Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Recent Reads December 2016 Edition

The train pulls away from the station and I pick up my book. This is how I start each day, well, this is how I start the productive part of each day. I read for nearly 40 minutes while traveling to work in the morning. I read for nearly 40 minutes traveling home at the end of the day. And sometimes I read a bit before going to sleep at night. All in all, I do quite a bit of reading.

Included below are short reviews of recent reads. There are a few books that stand out in my memory long after I’ve finished them. Long after I read them on the train. Long after the train pulls into the station and I head home after another productive day. I hope you read and enjoy!

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult (Ballantine Books, October 2016). Picoult has an undisputed talent for telling stories. What makes her novels special, though, is her focus on today’s most pressing social issues. She does this in ways that keep us thinking long after finishing her books.

Her latest novel deals with racial prejudice in America at a time when racial tensions are a hot issue, having played part of a disputed political process. In her words and through her characters, readers really sense what it’s like growing up Black. How you are treated in the court system. How you are confronted by shopkeepers who immediately suspect you of shoplifting just because of the color of your skin. Picoult’s novels are marked by multiple points of view and, like one of the three that tell this story, you will realize that prejudice also exists among those who believe themselves to be the most liberal advocates of social justice and equality. Thanks to this book, our eyes have opened up a little bit more to this timely issue.

The Nix by Nathan Hill (Knopf, August 2016). If you’re asking, like I did, what is a nix, it’s “a spirit of the water who flew up and down the coastline looking for children, especially adventurous children out walking alone.” So, what’s the point of that being this book’s title? I’m not sure. The so-called spirit played hardly a role in a novel that John Irving described as a “mother-son psychodrama with ghosts and politics ... a tragicomedy about anger and sanctimony in America.” Ghosts? Not really. Politics, maybe. In my opinion, the sanctimony refers to the tragicomedy itself, which left me unsatisfied and disillusioned. Despite the hype of this bestselling novel, which has been compared to Irving’s fiction, I couldn’t connect with it, or with its dislikeable characters. I came away feeling that this book was way too long and way too overrated.

The Mathematician's Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer (Penguin Books, September 2014). You don’t have to understand math to appreciate this debut novel about mathematicians, which it turns out, are a very strange breed. The shiva in the title refers to the week-long mourning period in Judaism. In this case, Alexander "Sasha" Karnokovitch is gathering his family to mourn his mother Rachela, a famous mathematician who is rumored to have solved a challenging and unsolvable math problem. This rumor leads to the arrival of a ragtag group of mathematics scholars who crash the party in attempts to find Rachela's solution, which apparently she took to the grave. There are humorous moments in the story and a bit of math theory. What is hard to accept is Sasha's undying affection for his mother and the distance he keeps from his daughter and granddaughter. Open your math books and figure that out! Still, quite an enjoyable read.

The Son by Jo Nesbo (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, January 2015). I remember thoroughly enjoying Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series so I was interested in seeing if bestselling Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbo was the next best thing in Scandinavian crime fiction. This tale of corruption, vengeance, occasional bits of bloody brutality, and a very improbable love angle gets bogged down with strange characters that keep popping into the narrative to confuse the reader. It would have been a much more enjoyable read if it had more closely followed the efforts of detective Simon Kefas. Kefas’s main fault is that he figures out which leads to follow without including his junior partner, or Nesbo’s readers, in his thought process. We find our way to the end of the story, wondering whether it was worth walking the crime-ridden streets of Oslo for this.

Related articles:

Recent Reads - March 2016 Edition

Recent Reads - Summer 2016 Edition

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