Naïve. Super – Erlend Loe

Albert: This book was a peculiar one and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Since it’s written in first-person, the tone is dictated by the protagonist, a man in his twenties suffering from an existential crisis. The way he navigates and reacts to the world is unusual — kind of child-like in its simplicity and straightforwardness — but the story is so understated that I think I found it to be more boring than interesting overall. But there is an odd sort of mood attached to the story that I could imagine would appeal to some audiences. Rating: B

Kevin: This book reminded me of The Pleasure of My Company and The Rosie Project. Roughly speaking, in all three books, a single, quirky man meets an attractive woman and his life changes forever. (Is this lad lit?) It sounds boring and indeed, the story lines are pretty simple. But the narrator is thoughtful and relatable, and I think that’s what makes the novel compelling. The humorous and endearing scenes help too. Rating: A-


Siddhartha – Hermann Hesse

Albert: While reading this book, I sensed that at another time or place in my life, I might enjoy this book more. But at this point in time, I wasn’t so interested in Siddartha’s quest to find “enlightenment.” I found the arc of the story to be disappointingly mundane and Siddartha to be rather unlikeable. I also wished that the reasoning behind Siddartha’s choices and the causes for his moments of illumination were more clearly expressed — at times, they seemed to come out of the blue. However, the ending is a surprisingly interesting bit to read. Rating: C+

Kevin: Not long after I started reading this short novel, I regretted not reading it high school, when I first heard about it. It takes place during the time of the Buddha and follows the journey of a young man, Siddhartha, as he seeks enlightenment. Siddhartha is never satisfied with what he finds and makes several major lifestyle changes in an attempt to quench his spiritual thirst. I found the ending fairly satisfying, and overall, the book is quite easy to read.

I wish there was a modern-day Siddhartha that centers around my own life — something I could live by and turn to for answers. But of course, such a book cannot exist, and ultimately, I suppose it’s up to each of us to figure things out for ourselves. This process is quite individualized (and can be entirely unclear), but for me, reading Siddhartha was a helpful step. Rating: A

The Pleasure of My Company – Steve Martin

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

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-

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).

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

Albert: I suggested this book because I tried reading it before but had to stop halfway through when a scene really traumatized me, though I no longer remember what that was. But I do remember I was entertained by the book and I was curious to see what I had found so traumatic. Turns out it wasn’t nearly as traumatic this time around, but it also wasn’t as entertaining.

The storyline follows two protagonists: Blomkvist, a disgraced journalist who is hired to investigate the apparent murder of the great-niece of a former tycoon and Salander, a young, quirky girl who is a ward of the state due to her social incompetency, but also happens to be a brilliant investigator. The main issue for me was trying to keep track of all the minor characters. However, the main characters were all forceful personalities in their own way and were intriguing to read. As with all decent mystery books, the ending was a surprise, but only borderline satisfying. Think of this one as a mystery book with a heavy bent on violent rape and sexual torture. Rating: B

Kevin: While reading, I was pretty nervous that I would miss some little detail that would wind up being crucial to the plot, but I wasn’t nervous enough to read every sentence with extreme scrutiny. I like that the characters are well-developed and face some intriguing moral dilemmas that often involve comprising their own worldviews. The story dragged at times, especially when there was a lot of dialogue; perhaps the mystery element was a little too heavy for a newcomer like me. Overall, I feel like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a good introduction to the crime novel genre. Rating: B