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Intellectual reading… from Facebook?

Lots of people have their own ideas on how best to find their next novel to read.  Some keep lists of books they intend to check out at a later date.  Some rate past purchases and books they’ve read on Amazon in hopes that it will refine the site’s suggestions.  Others scour book club lists or the New York Times Best Sellers.  Many use GoodReads, a social networking site whose purpose is to categorize and rate books, and share your views and recommendations with your friends.  In a similar and less Web 2.0-savvy way, others go by word of mouth of friends and family.

I use all of these tactics and then some.  But do you know what has worked best for me? Taking note of my English major Facebook friends’ tastes.

Think about it: who better to ask for book recommendations than those who willingly read 15+ books a semester for their classes (or at least picked a major that required such)?  English majors read and analyze the greatest, most worldly works in literature and in many cases take upwards of ten classes dedicated to their study.  It isn’t illogical to think the kid on your hall who wrote a 23-page paper analyzing the works of Kafka might know a thing or two about a good book.  Wouldn’t you rather navigate the overwhelming ocean of books with a seasoned oarsman as opposed to a first-time paddler?

While I don’t keep a running list of every book an English major mentions on their Facebook profile, I long ago noticed that many cited the same ones.  I figure, these people have read hundreds of books, and likely hundreds more than most of the population.  If they think something is the best, they’re probably drawing from a larger, more comprehensive sample than little ol’ me.

So what books do my English major friends’ profiles display over and over again?  Here’s a short list:

Are all English majors’ recommendations amazing?  Of course not.  But scouring profiles for suggestions has lead me to some quality reads in the past (anything Vonnegut, Prep, gods in Alabama, etc.). As a result, I decided this week to pick up Everything is Illuminated.  Though I’m only on page 15, I’m gushing about the author’s writing style already.  A quick peek at my favorite line in the book already (page 4):

“My stomach is very strong, although it presently lacks muscles. Father is a fat man, and Mother is also.”

Hilarious!  The narrator says so much about his personality and appearance in so few, but perfectly orchestrated words.  Wonderful.

Thanks English majors for keeping your Facebook profiles updated, or at least your “Favorite Books” section.  I’ve been secretly hitting y’all up for suggestions for years!

What books do you see again and again on your friends’ Facebook profiles? How do they compare to that of your English major friends? Have you used them for other suggestions, like to find a movie or new TV show to watch?

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Book review: The Appeal

theappealcover1A few posts ago I mentioned one of my many vices, my tendency to read too many books simultaneously and thus not finish any of them.  Well, somehow between all the March Madness games I cruised through the last 250 pages of John Grisham’s The Appeal in the past two days, finishing yesterday.  That’s not a testament to the lack of excitement of the games: it shows just how many commercials are shown during the Madness and just how compelling Grisham’s writing is.

Though 579 Amazon readers give The Appeal an average of 3/5 stars, I give the novel 4/5 stars.  I think John Grisham has similar issues to that of great bands like U2 and Radiohead: an average novel (or album) is usually outstanding compared to what all other novelists (artists) are releasing.  But unless it’s one of his (their) best efforts, critics tend to give it lower ratings.  These works seem to have tougher criteria than most work at large.

That being said, I feel that The Appeal is a middle-of-the-road Grisham work.  It certainly wasn’t better than A Time to Kill or The Pelican Brief, my two Grisham favorites, but I think it was significantly better than The Rainmaker and The King of Torts.  I’d say it’s among the top one-third of his novels to date.

I’m happy to see Grisham return to his bread-and-butter, the legal thriller.  He is the master of suspense, a talented storyteller and an excellent researcher.  While Grisham got backlash from some of his fans for A Painted House, Skipping Christmas and Playing for Pizza, I think he’s demonstrated his range (as he also did by writing An Innocent Man, a non-fiction legal work I’ve yet to read) and can succeed in writing myriad types of stories.

The Appeal is a story about how a Wall Street stockowner uses the power of purse in an attempt to manipulate a judicial election.  After the largest stock in his portfolio, Krane Chemical, lost a massive verdict in a toxic tort case, the stockowner decided not only to fight back on appeal, but tried to purchase a seat on the state’s supreme court to assure Krane Chemical wouldn’t lose again.

Though published in 2008, The Appeal delves into all sorts of timely issues including epidural hematoma (Natasha Richardson’s cause of death in the ski injury case last week) and of course, the ethics of campaign finance.  (Spoiler alert:  if you plan on reading the book, skip to next bolded item.)

In the book’s afterword, Grisham wrote:

Now that I have impugned my own work, I must say that there is a lot of truth in this story.  As long as private money is allowed in judicial elections we will see competing interest fight for seats on the bench.  The issues are fairly common.  Most of the warring factions are adequately described.  The tactics are all too familiar.  The results are not far off the mark.

The Appeal is a cautionary tale of what can happen if commercial interests continue to be allowed to funnel millions into political campaigns without a better system of checks.  Elections can, and often are, battles of funding and sound bites, and money talks. If nothing else, I learned a lot more about these issues, and am now freaked more than ever about the current state of our justice and political systems.

(End spoilers.)

Bravo to John Grisham for once again providing a surprise ending that kept me guessing.  If you’d like to learn more about the book before the 484-page plunge, Grisham has a nice Q&A about the book for his Amazon readers here (scroll down about 1/5 of the way down the page).

I can’t wait to tackle The Innocent Man and his newest, The Associate, the only two of 21 Grisham books I haven’t read yet.  Let’s hope this “finishing books that I start” mantra continues.

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