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One Shot


Last Tuesday was June 30, and that meant it was my last day to spend the balance of my rebate from the University Book Store. You used to get your full annual rebate as a check, but now they give it to you on a cash card spendable only at the bookstore. And it expires. But they did send a helpful reminder a month ago that we had $5.98 left to spend by the end of June. The only problem is that I hadn’t done so. And I didn’t much feel like driving to the bookstore to buy something. Then I realized I might be able to spend the balance online. So was there a book I’ve been wanting to read? Well, yes. Since February, I’ve wanted to read Liaquat Ahamed’s Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World. It lists at pennies under $33, and Amazon sells it for 1/3 off. But the U Book Store was offering it at full price. What’s the point of using $6 that will otherwise go to waste and still spending over $6 more than I would if I ordered it from Amazon? Forget that.

So then I thought, oh, I know, I could get another Lee Child thriller. As I described last December, I read #12 in his Jack Reacher series in June a year ago and wasn’t too impressed. But it did sweep me up. I started it on a Friday night and finished it Saturday afternoon. So when #13 came out in May, I dutifully bought it, not reading it until I was done with teaching last month. (See my comments here.) I was now hooked, and it seemed like a good idea to read some others. But in what order? His website actually has a discussion of this, suggesting they be read in the order in which they were written. I had my own idea, which was to read them backwards, starting with #11. My thought was that they might improve over the years, so I would read the best first, and in working my way backwards, if I decided I didn’t like them so much anymore, I could quit.

The time had come to choose a strategy. I decided to skip back a few books and go for #9, One Shot, based on the vague memory that in Janet Maslin’s review of #12 in the NYT a year ago, she spoke of its being the best since a few books earlier, maybe #9. I didn’t go back to verify this. I just ordered #9. The U Book Store website showed it still available as hard cover, so I chose that. And it came on Thursday of last week, just after I started reading Red and Me. Darn. I would have to wait.

But I didn’t wait long. I read the first 80 pages Friday night. I had a lot else going on Saturday, from a morning full of sports to a July 4 barbecue at friends to watching fireworks, but in the afternoon I read another 200 pages, and at 11:30 at night, I started in on the final 100 pages. I can’t remember the last time I read until 1:11 AM. Years. But I did. I don’t know how he does it. If I didn’t have other plans Sunday morning (watching the men’s Wimbledon final and the Tour de France), I might have gone to sleep and finished it in the morning, but I didn’t want to awaken with the book hanging over me and have to exercise the willpower to defer it until after the sporting events. So I kept reading until I was done.

I don’t know what to make of these books. They’re not by any means great literature. I’m not even sure I like the Jack Reacher character so much. What I do like is how his reasoning is laid out. He has unparalleled fighting skills, but his mental skills are just as important to his success and great fun to observe. No doubt I’ll read #14 next year as soon as it comes out. Maybe I’ll continue my remedial reading in the meantime.

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