The Murder of King Tut by James Patterson & Martin Dugard

I had high hopes for this book.  A nonfiction account of one of history’s most intriguing characters written by one of the most popular authors of crime and suspense fiction…it seemed like a sure thing.  Unfortunately, I’ve rarely been so disappointed in a book.

There are three nonfiction stories being told simultaneously in the book.  First, Patterson writes about his excitement while planning and researching the subject with co-author Martin Dugard.  Second is the story of Howard Carter, the British Egyptologist who discovered the 3,000 year-old, long-lost tomb of King Tutankhamen in 1922 after years of searching.  Third is the story of King Tut himself and the events leading up to his supposed murder when he was only 19 years old. 

All three storylines are interesting and woven together well.  But the problem I had with the book is one that often comes up for me when reading books by authors like Patterson or Baldacci, whose prolificacy sometimes seems to come at the expense of quality writing.  In other words, I really feel like he phoned this one in.  The language was simple, the text was printed in large font and most chapters were about a page and a half long occasionally even breaking up conversations, which was very disruptive.  It felt a little like reading a report written by a middle schooler who was trying to use fluff-up tricks to make the report long enough.  And unfortunately, I can’t even recommend it for young readers, because while the reading level is certainly juvenile enough, the book contains one episode of violent sexuality that keeps it firmly on the adult shelf.

Also, I’m not sure exactly why this book is considered nonfiction rather than historic fiction.  Patterson makes sure to explain that he is meticulous about his research and includes known facts and generally accepted suppositions whenever possible, but the Tut portion of the story reads so much like fiction, including events and conversations that are impossible to know for certain that I think it should be considered fiction.

If you want a quick lesson on King Tut or Howard Carter I’d suggest skipping this book and just hitting wikipedia for the same facts and a lot less fluff.

Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 12:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that I would give an A+, but I enthusiastically and without any reservation can give Olive Kitteridge that grade.  It is an exceptional, award-winning book that I would recommend for even the most critical reader.

The book is a collection of short stories about the members of a small town in Maine.  Olive Kitteridge is a retired math teacher and a long-time resident of the town.  Often stubborn, abrasive and contrary, Olive is a complicated, interesting character.  She resists changes in her familiar town and finds people around her to be irritating and perplexing.  A few of the stories focus on her, but the majority are about other personalities in the town, including people close to her, like her husband, Henry, and alienated son, Chris.  Others are about people completely unrelated, like Angela O’Meara, the aging piano player in the local cocktail lounge and Julie Harwood, a broken-hearted, jilted bride.  But each story connects to Olive in some way, effectively fastening the life of every member of Crosby, Maine to each other, however tenuously, with Olive serving as the narrative fulcrum.  The stories span a period of many years and as the town and people change, Olive recognizes changes within herself and even learns to be (a little) more understanding and compassionate.

I think the writing in this book is some of the very best I’ve read.  Elizabeth Strout has an absolutely amazing talent for writing descriptive, intuitive prose without it being at all cumbersome.  She is able to capture familiar, human moments within her characters so that the reader is able to recognize them as thoughts or experiences they’ve had themselves.  The result is that each character and experience, though completely new to the reader, are immediately familiar and identifiable.  She puts into words with enviable effortlessness those thoughts and feelings that make us all human.  The Random House Reader’s Circle trade paperback version of the book includes a really charming interview with Elizabeth Strout and Olive Kitteridge that simultaneously demonstrates Strout’s gentle modesty for her work as well as her ability to write a character as irascible as Olive Kitteridge.

I honestly cannot think of a single negative thing to say about this book.  It was an absolute pleasure to read and I am definitely looking forward to reading Strout’s previous bestselling novels Amy and Isabelle and Abide With Me.

Published in: on March 7, 2010 at 9:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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