Lee Child

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M.J. Rose may well be the most connected writerly person ever. Or at least just now, in cyberspace. She’s an author but she also writes about publishing and the challenges facing authors.

She’s got a post up that serves as a call to arms. The message: the publishing business will continue to decline unless people start not just to read more, but also to invest in buying books.

Using stats published by R.R. Bowker. Lulu.com worked out that if we keep publishing at the rate we are publishing now, in 2052 148.4 million books will be published — but only 129.4 million Americans will actually read a book.

Do the math. This means 19 million new books will not find a reader.

Even if this is an exaggeration, those of us in the industry know that the challenge we all face is how to keep people reading and how to get more people reading. With the internet, cell phones, iPods and other listening devices, laptops, cable television, netflix etc there is no lack of competition for the book.

She’s got some suggestions for ways to encourage reading. For example, if you’re off to dinner at a friend’s house, bring a book instead of a bottle of wine. I’m thinking there are lots of occasions where books could be substituted for traditional gifts, but not everybody may appreciate the gesture. A book for mother’s day would suit me fine, but many might not feel that way.

So the problem is more than just getting books into people’s hands. It’s getting people interested in reading the books once they’ve got them. Getting them into the reading habit. And that’s harder to do.

M.J. is launching a recurring feature. She’s asked popular authors for a list of books to read this summer. The first one up is Lee Child (whose books I often write about here). I’m curious to see who else she’s got lined up.

The Hard Way — Lee Child

To be clear: I am predisposed to like any novel in this series about Jack Reacher. Reacher is the ultimate strong silent hero, an ex army MP who roams the country never carrying anything with him but a toothbrush. He works when the mood strikes him — one novel begins with him digging pools in southern Florida simply for the physical workout — but in the more recent novels he rarely stays anywhere more than two or three days.

Generally Reacher tries to stay off the grid. He doesn’t have a driver’s license, he accepts no federal money, he always pays with cash. But he’s also got a strong sense of right and wrong, and he doesn’t walk away from a fight.

This is the tenth Jack Reacher novel. I haven’t disliked any of them, though some I wouldn’t necessarily re-read. My favorite is still Die Trying, and I liked Without Fail and Tripwire almost as much.

So this new novel, Reacher is spending a couple days in Manhattan. He’s sitting in an outdoor cafe and he sees a man walk up to a car, get in it, and drive away. That simple beginning launches him into a kidnapping investigation, one with many twists and turns. He teams up with a former FBI agent, a woman he’s very attracted to.

Reacher likes women. They like him back.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I didn’t like this novel as much as the last one. A couple things come to mind: for the first time, I noticed a wrinkle in a clue before Reacher did. That bothered me. And more important, I kept waiting for him to remember where he was. In Tripwire, he comes close to settling down. A young woman he knew as the daughter of his superior officer comes back into his life. She’s thirty, divorced, a lawyer. They never acted on the mutual attraction when he was in the service, but now things heat up, and Reacher comes as close as he ever will to living a somewhat normal life. All that happens in Manhattan, and it ends in Manhattan too, and not easily.

At no time in this novel does Reacher ever think about Jodie. He never takes note of places he had been with her, where he lived with her, where she worked. He never wonders about her, if she’s come back to Manhattan. I kept wondering, but to him it was as if she never existed. Somehow that just doesn’t sit right. I wonder if Lee Child did this on purpose, and why.

It didn’t ruin the novel for me, but this oversight was in the forefront while I read. Which really, was a shame because otherwise it’s a good story, well put together and full of classic Reacherisms.

New Jack Reacher novel

[asa left]0385336691[/asa] Jack Reacher is back, and I am very happy. Why do I like this character so much? In real life I doubt I’d have any patience with him.

At any rate, this new Lee Child is getting rave reviews, and I’m really looking forward to reading it. I’ll post my thoughts probably within a week.