Books / Year 2004
Date: 2004-12-27 (permlink)
Author: Michael Chabon (editor)
Name: McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury Of Thrilling Tales
Rating: 3 stars

Some good stuff, but mostly unreadable thrash.

Date: 2004-12-25 (permlink)
Author: Jack D. Schwager
Name: Market Wizards
Rating: 3 stars

Interesting reading, but not sure what the end result is supposed to be. Given enough monkeys, some of them will be profitable in the markets over 10 years. That doesn't make their own theories on why they've succeeded true, it just means they've been lucky. Sure, some of these people also have had skill play a part, but how do you know which ones?

Date: 2004-12-04 (permlink)
Author: Nathanael West
Name: Miss Lonelyhearts
Rating: 2.5 stars

What an overrated piece of crap. Characters that jump around doing mostly random and insane things, and a writing style that is a mess. How about this lovely sample: "He walked into the shadow of a lamp-post that lay on the path like a spear. It pierced him like a spear."

What does that _mean_? Obviously, shadows can't hurt people, so it's obviously meant to symbolize something or other, but I have no idea what, and I've never been a fan of books that have to be deconstructed to be understood, let alone enjoyed. It's one thing to have an alternate layer beneath the surface of things, as long as the surface is a coherent entity in itself, but if there is no surface layer at all then I fail to see what the point is.

Date: 2004-12-04 (permlink)
Author: Tana Dineen
Name: Manufacturing Victims
Rating: 4 stars

Articulates some long-held opinions of mine better than I've been able to. Aside from some unfortunate errors (she for some unknown reason and without any facts claims that intelligence testing is a fraud, which is so not true it's not even funny), an excellent read.

Date: 2004-11-21 (permlink)
Author: Perry McCarthy
Name: Flat Out, Flat Broke
Rating: 2.5 stars

Uninteresting babble from a failed driver who probably never had what it takes. Here's a hint: if you have to pay your team for your drive and not the other way around, you're not all that hot.

Date: 2004-11-19 (permlink)
Author: Joe Simpson
Name: Touching The Void
Rating: 3 stars

Way overhyped. I expected an incredible story of one man's determination not to die succeeding against impossible odds. But when you get right down to it, what he actually does to rescue himself doesn't seem that hard.

Date: 2004-11-10 (permlink)
Author: Hubert Selby Jr.
Name: Last Exit To Brooklyn
Rating: 4.5 stars

I watched 'Sex And The City' on TV on the same day that I had read one of the more disturbing stories in this book. It's interesting to compare the these two as both portray people seeking happiness in New York city, but are separated by 40 years and very different viewpoints. The optimist in me hopes that SATC would be the one closer to reality, but the pessimist in me fears that this book is the winner in that category.

Date: 2004-10-31 (permlink)
Author: John Grisham
Name: The Last Juror
Rating: 3.5 stars

Starts well, the middle is ok, but the ending is lame as everyone with half a brain knows what will happen and wonders how the characters can't figure it out.

Date: 2004-10-22 (permlink)
Author: John Steinbeck
Name: Cannery Row
Rating: 3.5 stars

Short and sweet and nothing like real life.

Date: 2004-10-18 (permlink)
Author: Elmore Leonard
Name: Glitz
Rating: 3.5 stars

Better than some, worse than some, but at the end of the day, a book you have moderate fun reading but that will not change your worldview one bit.

Date: 2004-10-07 (permlink)
Author: Annie Proulx
Name: The Shipping News
Rating: 3.5 stars

The first half or so is like a bad horror novel, with mysterious portents and what have you, but later on it gets better, though not so much that I'd understand why it would deserve a Pulitzer prize.

Date: 2004-10-01 (permlink)
Author: Richard Russo
Name: Straight Man
Rating: 4.5 stars

At first I couldn't shake the feeling of having read something almost, but not exactly, like this. Eventually I tracked it down to Russo's "The Whore's Child" book having a short story that almost this book in miniature. I guess he expanded it to a book-length story...

This book is a good read, with two caveats. First, the wife doesn't seem to exist on this planet, but on some other planet where there are only perfect people. Maybe this is a deliberate choice by Russo, as after all the book is told from the husband's point of view, so maybe he simply can't see any flaws in her, but still, it's annoying and reduces the wife to a non-factor.

Second, it's a very thin fence between comedy and drama that you must balance on in a book of this kind. Stray too far to the comic side, and the drama loses its reality. Stray too far to the other side, and you can't laugh at the funny bits. There are plenty of books that do either one of those things. This book, however, achieves something quite unique: the funny bits aren't all that funny, and the (melo)dramatic bits aren't all that moving. It still sticks together, but this is definitely a lightweight book compared to Nobody's Fool and Empire Falls.

Date: 2004-09-28 (permlink)
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Name: Non-Fiction
Rating: 3.5 stars

Some interesting stuff in there, but in large parts just confirms that while Palahniuk is able to write good books, his skills are largely confined to repeating the same things in slightly modified forms.

Date: 2004-09-22 (permlink)
Author: Harold Bloom
Name: How To Read And Why
Rating: 4 stars

At first quite dry, but once you get used to his style it gets better. Of course he's one of the most elitist people I've ever read, but that's ok, I myself am quite the elitist so I don't mind. Of course his tastes and mine aren't 100% the same, but still, some great ideas for what to read in this book.

Date: 2004-09-21 (permlink)
Author: Mark Haddon
Name: The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time
Rating: 6 stars

I was going to give this 5 stars, but then I checked and I already seem to have given 49 books 5 stars, and this is definitely more exceptional than that. I've never read anything like this before. The cover also rocks.

Date: 2004-09-10 (permlink)
Author: Elmore Leonard
Name: Cuba Libre
Rating: 2.5 stars

The following thought occurred to me during this book: "Why am I reading this? The characters are ridiculous, behave in even more ridiculous ways whose main purpose seems to be to get them killed, and there's nothing of interest in the plot."

Date: 2004-08-29 (permlink)
Author: Graham Greene
Name: Our Man In Havana
Rating: 4.5 stars

Excellent.

Date: 2004-08-25 (permlink)
Author: Elmore Leonard
Name: When The Women Come Out To Dance
Rating: 3.5 stars

Nice fast reading, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of these ended up as movies, but not all that much depth.

Date: 2004-08-21 (permlink)
Author: Philip Roth
Name: The Human Stain
Rating: 4 stars

He obviously knows what he's doing, this Roth guy, but the whole book is written in some sort of a detached viewpoint that leaves every character feeling sort of distant and cold.

Date: 2004-08-07 (permlink)
Author: Graham Greene
Name: Stamboul Train
Rating: 3 stars

First of all, I have 16 more Greene books on my shelf waiting to be read, so I have to use some judgement in rating these; if I blow all my stars on one and then encounter a measurably better one I'm trapped. So, this is a very strong 3 stars. The characterization is good, and you really get a sense that it was a very different world back then.

Date: 2004-07-27 (permlink)
Author: Donald Bain
Name: Coffee, Tea Or Me?
Rating: 2 stars

You'll note I put Bain as the author, instead of "Rachel Jones" and "Trudy Bakers" who appear on the cover. That's because they're fictional characters, created by Bain, and I won't play along with his little scheme for trying to hide the truth.

I have no idea how one should approach a book claiming to be an autobiography by two stewardesses, but that's actually written by a single man out of his imagination. Compounding this difficulty is the fact that the book is 37 years old, and it shows. In hindsight, this book probably isn't worth reading, but I didn't know it was fake when I bought it.

Date: 2004-07-24 (permlink)
Author: Alice Sebold
Name: Lucky
Rating: 3 stars

One of the most myopic books I've ever read. Having been raped, she thinks she's somehow become a better person than every one else, capable of judging other people objectively and being the only one in the world who understands anything. I especially liked how when she pushed some people out of her life after her rape, it was the correct thing to do because she didn't feel comfortable with them anymore, but when her friend who gets raped pushes her out similarly, now the friend is the one who's wrong, because obviously, Alice Sebold is the world's foremost expert on rape and how every one should cope with it, and if other people don't agree, well, they're plain wrong and stupid.

It's also funny how many people feel that in rape cases the old maxim, "innocent until proven guilty", shouldn't be followed, and complain when the only witnesses to the crime actually have to, oh my, appear in court and tell their version of the story, and even more horrible, have to endure questions from the defendant's lawyer. I mean, isn't it obvious that if you're accused of rape you must be guilty, and should just be thrown in jail? I think not.

Date: 2004-07-23 (permlink)
Author: Steven Pinker
Name: How The Mind Works
Rating: 4 stars

Except for the last few pages where it descends into pointless rambling about how "special" consciousness and free will are, interesting reading about how the mind works.

Date: 2004-07-15 (permlink)
Author: Jerry Kaplan
Name: Startup
Rating: 3 stars

Fast reading, but there's not really that much substance. All of the negative things have been left out about GO corporation or any of its employees, leaving the impression that all that went wrong was because of outside factors.

Date: 2004-07-11 (permlink)
Author: Po Bronson
Name: Bombardiers
Rating: 3.5 stars

Starts out very promisingly, but ends up just repeating itself after that and not advancing anywhere. Tries to imitate Catch-22 a bit too much with the constant wannabe-paradoxes of investment banking.

Date: 2004-07-01 (permlink)
Author: John Steinbeck
Name: The Pearl
Rating: Reread

I'm putting this under reread, since I have some vague memories about maybe reading this in high school.

I'm not sure what the point of this book is supposed to be. That it's wrong to try to better your position in life? That you should be satisfied with what you've got? If so, I don't agree with that.

Date: 2004-06-29 (permlink)
Author: Lance Armstrong with Sally Jenkins
Name: Every Second Counts
Rating: 3.5 stars

More of the same as the first book, but this time I found myself liking Lance much more. He seems more mature (that, or I've changed in the 2.5 years since reading the previous book...), and his aversion to religion is refreshing.

Date: 2004-06-28 (permlink)
Author: Mark Twain
Name: Short Stories
Rating: 3 stars

The Hadleyburg story was good.

Date: 2004-06-27 (permlink)
Author: John Steinbeck
Name: The Grapes Of Wrath
Rating: 5 stars

Quite different from what I expected, but excellent in its own way. It's funny how modern readers seem to conveniently forget the prophesies of a communist revolution in the USA, though.

Date: 2004-06-23 (permlink)
Author: Günter Grass
Name: Ravunkäyntiä (Im Krebsgang)
Rating: 4 stars

Better than I anticipated. Maybe Grass is getting better on his old days.

Date: 2004-06-20 (permlink)
Author: Stephen Fry
Name: Making History
Rating: 3 stars

Moderately amusing, but there are some annoyances, like the playing around in screenplay format. Also the gay thing is disturbing for some reason. I wonder if gay people mind reading about heterosexual persons?

Date: 2004-06-17 (permlink)
Author: Stephen Fry
Name: Paperweight
Rating: 2.5 stars

For the most part unintelligible trash to anyone not knowing or caring about internal British happenings in the 80s.

Date: 2004-06-02 (permlink)
Author: Richard Russo
Name: The Whore's Child
Rating: 3.5 stars

Nice little stories, but nothing earth-shattering.

Date: 2004-05-30 (permlink)
Author: DBC Pierre
Name: Vernon God Little
Rating: 4.5 stars

Quite excellent, even if a bit more realism wouldn't have hurt. I'd have done something before the last moment, if you know what I mean.

Date: 2004-05-28 (permlink)
Author: Graham Greene
Name: The End Of The Affair
Rating: 4 stars

The first half of the book is excellent, but after that it degenerates into lame self-martyrdom and cringeworthy religious crap.

Date: 2004-05-26 (permlink)
Author: Graham Greene
Name: The Tenth Man
Rating: 4 stars

A nice little story.

Date: 2004-05-23 (permlink)
Author: Graham Greene
Name: The Fallen Idol
Rating: 3 stars

Okay, it's not fair to rate a 30-page novella as a book, but it's listed as such in Greene's list of works so... Anyway, can't really think anything to say about this, except that Baines should just have left his wife if he was so unhappy.

Date: 2004-05-23 (permlink)
Author: Graham Greene
Name: The Third Man
Rating: 3 stars

I have to agree with Greene himself, I like the film better.

Date: 2004-05-22 (permlink)
Author: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Name: The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince)
Rating: 3 stars

Don't really understand what all the hoopla is about. A novella-length story filled with nothing but not-very-cryptic symbolisms portraying various things as bad.

Date: 2004-05-22 (permlink)
Author: Graham Greene
Name: The Confidential Agent
Rating: 4.5 stars

I haven't read Greene before, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that he isn't as "dry" as many "literary" authors. Instead it reads almost as smoothly as something by, say, Hiaasen, only with a great deal more panache. I think I'm going to enjoy catching up with Greene's works; luckily he wrote quite a few of them.

Date: 2004-05-20 (permlink)
Author: Ben Mezrich
Name: Bringing Down The House
Rating: 2 stars

His writing style is cliched and his facts are highly doubtful.

Date: 2004-05-18 (permlink)
Author: Virginia Woolf
Name: A Room Of One's Own & Three Guineas
Rating: 2.5 stars

Her talent is obvious, but it alone doesn't make this enjoyable reading. The sentences go on and on in, twisting in on themselves in mysterious ways, and the sheer repetition gets annoying. She has one point, and keeps expressing it in novel ways. I get it, women didn't get much chance at doing things. Maybe it needed 270 pages 65 years ago, certainly doesn't today.

Date: 2004-05-12 (permlink)
Author: Po Bronson
Name: What Should I Do With My Life?
Rating: 4.5 stars

Excellent reading, even if some of the "you don't need that much money" propaganda starts to wear thin.

Date: 2004-05-05 (permlink)
Author: Don DeLillo
Name: Cosmopolis
Rating: 2 stars

All style, no substance, and I didn't particularly care for the style.

Date: 2004-04-30 (permlink)
Author: John Grisham
Name: The Client
Rating: 2.5 stars

Can't believe Grisham manages to spun 458 pages out of a 10-page idea.

Date: 2004-04-24 (permlink)
Author: John Grisham
Name: The Summons
Rating: 3.5 stars

Pretty good, though the ending is kinda lame. And it's left unexplained why someone with 15 million dollars would go through the trouble of attending law school.

Date: 2004-04-21 (permlink)
Author: John Grisham
Name: The Pelican Brief
Rating: 3.5 stars

This review contains spoilers. Click here to show it.

Nice book, but at some point the stupidity of Shaw and Grantham start being too much. Maybe it would be a good idea not to use your credit cards while trying to hide, eh?

Date: 2004-04-15 (permlink)
Author: John Grisham
Name: The Chamber
Rating: 2.5 stars

Sub-standard Grisham, with nothing much happening.

Date: 2004-04-09 (permlink)
Author: Douglas Coupland
Name: Hey Nostradamus!
Rating: 3 stars

Unnecessarily gloomy, but otherwise quite good.

Date: 2004-04-08 (permlink)
Author: H.G. Wells
Name: The War Of The Worlds
Rating: 3.5 stars

This review contains spoilers. Click here to show it.

Just imagine if they followed the plot of the book in the movie they're reportedly now making: All that happens is that the aliens kill people and the main character runs away from them, until the aliens suddenly die because of bacteria.

Date: 2004-04-02 (permlink)
Author: Ben Bova
Name: Return To Mars
Rating: 2 stars

An amazingly inept writer. I wonder he's always been this bad or if I've just started noticing it lately? We'll never know, because I'll never read anything by him again.

Date: 2004-03-29 (permlink)
Author: Pauline Réage
Name: Story Of O
Rating: 1.5 stars

Boring and lacking any kind of realism.

Date: 2004-03-25 (permlink)
Author: Bryan Burroughs and John Helyar
Name: Barbarians At The Gate
Rating: 3.5 stars

Interesting and entertaining.

Date: 2004-03-13 (permlink)
Author: Joe Haldeman
Name: The Forever War
Rating: Reread

I thought for ages that this was an excellent book, but no more. A lame anti-Vietnam tirade, with some very sketchy future human societies thrown in the mix. The anti-Vietnam aspect I couldn't care less about, and the "human society is infinitely malleable" has been entirely discredited by evolutionary biology.

Date: 2004-03-07 (permlink)
Author: Matt Ridley
Name: Genome
Rating: 3 stars

Outdated, of course, but has some interesting bits.

Date: 2004-02-25 (permlink)
Author: Alissa Quart
Name: Branded
Rating: 2 stars

Full of unsubstantiated hyperbole. Every other sentence is about how the world was a better place when the author was a teenager in the 1980's, and how everything has now turned into shit. It's funny how she offers no real evidence for any of this, just anecdotes and random interviews. I especially like how she damns teenage book writers for caring about their sales, yet what was Quart herself doing just a while back here in Helsinki if not promoting her book? It's the age-old problem: You can't be a famous anti-brand person without becoming a brand yourself, hence negating everything you stand for.

Date: 2004-02-14 (permlink)
Author: Stephen Jones (Editor)
Name: The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror 13
Rating: 2 stars

Defines the meaning of the term 'second-rate'. The authors are for the most part virtual unknowns, the stories msotly aren't what I'd call horror, and the book is full of useless crap. Why, exactly, does it have a 40-page list of people who died who have nothing to do with horror? I don't think Aaliyah had branched out to horror writing at the time of her death...

Date: 2004-02-11 (permlink)
Author: Alex Garland
Name: The Beach
Rating: Reread

Saw the movie again and for some reason it inspired me to read the book again. Don't regret it either, if you forget the lame ending this is a pretty good book.

Date: 2004-02-09 (permlink)
Author: Bret Easton Ellis
Name: The Rules Of Attraction
Rating: 2.5 stars

The book has its attractions, but they are limited mainly to inflated stories of wild college life.

Date: 2004-02-08 (permlink)
Author: John Grisham
Name: The Testament
Rating: 2.5 stars

The plot is so ridiculous that it overshadows everything else. When 11 billion is at stake, it's not really believable that they'd send a single drunken lawyer to find the heir in the middle of Amazon. Or that he'd go in there without a GPS, get lost, almost die, then return without her signature, and that the proceedings would go on even without any existence that she even exists. The slapped on religious preaching is lame too.

Date: 2004-02-06 (permlink)
Author: John Grisham
Name: The Runaway Jury
Rating: 3 stars

Not really believable, but mostly entertaining reading.

Date: 2004-02-02 (permlink)
Author: John Grisham
Name: The Rainmaker
Rating: 3 stars

The first half of the book is excellent, and it's great fun reading about the adventures of a lawyer wannabe who's totally broke. But in the second half things start to lag a little, and the ending in particular is disappointing.

Date: 2004-02-01 (permlink)
Author: John Grisham
Name: The Partner
Rating: 3.5 stars

It's a page-turner alright, but the trouble is not one part of it is believable, which lowers the enjoyment level.

Date: 2004-01-31 (permlink)
Author: John Grisham
Name: The King Of Torts
Rating: 4 stars

This review contains spoilers. Click here to show it.

When Clay Carter got the offer in the beginning, I thought "Wouldn't it be nice if he accepted it, facing the reality of the situation? Too bad he'll reject it and the rest of the book will be spent going through a boring lawsuit he'll try to launch against the mysterious corporation." There are times when you're happy you were wrong, and this is one of them. Great fun reading about his adventures as he takes the money and runs with it.

Date: 2004-01-30 (permlink)
Author: Tom Kelley with Jonathan Littman
Name: The Art Of Of Innovation
Rating: 2.5 stars

Mostly predictable hyperbole how "his" company is the best there is, was, and will ever be, and how they have personally invented practically everything. A cynic would note that 95% of the things he mentions as being highly innovative, were "invented" at the exact moment technology made them possible to actually implement. Occam's razor would be a good guide in deciding whether this is an amazing coincidence or if a simpler explanation can perhaps be found...

Date: 2004-01-24 (permlink)
Author: Jean-Paul Sartre
Name: Inho (La Nausée)
Rating: 2 stars

If this is a good example of "serious" literature, no wonder it's not popular. Pretentious garbage with nothing happening.

Date: 2004-01-20 (permlink)
Author: Walter Tevis
Name: The Hustler
Rating: 2.5 stars

If I had read this maybe 5 years ago, I probably would have given it a much higher rating. But now, as my wisdom borders on infinity as I approach my 27th birthday, I can say with total conviction that the book is a simple case of wish fulfillment fantasy, nothing more. I could go on at length, but in real life, you'll end up broke and miserable, not basking in glory, if you act like Eddie boy here.

Date: 2004-01-17 (permlink)
Author: Charles Bukowski
Name: Likaisen Vanhan Miehen Juttuja (Notes Of A Dirty Old Man)
Rating: 3 stars

Not really sure what to say about this. It's different from your garden-variety reading, that's for sure. I liked reading it, but I suspect as much for the novelty value as for anything else. If I had to read more in this style, I don't think I'd like it particularly.

Date: 2004-01-09 (permlink)
Author: Harper Lee
Name: To Kill A Mockingbird
Rating: 4.5 stars

Nice, dry humor sprinkled throughout the book, and highly enjoyable in all ways.

Date: 2004-01-02 (permlink)
Author: Anne Tyler
Name: Ladder Of Years
Rating: 4 stars

You can certainly say one thing about Tyler: she's found her niche and she's not leaving it. While the books are enjoyable, they blend into each other. Practically all are about middle-aged women in the Baltimore area going through a so-called crisis in their lives, when they wake up from 10 or 15 or 20 years of routine life and wonder what does it all mean. The Accidental Tourist didn't fit that profile, and so far it's the only one that has characters that I distinctly remember.