A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman

Albert: This was a simple story with a protagonist who you can’t help but grow to love and admire. It reminded me a bit of The Pleasure of My Company, albeit with a less idiosyncratic protagonist. Reading this book shortly after finishing The Stand was like taking a relaxing bath after being stranded in the forest for months; I felt very grateful for the deft writing, smart characters, and excellent pacing. All in all, this is a charming book, though perhaps not the most memorable one I’ve read. Rating: A-

Kevin: This is a feel-good, easy read about a stubborn old man dealing with unpleasant surprises. The plot reminds me of the comedy TV series Curb Your Enthusiasm, which I recently discovered and quite enjoy watching. What really stuck out to me from the book was the author’s proliferate use of analogies. I found them quite amusing at first, but grew tired of them as they kept popping up. Also, the characters often seem too much like caricatures, but overall, they develop pleasantly and the story flows well. Rating: B+

The Stand – Stephen King

Kevin: For the most part, I enjoyed reading this book. It did drag at times, and the storyline deteriorated a bit, and the ending left something to be desired. But, and maybe because this was the first major post-apocalyptic novel I read, I found the first half of the book very compelling. I’m also a sucker for acts of sacrifice, and The Stand contains quite a few of those. So overall, I’m still a fan of Stephen King, though I probably won’t be reading this book again in quite some time. Rating: B

Albert: I regret choosing this book and I regret even more that we read the uncut version. The Stand was an endless shamble of a story — I did not enjoy most of the book except for a few interesting moments. Likewise, I found most of the (far too many) characters to be crudely drawn, which resulted in a sea of forgettable and uninspired characters drowning out the rare character I did like. One of my greatest sources of dissatisfaction with the book was the frequency with which random interventions happened conveniently for the sake of the plot. It made for a story that was both hard to believe and lacked an overall sense of direction. The standoff between good and evil felt horribly contrived and I was astonished that an author as famous as King could write such an unimaginative conflict. For any other book, I probably would’ve also grumbled about a deus ex machina ending, but for this one, I didn’t even care — I was just relieved it was finally over. Rating: D

We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

Albert: This book was on my want-to-read list. It turned out to be one of the saddest books I’ve read in recent memory, probably since The Fault in Our Stars. While both books revolved around the same broad themes of love and loss, The Fault in Our Stars was more openly emotional. We Were Liars carried a different tone — the plot consisted of Cadence, the main character, trying to remember something horrible in her past, which created a lot of suspense. Overall, it was a well-crafted page-turner, but I think the reveal left a little to be desired. I also thought that most of the characters other than Cadence as well as her relationships with them were not developed enough. Rating: B+

Kevin: I found the beginning kind of slow, so it took me a while to really get started, but this book is actually quite a breezy read. The story follows the struggles of Cadence, a teenage girl, after she experiences a traumatic incident. The characters (Cadence and her friends, in particular) seemed pretty shallow, though I might just be ageist. Compared to some other books we’ve read, We Were Liars doesn’t have much going on plot-wise, but I did find this aspect somewhat refreshing. Rating: B

The Pleasure of My Company – Steve Martin

Kevin: I read this book back in early high school, and I recently remembered it when thinking about my own life. It’s a short, little book about one man’s search for love, or at least his perception of it. I found a lot of his humor quite relatable and amusing, and the story moves quickly and fairly seamlessly. The ending leaves much to be desired, but overall, I enjoyed reading this light book. Rating: A-

Albert: Even though the plot of the book was simple, I really enjoyed it. The main character has OCD and was a fascinating narrator. I think his longing for the women in the periphery of his life speaks to  a universal theme of loneliness. I’m usually partial to plot twists and page-turners, but after reading this book, I found that I can also enjoy character-driven stories — the genuine, first-person narration was captivating in its own sort of way. The only thing I didn’t like as much was the ending, which felt a little rushed and unrealistic in comparison to the rest of the book. Rating: A

Levels of the Game – John McPhee

Kevin: Albert is a big fan of tennis, so I thought this book would be appropriate. It focuses on one tennis match between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner, but its content extends well beyond the description of the match. In particular, it covers race issues, playing styles, personalities, and other developments leading to the match. All of this is presented in a clear, engaging manner interspersed with dramatic highlights of the match itself.

I was actually fortunate enough to visit Arthur Ashe Stadium earlier this year, with Albert and another friend of his. I had a great time there, and now I’m glad that I’ve acquired a bit of insight into the life of Arthur Ashe, and much more, through reading this short, elucidating book. Rating: A

Albert: I never read this book because I couldn’t find a copy… so Kevin got to propose another book (The Pleasure of My Company).