I recently read two critically acclaimed books and had polar opposite experiences while reading each. I couldn’t rave enough about the first book, The Rosie Project. I recommended it to several friends and hope someone will read it so I can finally discuss the novel in depth. In contrast, the second book, Taipei, is no doubt the worst book I have ever read. I can’t remember having such a strong negative reaction to a book before in my life. Despite my strong dislike for this book, I am glad I read it. I am glad I read it because the book’s lack of key elements (character development, memorable characters, insightful dialogue) helped me better articulate why some books grasp me more than others.
Below are my thoughts on each book. I wrote a review of Taipei on Goodreads, and decided to use portions of it in this piece.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
In a past piece (found here), I wrote that I had a tendency to read too many serious books. While I enjoyed these books for what they were (getting into the characters’ lives, learning about different historical eras), I now understand the benefit of having a light read to give the brain a good break.
I picked up The Rosie Project for a nice, leisurely read and was not disappointed. The book centers on Don Tillman, a scientist that is great at his job but horrible at dating. Tillman uses his training and personal dating experiences to design a questionnaire that will help find his ideal match. From Tillman’s approach to the questionnaire and other behavior, readers learn that Tillman has a Type A, socially unaware personality.
The first person narrative was an excellent writing device. It allows the readers to understand Tillman’s rationale for certain behavior that isn’t considered “normal” by society’s standards. Readers therefore sympathize with Tillman’s awkwardness because they know his intentions. On the other hand, the side characters’ balance this viewpoint by allowing us to understand how Tillman’s actions can negatively impact others.
The book is full of humor, whether in the dialogue or in some of Tillman’s mannerisms. I chuckled the most when I read how rigid Tillman planned his schedule (in 20 minute intervals) because I myself have done that. Reading about his schedule highlighted how ridiculous overplanning and lack of flexibility can be.
While the book was really funny, it was also a good lesson about dating and laws of attraction. Many of us know how hard dating really can be, and book shows why some of the dating problems aren’t necessarily due to lack of options but how we approach it.
This book is perfect for any type of reading – on the plane, at home, on the beach. Go read it today!
Taipei by Tao Lin
The best way I can explain the novel is this: the verbal equivalent of modern art. In my opinion, modern art tries to make something mundane to be out more than it really is. The book does the same thing. In exclusively focusing on the main character’s daily activities of partying and taking drugs, the author intends to make this plot to be some deep meaning about life. Supposedly, according to various reviews I read, Paul’s drug infused activities and boredom with life represents how life feels for 20 somethings. I don’t think the book is fleshed out enough to accurately represent life in the 20s.
The reality is that the book material is repetitive for no reason. We get the point about the effects drugs have on the mind in the first 40 pages. There is no need to continually focus on that aspect through the remaining part of the book.
What bothers me the most about this book is that there is no character development or insightful dialogue. The character interactions are uniform to the point I can’t distinguish one of Paul’s friends or girlfriend from one another.
In not giving Paul any substance, the author doesn’t give me much reason to care for the main character. To me, having this investment in the character is necessary to make a book engaging. I don’t necessarily have to like the main character Rather, a writer should build an engaging storyline and/or background on character to make me want to know what happens to the character. By the end of the book, I didn’t care either way what happens to Paul.
The only reason I gave this book two stars on Goodreads and not one is that there are moments the book does well – delving into Paul’s past and shedding light into his mindset during his childhood.
I hate to be harsh on any author but I unfortunately could not hold back my opinion on a book that doesn’t deserve the praise it got from some magazines.