Wednesday, April 24, 2013

No, He Isn't French.

Murder in Mesopotamia (Hercule Poirot, #14)Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first introduction to Poirot via the written word, and I can't get David Suchet out of my head. For the most part it doesn't matter: the finicky Belgian seems to have possessed the poor chap, save for his age. He's too young to be Poirot, and the moustache ought to be just a wee smidge bigger. And yes, computer, I know it's not a word, I don't care. Not a full smidgen, not even a small smidgen, but a wee smidge. But again, it was save for his age, and that did jar me a good deal. Here I was expecting a Belgian with a bit of hair on the sides, and his head is described as an egg? Not fair to me and my poor nerves.

I've always considered myself a writer, though non-practicing, of course. But this authoress went out of her way to shun credit: the person that wrote this let us know that the person that wrote this was informing us that someone else wrote it. In other words, Christie summons a Dr. to call in a nurse that happened to be present to write the account, so Poirot has unusually little face time. I presume it's unusual, that is—as I said, it's my first Poirot. In any case, I loved it. Light, flippant, and not too obvious (yes, I admit it, I was wrong: not only did I not guess the murderer, but the method of murder escaped me). I was right on a couple of less important mysteries, though, so my back shall be patted.

Christie is also a well known authoress for a reason, and the heroine / authoress of this little book is just great. She describes one character as being straight out of a P. G. Wodehouse novel, while another affords her no greater opportunity for kindness than "he must have been a lovely baby..." She's saucy, practical and entirely reminiscent of Lewis' old school of English innkeepers that view customers as a nuisance, but tempered with self-deprecating homour, compassion, and a good deal of grit. Just another fun book.

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Terry Pratchett, You Saucy Mynks.

Mort (Discworld, #4)Mort by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two things to note. First, I'm sorry Terry, I've resisted you too long. Second, if you giggle like a girl, and you are, in fact, not a girl, it can be rather uncomfortable to do so in a library full of huge hairy smelly unwashed homeless people that know where you sleep and carry pipe wrenches in leather holsters on their hips.

This book was just straight funny. Pratchett has a Wodehousian turn of phrase, and I caught both a line from Mortimer and a philosophy from Lewis, who of course published it some forty or fifty years before I oh-so-proudly formulated it for myself. Pratchett tends to get a bit dry when grits his teeth, spits on his hands and tries to force a plot into the book, but aside from said plot, the book was just great. Complete with red-headed freckled princess, awkward clumsy kid who takes an apprenticeship with a rather lonely Death (bones optional was the selling point), Death's adopted daughter and a two thousand year old wizard; yes, this book was fun. Kudos, Little Miss Ligon.

A few snippets:

After five minutes Mort came out of the tailor's wearing a loose fitting brown garment of imprecise function, which had been understandably unclaimed by a previous owner and had plenty of room for him to grow, on the assumption that he would grow into a nineteen-legged elephant.

(A bit later, talking to Death:)

"What are we going to do now?"
D: BUY YOU SOME NEW CLOTHES.
"These were new today—yesterday, I mean."
D: REALLY?
"Father said the shop was famous for its budget clothing," said Mort, running to keep up.
D: IT CERTAINLY ADDS A NEW TERROR TO POVERTY.



She had silver hair, and eyes with a pearly sheen to them, and the kind of interesting but impractical long dress that tends to be worn by tragic heroines who clasp single roses to their bosom while gazing soulfully at the moon.

An inner-city area sorely in need either of governmental help or, for preference, a flamethrower...It didn't have so much a neighbourhood as an ecology...

(Of a river:) Even before it entered the city it was slow and heavy with the silt of the plains, and by the time it got to The Shades even an agnostic could have walked across it.

(A wizard's front door plaque:) Igneous Cutwell, DM (Unseen), Marster of the Infinit, Illuminartus, Wyzard to Princes, Gardian of the Sacred Portalls, If Out leave Maile with Mrs. Nugent Next Door.

...the kind of person who throws all his socks at the wall and wears the ones that don't stick...




Yes, this book was fun.

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Well and Glad.

Outliers: The Story of SuccessOutliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Gladwell, par for his course, remains preeminently readable and manages to assemble a pleasant, interesting book. But of his books, this one I liked the least. Perhaps too much Dunnett and Wiman make a simple sentence vaguely soporific; perhaps sleeping in my car in sub-zero weather leaves me less rested than I thought.

Either way, it was still a quick and pleasant little read. His thesis, simply (and far more pedantically) put, is that the miraculous stories of success of which we are aware are less miraculous than they seem. Maybe there was a sandbar, maybe mom did pack me a lunch, whatever. Rather than a miracle, a perfect sort of storm occurs, getting Bill Gates thousands of free hours on a computer when such a thing was unheard of, and getting Oppenheimer off of an attempted murder rap (yes, murder). Thus, when opportunity appears they are in the perfect position to grab the proverbially knocking hand and either take it off at the shoulder or drag the body in with it.

So the vast majority of professional Canadian hockey players are born toward the end of the Canadian hockey cut-off year: a kid that's seven years eleven months tends to be larger and stronger than a kid that's seven and a day, so he makes the team, gets the practice, gets sent to the camp, gets the extra practice, gets noticed by scouts, gets drafted, gets brain damage and ends up spending his fortune being fed soup through a straw; long live the Queen. The flurry of Jewish doctors and lawyers succeed because they were descended from the flurry of Jewish immigrants that had to work obscenely long and hard hours, passing the habit on to their children (who wiped the floor with the lazy earlier immigrants, like us), and many other circumstances, including Asian math skills of all things.

The magic behind success? 10,000 hours. Simple, straightforward. If you want to excel at anything, if you want to master anything, put in 10,000 hours. Or just marry aforementioned Jewish doctor or lawyer.

This book ends, however, with a rare, hushed, even sacred view of Gladwell's personal life—a touch that's absent his other analytical books, a touch that ushers the reader into the realm of confidant and Gladwell into the realm of human. So intimate a gesture intimates to me that when I part the covers of his next book, I'll probably sit back, light a pipe and greet an old friend whose conversation I've ever enjoyed, but one that I feel I'm finally getting to know.

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Wodehousian Fun