07 June 2011

Weekly Book Review: "The Rainmaker", "The Know-It-All", "Dirty Sexy Politics", and "Assholes Finish First"

Been plowing through a lot of academic stuff in the past couple of weeks, so pleasure reading has been light.

The Rainmaker, John Grisham

In this book, a young Southern lawyer goes up against a powerful, well-connected law firm that turns out to be secretly corrupt. He makes it through a combination of his own virtuous hard work and some lucky breaks.

The above paragraph describes every Grisham book I've ever read, and it works perfectly for The Rainmaker too. This book is perhaps the prototypical Grisham. It's simple, trite, and moderately well-written.

Not a lot of thought went into the writing. It's smooth and unpretentious, but it's about as deep as my ice-cube tray.

As an example, at one point the young male lawyer has been studying in a quiet corner of the hospital cafeteria for the bar exam. While he studies, he notices a beautiful young woman being wheeled in, her leg in a cast. He snatches looks at her that night, and when he sees her again the next night he dares to approach and talk to her a little. He finds out she's married, but he still can't stop thinking about her. The day after that, he talks to her again, and she asks about what kind of law he does. Will he defend murder victims? Yes, he will. Will he defend people who batter their wives? No, he won't.

When she asks if he does divorces, he answers that he does. We're given no further comment on that bit of the exchange. But this is simply wildly unrealistic. A young guy lusts after this beautiful young woman, and her inquiry about divorce is answered so flatly? His mind should have run wild! She wants a divorce. Wait, is she asking? Maybe she is hinting about it. Should I offer to do it for free? Is that too forward? Wouldn't there be a conflict if I did - ethically improper or something? I can get my buddy Deck to do it for free. Oh, God, maybe she didn't mean anything!

But Grisham didn't think too much about it, I guess. He didn't think too much about any of it.

The book is very straightforward. The virtuous but relatable Rudy Baylor struggles out of law school, scraping through by waiting tables, and represents Dot and Buddy Black on behalf of their son Donny Ray against the evil Great Benefit Insurance, who are represented by the powerful and almost-as-evil Trent & Brent firm. The good guys are all poor and Southern, and the bad guys are all rich and corrupt and with a distinctly Northern style.

Because of the nature of the legal system, it is funny the way the trial goes. Like most writers, Grisham wants to maximize the odds against his heroes. But the legal system makes it hard to do. The corrupt judge at the start of the trial could just dismiss the case with prejudice: boom, book is over. So Grisham has to dispose of the corrupt judge just before he can dismiss the case, and install a favorable judge. This happens with several other developments, as well, like when Rudy gets in legal trouble but happens to have a buddy with some corrupt police friends (it's okay for him to do it!)

It's an okay book, and maybe worth checking out if you've never read any Grisham.

The Know-It-All, A.J. Jacobs

A.J. Jacobs, an editor at Esquire, decided to read the whole of the 2002 Encyclopaedia Brittanica. It took him a year, and this is his book about the endeavor.

The book is terribly written. It takes a predictably gimmicky style, as it is arranged alphabetically, with brief anecdotes added in after various selected headings. These anecdotes are either things that Jacobs found particularly interesting, personal items from his life, or recountings of his attempts to meet other people who are famously smart (JEOPARDY winners, Mensa members, etc.)

Very few of these anecdotes are interesting. And worse, the ones that might be interesting are sullied by Jacobs' complete lack of context. Much of the book is spent with him moaning about how he's not as smart as he thought or he's much dumber than his brother-in-law Eric, and he inadvertently proves it with entries like this:

The storming of the Bastille was surprisingly lame. When the mob forced open the doors, the prison had been largely unused for years and was scheduled for demolition. It "held on that day only four counterfeiters, two madmen and a young aristocrat who had displeased his father." Seven people? That barely qualifies as a storm. More like a light drizzle. Couldn't they have stormed something a little more impressive?

It seems like Jacobs is confused about what the "storming" meant - the storming was the attack by the crowd, not the release of the prisoners. The rioting Parisians stormed the Bastille. There were hundreds of people in the riot, opposed by the French army.

Either Jacobs doesn't understand what's going on or else he is sadly unclear in his writing. These sorts of frustrating problems crop up often. I would say that they ruin the book, but there's not much to be ruined. There are perhaps a dozen pages of this text that are worth reading - maybe 2% of the whole. That's remarkably little wheat for so many tons of chaff.

In any case, I'm reading Plato and I have to say, I'm not impressed. His theory of forms seems absurd, even infuriating. Plato wrote about the existence of another world, apart from the physical world, a world filled with ideal forms. Somewhere, there's an ideal man, stone, shape, color, beauty, justice. Somewhere, there's the Platonic ideal of a bottle, of a chair.
Seems like a bunch of what they used to call hogwash. Problem is, reading the Britannica is a very un-Platonic experience. Over the last 21,000 pages, I've watched everything change and evolve--men, stones, beauty, everything. How can there be an ideal form of a chair? Which of the dozens of chair styles would you choose to represent this ideal? The 18th-century ottoman? The 19th-century cockfighting chair?

Definitely skip this one; it's a waste of time.

Dirty Sexy Politics, Meghan McCain

This may be the most painfully by-the-numbers political autobiography I have ever read, and that's really saying something. The only thing that exceeds the banality of this book is the jumbled structure: it's not arranged topically or chronologically or any other way. It's a bunch of boring anecdotes lurched together, like a Frankenstein made from insurance auditors.

She gives people wacky nicknames like the Blonde Amazon or the Groomsmen. And she uses edgy and unorthodox adjectives, like "tabloid-attention-getting." Ugh.

Overall, the book is supposed to be the story of Meghan's involvement in her father's (John McCain) race for the presidency in 2008. But it seems like it just is mostly dedicated to rehashing the same tired points seen in every preceding political autobiography, only in a poorly-written way.

  • When Meghan was giving an interview to a GQ reporter, she talked for hours about the campaign and policy, but what he ended up using in the article were her more candid comments about finding Obama sexy, loving the show A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, and how Mike Huckabee would be a bad Vice President! She was so trusting and naive, believing that the reporter wasn't just using her for some juicy material for his article!
  • The media was incredibly partisan, clearly showing favoritism to other people and slamming Meghan for the smallest things! They loved Michelle Obama but took pictures of Meghan in jeans with a beer bottle! So unfair!
  • Meghan was one of the few independent voices. Everyone else on the campaign (except her friends and family) were robots who just marched to the party line, and couldn't handle it when Meghan displayed her independence or thought for herself. There were a bunch of times when she completely spoke her mind, and these perfectly reasonable things were just shocking to the drones of the campaign!
  • She's not a perfect person! One time she pranked a reporter with a bowl of eggs outside of his door that he stepped in, and she almost got in trouble in New Hampshire when she tried to steal some Huckabee campaign signs!

Also, she talks a lot about her clothes.

McCain does deviate from the norm slightly when she calls for skewing left on social issues, but otherwise this is a boring grind of a text. Thankfully it's a short grind, taking maybe an hour to read. But there are better ways to invest an hour of your time. Make a nice meal. Learn to paint. Just don't read this book.

Assholes Finish First, Tucker Max

Since Tucker Max's first disaster of a book, he has started to call himself a "writer." On reading that, I almost choked with laughter.

Let me save you the time you might waste on this book. Here are the stories from the first third of the book, complete and in order. Bear in mind that you're not missing anything in this summary. The writing is abysmal (he loves the Caps Lock) and the sparse scraps of wit that were in the previous book are entirely gone. You are getting the full experience here. I realize that this will be hard to believe, reading this list, but it is absolutely true. I would have done the whole book, but I started feeling a little ill. The rest is just the same.

  • Tucker buys a bullhorn, goes to a campout for other grad students at Duke, and yells lame insults at them. Example: "[to a dude in a Star Wars T-shirt] Be honest, how many times have you jacked off to a picture of Princess Leia in her metal bikini?" Eventually, a cop takes away the bullhorn. The end.
  • Tucker gets drunk and wakes up next to a girl. He doesn't know her name, so he looks in her purse at her driver's license. But it's the wrong name, because it actually was the purse of his roommate's hookup. The end.
  • Tucker has sex, and when he wants to have sex again he rinses out the condom and uses it a second time. The end.
  • Tucker has sex with a girl with a colostomy bag and mocks her to the pathetic best of his ability. The end.
  • Tucker has sex with a woman with kids. That is it. The end.
  • Tucker has sex with an 18-year-old, and they argue briefly. The exchange ends with what he considers to be a zinger: "You aren't as smart as me. Just admit defeat and submit." The end.
  • Tucker gets angry when he is cut off by another driver while getting "road head," and he stamps on the brake. The girl going down on him gets hurt, scraping her face on the car. The end.
  • Tucker is having sex with a girl when he notices a big zit on her back. He pops it. The end.
  • Tucker calls a girl over for sex, and falls asleep before she gets here. He listens to her eight voicemail messages the next day, which escalate in anger until the last one, which resignedly tells him she still likes him. The end.
  • Tucker has sex with a hippie who is on her period. After sex, she picks up the tampon and wraps it in a leaf, bringing it with her so as not to litter. The end.
  • Tucker and some friends dress up like clowns and go drinking. Tucker is pushed out of a window by his friend Nils after Tucker tells him "he is too ugly to have even one skank, much less two." They go to other bars, hurl lame comments at nearby people, and skip out on their tabs. Tucker wakes up in the drunk tank, surrounded by his own vomit. When a nearby restaurant refuses to serve a filthy Tucker after his release, he breaks down weeping, then uses a brick to smash their circuit breaker box and turn off their power. He appends his mugshot and arrest report. The end.
  • Tucker and his friend go to a bar after exchanging limp witticisms. He is challenged to a drinking contest by a girl, but because he is "allergic to whiskey" he throws up after two shots. On the cab ride home, he stops the cab and runs out of it, vomiting some more. The end.
  • Tucker and his friend go to a Halloween party. On the way there, someone cuts them off so they spit on her windshield. At the party, there is little alcohol, so they go buy a lot more. At the party, they throw out more wilting witticisms, like telling a fat girl that "the buffet is the other way." One of the friends is so amazingly clever and rude as he pretends to talk to a plastic parrot. Here is the one of the "best examples": "He walked up to a group of girls, looked them all up and down, and started walking away. 'You're right, Mr. Peepers, there aren't any good-looking girls at this party.'" Tucker has sex with a woman who works at the NSA, and throws up in her bed the next morning. She catches him. The end.
  • A charity organization asks Tucker to be at a bachelor auction. He submits a proposed "Tucker Max Experience" date night. It is mostly about how slovenly and rude he is. They decide not to invite him. The end.
By the end of the book, I felt sad for Tucker, sadder for the people who have had the misfortune of encountering him, and a little soiled for having read about it all.

This may be the worse book I have ever read. Boring, terribly-written, crude, and with the moral worth of a fetid pile of dung. If you see it in a bookstore, do not just avoid it. I urge you to steal every copy you can find, to spare the unsuspecting. Don't burn them, since a half-burnt shred of paper may be lofted up into the air and off to some poor reader. Instead, take the books and seal them in a barrel with an equal amount of molten slag. Seal them deep inside of Yucca Mountain. Post a guard.

1 comment:

  1. Must be an enjoyable read The Rainmaker by John Grisham. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.