Saturday, July 24, 2010


Read 7/17/10 -7/23/10
5 stars - Highly Recommended/ The Next Best Book

This book surprised me. It sat there, all harmless looking, in it's brown and red and black design, with it's runaway drop of oil very nicely mirroring the Empire State building, creating an inky rorschach-like design.

Now, I am certainly not above googling words when I struggle to spell them - and rorschach was one I definitely needed assistance with, so try to imagine the tiny little 'vibration' that coursed through me when I saw that rorschach was defined as " a psychological test in which subjects' perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed using psychological interpretation, complex scientifically derived algorithms, or both."

You don't get it yet, do you? Ok, let me explain. See, I knew what rorschach meant - I mean, I might not know how to spell it, but give me some credit here, you know! However, the word "algorithms", as it appears in the definition, hit me like a brick in the face. How absolutely fitting!!

Teddy Wayne's main character, a NYC banking transplant from Qatar, creates a program that can predict the future rise and fall of the price of the oil ... using algorithms. Sweet! Right?!

(Internal conversation with self: Wait, why is everyone staring at me like that? Ok, alright, I know. Calm down Lori, you're acting silly. Deep breaths. People are looking at you like you have just taken a swan dive off the deep end. They aren't going to understand completely unless they have read the book. So I have to find a way to get them to read it, right? To make them see? Don't I owe this to them? No. You don't. Yes. I do. I owe it to them. I must make them see! )

If you are anything like me, you may walk right past this novel, never thinking twice about. A book about financial banking, starring a grammatically correct computer wiz who slaves over a program that can search the internet for key words like "terrorism; terrorist; bomb; war" and use them to accurately predict the price of oil in order to assist his company increase their net value - yawn - right?

WRONG. Oh so very very wrong.

This book is so much more than computer programing and oil prices. It's really about humanity, and taking chances, and making a fool out of yourself, and struggling to fit in, and standing up for what you believe in when it would be so much easier to just back down and give in.

It really is amazing.

Teddy Wayne, first time novelist, is a naturally humorous guy. He has been contributing to McSweeny's for many years, though I just recently discovered it, and his hilariousness shines through so naturally in Kapitoil.

When we met at the Book Blogger Convention Reception in NYC back in May, he made a potentially awkward situation so wonderfully memorable as we joked about they way the internet, and its instantaneous access to everyone and everything, took what used to be viewed as a bad or socially unacceptable behavior ("following people") and turned it into a worldwide phenomenon that is now 100% acceptable, and sometimes even expected. "Will you follow me?" "Why won't he follow me?" "I have 300 followers".

That conversation can translate into anything we say or do. The meaning of english words change and evolve as we tweak and adjust their use in our day to day lives. Which confuses the heck out Karim Issar - The shining star of Wayne's novel.

He transfers from his position in Qatar to it's NYC branch, entering America in all it's ungrammatical glory in 1999. While this pre-9/11 story outlines the differences in religious, social, and work ethic habits of two very different cultures, it also brings to light the hilariously horrible ways we natives use and abuse the english language.

Karim carries a voice recorder in his pocket in an attempt to enhance his understanding of english. Idioms confuse him. Incorrect application of grammar irks him. He has a very strange, stiff way of speaking, of which he is painfully aware, and so he documents new words and sayings and begins to use them liberally when speaking to coworkers and friends in an attempt to fit in. Of course, the more he tries to apply them, the more uncomfortable and humorous his interactions become.

This novel really tickled my funny bone, and at times even hit home a bit harder than I anticipated. Working for a large company who believes very strongly in workplace diversity, I interact with associates who speak english as a second language on a daily basis. So some of Karim's frustrations and assumptions were familiar to me.

Run, don't walk, to your nearest bookstore. Adopt a copy of Kapitoil now. Bring Karim and his kooky english into your home and into your life. You won't regret it. It may just become your Next Best Book too.


  1. I have to say, you have definitely sold me on this one. I am adding it to my wish list and hope I run across a copy of it soon.

  2. Hooray! I am happy that my review drew your attention to the book. You will have to let me know if/when you read it.

  3. ... Did you know that the Rorscharch Inkblot test was an accident? And, that if used by a very well trained doctor, it is actually a surprisingly accurate way to diagnose Schizophrenia? Just thought I'd add that. :)

    My undergrad is in Psychology, so it made me really happy that you compared the cover to the Rorschach.

  4. No Ashley, I didn't. But that is great trivia information! Thanks! That was one of the first things I notices about the cover. How it was awfully rorschah-ish.

  5. Very nice review - you matched Teddy's tone almost perfectly (funny book --> funny review!)... It really enjoyed this book too, especially for the language, but also as a character study of Karim, and how he changes over the course of the novel.

    I did a brief podcast interview with Teddy (and reviewed the book, too) here, if you're interested:

  6. I loved lots of things about this book and your enthusiastic review! I'm fascinated by the linguistic torture we put our non-native-English speaking friends through on a daily basis and their good natured ‘weebles-wobble-but-the-don't-fall-down’ positive outlook and perseverance to keep talking to us in our crazy language. I like stories that touch on that which is funny, grammatically correct, conscientious, and Teddy Wayne's book must be my soul mate in literary terms. I must hurry and collect a copy before they’re all gone!

  7. Thank you Greg. I have not embraced technology enough to even know how to begin podcasting, so thank you for sharing! Perhaps I can steal some of your pod-casting wisdom in the future :)

    Ann, it is amazing that anyone can understand this language. If you sit and think about it, it really seems crazy - I can have the same word mean two different things (ex) read and read. Same word, pronounced differently. different tenses.

    or how about the words that are spelt different, that sound the same, and mean different things? (ex) bare and bear. there and their. lie and lye.