The Secret History – Donna Tartt
I know Tartt is one of the hot American novelists of the moment, with her novel The Goldfinch getting a lot of acclaim last year. I believe this, her debut, came on the qualified recommendation of Brother in Books, Dave V. He had a mixed view of the book, but suggested I begin with it if I was going to read Tartt’s other stuff.
It’s a frustrating book. I use that description because it is a story where there are no characters worth rooting for. It takes place in a small liberal arts college in Vermont, sometime in the late 80s/early 90s. While the main character/narrator, Richard, comes from humble origins, most of his classmates are spoiled rich kids who drive BMWs, own vacation homes, jet off to Europe, and go through booze like mad men (and women). Although Richard barely has money to buy new clothes, he always manages to find his way into whisky and cocaine.
He gets pulled into a new circle of friends, and things quickly get complicated. Crazy complicated. Here’s my other frustration: I just didn’t buy how things progressed. I couldn’t decide if it was silly or lazy, but the lack of logic bothered me.
I’ll probably get to The Goldfinch at some point, but I’m not terribly eager to after reading this.
Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s – Jeff Pearlman
Pearlman has written about the 1990s Dallas Cowboys, the mid-1980s New York Mets, and Walter Payton. The Showtime era Los Angeles Lakers seem like the perfect next subject for him to tackle.
Everything about this book is what you would expect. There were plenty of internal dramas in the years between the drafting of Magic Johnson and his first retirement in 1991, when he tested HIV positive. Some were about ego and role (Magic vs. Norm Nixon, Magic vs. coach Paul Westhead, the team against Pat Riley towards the end of his time as coach), others about personality (Kareem Abdul Jabaar against the entire world), and some about drugs (Spender Haywood being the biggest example).
The book is presented as an insider look at all the drama and debauchery that came with being the franchise that helped to recast the NBA in the early 80s, playing in a city where image and beauty were paramount. And while I’ve never read any books about the Lakers before, nothing in here really surprised me. So there’s nothing terribly original here. It’s more a collection of everything we already knew, or assumed, collected into one volume.
It’s not terrible. It’s fun and entertaining. But it’s also not going to sit in the pantheon of great books about legendary sports franchises.
The Circle – Dave Eggers
A fantastic concept: A new employee at The Circle, a thinly disguised fictional rendering of Google, gets sucked into the world of hyper-social media, where every aspect of your life is shared, everything voted on, everything seen as a tool for monetization. As she grows her career, and her ideas get adopted, The Circle expands its reach and eventually begins to take over basic functions of society traditionally left to government.
There’s lots to work with there, right? The erosion of personal privacy rights, not just because of corporate or government infringement, but because we willingly give them away to be a part of the latest, coolest social technology platform. The sacrifices we make in order to make our lives “easier” and “richer” thanks to technology. The cult-like adherence to corporate philosophies demanded by some employers. The insistence that everyone join the vanguard as we march into the future.
Throw all that at Eggers, one of the best writers of our generation, and it should be gold.
I’m not sure his heart was in it, though. Or perhaps he rushed through the book. It feels incredibly clumsy at times, not the carefully considered work I expected from him. Although it checks in at nearly 500 pages, it seems like he skips through important developments far too quickly. And, worse, many parts were telegraphed in advance. Each turn in plot that should surprise fails to have an impact because it seemed obvious.
There are some points to ponder in here. But this should have been so much better.
Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and The People Who – David M. Ewalt
One of those books on the New Release shelf that called my name as I strode past. Ewalt, an editor for Forbes magazine, looks at the development of the role playing game industry, focusing specifically on Dungeons & Dragons. Interesting, light hearted, and perfectly toned. It made me want to find some dice and roll up a few characters.