One-Minute Book Reviews – vol. 12

The Pleasure of My Companyimages
Novel by Steve Martin (2003)

Technically, I consider this closer to a novella than a novel.  Officially, it’s likely one of the top ten books I’ve read in the past year.  The Pleasure of My Company is a witty tale about lonely Daniel Pecan Cambridge, unemployed and an extreme OCD sufferer.  It only takes a few pages for us to realize that Daniel is either much more or less intelligent than he believes he is, or occasionally both.

Daniel is in love with one woman and has relationships with three others, even though none of them are at all aware of it.  There’s Elizabeth, the realtor leasing apartments across the street; Philipa, the young woman who lives upstairs in his building; Clarissa, the psychology student who meets with him twice a week; and Zandy, the pharmacist at the Rite-Aid only few blocks away, yet it takes nearly an hour for Daniel to get there.

His quirks and problems both elevate him to a lovable nut and drop him to a borderline stalker.  Either way, his benign and positive approach to everything makes him someone you wish lived in your building, though he might end up keeping you awake all night with his lightbulb obsession.

Due to the book’s brevity, it’s nearly pointless to recap the specifics of the occasional checks in the mail from his grandmother or the essay contest he enters twice with two different names.  The only worthwhile thing to do is recommend you get hold of the book because you’ll not only enjoy it but wish it were longer.  Martin’s voice narration of the book on audio CD reminded me of his character in the wonderful but underappreciated film Roxanne (written by Martin) and leaves me wondering why nobody attempted to make a film out of this.

Highly recommended.

Finders Keepers515EOHP5KfL._AC_UL320_SR210,320_
Novel by Stephen King (2015)

Here are two things I never thought I’d say about a King novel:

It should have been longer, and it makes sense that an important character is a writer.

More on that later.

Finders Keepers is part two, at least, of a trilogy that started with Mr. Mercedes.  Trilogy isn’t really the right word because, although this story takes place a few years after its predecessor, they’re mainly independent of each other.  This one has a few brief references to events from the former that, if you’re read the former, are more easily understood.  However, to read this one first would do little more than give you a moment’s pause about what the hell he’s talking about.

Bill Hodges is a crusty, pretty much stereotypical retired cop now mainly working as a “repo” man, tracking down people who owe money for vehicles and other things for which they’ve stopped making or never made payments.  After helping bust a con man for bouncing a multi-million dollar check for a private jet, he swings a 180 and goes to work on a situation involving a teenage girl worried about her nervous brother.

Seems the boy had come upon some mysterious money, which he mysteriously and anonymously sent to his struggling parents to help make ends meet.  The money does that and more.  However, after it runs out, the boy starts losing weight as well as sleep, causing his loving sister to seek help.  She fears correctly – but for different reasons – that his life may be in danger.

Let’s back up to the beginning, in which Morris and two lackeys commit what seems like a home invasion.  John Rothstein is a famous but reclusive novelist who hasn’t published anything new in decades.  He’s written plenty, but it’s hand written in notebooks that are locked in his safe along with about$20,000.  Morris is obsessed with Rothstein’s most famous character Jimmy Gold, kind of a rebel and a hero to many disaffected young men, including Morris.

After the robbery, Morris hides the notebooks and cash in what seems (to him, but not to anyone else with a brain) like a safe place.  His plan is to recapture it years later, read and sell the notebooks to collectors for millions, and live comfortably.  That doesn’t happen.

Instead, Morris does a long stretch in jail while a teenage boy, Peter Saubers, finds the hidden treasure.  Morris is eventually released, but it seems his treasure has been released too.  That’s when a long stretch of backstory catches up with the present, and Morris wants his money and notebooks back.

As usual, I enjoyed King’s writing style.  It’s something to learn from, just as many learned from Hemingway generations ago.  I’m not saying King writes as well as Hemingway, just saying his sentence structure and simplicity have affected my writing for the better.

Back to the beginning – where I mentioned my disappointment about the length of the book.  There’s a passage of time that’s too short.  It starts when Morris is released, Morris discovers his treasure is gone, Morris learns who found it, Morris pursues Peter Saubers, the story ends.  All that was too short and could have been drawn out with greater length, suspense, and detail.  It was wrapped up a little too quickly, but I think I know why.

After something like thirty years in jail, Morris probably doesn’t have the patience for tormenting a boy and his family, though it would have been excellent for the reader.  Though I was disappointed with the length of the ending, it’s easily recommendable.  However, I recommend you read Mr. Mercedes first.

Oh, one more thing.  There’s something significant that happens at the end of Finders Keepers that is connected to Mr. Mercedes.  It seems like a huge hint to the plot of the third book. If so, then I’ll be greatly disappointed because it would mean a jump in genre from suspense to supernatural.  That’s not cool.

“Drunken Fireworks”0702stephenking01

Short story by Stephen King (2015, audio CD only)

What bugs me more than how lackluster this short story was is the condition of its release – only on audio CD.  Now, I appreciate audio CD probably than most people because it’s really my only source of reading.  I drive nearly three hours a day, so to spend it “reading” is a privilege.  However, to release not a novel – just a short story – on a format that costs $15 is just plain wrong.  You can get a hardcover novel for less than that, certainly a paperback, but to charge that much for what might be a 20-page short fiction is robbery.

In late 2015 “Drunken Fireworks” is due to be part of a larger collection available in print, likely to cost nearly as much as just the audio book.  By the way, audio books are actually cheaper to produce than print books, so that should not be factored at all into the unfairly high price.

Anyway, the story is nothing at all special and told in first person by a redneck who spends half his day drunk and the other half asleep.  The only entertainment comes from the perceptions of the unreliable narrator who is certain the wealthy Italian family across the lake from his backwoods shack are mob-connected Guidos.  They have fun with fireworks until someone’s house burns down, and that’s pretty much it.

Pay no attention to it at all.

The Heart is a Lonely Huntermorgan_mccullers_cover
Novel by Carson McCullers (1940)

What I find interesting about this book, which I did not greatly enjoy and am not happy about saying so, is the feeling I had throughout that perhaps McCullers was strongly influenced by and trying to ride the coattails of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  Yet it wasn’t until after that I learned this book actually predated Mockingbird.

That leaves me to wonder if possibly the opposite is the case, that Lee read this book, saw the potential for a more powerful story, and wrote it.  If so, that might explain why Lee never published anything else, at least not while living.  What if McCullers was such an influence that Lee just couldn’t write anything else?  It’s not impossible.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter explores racism not to the same degree as Mockingbird but still uses it as a central theme.  There’s a proud black father who is greatly disappointed in his children for their unwillingness to commit themselves to improving how blacks are perceived.  They seem more interested in having fun than gaining respect from those around them.

In other discriminatory issues, a pair of mute foreigners (can’t remember where they were from) are looked down upon despite their apparent harmlessness and willingness to put in a hard day’s work.  There were other characters doing other things, including a coming of age element as a young girl approaching womanhood finds a local boy very compelling, but “compelling” is not a word I could use for the book as a whole.

Unfortunately, there were too many stories and characters to hold my interest as the chapters alternated from one to the other to the next.  I couldn’t keep names or storylines straight, and my attention waned.  It’s a book beloved by many, but I don’t happen to be one of the many.  It’s possible that some books are so personal that they need to be read with a print copy in hand in a comfortable place and not an audio CD while commuting in and out of Philadelphia every day.

Can’t recommend it, but I say that without commitment.

Even This I Get to ExperienceNORMAN LEAR BOOK
Memoir by Norman Lear (2014)

The hard part about reviewing memoirs is that if you’re not a fan of the author, you’re probably not going to care about the book.  The easy part is that I don’t usually read a memoir without being a fan.  In Norman Lear’s case, how can you not be a fan?  The man was not just a television pioneer but a social pioneer, using the medium of television to make us think and re-think what we’ve been thinking all along when we were sure we were right but turns out we weren’t.

What is also hard about reviewing a memoir is revealing fun facts that are more fun when you actually read the book instead of skimming what some dope like me thinks of it.  Maybe I can put it this way – if you’re a hardcore Republican who sleeps with a Nixon pillow and nightlight, you probably won’t like this book.  If you still cross the street when someone black or Hispanic is approaching, don’t bother reading this book.  If you have no clue who Archie Bunker is or why he’s not just important to television but race relations in general, maybe re-read the Twilight series instead.

Speaking of Archie Bunker, the events surrounding the initial idea, the first attempt, the adjustments, the casting, the second attempt, the first season, and everything else involved with the one the greatest television shows in history, All in the Family, all of that alone is worth the time spent reading this book.

If you have great respect for men who volunteered for their country and the world when Hitler was on the rise, you’ll probably like this book.  If you enjoy rags-to-riches stories that involve taking creative risks and standing up for what you believe in, give it a shot.  If you look back at old television shows and wonder what took so long to allow married couples to sleep in the same bed, give this a read.  And if you aren’t sure who is responsible for more than half of the greatest television shows of all time, then yeah.

Norman Lear is (because he isn’t dead yet) a writer, producer, director, WWII veteran who flew dozens of bombing missions including some with the famed Black Tuskegee Airmen, an owner of a signed copy of the Declaration of Independence (yes, there is more than one), and much more.  Do yourself a favor and read a book that’s part entertainment, part history, part humor, part autobiography, and part everything else – just like the author.

I highly recommend you get to experience Even This I Get to Experience.

12 thoughts on “One-Minute Book Reviews – vol. 12

    • When I see anything with the Green Bay Packers logo on it, for that cheesehead helmet, I become 9 years old and tossing a football in my backyard all over again. Thanks for your always pleasant thoughts.

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