I have told my kids, half-jokingly, to always play the over in life. Most sporting events have a sports book line on the total score, with even money bets offered on the total being over or under the established line. An NHL game might have an over/under of 5.5 goals; Super Bowl LI’s over/under was 58 points (a record high); a boxing match over/under may involve the number of rounds before a knockout.
Always play the over. If wager on the under, you’re betting on something not happening. You’re hedging against faith, spirit, confidence, and good luck. Those bets may pay off sometimes, but against a large cross section of people, over time, they lose. Jodi Picoult, a favorite author, wrote that sometimes a miracle isn’t what happened but what didn’t; that case is the strong exception. The Patriots coming back from 25 points down to tie, then win the game? You don’t bet against that. A Super Bowl that had a scoreless first quarter ending in 62 total points? The only thing that was freaking out Vegas odds makers was the Super Bowl ending with a sack in the end zone for a safety, New England by 2 and only 58 total points. But that’s a bet on a miracle; a bet on motivated teams produced a favorite covering, the over covered, and somehow, another Super Bowl title for New England. Like the Voldemort lookalike on their helmets: you count them out and they come return in some weird configuration to take the day, again.
Always play the over in life. Don’t bet against yourself, your peers, your friends, your like-minded but unknown teammates. Doing so is a lack of confidence and hope, both of which are in short supply in some quarters.
Finished Jodi Picoult’s latest novel, Change of Heart, this week. As disappointed as I was with her two previous works, this one is a definite top-three list nominee. It is as rich and detailed as My Sister’s Keeper, but rather than what felt like forced literary devices or a plot that rushed to get through difficult turns, this one moves smoothly from start to finish. I didn’t guess a single surprise (which makes them surprises), and her new lawyer type is a wonderful character with a neurotic Jewish mother, neither of whom venture into stereotype. Most of all, her treatment of religion and belief is fantastic, in both the fantasy and exemplary use of the word. I think the book should be required reading for anyone who shapes their personal conduct framework on an element of faith.
On the heels of a recommendation, I picked up Neil Gaiman’s American Gods next. The themes are similar; but Gaiman deals in non-mainstream religions while also making me question exactly what constitutes true home-grown religion in America — something faith based, or something consumption oriented, or something we construct? And I’m reminded of William Gibson’s Mona Lisa Overdrive that asked some of the same questions (using some of the same phraseology) in a very different way.
As expressed here before, I’m an avid Jodi Picoult . Part of it has to do with her Princeton background (we were undergrads at the same time), part of it is a mutual author friend, part of it is that she turns a phrase like a master sculptor putting a gnarled piece of wood on the lathe. The results stretch your sense of beauty.
I finished her latest, 19 Minutes, earlier this week. Sadly, I felt somewhat disappointed at the end, much as I did with The Tenth Circle which preceded the current bestseller. The story is classic Picoult — a high school nerd goes on a shooting rampage, killing 10 students but sparing the life of his childhood best friend. But for each facet of the characters uncovered, another one is left unexplored. There are more good ideas touched upon than finished, and after the last page, after the asssured gasp-inducing plot twist that is a staple of her writing, I was left simply not liking the main character.
Precisely the way I felt at the end of Tenth Circle, making me wonder if Picoult is now producing books rather than writing them. Some of the characters recycled from previous novels are more settled; maybe the balance of anguish and reconciliation has to be maintained to avoid having moral fiction turn into a morass of gray areas. But the simple act of re-introducing us to threads of previous books detracts from Picoult’s ability to walk a character through every emotion, simply because we have context from previous novels about their likely actions and reactions.
I’m still a big fan, and Picoult still gets a loud locomotive cheer for another great book. And at her current completion rate, I can look forward to another book, and another mental adventure, in just a few months.
Nothing a like week without email, cell phone, or CNBC to make you catch up on the recreational reading:
The Big Bang, Simon Singh. Another outstanding book from Singh, with the best one-paragraph explanation of Einstein’s general theory of relativity as you’ll find anywhere.
Rocketman, Nancy Conrad. The biography of Pete Conrad. I’ll admit to a soft spot for most things written by or about fellow Tigers. Conrad gets extra points for taking a Princeton flag to the moon on Apollo 12. It is uproariously funny in parts.
Shaking Her Assets, Robin Epstein and Renee Kaplan. I vaguely remember buying this on the basis of an amazon.com recommendation, and it was a bad one. It was sufficient distraction for the flight to Jamaica, but that was about it.
Spin State, Chris Moriarty. Another amazon.com recommendation based on previous gobbling up of everything written by Orson Scott Card and Charles Stross. Quite simply, an outstanding new science fiction writer. Her physics are solid (how many SciFi books come with a bibliography, excepting the made-up tomes of Frank Herbert’s works?). Reading this immediately after Singh’s book was coincidence, but it did help to have quantum mechanics on the brain.
The Pact, Jodi Picoult. I read Picoult’s Mercy years ago, when I saw it strategically positioned near the entrance of the local bookstore and recognized the name as one within my Princeton undergraduate orange light cone. I’ve since read everything she’s written, and each time I finish a book I think “Wow, how’d she ever research that?” You can call her writing style “moral fiction” if you wish; she develops her characters forwards and backwards in time so that you don’t form opinions of them as much as you feel for them.