Tag Archives: Jack Reacher

Lee Child: Brain, Meet Candy

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In between sweeping fictional epics and treatises on a broad range of subjects, from the origin of modern phytoplankton to explaining theories of economic growth, I like to get my inner Child on. Lee, that is.

As I await my Amazon order due next week (Manhattan Beach, Don Quixote), I have a few days to let my mind wander, so I let it wander all the way to the local library yesterday, where I picked up Make Me, Lee Child’s 8 millionth addition to the Jack Reacher Library for Altruism, Public Safety & Community Affairs.

And for reasons that escape me, I can’t get enough of JR/Lee Child. Or, as Murakami Haruki is super-enthusiastically quoted as saying on Mr. Child’s website, “I like Lee Child!” Good on ya, Haruks! Talk about a ringing endorsement. Maybe someone should have looked at “The Language of Love” before translating that one.

I tried explaining the appeal of Lee Child to my mother last night, but fear I didn’t do a very good job.

“So I’m about 120 pages in,” I began, “and essentially nothing’s happened so far. JR’s in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma, there’s been one minor fight, no deaths, one gun scene, a complete lack of blood, and a mystery tied to the evolution of wheat.”

“Weak?” she asked.

“Nope. Wheat”

“Like a Tweet?”

“Similar, but totally opposite. Like shredded wheat, yet not yet shredded yet. Anyway, Lee Child’s greatest description thus far into the book is of a train station and a mahogany bench. In a town called Mother’s Rest.”

“Who?”

“Not who. Where.”

“What?”

“Anywho, I’m not kidding about the slowness of it. Best of all, if you asked Matt to edit this as a manuscript, he’d have a heart attack and lose much of his head hairs; there’s alliteration all around, poor man’s poorly punctuation, dialogue bleeding from one character to the next (how many people really say ‘a million to one gets you…’ so often?), and so on and so forth.”

“So why do you like him so much?” my mom asked, equally fascinated and repulsed by my answer.

“I dunno, but I do!”

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Crack for the (Literary) Soul

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When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.

(Therefore, I read Sidney Sheldon with reckless abandon.)

When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

(Ergo, I switched over to Lee Child.)

Thank godness (sic) for Corinthians! Like many readers, I have fond memories of reading as a youngster. When I wasn’t dining on chicken noodle soup to fortify my soul, I was either playing hockey or video games, reading, or volunteering my time at one of 23 nursing homes/shelters/soup kitchens in the pre-GTA (i.e. Toronto Toronto).

I read Watership Down, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, the Hardy Boys, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and…get ready…Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. (“Hey, Mom,” I’d later say, “I thought a period ended a sentence.”)

But it was Sidney Sheldon whom I fell in love with as a young teen and consumed like cotton candy dipped in a sumptuous 151 proof rum & crack sauce. (“Whoa,” I’d later think – but not verbalize because it sounded sacrilegious, “You can put creams down there to do that?!?!?)

As I grew older, school MADE ME read novels about boring subjects like communism and totalitarianism as seen through the eyes of farm animals, orphans who like hanging around graveyards, and teenagers in a pre-Survivor scenario who kill instead of show off their naked upper bodies, etc.

Aside from a few girly rags in between during this academic period of my life (Hey, man, Stephen King publishes in Playboy! So does Margaret Atwood, Murakami Haruki, Norman Mailer and Ray Bradbury – so back off!), I didn’t have much of a chance to read anything except what was prescribed to me by all my Doctors of Literature.

Once I got out of school, though, I started reading what I wanted to read once again, and soon my literary boundaries began growing in leaps and bounds. I started my first book club in 2004 and my current one in 2009. Whether fiction or non-fiction, whether written in English or translated, whether a male or female/young or old author – I didn’t care. Soon I was slurping away on literature like a kid attacking a Slush Puppy after a hockey game. (Or Alberto Manguel walking around a library with a grocery cart big enough to hold all the books of Alexandria.)

Although I tend to read more serious literature these days most of the time (because I lost my sense of humour somewhere around Yonge and Lawrence a while ago, I’m told), I still succumb to the Lee Child virus every now and then. Which is what I did last week. Which is why I feel a bit lighter in the brain, but a bit sturdier in the happiness index.

I don’t read a lot of thrillers, but something about Mr. Don’t-Call-Me-a-Child, Asshole! resonates with me like, oh, I don’t know, how certain people feel upon getting a little blue box from Tiffany’s for Christmas or someone else being handed the keys to a muscle car and told to drive it hard into the ground.

Jack Reacher is not remotely human, a perfect soul in many ways yet has no sense of commitment. But still.

But still I can’t get enough of him. If you’ve only seen the recent Tom Cruise Jack Reacher series movies, do yourself a favour. Go to a hospital and get a brain scrub. Have those memories completely erased from your brain and then start at square one: pick up ANY Jack Reacher novel (there’s no real thread through them except the brother who comes and goes and a few other small details), find a comfortable place to read, and strap yourself in for a wild ride. You won’t regret it.

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Multiple Choice (novel)

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I’ve read books where I had to keep a dictionary close at hand (The Name of the Rose) or a notebook to jot down lyrical prose (The Prophet, The English Patient), but with Alejandro Zambra‘s Multiple Choice, you do actually need a pencil and eraser to get through this:

(A) Novel
(B) Nonfiction
(C) Poetry
(D) All of the above
(E) None of the above

 

I’m going to go with (F) Gimmicky. Now, I should point out that “gimmicky” does not necessarily mean bad, boring or trite. On the contrary, I think of the Choose Your Own Adventure series and how – gimmicky though they are in their format – each book is actually fresh, vibrant and engaging. (Someone actually referred to Multiple Choice as an “existential Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel,” which I could not find more egregiously misleading.)

Even if you enjoy taking tests, do you really want to be going back and forth constantly between the answer index in the back of the book and the page you’re reading? Doubly so while you’re taking the subway to work in the morning or getting sleepy at night and lying in bed?

Perhaps it’s more pertinent to ask where any semblance of tension is throughout the prose-poetry novella (option (G)?). Or the lack of any empathy evoked by a wholly absent protagonist.

In short, a book should not be judged on its “newness” alone, but also by its literary merits, even if it’s simply because it’s a page-turner. For example, through their respective Jack Reacher and Robert Langdon series, Lee Child and Dan Brown manage to capture our imagination, as puerile (or gimmicky) as the writing may seem at times.

While I’m always happy to have formed an independent opinion after reading a book for myself, I can safely say that if you’ve already got another book on your shelf waiting to be read, you can skip passing Go on this one and not collect the $3 I received for reselling Multiple Choice to a used bookstore last week.

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