Wednesday, December 23, 2009
So, on Saturday, we were crushed with 16 inches of snow in about 24 hours. On the bad side, this shut down our little road (which still has not been plowed... let's get going City of Alexandria) and, on the good side, canceled school from now until 2010. This has thus provided me with ample time to read some books that I have been looking forward to and what better way to pass time on a snow day/Winter Break than learning Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment? This was a book written in the early 1900s by a philosopher, scientist and educator named Rudolf Steiner. Like me, you probably have never heard of him or the book.
In fairness of full disclosure, mother's are always right. I saw this book that last time I visited my parents and was intrigued by the title. I mean, honestly, who wouldn't want knowledge of the higher worlds? I asked my mom if I could borrow it and she said sure but she then added you aren't ready for it in your life and probably won't understand. Well there was a challenge if I ever heard one -- not ready for it? not ready to understand? -- hogwash.
As it turns out my mother was quite right. Definitely wasn't ready for it and understood only parts of it. This is part of the reason I have already written three paragraphs and not mentioned the book. So here we go: The book is basically a guide for how to literally understand the higher worlds and attain greater spiritual knowledge. The book steps you through, in fairly clear scientific detail, how to get to those levels.
Okay, first the good points. The ideas in this book are really quite cool and would be wonderful to ascertain. You have to go in with an open mindset reading this book (otherwise the idea of your lotus opening up your dreams to your soul's full control might be beyond you). The entire text reminded me a great deal of the teachings of Buddhism (and yes, my one semester of Buddhism at Mary Washington makes me an expert). Steiner seems to consistently refer to Buddhist ideas of dealing with suffering, using shakras, and understand 'right duty' and 'right action'. He even mentions Buddha in some passages. The best, and not coincidentally most easy to understand, parts of the book are in the first half. Here he talks about truly living a good, moral life filled with altruism, humility and truthfulness. These concepts can be understood and followed by anyone and would certainly improve their life and the world.
I did have some problems with the text, which ultimately garnered the 2.5 star rating. First, to do what he is asking is incredibly hard. I guess this shouldn't be shocking and really shouldn't take away from the review of the book but becoming more attuned with your spiritual side takes a lot of effort (too much for me at 29). Second, and perhaps the biggest issue, the book is written in very intellectual language with some difficult vocabulary. Here's a typical example "When esoteric development has progressed so far that the lotus flowers being to stir, much has already been achieved by the student which can result in the formation of certain quite definite currents and movements in his etheric body." Yeah, try 270 pages of that. Third, the book starts go into some really, for a lack of a better word, "heavy" stuff in the second half of the book. Once you have done the initiation and gone through the esoteric training, you then can look at splitting your personality during spiritual training and understanding more about the guardian of the threshold. There' really some wacky stuff that you don't ever hear or read about in your daily life so be prepared.
Overall, as crazy as this stuff sounds, I can't knock it. I haven't tried to follow his methods and guide and will not state that's unreal as incredible as it sounds. If anybody out there is interested in undertaking this awesome journey to higher spiritual attainment, this book is for you. You will need to go through it quite slowly but it seems quite possible that it is legit.
As for me, I always follow my mom's advice: I am certainly not ready for it yet.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Written by the founder of the investigative journalist site, Salon.com, David Talbot puts together and incredible and emotional book about the lives of JFK and RFK during the mid-to- late 1960s. The book starts with a detailed and harrowing retelling of JFK's assassination in Dallas before going backwards in time to 1960. Talbot then takes each of JFK's three years in office and writes a chapter on each. The book then concludes with RFK's story after JFK's death until he too meets his own untimely death in 1968.
This book was an absolute pleasure to read and was one of my favorite non-fiction books I have read in a long time. Talbot's style of writing was extremely exciting to read and incredibly easy to follow. Although this book is based entirely on written documents, historical findings and author interviews, it reads like a well crafted spy novel or murder mystery. My only complaint was that Talbot often seemed to be demonsrtating how MANY sources he talked with and there must be over 100 different people mentioned and referenced in the text which made it a bit hard to manage at some points.
The book was so enjoyable to me for a nubmer of reasons. First, I have had an obsession with JFK since a child. Earlier it was becuase of all the assissination lore, but after reading Talbot's book, it's more about him as a president. His aura, decision making abilities and courage were incredible, and I learned so many new details and stories about his life as president. Second, the book confirms and demonsrtates in lucid detail about the intrigue and undermining that was going on at the highest levels of government at this time. I was aware of the incredible difficulty JFK had with his Cabinet and other officials form the movie 13 Days (which is one of my all-time favorite movies if you can get past Costner's ludicrious Boston accent) but had no idea how much JFK and RFK had to fight, not only people in their own Cabinet, but members of the White House staff and nearly all higher-ups at the FBI and CIA. Third, this book was really a tribute to RFK, and I have never read and learned as much about the man as I did in this text; I am also now mildly obsessed with him. RFK was truly the MAN behind JFK. Although not nearly the social rascal and pretty boy as his brother, RFK was the heart and soul of the Kennedy family and was a bulldog in politics. After reading the book, it was quite obvious that once JFK died in '63, RFK died pretty much as well. It was almost as if he knew by '68 that he needed to be another martyr for the revolutionary cause (what revolutionary cause you say? Read the book to find out).
Anywho, I could write all day long about how much I enjoyed this book and continue explaining all the incredible parts of the JFK and RFK story. If you have any interest in either of the Kennedy brothers or in the state of our governments in the 1960s, please read this book. Both JFK and RFK were amazing people, and to read this story you can't help but feel an incredible sense of heroism about both men. It's incredible testament to both men's legacies and by reading it, if nothing else, you pay homage to two great Americans.
(Also, it really, really helps to be a slightly geeky Political Science major to get into it more).
Saturday, November 21, 2009
The book checks in at just a shade under 900 pages, and it was a major effort to even finish it. I have been thinking about how I could express my displeasure of this book most clearly and easily, but I had so many reasons to hate it. I know there are millions of people out there who absolutely love this book (note the cover: "#1 New York Times Bestseller" and "Oprah Book Club" selection), but I just don't get it. Perhaps if anyone who is reading this blog is one of those people you can explain to me the value of the book... maybe I just don't understand the story, the lessons, the beautiful language (sarcasm... could the author use the f-word more times?).
I think my biggest issue with the book is how incredibly sad the story is for, no joke, 890 of the 900 pages. The morose story line literally starts on page 1 and continues for the next 47 chapters. By the time I finished chapter 48, I was incredibly depressed by the story and totally unsurprised by the very expected 'lets tie up all loose ends and leave the reader feeling happy' last chapter. I still don't understand what people get out of reading really sad books or watching really sad movies. Maybe if it's unbelievably well written and performed while being realistic I get it (i.e. Schindler's List), but this story wasn't real. In fact, I don't think it's possible to have a life this awful.
The story revolves around the brother of a twin who has schizophrenia and basically tells his story over a few months. Obviously, that couldn't take up all 900 pages so he interweaves the present story with chapters about his youth and, later in the book, a biography of his newly immigrated grandfather. When I first read the description of the book I was very excited. It sounded like it might be similar to one of my favorite books, Steinbeck's East of Eden (review here). Both stories about generations of families with the underlying question of how much did people's relatives pass on to them; both good and bad. The MAJOR difference is that Steinbeck is an incredible author who wrote a remarkable book and Lamb is... is... is.... well, I don't know what but his book was just so awful.
Besides the story being so morose, I thought final chapter was so poor and cliched. Of course, the main characters learns certain lessons: people must forgive and always keep trying, love conquers all, all people make mistakes, etc. A small part of the book was also about the teaching profession and he offended me on a personal level regarding that subject, which didn't help either.
Overall, I am incredibly excited to have finally finished the story. I wouldn't recommend that you read this book for any other reason than to maybe prove that this blogger has no idea what I'm talking about (and if you have that view, that this book was good, I would love to hear why). I would strongly remind you that if you do decide to take this book on, I was the one who told you it was awful.
Postscript -- So I just read over this blog entry, and I think it's one of my poorest efforts yet. Not well organized, sort of poorly written, and my points are not well supported. My only excitement comes from the fact that my most meager blog to date was for the worst book I've read... I guess it was my own perverse appreciation to the abhorrent Wally Lamb.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
After reading both Into Thin Air and Touching The Void, and loving them both, I guess I can conclude that I really enjoy survival books. Those books, along with Alive, tell such tremendous stories about people fighting for their lives in the most extreme conditions. A quick synopsis of Alive: a plane heading from Uruguay to Chile for a rugby game with 45 people crashes in the high mountains of the Andes. The story is about what happens to those 45 people.
There's not a great amount of insight I can offer about this book besides saying it's an absolutely incredible story and was one of the few books in a long time that made me weep at the end (for some reason parent/children reunions get me). I wanted to give it 5 stars but I don't think it has as much depth as the other books that I have given my highest rating too; nonetheless, it's wonderful. The trials and tribulations of those men in the mountains is astounding and what is perhaps most incredible is how long they were forced to endure such difficult conditions.
What is most interesting is that the only thing I really knew about this book before reading it was that the taboo of cannibalism was broken while they were up there and, for some reason, I felt that that idea would dominate the story and disgust me; neither of those things occurred. In fact, their survival, their emotions, and their lives are the only things the reader really ends up caring about.
If you have not read this book before, please do so... it's impossible not to find their story and courage inspiring. In fact, you may actually find yourself reevaluating what's actually important in your life.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
In the past few weeks, I have spent some time getting through the behemoth that is McMafia. It's not so much the length of the book (only about 350 pages) but rather the large and long pages that contain next to no dialogue (which greatly increases the length of the book) and the seemingly endless slew of foreign names and cities that are mentioned that made it a difficult book to plow through. Nonetheless, I got through it and was happy I did so as it was an illuminating, if not slightly depressing, view of our current global world.
As you might be able to ascertain from the title, the book is about the growth of worldwide crime in connection with development of globalization. In general, the book is not so uplifting and pretty much scared the hell out of me. Glenny spends most of the book explaining the litany of criminal problems in a collection of countries around the world. While doing so, he talks about the great diversity of crimes that are occurring worldwide that include: drugs, prostitution, cybercrime, theft, labor trade, etc. For the most part, his writing is crisp and the books high points occur when he shares the intimate details and personal stories from people connected and affected by global crime around the world.
There were a few interesting items I gleaned from the text that are worth sharing. First, the rise in global crime has a number of causes with perhaps none more critical than the fall of the Soviet Union. Additionally, the huge rise of wealth in Western Europe and the proclivity for the people of these cultures to want very cheap goods and often ilicit items is hugely important. As Gleny nicely puts it, "Organized crime is such a rewarding industry in the Balkans because ordinary West Europeans send an ever-burgeoning amount of their spare time and money sleep with prostitutes; smoking untaxed cigarettes; snorting coke through fifty-euro notes up their noses; employing illegal untaxed immigration labor on subsistence wages; stuffing their gullets with caviar and admiring ivory and sitting on teak." Second, SO much of the illicit trade that occurs is either connected or related to licit trading that it is incredibly difficult to determine the line between the two. Likewise, most criminal organization have a hand in many, many legal and illegal businesses. The yakuza in Japan, for example, have become an institutionalized element in society. Third, so many governments of countries around the world allow illegal elements, or, in some cases, are part of the criminal underworld (Nigeria, much of Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, for example). This in turn creates a major issue for Westernized countries as they ask these countries to curb corruption and strengthen the rule of law which they are often unwilling to do. On the other hand, the West plays a part in the rise of criminalization and needs to reassess its resistance to free labor and protectionist practices.
Overall, the book is a bit difficult to get through and will certainly make you look at the world and even YOUR own role in it (yes, each of us actually plays a part in the rise of the global criminal world). Perhaps the most uplifting thing I took away from the book (if you can call it that), is that I feel incredibly lucky to be an American. He goes from country to country demonstrating ways crime is a regular part of everyday life, and he does not paint an uplifting picture. So, if you want to undertake a meaty, detailed, richly told story about global crime in the world, this is the book for you!
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
I wasn't quite sure if this book would apply to schools or even if the book would be interesting (as I am not really a business person); I was sure that it was a classic book on business that is highly recommended. Luckily, the book was applicable to schools, easy to get through and interesting to boot!
Basically, the book looks at eleven Fortune 500 that made the leap from being good to being great. There is a whole bunch of rigid criteria, and I feel pretty confident that those 11 are pretty special. Anyway, the book breaks down six major things (in three categories) that have helped these companies rise to the level of greatness.
Overall, what I found most pleasing about this book was the simplicity (yet difficulty to accomplish) of each aspect and how easily the business examples and stories could apply to any organization, even a school. I was worried the book would all be business golbydegoop (sp?) but all of it was easy to digest and made a great deal of sense. The really difficult part, however, is putting into practice the ideas Collins mentions. Nonetheless, it is certainly nice to now have a detailed and clear road map.
I wouldn't necessarily suggest this book for alot of teachers out there, but I would urge anyone to pick it up and check it out if you are curious about organizational leadership, how to create a successful business model, or how to go from being good to great. You can scan through many parts of the book, and its written and organized in ways that make it very easy to pull out the most salient pieces of information quite quickly.
I gave the book 4 stars and rate it somewhere between good and great!
Currently, there is a great deal of buzz and excitement about David Oliver Relin’s story of Greg Mortenson told in Three Cups of Tea . It is a national bestseller and has begun to receive a cult like following in educational circles. Due to the overwhelmingly strong support of this book by nearly everyone, I felt it was definitely worth a read.
If you are not familiar with the story, the book is basically a retelling of the last 10 years of Mortenson’s life as he attempts to create schools in Pakistan and now Afghanistan. The book is written entirely by Relin but Mortenson’s life and memories are what fill each chapter and move forward the story.
Overall, the hype is worth it; the book is very good. Like many things that become incredibly accepted in American pop culture, it is well worth checking out. (Side note -- This may sound incredibly obvious but recently it dawned on me that whatever it is that ‘America’ as a whole supports in pop culture, and sort of comes out of nowhere, is almost always worth the hype. Some recent examples: Slumdog Millionaire – no one ever heard of it, then everyone saw it, ridiculously good; Da Vinci Code – awesome; Kanye West – I thought just another rapper, until I listened, again incredibly good. Anyway, you get the idea, this book falls into that category). The book’s story is incredibly touching, and the whole idea that the most effective way to fight terrorism is through education and children is obviously inspiring to any reader (perhaps more so to teachers).
I will probably get chastised for not giving the book 4.5 or 5 stars by some but let me explain. First, in general, I do not have a huge interest in foreign countries, and I especially find Asia to be uninteresting (this is totally subjective and I understand I am Euro/Western-centric). Second, I was frustrated with the lack of ‘results’ or even details about the future of the students of these schools. So much of the book premise is that making schools in these areas by themselves is the answer. I don’t quite agree. What are the graduates of these schools doing? Obviously if the alternative is the Tailban, the school is far superior but if they are simply learning about medicine and never returning to help their village and local people, what use is that? (I will answer my own question here as Mortenson and CAI (Central Asia Institute) try to educate girls, as they are far more likely to return and help the local village). Third, the book is often confusing. The number of varied names of places and people is incredibly overwhelming, and its difficult not to get lost from time to time try to keep up with who each person is.
With all that being said, the greatness of the story (less so the book) is the simple way Mortenson and CAI are helping to change the world. One of the best messages in the story is that the stereotypes that are so prevalent in our media and our culture about Pakistani and Afghanis are so off based. Think of it this way, if you assume that all or most people in this area are terrorists or support terrorists, than you should be okay with everyone in that area assuming you voted for George W. Bush and/or support all of his policies. Prior to the election, few Americans supported Bush’s military policies just as an incredible few in that area supported the Taliban and currently support terrorism. Most are similar to Americans: they have a core set of moral values, believe in helping others and think education can solve many problems.
Perhaps the most saddening and incredibly difficult problems stems from one major issue. As Mortenson visited some American Pentagon workers, they asked to help him by providing money. His response was “I realized my credibility in that part of the world depended on me not being associated with the American government, especially its military.” What incredibly ironic and difficult position. This is one of the major problems with the current world and America’s position. In many ways, this makes Mortenson’s work even more important.
Regardless of your view of foreign policy, wars, and education, check this book out. You may not like it; heck, you may think Mortenson’s ideas are the biggest waste of time and money but I promise you’ll be moved to have a far more defined view about foreign education, America's palce in the world, and terrorism.
(By the way, longest blog post ever for me!)
Monday, August 3, 2009
Recently, I was in this ridiculously cool used bookstore in Saratoga, NY. The place is awesome; it goes from room to room, seemingly never ending. It’s in a basement, and is dark, dank and fairly spooky. Anyway, I picked up a couple of cool books there and one was Old School by Tobias Wolff. I had recognized it because I saw it at Borders less than a week before for three times the price, and it’s a bestseller, so I thought it was worth picking up. I was not disappointed.
The book was a school teacher’s dream; a story about students who were passionately interested in school and put the literary competition held each year as the pinnacle of academic pursuits (the story was based in the 1960s, so it seems a bit more believable). The book is told from the first person point of view of one of the students. He sort of reminds me a bit of a smarter, saner Holden Caulfield.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. Although quite short, the story told was fascinating, characters interesting and dialogue and writing exemplary. The writing sort of reminded me of Hemmingway in some ways (who, along with some other famous authors, is a featured character in the story), as it was simple and to the point but many passages held far deeper meanings.
There were some negative aspects that prevented it from garnering a higher rating. Primarily, the story does not flow as well as one likes. This is especially true of the final chapters. Apparently the author had submitted some of the chapters as short stories to the New Yorker prior to completing the full novel. Near the end of the book, one feels as if each chapter is a separate vignette rather than a fully completed novel.
I would strongly recommend this book to all readers. Besides being short, you can finish it in a few days, it is easy to read and the moral/question of truth and honesty, which is at the heart of the novel, is easy for anyone to identify. Now if only all current students in America could have the same passion and interest in academics as the characters in this book…oh, to dream.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Like me, you probably have never heard of this novel. I was recently flipping through a book that included the best pieces of American literature even written, and this novel was included. In the critical evaluation included, the critic stated that it is one of the most underrated books of the past century and is a "classic". Well that, along with the author being my namesake, was enough for me to check it out.
Call It Sleep was written by Henry Roth (no relation) over 70 years ago. It tells the story of a young boy (between 6-8 years old over the course of the novel) who is growing up in New York in the early 1900s. He is a Jewish immigrant, and the novels basic story is a retelling of parts of his daily life. In the critique I mentioned earlier, it was stated that this novel is the preeminent story about Jewish immigrant life in America. I cannot disagree.
Although I had some issues with this novel, there is no disagreement that this novel eloquently and accurately tells the story of immigrant life. Roth beautifully makes the reader see, feel, hear, and taste all aspects of immigrant life during this period (by the way, shocking -- immigrant life is HARD). The story is nicely written, and the description and detail of ordinary things is as good as anything else I have ever read. The plot, although a bit slow, tells a fairly interesting story and includes a solid ending which helps save the novel a bit as it grows dull at some points.
There were some problems I had with the novel though. First, it was written about 70 years ago and, in my opinion, many of the books from that time and earlier do not have the same pace as modern books. Each chapter does not finish with a big mystery that pushes you on and there is not constant action and excitement. Normally I would not care, but this book was very slow and there were pages of description with nothing really occurring.
One of the more frustrating, yet kind of cool parts of the book, was that whenever the main character was speaking to other kids his age, his dialogue was written as that of a child and recent immigrant. This made it extremely difficult to get through much of the dialogue as it took a great deal of effort to actually sound out what was said to understand. Here is an example " It c'n catch rats, dot's wot yuh do wit' it. See dis little door? De rat gizz in like dot." It may seem easy to understand but when this goes on for 400 pages, it can get difficult. However, it made the characters seem more real and helped the reader to better identify with being a young child at that time in New York.
Overall, the story and characters by themselves are nothing great. However, the writing and descriptions of immigrant life are incredibly well done and that is the real value of the novel. I would recommend this novel to anyone who has any interesting in early Jewish immigrant life or immigrant life in New York at the beginning of the past century. 3 stars.
Friday, July 10, 2009
This may sound like an odd complaint but the book was far too slow while going too quick at the same time. Let me explain. Overall, from start until end, the book is very slow. Scenes develop at a snails pace and the whole plot could have been condensed into a couple hundred pages (it's pushing 400). However, Pearl also glosses over and quickly moves past some of the more interesting and worthwhile parts. He seemed to belabor the most boring of points and fly past anything that was worthwhile. He would constantly describe too much of the prosaic and not enough of the interesting.
There were some good moments... I felt like I really got to know the main characters and their wit and jovial attitudes made me like them more as the novel moved on. It was a decent mystery, and I certainly couldn't figure out who the killer was until the author nearly spelled it out. It was also nice to read about the poets mentioned earlier. I have read briefly about them in a far better book called The Metaphysical Club, and it was interesting to read about them in a fictional context.
Overall, the book received 2.5 stars, and I would not recommend it unless you really appreciate listless, languid writing in which the author take 25 words to describe something that could take five words. The story itself is fairly interesting and takes place right after the Civil War. If you do like it, let me know why. I think it won some awards, and I always appreciate others views on books I dislike (or like for that matter).
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Outliers, like the other books mentioned above, is another great book that delves into what makes people successful. Before I go on, I have realized that in my more recent posts I have begun to summarize books and actually give away too much of the plot.... This is not good. I am a blogger and reviewer of books not a poor alternative to Sparknotes. With that being said, let me whet your appetite about this story.
Gladwell again does an incredible job taking the question of how people become outliers, (i.e. HUGE successes) which one might think would include a multitude of varied explanations, and boils it down to a couple of key arguments. Some of the questions he evaluates and answers include:
- Why there are never good hockey players born after August?
- Why is practical intelligence more important than IQ?
- Why is "concerted cultivation" critical for student achievement?
- Why are autonomy, complexity and connection the key to happiness in work?
- Why do Koreans make bad pilots and why are there less plane crashes when the first officer and not the pilot is flying the plane?
- Why are Asians so good at math?
- What one simple change can we make to schools to assure far greater success from low and middle socio-economic classes?
Overall, I found this book extremely interesting and a fast read. Although I really though it started strong, wavered in the middle, and finished on a high note, the book is excellent.
If you have inclination to become a giant success or, if nothing else, would like to know why Bill Gates is Bill Gates and how The Beatles became The Beatles, this is a book for you.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Having waited an inordinate amount of time for the Alexandria City Library to finally get this book into circulation (I was #2 on the hold list... quite geeky, I know), I plowed through it in about two weeks and was appreciative of the very straightforward and clear writing style Cullen adheres to.
The book is basically a retelling of the massacre, events leading up to it, people involved, and a short summary of the individuals who survived past 10 years. Some noteworthy elements:
1. One of Cullen's main points was to dispel the rumors that existed and still exist about the massacre. Specifically, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (the killers) were not bullied, trench coat wearing losers and were actually quite the opposite. They were fairly popular, were friends with a variety of students and did not target any particular group as originally thought. He goes on to clear up a number of other misunderstandings that persisted after the killings but this was the main one.
2. Another myth he dispelled was that the two were intent on murdering certain individuals using mostly guns. Rather, their goal was to kill as many people as possible and had brought to school numerous bombs, some included napalm. Harris had written a great deal about trying to do another Oklahoma City type bombing and kill as many people as possible. Experts believe had all the bombs gone off they would have killed far more than Oklahoma City (none of the bombs worked and they killed 11 students).
3. The biographies of the two killers were the most fascinating parts of the book for me. Both Harris and Klebold were two very different individuals though they both shared a predilection for violence and guns. Harris, the far more suave, outgoing of the two, is considered by Cullen to be a classic case of a psychopath while Klebold, they shy, quiet one, is considered to be more of a depressed kid who was pushed toward violence by Harris.
4. Perhaps the most shocking and saddening thing that came from the book was that there were dozens of warning signs from both individuals that something like this might happen. Cullen makes the point, however, that the information that would have been needed to fully understand them and prevent the catastrophe was held by different individuals who never all communicated with each other. This includes their parents, friends, teachers, social workers, and police officers. Looking back, its seems unbelievable that nobody would have stopped this but it many ways Harris and Klebold divulged very little to one particular person or group and kept much of their plotting private.
Overall, the book does a nice job of keeping a streamlined story while jumping from different parts to different parts (they go from stories about the kids, to the actually shooting, to the families, etc.). If you have any interest in learning more about the incident or what actually caused these two kids to complete these murderous acts, this is a great book to read. Even if you have just a limited interest in learning more about this harrowing event, I would still recommend the book.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Fat guy in a little coat…. Fat guy in a little coat.
Recently I finished reading The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts. The book was much as expected: a story about Chris Farley’s life from beginning to end told almost entirely through interviews with family, friends and associates. As I already kind of new the ending (he dies, sadly), the most interesting parts of the book was the first 3/4ths. A couple of thoughts about the book:
1. The one most obvious thing is that I had no idea how bad Farley’s addiction was and how much he used throughout his life. As he died when I was fairly young and innocent (oh the good old days), I never really understood quite how much of an issue drugs and alcohol were. As you learn about his life, however, it becomes strikingly clear how much a disease addiction can be. He used a massive amount of drugs and alcohol throughout his life and went to rehab an uncountable number of times. Parts of this book read like James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces (which is a wonderful book, even if it is part fiction).
2. On a related note, I found it kind of sad that much of the book seems to be people defending themselves and clearing their consciences about Farley’s death. So much of the final chapters were friends and family saying that there was nothing left to do and they were kind of waiting for it to happen. While I totally agree that addiction is a disease and that he was completely out of control, I think it’s ridiculous that some of the closest people around him threw up their hands and gave up. People beat diseases all the time. After the nth “normal” rehab place didn’t work, some should have said “Ok, that’s it we’re taking you to the desert island rehab in _______ and you stay there for a year”. I guess they couldn’t though….there was a lot of major father/son issues and basically his father would have never stood for it.
3. By far, the most enjoyable parts of the book were the anecdotes and stories about Chris’ good and funny times… which there were many. Basically, since 9 years old he was a star and whatever he did and wherever he was he provided joy and laughter. This to me is the true beauty of Chris Farley. I, like most people, fell in love with him on SNL and then in Tommy Boy. He provided some amazing characters on SNL including the motivational speaker, Bennett Brower, and one of the SuperFans (as a Bears fan, the SuperFans skits I enjoy even more).
4. What was most interesting to learn about Chris Farley was that he was simply this incredibly down-to-earth and normal guy. One of his most famous skits is simply called “The Chris Farley Show”. Here, he basically interviews famous people and acts astounded to be around them and often says “you remember _____? That was awesome” Apparently, that’s really just him being himself. He just loved making people laugh and providing happiness.
Overall, the book is much as expected for a biography. It has some really great stories, a lot of detail about his drugs and alcohol abuse, and a few laughs along the way. It received 3 stars and is recommended for any fan of Chris Farley out there.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
I used to love John Grisham. I think I have read all of his books, and I used to think the Pelican Brief and The Client were the greatest things ever. Things have changed, however. Either his books are getting dumber or I am getting smarter (most definitely going to go with the latter).
I just finished Grisham’s new (I would say newest but I think the dude puts out like two books a year and I just can’t keep up any more) book titled The Appeal. As I said previously, things have changed. This book did not grab me like his other books. It did not seem to have the same breakneck pace of others book. It even did not have a great ending like his other books.
The book, as you can probably guess, is about a court case that gets appealed. The novel is told in three parts, the case, the election of a judge, and the opinion. Basically, Grisham uses the same old formula for this book as he has done for every other book he has written since I was in Middle School. Take a group that is wronged (in this case poor Southern folk who contracted cancer in a small Mississippi town) have them go up against the money grubbing corporation (chemical company that dumped toxins – tagged team with billionaire stock dude Carl Trudeau) and watch as they end up obtaining justice (while losing a few people along the way – in this case, 17 dead cancer patients and a bankrupt married lawyer couple).
The really unfortunate thing about this book, however, is that Grisham forget the one best part of his FICITIONAL books – the bad guys won in this one! Sorry I ruined this for all you avid Grisham fans, but really you can still read it and get as little out of it as I did. Real quick, basic plot: people get sick, win the case in lower court for $41 million, it gets appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, rich business people buy a seat on the Supreme Court because they have judicial elections in Mississippi, the case gets to the Supreme Court and the new Justice has to decide the case.
What’s frustrating to no end is that you realize once this guy gets to the Supreme Court he will go against the original ruling and not give the poor people their money but then something (a miracle almost?) happens to him and his family and you are left hoping he LEARNED something from it and maybe grew a HEART. But alas, things don’t work out that well.
The only somewhat redeeming characteristic of the book, and probably the reason for the less than joyful ending, was Grisham’s message to the audience of the book – be careful about judicial elections. Basically, he believes, justice (I guess you could call it that) can be purchased; i.e. if you elect certain people to a court, they will vote certain ways. I never knew that this was a big problem but I guess it is since Grisham wrote about it and even wrote a sad ending to make us realize what an issue it is.
Overall, the book is a quick read, keeps you fairly interested and makes a useful (maybe?) point about judicial elections. Just don’t expect your brain to really be piqued or an ending that pleases. 2.5 STARS.
Monday, April 20, 2009
(On an useful side note, I am of the opinion the Leo DiCaprio has never made a film that is bad. In fact, quite the opposite, every one of his movies and even TV appearances are awesome. Now, there are probably a lot of guys out there who think he is just a pretty boy… which he is, at least that what the ladies tell me. But his movies are awesome… off the top of my head: The Departed – great; Catch Me if You Can – not bad; Titanic – awesome if you get past the love stuff; Gangs of New York – awesome; Blood Diamond – good; Basketball Diaries – cool; heck, he was even good when he was on Growing Pains as a kid. So my point is, Leo’s movies are pretty awesome and I defy anyone to attempt to argue that I am wrong).
Anyway, back to the review – the book is definitely worth a read if you have a chance. It’s fairly short, there’s a lot of interesting dialogue and for most readers of this blog (I know how who you 2 are) this book might make you think about your life right now. See, the book is basically about people settling down, following “society’s plan” and wondering if this (you know, normal conservative American life) is truly the best path or most purposeful life. The story is about Frank and April Wheeler, a married couple with two kids who move to the ‘burbs outside NYC. They buy the nice house with the picket fence, have the 2 kids, wife stays at home and does what wives do in the ‘50s. Of course, it’s not that easy. Both April and Frank want much more from life. They want to travel and believe in the land of Europe (France specifically) life would be oh so different…rosy in fact.
That’s the premise anyway. The story then continues as they face questioning from friends and colleagues wondering about the efficacy of a plan that moves a family to Europe with no jobs, place to live, etc. Drama plays out, emotions are wrought -- you get the idea. Eventually you get a pretty good ending and can’t help but be frustrated with Frank and April.
Overall, the book certainly makes you think, wonder about things, and question why these people believe what they do (if nothing else, it will make you feel great about whatever relationship you might be in or could be in). I was told that this book is a favorite of writers… I can see why, the characters and story develop very nicely and like most artists, writers sometimes see beauty in sadness and loneliness (sorry for the revelation but you’ll see plenty of it in the book). The book’s real genius is in its subtle, ironic and emotionally charged subjects. For anyone who has ever questioned “society” or what being “normal” is, this book is worthy of a reading.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
To begin, this book was epic. Besides the rather stupefying length (around 700 pages -- big, long pages with little print too) the depth and weightiness of the subjects of the book were more than dramatic.
The book is basically a story about a family -- The Trasks -- and the tale of 3 generations of this family. Starting in the East Coast and finishing in the Salinas Valley in California, this story focuses on the lives of a few individuals. Wrapped up in the story and weaving throughout the whole novel is the underlying focus of good vs. evil. In fact, part of the story is actually a retelling of the story of Cain and Abel.
Although the book starts a bit slow and struggles a bit in the final 100 pages (the plot suddenly seems a bit less interesting at spots), I really loved the book. The story was fascinating to read and the characters are so richly and carefully developed you immediately become familiar and emotional about each of them. Lee and Sam Hamilton are certainly two of my favorites. As this story covers nearly a century in time, there is plenty of birth and death and the cycle of life is certainly developed over and over.
The genius of the novel, however, is the constant depiction of good and evil throughout the characters in the novel. Steinbeck beautifully questions and re-questions what and where good and evil really come from. The old debate of nature vs. the environment are constantly reviewed. In fact, Steinbeck often refers to the Bible and the story of Cain and Able becomes a vital part of the novel.
I could write forever about the characters, the symbols represented, the motifs etc. in the book.... however, I would rather end with quote from the book that summarizes what this book (and life maybe? --- deep, I know) really means:
"I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?"
Can man choose to be good or evil or is that already forced upon a person from birth? I bet you'd like to know Steinbeck's answer to this...well, I won't tell you but next time you have a good break available and want to read a simply amazing story, pick up East of Eden. You won't be disappointed.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
The book is called We Need You to Lead Us and it is written by Seth Godin. Although not about education specifically, it was recommended by a fellow educator who looks at education from more of a leadership perspective. This book, specifically, deals with leadership and how to become a leader of "tribes" of people. This book had some really ridiculous parts and some really great parts... I'll go through both.
On the bad side was this ridiculous title. The Tribes part doesn't bother me, but the "We need you to lead us" is goofy. This leads to another problem was the preachiness of the whole book. So much was about how it was all about YOU and that YOU can change everything just by doing a few things. Unfortunately his suggestions are so vague and overly general it lacks some significant substance. Ironically, he mentions in the book how people will criticize him for not being specific enough, well here you go buddy, you got it. The other annoying thing is that he is disagrees with himself throughout the book. He will say that one of the worst things is to lead without knowing where you are going and then he includes a quotation later that states something like "I don't know where I am going. I guess I will just lead". Silly author. Other times he will talk about leading by being innovative than others he says sometimes you shouldn't change what works.
I really like other parts of the book, however. Because the book is short and really written as a bunch of almost random blog entries, it's a very quick read. And since he does not have any extremely specific suggestions on how to lead or create a tribe, you are left with some major, BIG ideas. I actually like these thoughts. Like, don't be afraid. He states that fear is what holds most people back from moving up or forward in their jobs. Also, don't settle for the status quo. In fact, he suggests almost being a revolutionary in your work.
His overall point was that if you get rid of your fear, persevere through people trying to hold you back who want you to maintain the status quo, and follow your passions, you will become a leader and ultimately people will follow you. Your "Tribe" will be created and grow because of your passion and love for whatever it is you believe in.
Overall, kind of self-helpy but I actually full agree with his overall message. People, in general, are afraid to change and to try something new. Change is hard and its much easier to do nothing. But, in the end, more happiness and success can be achieved by trying something new and being different.
Check this book out if you are motivated to change who you are in your job or think about ways to differentiate yourself from others around you. Just be prepared that you have to get through some of Godin's "too cool for school" (no pun attended) way of thinking.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
1969 was a pretty solid year. You got the monumental moon landing (side note, my dad believes this will go down as the most important event of the CENTURY... a debate for another time), Woodstock took place, and it was the height of the Vietnam war. I thought that was about it until I recently finished the amazing, exceptional, ridiculously good The Godfather by Mario Puzo.
People had suggested to me to read this book for a while. I figured I would once I got some time. Well I have no idea what I was waiting for. WOW! What a classic. Most have seen the movie and know the classic references -- "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse" or "Revenge is a meal best served cold" or "We go to the mattresses". Even if you put aside all of the classic lines and stereotypical Godfather lore, you are left with an incredible story with such richly detailed and developed characters you feel as if you know these people, and if you don't, you'd like to.
On a related note, my wife and I just finished watching the Sopranos series on Netflix (another side note, but my wife believes this is the best show she has EVER seen... again, a debate for another time). It was really a pleasure to finish that series as I read this book. The Sopranos have so many explicit and underlying connections with the Godfather. It was also great to see how the idea of a Godfather has changed over time. One of the great things about the book is that it is mostly based in historical accuracies. Although the people not real, much like Pillars of the Earth, the ideas for the stories and characters are based on real individuals.
And that sense of realness, of authenticity, is what makes the Sopranos and the Godfather so fascinating and interesting. The underlying belief of the Godfather and all his "friends" is that they go by their own laws and codes. Society and its laws or only mere suggestions. True morals and ethics, and in turn social morays, are created by people... not governments.
Enough philosophizing... if you have not read the book, go get it right now. It was a great read and is as good, if not better, than Pillars of the Earth (another 5 star book). I can not wait to watch the movie again after reading the book. I could already remember so many scenes from the movie as I read even though its been years since I have seen it.
1969 was truly an impressive end to a decade. In the future, I will find it difficult to not include the release of the Godfather as a major event for that year.
Monday, March 2, 2009
As anybody who reads this blog probably knows, I enjoy basketball. I play often and it is one of my few passions (besides 8-bit Nintendo playing). When I lived in D.C. for a short while I played at a gym up there with a buddy of mine from Hawaii who got me into the game. There was some good players up there and one incredible 3 point shooter. Anyway, fast forward a year and I am no longer playing there and my buddy has left but he forwards me a link about a book this 3 point shooter actually wrote. This is weird. First off when you play b-ball with strangers you don't really think about what they do for a living... really, you are just thinking about basketball. Second, when you hear that a basketball player is a narrative writer it is even weirder. Anyway, I picked up Joe's book The Delivery Man not expecting a whole bunch from a fellow basketball player yet it turned out to be really entertaining and quite good.
The book is basically a story about a group of young 20-somethings in Las Vegas. The main character is a guy named Chase who has more than a few problems in life...drugs, sex, violence (you know, the usual). Anyway, the story has a sort of Catcher in the Rye feel to it as Chase has so many issues but you can't help feeling for the guy and hoping he'll pull it together and not ruin everything. Also, the stories and escapades he gets into are incredible.
One of the major criteria when I review and ultimately rank books is how entertaining the book is. I said early on, I don't know that much about symbolism and literature tools but I know what is a page-turner and interesting to read... this book was tough to put down. The story is captivating and you really get into the characters. I wouldn't say I could identify with them on face value but the problems they face and challenges the encounter are typical for anyone.
I do recommend this book to everyone. However, it is not for the timid. The language and scenes are certainly R-rated and this is most definitely a modern look at Vegas. Yet if you can get past that (or even embrace it) you will find this book to be quite a story that will be tough to not finish in a week. Obviously, the author is both a gifted basketball player and writer. Give him a chance and take read of this book.
As the snow tapers to an end this Monday morning (and I celebrate the rare March canceling of school), I thought it would be nice to ruminate about this book I read years ago. For some reason, I have thought about it/heard about it two or three times in the past month.... this must be a sign then to think about this powerful, all encompassing book.
I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance right after college ended. For some reason, since my formal academic career has ended and people stopped telling me I HAD to read certain books, I find reading far more pleasurable and do it far more often. In my final year in college I took an interest in Buddhism. I took a class on it and still find it to be a religion that says a lot with simplicity. This book delves only slightly into the ideas of Zen-Buddhism but having a formal education in the religion proved helpful but certainly not necessary when reading.
The book was written in the 1970s and it is basically a road adventure novel ala Keourac. Unlike On the Road, far less drugs are used yet far deeper questions are unveiled. It is about the narrator and his son taking a cross country motorcycle ride. The ride, though, is only the template or the canvas which Pirsig paints his picture. The book is really a philosophical manifesto. It looks at the major questions of philosophy from the Greeks all the way through the current debate about the efficacy of technology.
Overall, I gave this book 4.5 stars. It is incredibly inspiring, amazingly thought provoking yet still wonderfully entertaining. To me, what is so great about the book is the author's contemplation of Eastern ideals and views with those of Western subjectivity and objectivity.
If you would like to read a book that makes you truly question your own values and this country's values read this book. You will probably have to do some thinking along the way but that wouldn't be the worst thing to do sometimes, would it?
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
While taking education classes at the prestigious University of Virginia (ok ok, northern Virginia campus), I met an awesome guy from Kenya. Besides sharing our thoughts and views on all aspects of education, we also recommended books for each other... this was one of his recommendations.
I feel proud reviewing a book that is what most would dub -- literature. Rather than what others might call airport trash, like much of the other books I read. Anyway, this book is about apartheid South Africa. It was written over 50 years ago, so it lacks the every single line of every single page is supposed to keep you interested like current books. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful story. Brilliantly written, it describes both the rural settings and city slums with such care and detail that your mind can't help but wander off dreaming of this beautiful place.
The story is told in 3 parts and it's done very well. Subtly, the author questions why whites separate the blacks as they do and what policies are created to assure their dominance. All of these questions are alluded to though the story, which is only about a few individuals.
I rated this book 4 stars, though if you are don't care for history or sociology it may be less interesting to you. I found it both a wonderful story about people and their actions and also a superb narrative describing life in South Africa pre-Mandela. The charecters are so richly developed that you can't help but feel their pain... and yes, this is not the most cheery book. But, like many good stories an ending with hope for the future exists.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Little known fact, I am in a book club; well, sort of. I have gone twice in six years, but I now have made two in a row. The book club is with some Mary Washington Political Science alums and we recently read Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational.
The book is about behavioral economics which is more or less the study of the psychology of economics. It was a really fun, cool book and it made me think alot about why I and others spend money as they do.
Some of the major themes that I summarized from the book are: think about what you value and why you do so, enjoy what you have and don't let too many options ruin the enjoyment of your life, be honest, and if that's hard to do, think about being honest and it will be a lot easier, and everything you spend money on is relative so understand the TRUE value of things.
Not bad for a book on economics. It really is a fun, easy to read book that I really suggest if you have any interest in getting a better perspective on the money in your life or you think about the value of things as you do.
The book came in at 4 stars as Ariely provides some great stories from his research that help illustrate each major point of his book. Each story is told creatively, easily and in a very "non-economic" way. The book is a quick read and it's definetley recommended.
I read McCarthy's No County for Old Men recently. It was decent but this book pales in comparison, that's not a good thing. I have really tried to like Cormac McCarthy... he is this old dude, whose got this ruffian, I miss the good old days attitude, but after two books I think I am done with him.
The book starts off sad and boring, moves through continuing that theme and eventually you get to the ending and he doesn't keep you guessing.... MORE SAD AND BORING.
Although he does a great job describing the two main characters and vividly recalling each scene the plot was just not for me. Besides the downer plot of post-apocalyptic Earth, I just could not get into the whole idea of the book.
The best part was when I finished. This was not so much because I finally finished it (though I was quite happy) but because I was able to reflect upon it. I am pretty sure it's one of those books with symbols, themes and all sorts of "deep ideas". Unfortunately I don't teach English and am not a literature critic so must of that stuff is lost on me. I read for entertainment and getting something out of the book. I didn't get much of either.
They are said to be making a movie about the book. I bet it will be better than the book, but really, pretty much anything in comparison would be better.
While watching a video on ted.com recently (really cool website with great videos about the future of technology and such), I saw a guy who was talking about the most expensive things in the world and he referenced the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold. In the book, The Billionaire's Vinegar,Benjamin Wallace explains the selling of this bottle of Chateau Lafite 1787 sold at Christie's London in 1985 for $160,000.
I gave this book 4 stars. I was a bit unsure going into a book like this but it was far better than anticipated. Wallace does a great job starting with the auction and then diligently explaining the mystery behind a bottle purportedly owned by Thomas Jefferson. He then goes into great depth about the story of the bottle going through today.
To help arouse your curiosity, I will let you know that there might be a possibility that bottle is in fact............FAKE! Actually, a lot of the book questions that authenticity of a number of expensive, old wines sold recently but you will have to read the book to find out the final result.
Overall, very fun, cool book. More than I ever wanted to know about wine, but it certainly makes me appreciate red wine much more now. Think about it, wine is one of the few foods/drinks whose taste actually changes and improves as it encounters oxygen... so cool and enjoyable, just like this book.
There you have it, not eloquent but accurate. The Pillars of the Earth really is an incredible book... great characters, wonderful story, moving dialogue and action. For a book that is so ridiculously long (973 pages), it flew by. Normally a book of that length would not even be considered by these eyes but SO many friends had SO many positive reviews I had to give it a try.
Now, I would not say 'I could not put it down'. That's just not accurate, I have to work, shower and do other things that I really can't read a book to do. However, whatever free time I did have, I dedicated to the book until it was finished.
If you have read it, you know what I am talking about. If not, go get it very soon and read it. It's really that good.
As a friend of mine said about it, "I don't think I can be friends with someone if they don't like this book". Yeah, that's right, it's that good that people are willing to lose friendships on it.
My point in writing this is to do something while bored that is probably better for me than playing Spades online or watching old episodes of West Wing (albeit only slightly better... I love that show).
So the blog is about old books I've read and new books I am reading.
I plan on writing a short review about each book. Not what it's about... you can find that on Amazon, but rather what I thought... you can only find THAT HERE! I have a rating system, it works like this:
1 star -- Why did I read this? It was a waste of time, a true waste. I no longer trust ______ (person, source, etc.) to recommend books again.
2 stars -- Well it wasn't a 1 but it was pretty bad. I wasn't bored the whole time reading it but there were some major issues.
3 stars -- Not a bad book. I wouldn't recommend it but I have read worst. It had some interesting parts but it's not a "keeper".
4 stars -- Pretty good stuff. Kept me reading and not wanting to put it down for the most part. Actually read it at home rather than just at the gym. You should check it out.
5 stars -- The Pinnacle. As good as a book gets for me. Fascinating, captivating, educational... just plain awesome. Read it at the gym, at home, all the time. GO GET IT RIGHT NOW.
It will take me a while to get all the older books I have read up here but I will do reviews of the books I read as I go forward and put up the older ones as I see fit.
So that's about it. Great first blog if I may say so myself. Anybody else??? Oh yeah, probably not.