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From the Bookshelf: “Steve Jobs,” “11/22/63: A Novel,” Don Winslow’s “Savages”

By Rich Heldenfels Published: April 3, 2012

I’ve been doing more reading than usual lately. I am currently working through “Mockingjay,” the third of the “Hunger Games” novels, and expect next to tackle the third “Game of Thrones” book. But I have also managed to finish some texts, including Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, Steven King’s Kennedy-assassination novel, and the Winslow book, which has been adapted for an upcoming Oliver Stone film. Reading notes follow.

 

Isaacson’s book suffers under the sheer weight of all that Jobs did in his life, from the creation of Apple to Pixar to the iPod, iPhone and iPad. It is clear that Jobs’s singular gift was finding not what people wanted but what they didn’t know they wanted – and packaging it (sometimes with obsessive detail) in a way that made it special. Watching a recent ad for a smartphone with a stylus, I could not help but think of how Jobs disliked styli and designed products accordingly. At the same time, Jobs was far from consistently likable, at times tyrannical in his leadership, poor in his personal relations – but still able to motivate people to do great things.

 

The problem, then, is that once you’ve heard that story about one product, it begins to feel redundant as it is applied to yet another device, usually but not always successfully. Of course, if you are grabbing this book and going immediately to the index because all you care about is the creation of the iPad, then that material is going to seem fresh. But when you go methodically through the entire book, as I did, it is not as enthralling reading.

 

Still, Isaacson had notable access to Jobs, and to the people around him, both fans and critics, from Steve Wozniak to Bill Gates. And you get a clear sense of how far and wide Jobs went; I grinned when Jimmy Iovine, currently seen on “American Idol,” made a significant appearance in the Jobs book. And, especially when contrasting Jobs and Gates, the book shows how remarkable, and rare, Jobs was.

 

I recently had a little medical issue that required me to stay home for a couple of days, and I stacked up library books to deal with the sedentary time. The stack included King’s
”11/22/.63,” as massive as many King books but an effective read. In fact, as daunting as it is in length, I have a hard time seeing where I would make many cuts.


The premise is deceptively simple: A man discovers a way to travel back in time, and resolves to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But King builds layers on that idea, ones that go far beyond just the changes to be wrought in history.

 

The time-travel portal opens only on a specific day in 1958, years before the assassination, so one may have a long wait before being able to stop Lee Harvey Oswald. And what is Oswald did not act alone? Would stopping Oswald in fact prevent the JFK assassination, or do others have to be stymied as well? And how does one spend years in the past – what sort of living can you make, and can you erase all traces of your own time from the way you think and act?  What happens then to the emotional connections you have made when you return to the present days?

 

In many ways, the book is King’s answer to bad time-travel tales by saying there have to be rules. A time portal isn’t going to take you just anywhere. Making bets based on what you know about the “future” may still have consequences. And, once you have changed history, can you change it again? (King’s time-travel reboot clause is one of the best touches.) But beyond all that, this is a fine character piece. It’s been quite a few years since I gave King a close reading. I am glad this is the book I came back with.

 

 

I have been meaning to read Winslow’s “Savages” because my older son, Brendan, has passed several other books by Winslow to me (and Brendan is quoted on the cover of the paperback edition).  Glad I finally did, and I expect to check out the prequel , “The Kings of Cool,” coming in June.

 

Its modern-dress Butch and Sundance saga is tightly plotted, and even more tightly written, recalling James Ellroy (and e.e. cummings) in its terseness and use of language. The story involves a couple of dope dealers and a woman close to both of them, and what happens when they tangle with a Mexican drug cartel moving into their territory. The characters are vivid, and the ending plays fair with all that has gone before. And it’s nicely cinematic – good news with the movie coming – so I am already hoping that Stone does not mess it up. In any case, give the book a look.

 

 

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