Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Thoughts about some books

We were on airplanes a whole bunch, and yesterday and Wednesday I was in the airport a lot, and ended up going through a lot more books than I thought I would. Here's a quick roundup.

Planet Simpson by Chris Turner. This is a brilliant 440-page riff about The Simpsons and how it relates to the world of the past fifteen years, basically. It's hard to describe. It's not so much about The Simpsons itself as it is about global trends and the rise of the Internet and the growth of satire and the generation gap and modern society... all explained with reference to the Simpsons characters and episodes, and drawing on The Simpsons not so much to explain the world, but as illustrations of what's going on in the world. I like The Simpsons, but I probably haven't seen as many episodes as I should have, and it never really become something I'd make sure to watch every week. Reading this book makes me want to go buy the DVD sets and watch everything. Reading this book makes me feel silly for not being obsessed with The Simpsons. The author clearly is, and he's able to make it all seem effortless -- detailed footnotes about the inconsistent age of Mr. Burns, or the assortment of names Bart has used when crank calling Moe's. If you're obsessed with The Simpsons, you'll love this book -- but even if you're not, I think you'll really like it too. I found it hard to put down, honestly. I mean, it's one big long rant, basically. It's this guy's explanation of the world and it's not terribly concise or organized or mapped out... but it's an awfully engaging, good read.

Little Children by Tom Perrotta. Tom Perrotta wrote the book that became the Matthew Broderick / Reese Witherspoon movie "Election." He's written a bunch of other stuff too. I think he was a professor at Yale too, and that I know someone who knows him. So the name jumped off the shelf when I was looking for a book in a Dublin bookstore. And I'm glad I picked it up. It's fiction but it reads much better than that. I can't get through real fiction. This is really good though. It's a satire about life in the suburbs. Some characters, they have kids, they do suburban stuff, some things happen... the plot isn't important. The characters are important. Perrotta has a lot to say about the suburban lifestyle and the emptiness of aspects of it, and he does it really well. If I can do half this well with what I'm working on, I'll be happy. I didn't know if I'd like this, but I really did.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Bird by Bird is a writing advice book. Lamott is a writer who also teaches writing, and this is her inspirational guide to writing. Like Stephen King's "On Writing," which I took out of the library but haven't gotten to yet. I've never read any of Lamott's other work before, but this makes me want to, because she's really good. It's inspiring and motivating and really a nice book. I read it once on the flight to Dublin and again on the flight back. I ran out of things to read. And it deserved a second pass before I took it back to the library.

Complications by Atul Gawande. I read the first 50 pages before the Bar Exam and mentioned it. I read the rest on the flight to Dublin. It's terrific. Terrific medical stuff. You learn what surgeons do. He's a great writer.

Air Babylon by Imogen Edwards-Jones. Okay, that was four in a row that I liked a lot. It couldn't last. I decided to write about the good ones first, and then get to the rest. This book goes behind the scenes of the airline industry and basically says that flight attendants are all on drugs and like to have sex with passengers in the airport lounges. I felt dirty reading it. Had I realized there's a companion piece about hotels, same author and same style, I wouldn't have picked this one up. It's manufactured. It doesn't feel real, even if it is. It feels icky. It's engaging, and I read the whole thing, and I learned that (gasp) airline food is cheap and bad. And also that if you're rude to a flight attendant, she'll put laxatives in your meal. Great. This is designed to make some money for the publisher and adds no great value to the world. It's trash. You'll read it if you buy it, but there's no reason to buy it.

Chapter and Verse by Colin Bateman. Got this one yesterday, when I realized I had nothing left for the flight. Colin Bateman is apparently a novelist who's written something like a dozen novels. This one caught my eye because it's about a writer, dumped by his publisher, and needing to find a way to get his book published. Anyone who's written a dozen published novels can write, no question. The problem with this book is that all of the plot developments are completely and utterly implausible, and there's nothing deeper than the surface here. This is a romance novel for writers, effectively. I didn't come away with anything lasting. It's a decent enough read, but I was hoping there'd be something interesting here, something about the publishing world, something about writing, something about the human experience. But, no, there's just some decent characters who do implausible things and contrived plot action happens for 330 pages and then it ends. You could do worse, but, I don't know, this illustrates my problem with most fiction. It has no reason for existing. This book adds very little to the world. It doesn't enlighten anyone about anything. It's okay company for a few hours, but it's not lasting, it's not memorable. It's a good novel. But it's just a novel. Sorry.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon. One of my friends passed this off to me when he finished. It's about an autistic kid who gets accused of killing a dog and writes about it. It's okay. I got into it enough to read it and not put it down. It's short, it's quick, the author captures autism really quite well. But read Paul Collins' "Not Even Wrong" if you want to be moved, if you want to really understand autism and feel something. This is made up stuff without any great purpose. I liked it a little, but it was only a time-killer. You can do worse, for sure. But, again, it's not changing the world. Maybe I expect too much.

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. This was me getting desperate in the airport without anything to read. I loved the movie. No one else did, it seems. The movie bears little resemblance to the book. If you don't have a good understanding of British soccer -- football -- and know the teams and feel invested in this world, you're not going to be able to read this book. I could not do it. I got a hundred pages in, and that was a chore, and then I picked up Bird by Bird and read it again instead. I know the rules of soccer, but I don't know these teams and players and you need to care more about this world to like this book. It's unfortunate. If it was about baseball, I'm sure it would have been decent, but it wasn't about baseball, and I didn't enjoy it much at all. Unfortunately.