Book Review: Beat The Reaper by Josh Bazell

I picked up Josh Bazell’s Beat The Reaper at Copperfield’s, my local independent on the day of the Books and Chocolate Extravaganza a couple of weeks ago. I finally got a break and was able to read it.

Note: Hmm. Dr. Bazell does not seem to have a website. I’ll assume he’s too busy saving lives over at UCSF to get himself a website. But come on!

Disclosure: Hachette is also my publisher. And, what a small world, my son was born at UCSF (University of California at San Francisco) where Bazell is now a resident. But enough with the disclosures. I didn’t know we had the same publisher until I was reduced to going to the Hachette website to find out if there was a link to a website for him and an unadulterated image of his cover. (No and yes.)

How much did I enjoy this book? This much:

It is well known by many who know me that I LOATHE books written in the present tense. I was unable to read The Yiddish Policeman’s Ball because of this and that’s despite everybody saying it’s brilliant. I wouldn’t know. It’s in present tense and I hate that.

Much (but not all) of Beat The Reaper is in present tense. It’s first-person present tense and I think that’s what made the difference. That and a protagonist who is amazingly rendered on the pages. Still, I was far more comfortable with the past tense chapters. But I loved the present-tense ones too.

What’s that sound? It’s hell freezing over because Carolyn actually read and enjoyed a book written in the present tense. I took hell (pretty much literally) in grad school for saying, in a writing seminar, that I couldn’t fairly judge a classmate’s submission because it was in present tense. I read it any way and gave my best effort at critique, but well, let’s just say the prof had to intervene in the literary bloodbath that followed my confession. Apparently hating present tense isn’t allowed among grad students. Shrug.

Anyway, I don’t want to spoil any of the wonderfully timed revelations about the the protagonist except to say that what you think of him on page one isn’t what you think of him on page two or page 10 or even the last page. The hero is a resident at a hospital in NY and that’s all I’m going to say. You know a writer is brilliant when at one point you feel it’s impossible for the hero to turn on his best friend, but when it happens some pages later, you’re nodding your head, saying, well, yeah!

Bazell writes in a very breezy style that makes you forget while you’re reading just how hard it is to be funny and light and serious all at the same time.

I gave it to my dad to read. He’s a retired physician and I figured he’d really enjoy the medical setting, which, from what I’ve heard from my father and from friends who are physicians, is a pretty accurate depiction of what it’s like to be a med student, intern and then resident.

Sure, I have a few nitpicks, but they’re nitpicks and I really don’t care about them. Fun, funny, fascinating and even heartbreaking story.

Highly recommended. Rush out and buy this book.



4 Responses to “Book Review: Beat The Reaper by Josh Bazell”

  1. Markus Hoffmann says:

    Hi Carolyn,

    I’m so glad you liked BEAT THE REAPER! I’m Josh’s literary agent and just wanted to let you know that while Josh himself doesn’t have a website (yet), the book does have one, and a rather cool one at that: That website also contains a good amount of info on Josh.


    Markus Hoffmann
    regal_literary, inc.

  2. Carolyn says:

    Squeeeee! Josh Bazell’s agent left a comment on my blog!

    Right after this, I’ll update my post to add a link to the book’s website. Thank you!

    I can’t wait to buy more of Josh’s books!!!

    In case you see this comment, too, the book website is important, but when I googled Josh Bazell, that site did not come up anywhere in the first 2-3 pages of results and it really really needs to do way better than that.

    Most people are only going to look as far as the first 5 results. (results, not pages) Whoever maintains that site should fix the metadata on the pages.

  3. Carolyn says:

    Carolyn again. (commenting on one’s own blog … is that blogsterbation?)

    Leonardo DeCarprio is signed on for the movie version of Beat The Reaper. Now that is awesomeness. Hopefully with a big name attached, this means the movie will indeed be made. Yay!!

    In not so good news, I was unable to get to the BTR book website. Bummer. But maybe they’re fixing that metadata problem right now…

    I can’t wait to see the movie. I LOVE action movies.

  4. Anonymous says:

    huh. luv this thread :))