Rick’s recent reads

I’ve been reading a surprising amount of “grown-up” books lately. It’s kind of nice to go back and forth between YA and adult. Some of the most recent titles I’ve read:

Freakonomics, Levitt and Dubner. Okay, so it takes me a while to get to titles everyone else has read. This was a very quick read. I finished the whole thing in one plane flight. I can see what the buzz is about. The way the authors turn “common knowledge” on its head and play with statistics is truly fascinating. The lesson: Don’t take anything for granted. Some of the chapter headings were more sensationalist than substantive: How are Real Estate Agents Like the Ku Klux Klan? . . . this one was a stretch, and the gist of the chapter didn’t really address any true similarity, but it sure caught my attention. I did feel, at the end of the book, that the author’s introductory assertion (warning) was correct: It was a book about nothing, and it left me with a kind of empty feeling. There were tidbits of fascinating information, a mosaic of weird factoids. But it didn’t really have a unifying theme, other than the theme that there is no theme. In that alone, it’s probably the perfect book for the times: deconstructionism, chaos theory . . . This book fits right in.

The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini. Another book everyone else seems to have already read, and another one I finished in a single sitting. Honestly, I’m usually not a fast reader! The writing was beautiful, crisp and evocative. A perfect sense of character and setting. I loved the story. It was impossible not to care about the characters. As an author, I had some minor quibbles with the plot toward the end. There were some moments that just screamed “symbolism” or “irony,” as if they were designed to be analyzed in a literature class or discussed in a book club. These jarred me out of the story, because they seemed so unrealistic in an otherwise beautifully authentic narrative. I can’t be too specific without ruining the story, but if you read the book maybe you’ll see the bits I mean. Despite this, it was a gorgeous novel well worth reading.

School Days, Robert B. Parker. Ah, good old Spenser. This is the series that got me into reading mysteries back in college, and eventually lead me to write a private eye series of my own. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the later Spenser novels (which to me is everything from The Widening Gyre forward). I am, I admit, one of the Susan-haters. I can’t stand Spenser’s love interest, which is one reason I loved this book. Susan is hardly in it at all. Neither is Hawk, Spenser’s sidekick. (Hawk would probably shoot anyone who referred to him as a sidekick, of course.) The novel is just Spenser doing his thing, and the story has a playful energy I haven’t seen in Parker’s novels in a long time. I really liked this book. The subject matter is timely but a bit icky (I can’t tell you without spoiling the plot, but you’ll see what I mean). Still, it was classic Spenser. If you want a straight-forward PI novel with good entertainment value and a great sense of humor, this book will not let you down. My favorite part was that I read it on the way to Boston, Spenser’s stomping ground. I got to the city, after reading Spenser novels for twenty years, and found myself walking down Boylston Street, which I’d heard described so many times but had never seen. It was quite an experience!

Rick Riordan