Like many readers I came to Dan Brown’s Deception Point via ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and ‘Angels and Demons’. Sadly, it doesn’t carry the same intrigue as those books yet that shouldn’t put a reader off. Perhaps it’s the mysteries of religious orders – or Dan Brown’s fascinating details – that made his other novels so intriguing whereas such intricate detail is lacking in this novel. Instead, Deception Point tackles the science of alien fossils in the Arctic and the search for the truth about life in outer space. When such adventures are mixed with the skulduggery of an American election campaign, American intelligence services and a twist towards the end, Dan Brown has weaved a thriller full of interest, suspense and a little bit of humour. It’s not as great as the aforementioned books but it is an easy-read enjoyable thriller. If that’s what you’re looking for on a long flight this book will keep you reading all night and they’ll be carrying you off as it’s got that obvious, yet gripping, plot line of a captivating thriller. In the end, I couldn’t put it down.
Jack Welch was Chairman and CEO of General Electric for twenty years and this is a book about his time from joining to leaving the company that became his life. Apparently Jack was seen as the ‘toughest boss in America’ and I suspect the book is trying to soften the historical edges a little. What comes across clearly is a commitment to a company and a desire to grow it. Many businesses could do better with a firmer management and a realistic look at the way things are done. Jack Welch doesn’t seem to be the kind of CEO to run scared of the change no matter how painful that be. Throughout the book he stresses the importance that good people be allowed to excel and that poor performers are probably better elsewhere. It seems a ruthless approach but it appears to have worked for GE and, I think Jack would argue, it worked better for the people involved. Don’t expect a management handbook as ‘Straight From The Gut’ is too human (and full of golf stories) to be seen as a Director’s guide but it is an extremely readable insight into big business. If you don’t like his approach I believe there are interesting lessons about the capabilities of people and what they can bring to business for anybody regardless of the size of company or position you hold within it.
On this day…
You may recall that I love my pulp fiction and, on the train, I finished the latest and greatest thriller, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I picked it up in a sale in a bookstore in one of those three-for-two offers. Amazingly, I had missed all the buzz about it and it was only after I had started to read it that I looked around to see half of the people on the train reading the same book. It’s certainly grabbed the attention of London commuters. Anyway, time to review it for Amazon as I haven’t been keeping those up and my ranking has started to slip!
It’s very easy to get sucked into the world of Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code. It’s a thriller from start to finish and one of those books that can have you hooked in just a few pages – you will be stealing yourself away to read the next chapter before you know it. Maybe you can see the blockbuster film or see the Ludlum or Grisham parallels but what makes this novel stand out from others is enormous amount of plot detail. Regardless of your opinion of Les Dossiers Secrets (or any of the premise behind the tale) the description of the artworks, relics and rituals in the novel is fascinating. Most importantly, however, the detail enhances the story rather than detracting from it. You may imagine that such vivid descriptions of paintings, churches or cryptology would slow the story-telling but the opposite is true: the finer points of this work add to the pace. It’s probably a novel you should re-read to see if you can decipher the codes when you know the answers and it’s certainly a novel that makes you want to delve into the history behind it. All in all, it’s a great suspense story that makes religious symbology entertaining.
On this day…
You really do get to appreciate ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris’ love of music through his autobiography, ‘The Whispering Years‘. You’ll read in the blurb that he’s been married three times; has had to re-start his career from scratch several times and almost lost his record collection to a fellow Radio 1 disc jockey. What you may not get from reviews is a feeling of the genuine passion he has for the music and how big a role some of the greatest musicians of the last thirty years have played in his life. You feel as uneasy as Bob appeared to over the fame that The Old Grey Whistle Test brought him and you will feel somewhat betrayed when Radio One remove him (I’d forgotten he was the voice launched round-the-clock Radio One in August 1990). Throughout his career he stuck to his passion – the music – and shunned the computer generated radio that dominates the airwaves today. His interview technique was considered ‘less than penetrating’ in the past but that gentle approach serves him well in book form. It’s not dull or bland in anyway but, perhaps because there’s a little of the 60s hippy left in Bob Harris, you feel the measured approach is entirely appropriate. If you love music (and not just progressive rock) or enjoy his radio programmes then The Whispering Years will be engaging, fascinating and inspiring.
Buy Bob Harris’ The Whispering Years
On this day…2004: links for 2004-11-01
2002: The Ultimate Boy Band CD (2) Aka The I Am Shallow Project
Lucky Man is not a typical Hollywood star autobiography. While it is peppered with references to the television shows and movies Michael J Fox has made it is – most definitely – not a name-dropping ‘look at me’ celebrity obsessed biography. Yes, it’s an insight – although not too revealing – into the inner sanctum of Hollywood stars but it’s very much grounded in the real world. It deals with the highs and lows of a film career and the pleasures and pressures that brings. When reading the book you really do feel as if Michael J Fox has been able to take a step back and look upon his own career from outside. He’s able to analyse the fame, the money and identify both the good and the problematic that his career has brought him. However, from the beginning of the book, his upbringing and his rise to (and through) fame are placed in context by the Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis. That diagnosis has allowed Fox to asses what’s important to him and write a book that shows him as a genuine, warm and open individual. There’s no sentimentality about the book and he does detail how the disease effects him but, at no point, do you feel like an intruder into his private life. Despite the difficult nature of the Parkinson’s Disease descriptions, Lucky Man is an absorbing and very well-written book that proves that people in the public eye and just like the rest of us.
On this day…
It’s quite easy to get sucked into Mike Daisey’s ‘21 Dog Years: Doing Time At Amazon.Com‘ as he moves from dilettante to corporate business development guy. On the journey we learn he is one of the (mythological?) freaks that Amazon initially wanted to help launch and then staff its growing customer service division. We learn about the training, the call-time targets, the lack of windows, the Chicken Orzo Salad and Jeff obsessions.
Unlike Robert Spector’s ‘Amazon.Com: Get Big Fast‘ this is a tale from the inside but how much is exaggerated for comic effect is unclear. For sure, life in an under-staffed call centre – where if you don’t work all hours you’re seen as letting the team down – is not the glamorous side of any business and the world of fast growing online books sellers can be no exception. The dreams that all would be multi-millionaires on the back of huge stock rises are also not unusual to any tale of this era. Perhaps the thought of sending the free books to customers on the database isn’t typical of the dot-com boom but the frenzied ‘1-click Christmas’ period will be familiar to many in a start-up venture.
Daisey’s book is flagged as a comic tale but it takes a while for the comedy to warm-up. In fact, it’s only towards the end that I felt there were some laugh-out-loud moments but don’t let that put you off. ’21 Dogs Years’ in well written and compelling. You really do want to know what Mike’s going to do at the end. Don’t look for an insight into business strategies of that time but you will get a view of the craziness of life in the trenches of rapidly growing business.
On this day…
Ethan Hawke’s Hottest State is a tale of obsessive love set in New York (and Paris) when William (’20 sexy, confident’) meets Sarah and they embark on a relationship which really is roller-coaster like. Through it we explore William’s relationship with his mother, absent-father and with himself. It’s clever yet not distant, sensitive but not sentimental but, ironically given the title, left this reader a little cold. The Hottest State is entertaining and well-written but capturing that painful, gut-wrenching emotion that is obsessive first love must be hard for any novelist and Hawke doesn’t quite pull the reader in. As a reader you will observe William but you will not become emotionally attached and Sarah’s quirkiness – which initially seems endeering – eventually distances you from her leaving William’s obsessive feelings a mystery. Despite those reservations, Ethan Hawke’s first novel suggests a promising career as novelist.
On this day…
One of my favourite films of the mid-Nineties was The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. I saw it the year after I came to London in the ABC Cinema on Tottenham Court Road. There was a drag show before the performance which was, for me, the first time I had seen drag queens in the flesh. The cinema was packed and there was a great feeling of expectation as the film started. I was not disappointed and it remains one of my favourite films.
A short time after the film came out, the producer Al clark, wrote a book about the making of the film. I have been meaning to read that book for almost ten years and, finally, I got round to it.
On this day…
When I was younger, Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series helped me understand a bigger world where gay people live and have fun but are, deep down, just like their straight counterparts. Accomplished British author, Patrick Gale, wrote a mini-biography of Maupin’s life to date. It’s an interesting story of where the Tales series came from and I just submitted my review to Amazon.
This is not a typically biography. Patrick Gale and Armistead Maupin are friends and this book grew from many long conversations they had about Armistead’s life. It’s an affectionate portrait of a man who not only said it’s OK to be gay but it’s wrong not to be up front about the fact.
The book is like a gentle stroll through a life taking gentle turns into different decades and looking at the subject’s Southern American childhood, life in the navy, settling in San Fransisco and starting to write the newspaper serial that would eventually make Armistead famous, Tales of the City. The inspirations for the characters come from the people around Maupin; the situations come from Maupin’s life. Universal subjects of love, sex and friendship are covered as well as celebrity, homophobia and the Hollywood closet.
If you’re a Armistead Maupin fan then you should read this book. If you’ve never read any of this novels then this will provide the background to many of them and you’ll want to read his work. Don’t expect detailed dissection of an author’s life but you will be drawn into the private conversation Gale has with his friend.
A warm biography of a author/activist which puts his work into context.
On this day…
2004: Links for 2004-12-21
I don’t often re-read books that I have read before but for some reason I decided to re-read Dan Savage’s story of the adoption he undertook with his boyfriend, Terry. The second time round it’s just as great at the first time I read it.