unbound @ seema.org

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Associate by John Grisham

I like John Grisham novels in the sense you know what you're going to get -- a story based around some aspect of the law, some kind of intrigue, thinly sketched characters, and liberal use of words like "goons". Grisham is short on details and descriptions and the suspension of disbelief is a requirement. But still, the books are quick and easy to read and that's why I come back to Grisham every now and then. I like familiarity.

However, "The Associate" is possibly one of the worst books Grisham has ever written. It starts out well. Kyle, a law student, is accosted by some "goons" (Grishma's favorite bad guy descriptor) with some incriminating evidence and blackmail him into taking an offer at a high power NYC law firm. So far so good, right? Well, the story actually falls apart right there as the evidence against Kyle is flimsy, at best, and the set-up and expectation of some moral outrage is woefully missing. However, if you buy this premise and keep reading, there are hints here and there that Something Big (tm) is coming and yet it never comes. Instead, the entire storyline collapses and it's almost as if Grisham looked up from his computer, saw his deadline was in 10 minutes and slapped "The end" on it. I actually went over to Amazon.com to read what others had to say about the ending as I thought maybe I'd missed something. Fortunately for me and unfortunately for the book, the majority found the ending wholly unsatisfying; the only way it works is if Grisham has a sequel planned. Unfortunately, Kyle and his friends are not interesting or likeable enough to follow for a second outing.

The flatness of the ending and the utter laziness surrounding it is baffling; after nearly two decades of storytelling, Grisham should know better. There's nothing more disappointing than investing hours into a book and having it turn out this way, especially when there are glimmers are excitement and suspense. In fact, his early offering, "The Firm", is a much more compelling and mature book than this one; I recommend reading that one instead.


0 comments | 9:47 PM |

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Book review

I finally got a chance to read "Julie & Julia" by Julie Powell on my recent transatlantic voyages. I was really looking forward to the book because the idea is so intriguing -- one year to cook everything in volume 1 of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" -- and even more impressive when you see what nutty things Julia wants you to cook. Honestly, I could go my entire life without needing to know what aspic is or boiling horse hooves. So I settled into my narrow coach seat with minimal leg room and started reading, totally hoping for culinary adventures that rivaled my own but with more exotic ingredients.

And this, unfortunately, is where the book derails. Maybe my expectations were too high but I was expecting something fun, lively, this idea of self-discovery through bone marrow and butter, and instead ended up with a story that had glimpses of brilliance and humor and insight, but was mostly plodding in its construction and pacing. Instead of insight or thoughts about French cooking, Powell spins stories about her friends without really giving the reader a reason to care. Why do I care about these girlfriends who flit and flirt in and out of the narrative? They don't wash dishes or cook so why oh why are pages and pages of text devoted to them when they add nothing to any plot line or character development?

Powell is whiny and can be obnoxious, such as when she is describing 9/11 families; I get that she worked day in and day out with families of the victims and there's a point at which you become numb, but please. I'm a Democrat (no surprise to readers of this blog), but even I got tired of her incessant Republican-bashing; given that there didn't seem to be a nefarious Republican plot to ban French cooking, the constant trashing talking does nothing to advance the plot or characters. And that's really the problem with the book. There are a lot of ingredients, but nothing gels, no underlying theme that really holds it together.

For a story to be successful, there needs to be some kind of change -- a character starts at point A and ends up at point B. Julie Powell just circles her kitchen (which is disgusting, btw, but mildly funny and relatable in an awkward, uncomfortable way) and never quite convinces us (or me, more precisely) that she is learning anything from her experiment. The motivation for the project is also murky. I get that at the beginning, the author feels trapped by her life and she wants something to spice life up. So why Julia Child? And what does cooking her way through this book bring to her life other than piles of dirty dishes and a penchant for finding rare and expensive ingredients? The questions are never answered. Somehow, it becomes about blogging, about finding validation externally through "bleaders", and Julia Child becomes incidental to the book (And oh yeah, there are made-up bits about Julia Child either, but some of them were cringeworthy).

I was really disappointed in this book because it could have been so much more. It should have been a light and fun read and occasionally it was. I was looking forward to reading about someone who lives a life ordinarily like so many of us, yet rising above it by taking on this crazy project. In the end, it seemed like an excercise in navel gazing instead, definitely better suited for a blog than for a book. Amazon.com reviews seem to imply the movie is much better than the book; I haven't seen the movie, but I definitely don't recommend the book.

Labels: ,

0 comments | 8:23 PM |

Friday, November 13, 2009

LotD the second

Palin Book Fact Check. Shouldn't be surprising she plays fast and loose with facts. It'd be nice if she could go away and take Carrie Prejean with her.

Labels: , , , ,

0 comments | 8:08 PM |

Thursday, November 05, 2009


Interesting article, or rather book review -- Flesh of Your Flesh.

How is it that Americans, so solicitous of the animals they keep as pets, are so indifferent toward the ones they cook for dinner? The answer cannot lie in the beasts themselves. Pigs, after all, are quite companionable, and dogs are said to be delicious.

Labels: , , ,

2 comments | 10:28 PM |

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


I found this article about the subtitle of Sarah Palin's new book amusing. So much for going rogue.

Labels: , ,

0 comments | 6:55 PM |

Thursday, September 03, 2009


I'm reading an Agatha Christie novel, "Murder at the Vicarage." I used to love Dame Agatha and own quite a few of her books. Some were a little odd like "Destination Unknown" or "Evil Under the Sun", but others like "The Murder on the Orient Express" or the tour de force that is "The Murder of Roger Ackeroyd" still thrill. The one I'm reading is Miss Marple's first outing, and it's funny going back and reading a childhood favorite, as I'm seeing things I didn't necessarily notice before. I forgot how colloquial the language is, how interesting the turn of phrase is, and how subtle she is about dropping clues. Of course, the sketching of small town life -- country village -- is something she does really well and her characters, prominently Poirot and Miss Marple, are particularly well defined with their idiosyncrasies and mannerisms. I'm having a good time revisiting and am just a few chapters away from the end. Hoping to finish this evening. Despite all these years of reading Dame Agatha, I still don't know whodunit.

Labels: ,

0 comments | 8:34 PM |

Thursday, August 13, 2009


More on the Bush/Cheney saga here. I'm just fascinated by the dynamic. The Bush who is emerging post-term seems so foreign to me. The first hint of the nouveau!Bush is that he didn't start any more wars during his second term, but this rift with Cheney and Bush's sensitivity to public opinion is fascinating reading. I do still think Cheney is the Boogey Man though. I might be softening on Bush the person (though I still abhor his policies and his actions), but Cheney... he's a scary, scary man. To wit:

"What impressed me was his continuing zeal," said an associate who discussed the book with Cheney. "He hadn't stepped back a bit from the positions he took in office to a more relaxed, Olympian view. He was still very much in the fray. He's not going to soften anything or accommodate shifts of conscience. There was no sense in which he looked back and said, 'I wish I'd done something differently.' Rather, there was a sense that they hadn't gone far enough. If he'd been equipped with a group of people as ideologically rigorous as he was, they'd have been able to push further.

Labels: , , ,

0 comments | 11:19 PM |

Friday, February 13, 2009

Shakespeare has a lot to answer for

Romeo and Juliet are a pair of knuckleheads. These two have launched a thousand fics and movies, and through various media, the idea that these two are the world's greatest lovers, star-crossed and all that, has survived. In truth, we're talking about two teenagers who fell in lust love at first sight, gyrated their way through hormonal-fueled angst, and then they impetuously died over a misunderstanding. This is an adolescent romance that lasted all of, what, 24 hours? Even Britney Spears' first marriage was longer than that. Weirdly, all this translates into the World's Most Romantic Romance Ever (tm), enough so that someone wants these two on their wedding invite*. Or maybe you'd like a "Romeo and Juliet" themed wedding? If you happen to attend such a wedding, I'd recommend staying away from the cocktails.

* Also, apostrophe abuse, which is just unconscionable

Labels: ,

2 comments | 10:11 PM |

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


The Shakespearean Authorship Question

Labels: , ,

0 comments | 11:09 AM |

Monday, November 12, 2007


I just finished P is for Peril by Sue Grafton. I still don't know what happened at the end and that's totally aggravating because dangit, I like my mysteries tied up with a nice little bow. Open-ended endings, those are best left for 'literary mainstream' novels. In general, the book was not the best of the Alphabet series. It was slow, plodding, and just over-burdened with Grafton's key eye for detail. I mean, seriously, the woman describes EVERYTHING, right down to what Kinsey bought at a grocery store. Unless it's a plot point that leads to the killer, I'm not interested in Kinsey's eggs and bread. Add to that a random subplot that had NO bearing on the main story and was a little hard to swallow, and I was left cold.

I do, however, think Grafton's gift is really in her descriptions, rather than her plot pacing. She can describe the heck of out anything and so her scenes and characters are very vivid. But the problem is, we have all of these details and no emotional resonance. It makes it very hard to care about any of the characters. The murder victim himself was merely a footnote to the whole elaborate set-up. It was as if Grafton had 80 million subplots and tangents she wanted to go off into and then decided in the last 3 chapters to pick up the pace and then... nothing. It was as if Grafton got tired, lost track of her 80 million subplots and decided to pack it in. I can only hope that these story threads are meant to be picked up in the next Alphabet book. But as it is, given the density of this one, not sure I'll remember or even care.


0 comments | 5:55 PM |

Thursday, September 27, 2007


I'm nearly finished with Reading Lolita in Tehran and it's been a slow, infuriating read, I have to say. It's a rather pedantic, plodding memoir (I'd rather call it a 'lecture') juxtoposing Iranian society from the Revolution through the Iraq-Iran War to the time the author finally leaves the country. Interwoven throughout are long expositions about novels including "Lolita" and "Pride and Prejudice" and of course, the trial of "The Great Gatsby". All of this would be interesting if the book didn't rely so much on the fact the reader must have read all the novels referenced. Without that frame of reference, it really felt like I'd come to English class without reading the homework assignment.

I wanted to know more about the women in the memoir and how they felt about the changes and how they were coping. That was the infuriating part. The author could touch on emotions, could often delicately elicit a certain feeling, and then she would drop it like a hot potato without exploring it. For instance, she talks about not wanting to wear the veil, which is fine, but tell us why. There are so many instances like this whether the author will make an emotional statement but never takes it all the way through to its final conclusion. The isolationism in which she couches her opinions and feelings makes it hard to really get into the book and absorb what points the author is trying to make.

Because of the 'lecture' format of the novel and the way it jumps from situation to situation, it's really hard to get a sense of anyone except for the narrator. The women in her class are simply women who have endured, but you never get a sense of who they are, what they want, and what moves them or what they need. Every now and then, there's a tragic episode that happens to one of these women, and the emotion is definitely felt, but is immediately forgotten in the next chapter because there doesn't really seem to be a desire on the author's part to somehow pull these women together and present a coherent picture of what is happening to them. Instead, to make her point, Nafisi will go on about a novel, usually Nabokov, who makes entirely too many appearances, comparing it to the current situation. That works if the reader has actually read the novels in question. In my case, I'd only read one -- Pride & Prejudice -- and because the women in the book club were simply footnotes, I'd lost all ability to distinguish one from the other by the end of the 300 some odd pages.

The book is well-written, though the paragraph formats are funky and quotations are optional and seemingly used at whim; it's very strange and can be hard to follow every now and then, not to mention highly annoying. Plus there are weird shifts of time, tense, location, and heck, people who were in one paragraph have phased themselves out of the next. Getting through this book is not necessarily so much hard as it's an act of brute force.

There are some great insights in the book (I did find the author's take on the format of "Pride and Prejudice" interesting) but you never quite feel anything about anything that actually happens in it because it's written about in such a measured, professorial tone. For me, that was most disappointing thing. In a time like this, I really wanted to understand more, and instead, I came away feeling like I'd just been in a semester-long English class than just happened to be taught in Tehran.


0 comments | 5:39 PM |

Monday, August 20, 2007

Reading corner

I've been reading a lot lately, and last night, I finished Khaled Hoessini's A Thousand Splendid Suns. This was possibly the roughest read I've had in a long time -- just emotional (and at odd times too), poignant, depressing, horrific, and every now and then a moment of hope. The story follows two women through pre-revolutionary Afghanistan through the fall of the Taliban (the current resurgence is barely a blip on the radar) and what their lives and circumstances were. If even 1 percent of what happens to these women is based in reality, it's already too much. There was a part of me wondering about my own comfortable life when halfway around the world, these women are being physically and emotionally and mentally tortured and treated as prisoners. It's possibly the most disheartening book I've ever read and Hoessini's prose -- stark but poignant (he has mastered the art of putting the right details at the right moments and skipping over what doesn't matter) -- manages to cut right to the emotional heart of the story. I can't say I enjoyed the book, but I couldn't put it down.


0 comments | 9:05 PM |

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Hello, all, I'm back. I am finished the book and since I have no way of discussing it here without spoiling it, all I will say is that the 7 straight hours I spent reading the book were very enjoyable. Your mileage may vary.

I feel like I've missed a lot in the last few days. It was just Harry Potter that's been taking up my time, but I've been out and about. I'm supposed to be working on my story but somehow I don't seem that motivated to do something about my summary paragraphs and I feel very much like cheating and just saying "the end". But then I think, if JK Rowling did that, we readers would feel totally gypped. Not, btw, am I insinuating in any way that JK Rowling and I have anything in common except for maybe a love of coffee houses.

So how about you? Have you read the book? Was it worth the wait? The anticipation? And please, out of consideration, no spoilers.

Labels: , ,

0 comments | 7:59 PM |

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Beginning tomorrow evening, I shall be offline. Well, offline as much as I can be. I'm hoping against hope that I will NOT be spoiled for Harry Potter and one of the only ways to assure that is to stay off the computer and not read the newspapers or watch television. As it is, the New York Times has already published a review of the book, and spoilers are everywhere. Some media outlets are better than others when it comes to this kind of stuff, but I don't want to take the chance.

I will get the book on Monday (hopefully) and it's gonna be a sprint reading session. So I'll see you guys when I'm done reading!

Labels: ,

0 comments | 8:13 PM |

Friday, July 13, 2007

Semantics, schemantics

I realized I used the word 'megalith' in this post in regards to the upcoming release of the last Harry Potter novel. I really meant the word 'juggernaut'. I'm eagerly looking forward to the book, even though I have very little memory of what happened in the last one, or even the five books preceeding it. I'm not a huge Harry Potter fan, probably pretty low on the scale, but I love the idea of being part of a huge reading community and devouring a book voraciously in a way that I haven't since, say, high school. These days, I tend to go at a very languid pace of about 3-6 pages a night if I'm lucky, and every now and then, I'll spend about 30 minutes reading.

But Harry Potter, well, that's a force of nature to be reckoned with and my speed will be dictated by the fact I don't want to be spoiled at all as to what happens and hence, I will need to read quickly to avoid from finding out the ending before I get there myself. This means I'll have to quarantine myself from all forms of media (::sniff::, Today Show), and maybe even people... In preparation, I've been trying to up my reading pace to about 10 pages an evening. We'll see how it goes. Since this will be a quiet weekend with no plans, I might spend a big chunk of time building my reading 'muscles', so I'll be game-ready when the book comes out next week...

Labels: ,

0 comments | 9:28 PM |

Monday, July 09, 2007

Pop Culture

Reading: Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
Movie watching: A Very Long Engagement starring Audrey Tatou
Television watching: What Not to Wear
Listening: Wide Open Spaces by the Dixie Chicks

I've been reading a lot lately and these are some of the other titles I've read and do recommend:

Return From Troy by Lindsey Clarke
One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding by Rebecca Mead
I Love You, Nice to Meet You by Lori Gottleib and Kevin Bleyer
Four Queens by Nancy Bazelon Goldstone

I've checked out a lot of books from the library, but I read so slowly these days -- about a book every two weeks -- that the number of titles I started and not finished is immensely long. I am, however, greatly enjoying "The Inheritance of Loss", which is unexpected. Next on my list is Resolute by Martin Sandler and Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns, but of course, that's without taking the megalith that's Harry Potter into consideration.

Labels: , ,

0 comments | 9:46 PM |

Older Entries