The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

Albert: This book reminded me of another good book, The Pleasure of My Company, as they both center on highly idiosyncratic male protagonists. In The Rosie Project, we follow a professor named Don Tillman whose life is disrupted by a beautiful woman named Rosie. That sounds like the premise of every romantic story, but due to Don’s Asperger’s-related social ineptitude, the course of events that follows is unconventional and entertaining to read. You can’t help but root for Don and Rosie. Rating: A-

Kevin: As many online reviewers have noted, the plot is basically “Sheldon Cooper Finds a Wife,” and Bill Gates really likes it. I had no trouble finishing this book. The dialogue flows smoothly, the short chapters push the plot nicely, and there are exciting and touching moments. I especially like the narrator’s speech patterns and admire his learning abilities. And I definitely understand the premise of his “Wife Project.”

(Spoilers ahead!)

What bothers me is this: the ending is sweet and predictable, yet frustratingly unsatisfying. It seems like Don betrays his own principles and rationalizes it by saying he’s in “love,” which just isn’t enough for me. He starts off with one extreme viewpoint and ends with another; a more nuanced conclusion would have been more satisfying (and useful for my personal life, I admit). But I guess what I’m looking for can’t be found in a short novel, so I shouldn’t be too bothered. Rating: A-


The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – Claire North

Albert: This was an entertaining book pretty much the whole way through. In other stories, Harry’s lack of any real weaknesses might have made him a bland storyteller. But the narrative conflict and the love/hate dynamic between Harry and his (rather more interesting) antagonist Vincent proved to be strong enough to carry the story. The portrayal of how people might behave when they are reborn into the same life every time they die also felt realistic. While I’m not usually a fan of nonlinear narratives because they tend to make the story unnecessarily confusing, that didn’t happen here and I think it had the positive effect of making Harry’s voice feel more natural, as if he was recounting a story to someone. Overall, the book nails the most important aspects you could ask of it: reasonable sci-fi (and scientific) elements, a gripping narrative, and intriguing characters/relationships. Rating: A-

Kevin: Overall, I couldn’t quite suspend my disbelief enough to really engage with this book, and the dragging, nonlinear storyline didn’t help. The passages that explicitly discuss death, torture, and murder are engaging, but also somewhat isolated. To be fair, it seems difficult to write a solid book with this premise and plot—I imagine the movie adaptation might be a hit. Rating: C+

Being Mortal – Atul Gawande

Albert: People rarely think about how they want to die, even though it happens to everyone, so I appreciate both the space and knowledge this book has provided me to think about this uncomfortable subject. It helps that Gawande writes well and raises interesting questions (and answers). I think it will be a good idea to revisit this book in the future. Rating: B+

Kevin: Its synopsis intrigued me, and the book enthralled me. Gawande presents the struggles and decisions surrounding end-of-life care in a gentle, yet honest, manner. Each journey he recounts is illustrative, touching, and informative. Together, they give a comprehensive overview of mortality—and all the complications it brings—in modern-day America. This is the first book I’ve ever read that I would truly consider a “must-read.” Rating: A+

Elantris – Brandon Sanderson

Albert: At its core, Elantris holds an interesting concept — what happens to virtually immortal beings when they suffer from endless pain? Unfortunately, it also embodies the worst aspects of young adult fiction. The characters in the book were paper-thin to the point of being distracting, the attempts to critique sexism were clumsy, and there was never any doubt that the good guys were going to emerge victorious in the end. Despite the engaging swiftness of the plot, these drawbacks were significant enough to ruin the reading experience for me. Rating: C

Kevin: It seems like the world of Elantris is complex, nuanced, and well-crafted. (Many online reviews confirm this.) Unfortunately, this all flew over my head because I really struggled keeping track of the characters’ roles, ambitions, and even their names. I don’t think I’m capable of appreciating the book as a light, casual reader. It’s probably great for some readers, but it’s certainly not for me. (For future reference, though — here’s a summary and here are annotations by the author.) Rating: C-

The Trial – Franz Kafka

Albert: The Trial was not an enjoyable reading experience for me. There were a few scenes that were mildly interesting, but I was rather bored most of the time. I think the main problem was that even though the protagonist K. was in trouble right from the beginning of the story, I never really cared about what was going to happen to him. In addition, I was also not in the mood for absurdist writing. The story exhibited many strange qualities — every situation felt excessively long, things happened inexplicably, and K.’s attention shifted abruptly and randomly from one thing to another, all of which created an unsettling reading experience. Rating: C-

Kevin: Apparently this novel was never completed, and Kafka didn’t even want it published. For me, The Trial was definitely too opaque — I’m sure there’s a lot to interpret (if somebody really wanted to), but I didn’t get much out of this. I’d almost rather read a book about modern law, or what to do if you get arrested, than follow the absurd legal adventures of a banker. Perhaps it would be more enjoyable to read this book as part of a larger unit on political/historical fiction, but now I’m really craving something fun. Rating: C-