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Thursday, October 10, 2013


I didn't like fiction. Just reading someone's imagination, I figured, can't help us pass any tests. Non-fiction actually teaches us something. Reading is education. Still, watching people so involved in their paperback fiction books, I felt I was missing something; and so did something crazy. I made up my mind to read every Pulitzer Prize winning fiction book published in my lifetime, since 1949. It took me six years to read sixty years' worth of books and get caught up. And now, not only can I read faster, but I love fiction. Reading is no longer just education, but enjoyment. I went on to read all twenty-five Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, which introduced me to pulp fiction, and I realized I had also missed this fascinating genre from the early 1900's.

Stephen Jared's The Elephants of Shanghai is really two books in one. The first half is Jack and the Jungle Lion and the second half is The Elephants of Shanghai, its sequel. Jack and the Jungle Lion starts off with a failing marriage. Being an appreciator of successful marriage and respecter of vows, this turned me off and I was afraid I might not like the book after all. But, after all, I did. Also, Action Jack, the main character, begins as somewhat of a wimp, a phony, while Max (Maxine) comes on strong. And I thought, oh great, a feminist book. But it isn't. It's a growing book. More characters are introduced, and I like each one. How can anyone dislike a young girl who's reading Wuthering Heights while trying to survive in a jungle surrounded by headhunters? I'll leave it there, because I don't want to give any plot away.

The Elephants of Shanghai is a bit richer in substance and just as exciting. In this book is the first time I've ever seen the word "discombobulating" in print, but Stephen Jared's writing is not discombobulating. Along with an exciting tale faithful to the Adventure Pulp Fiction Genre, this time taking place during World War II, Jared gets downright inspiring. "Max, before you, I didn't care about anybody--except me. I care about other people now. And I think about bigger things. And I want more out of life than just what makes me comfortable." "Max, you isolate yourself from risk so much that all you have is caution. Fear. That's not living life. You're hardly alive if you're not willing to risk at least a little something here and there."

After beginning these two books in one, I found myself ignoring the computer and even skipping meals, and finished both books in only two days! Among the sixty-four years' worth of Pulitzer Prize winners, most I enjoyed, but many I didn't, and ended up reading them out of duty to my self-imposed challenge. I can honestly say that Jack and the Jungle Lion and The Elephants of Shanghai are better than many Pulitzer Prize winning fiction books, and as good as Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan series. If you want simply to enjoy reading, here you go. (And for those of you who, like me, are bothered by bad editing, I noticed no typos at all between these covers.)

Surprisingly, Stephen Jared is not only a fascinating author, but an actor as well. He's appeared in feature films such as "He's Just Not That Into You," and on popular TV shows such as "iCarly," "24" and "Touched by an Angel," plus commercials for both radio and television. To see some of his roles on YouTube, go to Stephen Jared Compilation. I'm keeping tabs on this fellow, in hopes that other Action Jack Hunter books will come along. Meanwhile I'm off to read his other book, Ten-A-Week Steale.

P.S.  To prove I'm not exaggerating in my review, here are some of the Pulitzer Prize winning fiction books that are nowhere near as good as Jack and the Jungle Lion and The Elephants of Shanghai:

Guard of Honor (1949, Cozzens)     
A Fable (1955, Faulkner)
Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (1966)
The Fixer (1967, Malamud)
House Made of Dawn (1969, Momaday)
Humboldt's Gift (1976, Bellow)
The Stories of John Cheever (1979)
Foreign Affairs (1985, Lurie)
A Summons to Memphis (1987, Taylor)
Beloved (1988, Morrison)
Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (1990, Hijuelos)
Independence Day (1996, Ford)
American Pastoral (1998, Roth)
The Hours (1999, Cunningham)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2001, Chabon)
Tinkers (2010, Harding)

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  1. As the ex-EIC of Solstice and his editor, I have to heartily agree with your assessment. Action Jack deserves to be on the screen, small or big.

  2. Stephen Jared's books are a great read, especially if you are a film buff. Jared actually manages the virtually impossible - he makes every page either interesting, exciting or humurous.