A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…Star Wars changed the way how movies were made, how they were marketed and how they can fuel cultural discourse. Which is why I took 3 months to pen my thoughts on Star Wars The Force Awakens so that I can be freed from its ubiquitous, suffocating and lingering hype that was cranked into full force by Disney months before the movie was released.
I have a confession to make.
I would lust after Kentucky Fried Chicken and would feel really bad after eating it. Not from a guilt point of view due to unhealthy indulgence. Nope, I really do physically feel bad after finishing the last piece of fried chicken that has been secretly embalmed with 11 herbs and spices. It always leaves a peculiar after-taste that can be described as a bad combination of sickeningly creamy grease, refrigerated overnight chicken soup and sweaty salty skin.
Which is like the new Dan Brown book, The Lost Symbol. While I couldn’t resist the marketing messages which promoted this book like it is the sequel to the Holy Bible, the feeling that I get after completing it can be described as a bad combination of sickeningly ill-constructed scenes and dialogues, refrigerated plots from previous books and conspiracy theories and non-sweaty predictable plot twists.
In this novel, Dan Brown took familiar plot elements from The DaVinci Code, Angels & Demons, Deception Point and Digital Fortress and transported the story to Washington D.C. This time around, a diabolical and murderous villain with the moniker of Mal’akh forces Robert Langdon to once again solve puzzles based on long lost symbols. I wouldn’t write anything more about the plot because the book has nothing else going for it and I do not want to spoil it in case one wants to read this book or wait for the Tom Hanks movie version of the book.
What I’ve discovered when reading The Lost Symbol is that Dan Brown has unabashedly recycled plot elements and characters from his old novels. (For those who do not like spoilers, skip to the last paragraph now).
- Robert Langdon is forced into solving the puzzles
- Female co-lead is forced into the situation too
- It’s a race against time
- The secret that is such a big deal is always hidden in plain sight in paintings, buildings, etc
- The secret, if made known to all, will cause massive chaos and disorder
- There is a an official from hell who apparently hampers Langdon and his female co-lead but who eventually turns out to be one of the good guys after all
The saving grace to this book is that with all the flaws it is still fun to read. That is if one lowers one’s expectations enough to read it for the pulp fiction value that it is and nothing more.
“No one who can rise before dawn three hundred and sixty days a year fails to make his family rich.”- Chinese Proverb
Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers is thin in terms of pages but not short on great and entertaining bits. It explores the phenomenon of human outliers, i.e. individuals or groups that stand out significantly from the accepted norm. Ironically, at the end of the book, Gladwell hopes to have persuaded you that there are no such things as human outliers.
His premise is simple: great success comes to those who are born at the right time, brought up in the right environment and are hardworking. Having a high IQ or an innate talent helps but one just have to be smart or talented enough to be successful.
He weaves interesting tales about Canadian hockey players, Silicon Valley technoprenuers, The Beatles, Asian math whizzes, Korean Airlines, among others, to make his point quite convincingly. And he tells a pretty personal story at the end of the book on the journey of a hardworking Jamaican girl who was born at the right time and brought up in the right environment who eventually became his mother.
Maybe I was reading Outliers through a pair of slanty Chinese eyes because I find some of his conclusions as nothing more than common sense, or at least, common sense that I grew up with. It seems painlessly simple but every Asian that I know, knows that no success can come without hard work (and a little bit of luck) and the right roots.