Books / Year 2005
Date: 2005-12-13 (permlink)
Author: Neil LaBute
Name: Seconds Of Pleasure
Rating: 3 stars

Nice acerbic little short stories, but let's be honest, the only reason anyone, me included, buys this book is because the writer is a famous movie director. If this was written by some unknown author, I doubt it would even have been published.

Date: 2005-12-09 (permlink)
Author: Kenneth M. Morris and Virginia B. Morris
Name: The Wall Street Journal Guide To Understanding Money & Investing
Rating: 3.5 stars

Adequate short introductions to most concepts found in investing.

Date: 2005-12-05 (permlink)
Author: Nathanael West
Name: The Day Of The Locust
Rating: 3.5 stars

Much better than Miss Lonelyhearts, but that isn't saying much. This one has an actual plot and characters acting somewhat realistically, but it still fails to leave much of an impression.

Date: 2005-12-02 (permlink)
Author: Robert McKee
Name: Story
Rating: 3.5 stars

Some good advice, but the material doesn't really need 450 pages to cover it.

Date: 2005-11-25 (permlink)
Author: Harry Turtledove
Name: Homeward Bound
Rating: 3 stars

I seriously hope this is finally the end of the Worldwar saga. I've been reading it 10 years now, for who knows how many pages, and enough is enough. Especially as this last book is the worst of the lot, with absolutely nothing happening except endless repetitions of "My my, aren't humans and lizards different".

Date: 2005-11-17 (permlink)
Author: Matt Ridley
Name: Nature Via Nurture
Rating: 4 stars

Nice and clear explanations why the nature vs nurture debates are missing the whole point. Along the way provides some interesting updates on recent achievements in science.

Date: 2005-11-10 (permlink)
Author: Andrew McLean & Gary W. Eldred
Name: Investing In Real Estate
Rating: 3.5 stars

Other than the mindless optimism that's so common in all real estate books for some reason, I didn't find any glaring flaws, but also not that much useful information. Things obvious to every thinking person are portrayed as great revelations, which is annoying. I'm beginning to think that unlike, say, stocks, there's really not that much theoretical information available on real estate investing. I'm not sure whether that's a good or a bad thing, however.

Date: 2005-11-06 (permlink)
Author: Tom Wolfe
Name: I Am Charlotte Simmons
Rating: 4 stars

This review contains spoilers. Click here to show it.

First things first: this 738 page novel is very much in the can't-stop-reading-just-yet category. It's hugely entertaining and Wolfe's writing, as usual, is almost sublime.

That's the good news. The bad news is that Wolfe's aim seems to be the moral skewering of today's youth, and to achieve that target, he has had to resort to stereotypical, or worse, unbelievable characters. The title character Charlotte in particular is an enigma: how could someone so smart be so stupid and badly informed at the same time? I don't care if she's lived in a small town in the middle of nowhere all her life, it's still not believable just how naive she is.

The particular plot vehicle Wolfe chooses to employ is the most cliche of them all: female sexual experiences gone wrong. The aftermath in this particular incident is so unrealistic and anger-inducing that it kills all the momentum the book has built up. By the end, it's clear it wasn't college life that corrupted Charlotte; no, she was that way all the time, but previously lacked the means to express it.

Date: 2005-11-02 (permlink)
Author: Graham Greene
Name: It's A Battlefield
Rating: 2 stars

Some good characterization, but practically no plot to speak of. And just how bright is it to have two characters named Conder and Conrad? I kept getting them mixed up.

Date: 2005-11-01 (permlink)
Author: Frank Miller
Name: Sin City
Rating: 3.5 stars

Normally I exclude comics, but once again an exception is made, this time for the complete Sin City collection, totaling over 12cm of shelf space.

Obviously, I only bought the set because I'd seen the movie, and was interested to know if the comics were better. The answer is that I don't know. The movie is so like the comics that I have a hard time differentiating between the two. The comics that weren't filmed seem inferior to those that were, but it'd still be interesting to see them filmed, as I hear they're planning to do.

Date: 2005-10-23 (permlink)
Author: Suzanne P. Thomas
Name: Rental Houses For The Successful Small Investor
Rating: 3 stars

Basic information about real estate investing, though the math aspects are absurdly simplistic. Also the returns she quotes for her Colorado/Texas investments are unreal; is is really possible that there are people out there paying $1100 monthly rent for a $130,000 house?

Date: 2005-10-20 (permlink)
Author: Richard Russo
Name: Mohawk
Rating: 4 stars

Nowhere near the level of his later books, but still very good. Though the fact that everyone in the book who's the least bit intelligent has also chosen to waste their life for reasons that are not even EXPLAINED is infuriating.

Date: 2005-10-17 (permlink)
Author: Frank W. Abagnale with Stan Redding
Name: Catch Me If You Can
Rating: 3 stars

I liked the movie better. Movies aren't meant to be believable, and I have serious doubts about just how much of Abagnale's story is true, especially since his description of Europe is so inaccurate and cliche-ridden it casts doubts on everything else as well.

Date: 2005-10-15 (permlink)
Author: Philip Roth
Name: Portnoy's Complaint
Rating: 2.5 stars

Time has passed this book by. Not only has the whole Freudian concept of everything being traceable back to the parents been proved to be entirely false, thus eliminating the whole point of the book, the mainstreaming of sex removes the sole remaining factor of the book, straight talk about sex. You're left with an absurd main character who frankly isn't very interesting as he doesn't seem to do much of anything, except blame his parents for everything that's wrong in his life. His various girlfriends have more personality than he has.

Date: 2005-10-08 (permlink)
Author: John Grisham
Name: The Broker
Rating: 3 stars

I was going to complain about the inaccuracies in all the technology parts of the book, but Grisham says in the epilogue himself that he doesn't know about those things. Which raises the question, why is he writing about things he doesn't know about? This is a sub-par book from Grisham, lacking the touches of realism found in his books concentrating on lawyers.

Date: 2005-10-04 (permlink)
Author: Andrew Parker
Name: In The Blink Of An Eye
Rating: 3 stars

The basic idea of his, that the appearance of vision was the cause of the Cambrian explosion, is only discussed on the last 30 pages or so. The previous 270 pages mostly discuss trilobites and such, which I'll manage to forget entirely in a few months, so I'm not sure why I wasted all that time reading about them.

Date: 2005-09-28 (permlink)
Author: John Kennedy Toole
Name: A Confederacy of Dunces
Rating: 5 stars

Unlike anything I've ever read, this comic masterpiece, and its main character Ignatius J. Reilly in particular, will no doubt be vividly remembered by me even 50 years from now, whereas lesser books, while enjoyable enough during their reading, will fade from memory in a few months.

Date: 2005-09-18 (permlink)
Author: Eric Garcia
Name: Matchstick Men
Rating: 3 stars

Another one of those books that work better as a movie. Of course I saw the movie first, so that may have tainted my opinion. Also the movie is changed quite a bit from the book, and I preferred the changes they made, so that is also a factor. Still, this is a short and enjoyable read if you've got nothing better to do.

Date: 2005-09-18 (permlink)
Author: Herman Melville
Name: Moby Dick
Rating: 2 stars

This review contains spoilers. Click here to show it.

The first 100 pages were ok, even great in places (Ishmael meets QueeQueg), but in the next 350 pages pretty much nothing happens besides endless descriptions of whaling routines. 20 pages from the end we finally meet Moby Dick, who proceeds to kill everyone. The End. Not my idea of fun.

Date: 2005-09-09 (permlink)
Author: Daniel Yergin
Name: The Prize - The Epic Quest For Oil, Money & Power
Rating: 5 stars

A comprehensive overview of the history of oil. What's bad is that the book is 15 years old and the oil landscape has since then once again radically changed, which makes the book's ending outdated.

Date: 2005-08-21 (permlink)
Author: William Faulkner
Name: The Sound And The Fury
Rating: 2 stars

Surprisingly readable in the sense that you don't get bogged down, but ultimately pointless. Rarely have I had such strong feelings of apathy towards a book's characters; I really couldn't care less what happened to them and couldn't wait for the book to end.

Date: 2005-08-05 (permlink)
Author: John Grisham
Name: Bleachers
Rating: 2.5 stars

This is almost like a novelization of the movie 'Varsity Blues'. I'm not sure why Grisham would write something like this.

Date: 2005-07-11 (permlink)
Author: Thomas Pynchon
Name: Gravity's Rainbow
Rating: 2.5 stars

I started this book 2 or 3 years ago, got very slowly through the first 320 pages or so, but as the book still wasn't making any sense to me, it sat on my bedside table, unopened, until now. Any reasonable person would have abandoned it completely, unfinished, but I'm not a particularly reasonable person and I have a thing about leaving books unfinished, no matter how much I might dislike them.

So, when it was time to pack some reading for a vacation, I had the bright idea of taking Gravity's Rainbow along. I could read four or five normal books in the time it would take me to finish this one, resulting in lots of weight saved in my luggage. Also, since I wouldn't have anything else to distract me, I would probably be able to better concentrate on the book.

When I started reading the book again, I discovered I had forgotten nearly everything I had read previously. Luckily, this soon turned out to be irrelevant, as I was reading the long Section 3 of the book, which mainly consists of Slothrop's adventures in Germany. It was also surprisingly readable; the narrative held together and you had a feeling of things progressing towards something.

When Section 4 rolled around, it all evaporated. Gone was the narrative, once again replaced by long sections of uncomprehensible text. Only the fact of being so close to the end of the book kept me going at this point. When the end finally came, I wasn't surprised it didn't tie anything together; no, it only muddled things up even further.

This book is a good example of why you shouldn't take literary criticism too seriously; they're not concerned whether a book is any fun to read or has anything relevant to say. What they are concerned with I couldn't say, since they use meaningless language themselves that can't be deciphered, only interpreted.

Date: 2005-06-30 (permlink)
Author: Martin Page
Name: Kuinka Minusta Tuli Tyhmä (Comment Je Suis Devenu Stupide)
Rating: 2 stars

Very short book that almost completely wastes its interesting premise. Some good observations about being too intelligent in there, though.

Date: 2005-06-26 (permlink)
Author: Douglas Coupland
Name: Eleanor Rigby
Rating: 4 stars

Enjoyable read, but I couldn't help thinking that the book's premise really deserved a different writer. Can you imagine this book written by, say, Richard Russo? Couplas is a good writer, but he doesn't go that deep into his characters and situations.

Date: 2005-06-19 (permlink)
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Name: Middlesex
Rating: 6 stars

This languished in the "TODO" section of my bookshelf for ages due to its strange subject matter and the fact that Eugenides's earlier work wasn't all that interesting. However, one day I started reading this, and after the two opening paragraphs, I was hooked. Gone was the passivity of The Virgin Suicides, replaced by descriptions of lives lived with unbounded zest. The only problem is that the book is entirely too short at 596 pages; the world cries out to know what happens to Cal afterwards.

Date: 2005-06-01 (permlink)
Author: Graham Greene
Name: The Man Within
Rating: 2 stars

Some seeds of his later style are visible, but that's not enough reason to read it. Unbelievable plot incidents and shaky characterization are all it has to offer.

Date: 2005-05-25 (permlink)
Author: Joseph Stiglitz
Name: The Roaring Nineties
Rating: 3 stars

Mostly uninteresting application of perfect hindsight, but there's some fascinating bits buried inside. Not enough worth reading 350 pages for, though.

Date: 2005-05-11 (permlink)
Author: Harold Evans
Name: They Made America
Rating: 3.5 stars

The first half of the book is fascinating reading, as you learn about the inventors of steamboats, oil drilling, and other things we take for granted nowadays, (not steamboats, but you know what I mean), but the second half is largely irrelevant. Cosmetics, shampoos, bras, diet plans, Barbie dolls, children's TV programs, and hip-hop music are not really on par with the achievements of the others.

It's also interesting to note that all the women in the book fall into the "irrelevant" category. I can't help thinking they were included just to avoid accusations about sexism; if so, chalk one more victory for political correctness.

The introduction has this choice gem: "Carly Fiorina, reinventor of Hewlett-Packard, suggests how much was lost by relegating women to innovating for other women." Not much, some would say :) I really have to wonder why some people have such a need for successful women figures that they'll idolize any woman who's achieved any kind of leading position, even if there is no evidence yet of her capabilities, or there's negative evidence.

There's more bad news: the book is not trustworthy. I have no in-depth knowledge of steamboat engines or telegraphs or any of the earlier things, but the things I do know something about were handled quite badly in the book. For example, Gary Kildall is hailed as the leading figure of Computer Science and inventor of hardware-neutral operating systems. It's too bad Unix predated CP/M by many years. Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie are not mentioned even once.

Then there's the biotech chapter. It offers a portrayal of drug companies that doesn't have much to do with reality, as was vividly demonstrated in Angell's book, which talks about some of the same things, with a much more believable viewpoint.

The constant hyping of patents is irritating as well; as it's accompanied by talk about 20-year court battles on nearly everything, you can't help thinking that everyone would've been much better off if there had been no patents to fight over in the first place.

Date: 2005-05-01 (permlink)
Author: John Steinbeck
Name: The Winter Of Our Discontent
Rating: 5 stars

I expected something gloomy, and instead I get a book that reminds me of Richard Russo's work. Hilariously funny and decidedly serious at the same time, it's a fascinating portrayal of American society at the beginning of the 1960's when change was in the air, and of one man's quest to redefine himself.

Date: 2005-04-27 (permlink)
Author: John Lippmann
Name: The Essentials Of Deeper Sport Diving
Rating: Unrated

Very different from the Gilliam book. While the Gilliam book portrayed diving as fun and tried to place the risks in perspective, Lippmann does little else but list the various dangers of diving. This book is also much more severely outdated than the Gilliam book, and can't really be recommended.

Date: 2005-04-26 (permlink)
Author: Bret Gilliam, Robert von Maier, John Crea
Name: Deep Diving - An Advanced Guide To Physiology, Procedures And Systems
Rating: Unrated

Excellent introduction to varied aspects of diving. Some of the information is outdated since the book is over 10 years old, but some, like the history of deep diving and general safety principles, are still as relevant as they were back when this was published.

Date: 2005-04-19 (permlink)
Author: James Ellroy
Name: L.A. Confidential
Rating: 5 stars

Ellroy himself has summed it up perfectly: 'Great fucking movie. Better fucking novel.'

This is unlike anything else in the crime fiction genre I've read before. Leonard and Hiaasen for example are good, but their books verge on comedy, whereas Ellroy has a much darker, more serious tone. His plotting is also much thicker, with everything intertwined and nicely coming together at the end. I think I'll have to read more of Ellroy, I need to know more about Dudley's exploits.

Date: 2005-04-14 (permlink)
Author: Elmore Leonard
Name: Split Images
Rating: 3 stars

Mildly entertaining while it lasts, but I''m sure I'll have forgotten all about it in a couple of months.

Date: 2005-04-09 (permlink)
Author: Katie Roiphe
Name: The Morning After - Sex, Fear And Feminism
Rating: 4 stars

If only the world had more women like Roiphe and less women like MacKinnon.

Date: 2005-04-07 (permlink)
Author: Edward Dolnick
Name: Madness On The Couch
Rating: 4.5 stars

I knew Freud was a fraud (...), but I had no idea just how far his absurd theories went, and his followers seem to have been even worse. My opinion of psychiatry just went down another notch.

Date: 2005-04-03 (permlink)
Author: Elmore Leonard
Name: Gold Coast
Rating: 3 stars

Not his finest work.

Date: 2005-03-28 (permlink)
Author: Nick Hornby
Name: The Polysyllabic Spree
Rating: 4 stars

Interesting columns about his monthly readings. Nice to know a highly successful author reads so little :) I started thinking how different this book is from Bloom's "How To Read And Why", since Bloom came across to me as an otherworldly figure that has read everything and remembers everything, while Hornby has huge holes in his reading just like all normal people do, and seems to forget everything he reads, just like I do, and then couple of pages later Hornby comments about the exact same thing and even mentions Bloom :)

Date: 2005-03-23 (permlink)
Author: Marcia Angell
Name: The Truth About The Drug Companies
Rating: 4 stars

Good expose about the pharmaceutical industry, and yet another example how lobbying is ruining the world.

Date: 2005-03-20 (permlink)
Author: Stephen King
Name: It
Rating: 2 stars

This review contains spoilers. Click here to show it.

I first tried to read this book about 15 years ago, but had to give it up because the scene where the werewolf comes into the cellar was just too scary for me back then. Now, the only thought that scene gave me is "The werewolf must be moving at 1km/h if it can't catch the boys in that tiny cellar". The whole plot of the book is absurdly bad; evil movie villains seem like masters of organization compared to the mistakes It makes in this book. If it wanted, it could have killed them all in page one, but no, for some reason it always just fails and then strings them along until they finally defeat it.

Date: 2005-02-15 (permlink)
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Name: Diary
Rating: 2 stars

Even worse than Lullaby, by far.

Date: 2005-02-12 (permlink)
Author: Graham Greene
Name: England Made Me
Rating: 3 stars

Kinda pointless. Nothing much really happens, and Kate in particular remains a total mystery to the end.

Date: 2005-02-08 (permlink)
Author: Graham Greene
Name: Dr Fischer Of Geneva Or The Bomb Party
Rating: 2 stars

Boring, pointless, and not one of the characters is believable. Especially annoying was the little 20-year old millionaire girl who decided to marry the 50+ year old poor man, who also happens to have only one hand.

Date: 2005-02-06 (permlink)
Author: Graham Greene
Name: Loser Takes All
Rating: 3 stars

This review contains spoilers. Click here to show it.

Very short and strange, even more so because the copyrights at the beginning claim this it was written in 1939, which made talk of computers and people being killed in the blitz quite bizarre. (Later research indicates it was actually written in 1955.) Also, not realistic, since there is no such thing as a winning system in roulette. Plus the standard "we'll be happy as we gave away our riches" ending sucks.

Date: 2005-02-05 (permlink)
Author: Laurence Bergreen
Name: Over The Edge Of The World
Rating: 4.5 stars

It's pretty amazing that we have so detailed information available about something that happened over 500 years ago; it's a good thing, because this is a fascinating tale.

Date: 2005-02-02 (permlink)
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Name: Blood Meridian
Rating: 4 stars

A very strange book. Usually books get you inside the head of the characters, or at least one of them, but this one doesn't, it's just a collection of dialogue and action, no inner thoughts revealed anywhere. It distances you from the characters, but that's probably not a bad thing, considering the things they do.

Still, there's a certain epic quality about everything, which keeps it interesting.

Date: 2005-01-30 (permlink)
Author: William Strunk Jr. And E.B. White
Name: The Elements Of Style
Rating: 3 stars

Could never live up to the hype, but this was still a disappointment.

Date: 2005-01-12 (permlink)
Author: Jonathan Franzen
Name: How To Be Alone
Rating: 5 stars

I never thought I'd find an essay collection this fascinating. Franzen bares it all, and personally what I liked best was the "Emperor has no clothes" dissection of Gaddis's books. Worrying though is that if Gaddis's books are so unreadable, yet still won awards and got good reviews etc, how will I myself distinguish similar cases in the future? It would be easy if I was in the habit of not finishing all books I start, but as I'm not, the selection process must be near perfect to avoid massive unfinished tomes cluttering up your nightstand. Which reminds me, I really should finish Gravity's Rainbow one of these years...

Date: 2005-01-07 (permlink)
Author: Annabella Åsvik & Annika Åsvik
Name: Miesten Paratiisi
Rating: 1.5 stars

This is a very strange book. I'm not going to discuss the sex tourism aspect, since that's been beaten to death already, but the constant generalizations are very suspect. How am I supposed to react, for example, when they claim that "Nobody in Thailand knows how to read a map"?

Date: 2005-01-05 (permlink)
Author: John Grisham
Name: Skipping Christmas
Rating: 3.5 stars

Grisham knows how to write, but this is lightweight stuff even for him. Mildly entertaining while it lasts, which isn't long.

Date: 2005-01-03 (permlink)
Author: John Allen Paulos
Name: A Mathematician Plays The Market
Rating: 2 stars

It seems the only reason this book exists is because Paulos lost a lot of money in WorldCom stocks, and decided to make it back by fooling people like me into buying this book. It worked for him, but in the process he lost any chance of selling me another book ever again, this book is that bad. Incoherent ramblings, personal opinions with no facts to back them up presented as the one and only truth, and worse.

Date: 2005-01-01 (permlink)
Author: Peter Gent
Name: North Dallas Forty
Rating: 4 stars

The thing that really stands out is the focus on injuries. Most sports books either avoid the topic completely, or dismiss it as a minor thing, but probably half of this book is nothing but describing the various injuries the players have and how they affect their life. This alone gives a refreshingly realistic viewpoint to the book.

The rest of the book is not bad either, though the marijuana witchhunts seem archaic by today's standards.