A Tale of Two Novels, or Why I Had to Learn How to Remove a Book From My Goodreads Account

I’ve been pretty fortunate, when it comes to reading material. We haven’t reached the half-way point of the year and I have already given 5 star ratings to five books.1/2 Compare this to last year when I only gave the high ranks to one book, or 2012 and 2013 which garnered two 5 star ratings each.

Am I getting soft in my reviews? Am I becoming more likely to give books higher ratings? Well, outlier year 2014 with its
fifteen 5 star reviews would tend to beg the difference. Also, there is the fact that I have recently done the exact opposite of giving high marks to a book. No, worse than giving low marks, there was a book which I simply did not finish.

Until recently I felt compelled to finish any book which I started. This resulted in a lot of miserable time spent among the pages of books which I did not find interesting, which were poorly written, or which I just lost interest in (for whatever reason). It finally dawned on me that there were too many potentially great books out there for me to spend my time slogging through something I wasn’t enjoying. So I stopped forcing myself to read books I didn’t like.

Since then I have stopped reading books at various stages. There are a notable few which were so poorly written that I didn’t get past the first few pages. Most peter out somewhere in the middle. A prime example of that would be John Grisham’s novel
The Racketeer.

I should, perhaps, preface this next bit by saying that I am actually a fan of Grisham’s, although I haven’t read any of his fiction in quite a while. After an intense period of reading a LOT of legal thrillers, I completely burnt out on the sub-genre. That being said,
The Innocent Man is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in many years and I highly recommend it. I was looking for an audiobook that both I and The Mrs might enjoy listening to on our (at the time) upcoming vacation. Her reading tastes differ from mine,4 but we both enjoy mysteries. The premise of The Racketeer sounded intriguing. A man who claims to have been falsely imprisoned barters information about the murder of a Federal judge to gain his freedom. Given Grisham’s ability to throw in clever twists and unforeseen complications, this sounded like a win.

Yeah, not so much.

The first third of the book was pretty straightforward, if a little heavy on the exposition. After the judge is murdered, the tension began to ramp up. As expected, there was plenty of information on the legal side of things: various court based hoops to be jumped through, the inner machinations of the Witness Protection Program, the difficulties that various federal agencies have working with each other. Then there was a sharp left turn into WTH? land which made both The Mrs and I wonder if we had missed something. We rewound the recording and listened again, but there was no explanation to be found.

I suspect that the explanation for this shift (which I will not reveal in case there are those among you who are still interested in the book) would be explained after the tasks set out by the main character were completed. Unfortunately, this took WAY TOO LONG. I stopped listening long before the reasons for the goings on were revealed. The Mrs gave up before I did.

But wait, I can hear you saying, the title of this entry mentions
two books. This stuff is depressing. Tell us about the good book.

I’m glad you asked.

The other book which I finished recently and enjoyed immensely was
Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff.

Oh sure, another Cthulhu book. No wonder you liked it.

Well, it’s not really a Cthulhu book. What it is, is a well written book full of suspense with some brilliant characters. For a full review, check out my
Goodreads account.

I did have a weird moment when researching
Lovecraft Country. One important aspect of the book is that the main characters consist of a black family dealing with the hidden, and at times blatant, racism of Post WWII America. I thought that this was handled extremely well, giving the characters and added depth of dimension. I didn’t know that the author, Matt Ruff, was not a person of color until after I finished it.5 I’ve attended a number of panel discussions about the appropriation of other cultures by white authors, the importance of expanding genre fiction to included writers and readers of color, etc. Does Ruff exploit the plight of blacks during the heyday of the Jim Crow south? I don’t think so, but then, I’m a white guy.

This is one thing that both books have in common. Both books are at least tangentially related to genre fiction (the legal procedural for
The Racketeer, and horror for Lovecraft Country). Both are by established white authors. Both have main characters who happen to be black. I think Grisham does an admirable (if at times expositorally boring6) job of explaining the inherent racism and general bias of the legal system. Ruff does an excellent job of getting the readers to feel the unfairness and unjust of American society. Both authors handle the task well. Ruff manages to do it in a way that is actually entertaining.

1 I also recently found out that there is a Stats section on Goodreads, which explains some of this.

2 Those books are:
The Rules of Supervillany by C.T. Phipps
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz
Go the Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach, audio version narrated by Samuel L Jackson
Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

3 The notable exception to this is when I only have one audiobook with me on a long trip.

4 And the understatement of the year award goes to...

5 Despite the fact that I read and enjoyed
Bad Monkeys.

6 Can you say info dump?