Monday, February 8, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Steig Larsson)

The first of the posthumously published "Millennium Triology," this book by Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson was certainly an interesting read. Apparently, he submitted the three books to a publisher shortly before he died, and the series was actually intended to contain a total of 10 books, only three of which were completely in full. The somewhat cliff-hanger-esque ending of this first book has filled me with a sense of dread that, when I get to the end of the third book, I'll be devastated to not know what happens next.

My initial impression was that, seeing as how the author died before the book was published, there weren't many revisions done, as the publisher couldn't very well change the authors words without his permission. But I wonder if I was just harsh to judge, and possibly some of the halting pace of the beginning was due to the work being translated from Swedish - maybe I just didn't get into the correct meter at first (though I more firmly believe that the beginning just isn't as good as the rest). The plot starts out slow and awkward; the seemly unconnected story-lines are too much so - I spent the first 70 or so pages wondering what the hell was happening.

But when Larsson got into his story-telling groove, things just seemed to flow. The pace quickly picked up, resulting in a very intense, suspenseful murder mystery/detective story. All in all, I thought it was a fun, entertaining read (albeit graphically disturbing and much too violent for my tastes in general), and I look forward to reading the next two books (though I am disappointed that the paperback version of the second book from the same publisher won't be available until mid-March - I'd prefer if my books matched - and I don't particularly want to buy it in hardcover - even used!). :)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Confessions of a Tax Collector (Richard Yancey)

One Man's Tour of Duty inside the IRS

This is the first non-fiction book (technically, it's a memoir) I've read in a while, and it definitely reminded me how good non-fiction can be. This book truly seems to personify the saying, "truth is stranger than fiction." Countless times throughout this book, I had to remind myself that the things he was describing were true, and it really did happen. He, of course, changed the names, descriptions, and even professions of the taxpayers he encountered, but the events were all intended to be as close to his recollection of reality as possible. And it left me in awe - and mildly worried about my taxes (which we haven't filed yet this year).

This book give a hilarious, tense, and oftentimes heart-wrenching account of the job of a revenue officer in the IRS (although it is my understanding, based on the epilogue, that this position no longer exists as described by Yancey, after the passing of a new act of Congress in 1998). The revenue officers are the ones who physically go out "in the field" (an astounding amount of the terminology used by the IRS is derived from war terminology - and not entirely unjustly so) and attempt to collect the delinquent taxes owed by taxpayers. These aren't people who slipped up and forgot one time - these are the repeat offenders who owe thousands (and sometimes significantly more) in unfiled back taxes. They have received at least 4 letters demanding compliance, several phone calls, and at least one visit by a RO before their property is in danger of being seized. But the collections and seizures are what make the job interesting - and give it an air of a war-zone.

I think my favorite part of this book is how open Yancey is with his audience - he truly spills his life on these pages, down to the smallest details of his insecurities and struggles. He most definitely doesn't portray himself in a biased way, but he still comes across as an incredibly endearing, personable man. Astoundingly, the book is also a vague sort of love story. And not just in an awkward, misplaced narcissistic way.

I really enjoyed this book, and I have a new-found respect for the IRS and those who work there. But, in spite of the relatively newer legislation, I'm still not going to fall behind on my taxes. I'm less intimidated in general by the IRS (if you follow the law, you won't have any issues, as evidence in the book), but I don't think I want to cross them any time soon! Definitely a good read for the second fiscal quarter of the year - it'll inspire you to file your taxes quickly and accurately!! Overall, a very funny, moving, touching, sympathetic work.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Under the Dome (Stephen King)

With the exception of the Dark Tower series, I think this book may be Stephen King's best work ever. I do tend to like King's work in general, but I really loved this one. Like always, the characters are so personable and familiar - as if you've not only known them for years, but you're actually there with them, sharing their experiences and emotions (but fortunately, in this case, as with most of his books, you're NOT with them). That being said, I didn't feel the characters were quite as "lovable" as typical King characters, most likely due to the pace of the book.

In his letter to his "Constant Reader" at the end of the novel, King said he and his editor worked to trim the book down to its mere 1070+ pages with the intent of keeping the plot moving "with the petal to the metal." I'd say he more than achieved this!! The break-neck speed of the book was almost a negative aspect. I often found myself frustrated or irritated at the chapters dealing with secondary and tertiary plot lines - reading through them as fast as possible just to get back to the main story to figure out what happened next. I think I might be able to enjoy the book more a second time through, as I (hopefully) wouldn't feel the same intense, anxious need to know what happens. There was probably a good amount of subtle storyline I missed completely in my mad rush to get to the end. From the very first lines, this book grabs the reader and goes - without a pause or moment for relaxation until the end. I've never before felt so exhausted or out of breath just from reading.

While trying to refrain from giving away anything about the plot, I'll keep this fairly short. I did notice one aspect of this book that I haven't before encountered in a King novel and thoroughly enjoyed. Every now and then, he included a chapter with a somewhat guide-like third person omniscient narrator. This unknown narrator (King?) speaks directly to the reader and shows us the town and its inhabitants, often telling us to pay close attention, or to "see" every little detail. I found this not only a fascinating step back from the action (without slowing down the speed of the racing plot), but an interesting additional level to the story itself.

I really wish I had someone else to discuss this book with, but since my husband's school started up again, he won't get a chance to read it until this year is over, at the earliest. I guess I'll have to just bide my time and try not to let slip the ending... Overall, I would most definitely recommend this book, especially to any of King's faithful Constant Readers. But just make sure you don't have any plans for a few days, as you won't be able to put this book down until you race to the end with the citizens of Chester's Mill.

Also, be sure to check out the town's website: - Love it!!