the US market for Swedish authors translated into English. This is my second thriller by a Swedish author. The previous post (A Book for Today: The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell) is in many similarities to The Nightmare by Lars Kepler.

The Nightmare is the second in a series featuring Detective Inspector Joona Linna. As with most mystery/mystery thriller protagonists, he is single. It almost seems to be a rule of fiction, that adults are single and children are orphans. Also true-to-type, he is a martial arts expert and persistent. What I liked about Joona is his hybrid approach with equal parts of logic and intuition. When his logic fails, he falls back on his intuition to find a way to move forward.

The story is about a picture and a professional killer doing his best to destroy all traces of the photograph and  anyone who might have seen it. The refreshing twist is that Joona is overshadowed by Penelope Fernandez. While not possessing Joona's super-human fighting and deductive skills, Penelope has a strength of character that allows her to escape and outwit this professional killer over and over, while he leaves a path of death and damage.

A wonderful chase with surprises and clever twists. Don't start it until you have time to finish it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell *****

The success of Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series has opened the US market for Swedish authors translated into English --- certainly an accomplishment in a such an insular and provincial market as the US. Well, Sweden has produced a number of excellent mystery/thriller authors. Consider Henning Mankell - author of the Kurt Wallander series.

Kurt is a detective is a small Swedish town (Ystad). Like many good literary detectives, he is single, persistent, and full of personal angst. I particularly like his balance between intuition and logic, and his emphasis on the team. He solves crime as much with leadership as with insight, a nice change in a genre known for individuals with a caricatured side-kick or two.

In The Fifth Woman, Kurt is after a brutal serial killer. Each murder is very different, but the killer's language of violence and cruelty ties the murders together. In spite of the torturous deaths of the victims, this is not some simple story of good versus evil. There is no black and white; both sides have a story to tell and that is what raises Henning Mankell above the crowd of mystery/thrillers writers.

If you are looking for a new series of mystery/thriller page turner, or something to make you think, this book is highly recommended.