Friday, October 28, 2016

Review: 600 Hours of Edward

600 Hours of Edward 600 Hours of Edward by Craig Lancaster
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A thoroughly delightful book! You will love Edward, an intelligent 30-something with OCD and Asperger’s. He is thoughtful and sensitive and plainspoken. Edward is not burdened with all of the social conventions of the average adult and throughout the story this actually results in GREATER clarity (and quality!) of thought from him. I loved how the author has the developmentally-challenged Edward shine light on the flaws in others…..and it works because Edward’s communication is uncluttered. There is just enough drama and tension in the storyline to keep the pages turning. And the Dragnet tool….superb!

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Review: As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This frightening indictment of human nature lays bare the sinister side of stupidity.
Each adult member of this miserable family brings his or her own private brand of malevolence to bear on the disastrous trail to their mother’s final resting place.

Poverty blunts their judgement and cripples their humanity, but it does not make me feel sorry for them. Hard lives have cut them into a dreadful, permanent spirit of the horror-struck, yet I felt no pity. Rather, it was as though I had been dropped into the middle of a long, disturbing scene from Deliverance.  I hated the Bundrens. Five minutes into this book, I wanted out. But Faulkner gave me one thing to hold onto. Cash. This character is why I kept reading. Cash is the only Bundren with redeeming qualities. I guess he represents hope in a sea of squalor.

Some have described Faulkner’s writing as courageous but I think it is an act of reprehension – a long, prosecuting finger pointed at all of humanity.

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Review: Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results

Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results by Stephen Guise
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a quick and tidy read. It is one of many books of this type which I have plowed through and it is pretty good. The idea of mini-habits is not a new one and the author does not divulge any new research. However, if you are serial starter – someone who is always embarking on big changes but never actually following through on any - a book like this might be of great value. The author continually returns to his own commitment to do just one (1) push up per day, because he had failed at every other resolution he made to become more fit. It was so doable - so accomplishable that it gave him the fuel he needed to dig just a little deeper, to do just a little bit more. He helps the reader see how “a journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step.”

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Review: When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"A tureen of tragedy is best allotted by the spoonful."

It is so hard to accept the death of someone who is young, who has accomplished and contributed so much, and who is brimming with potential. I forced myself to read this book hoping that it would contain some wisdom, some revelation - something to mitigate the sorrow. Like rain, which falls upon both the just and the unjust in the world, so cancer attacks indiscriminately. But when someone like Paul Kalanithi falls....

He had worked so very hard to finally arrive at his destiny in life - to begin his official career in neuroscience. There was just so much promise ...

He grasped the importance of philosophy and classic literature and worked through the problems that these disciplines drop onto our plates. He looked for the answers to all of life's most important questions, deciding finally that neuroscience encapsulated them all. His philosophical discussion supporting faith and science and God is outstanding. He helped people. He worked tirelessly to keep people alive - to help them pull through terrible neurological challenges.

Paul Kalanithi pursued arete. He succeeded here and death does not take that away from him.

My favorite quote: "...even if I am dying, until I actually die, I am still living."

He quoted Samuel Beckett a few times during his treatment ups and downs: "I can't go on. I'll go on." I loved this.

And when it was apparent that the fight was over he said, "I'm ready." These were the words I needed to hear. He was intelligent, brave, practical, noble, and loving from start to finish. He was as impressive a human being in death as he was in life.

It is an honest book. Sad, but packed with all the right stuff.

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Monday, October 10, 2016

Review: Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard

Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard by Laura Bates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read to expand my world and I selected this book with that goal in mind. As expected, it challenged me.

I rarely think about the lives of prisoners, but I often think about their victims. This book redirected my focus. I happen to love Shakespeare, and because I think he also saved my life (in a much less dramatic form), I allowed myself to dwell on the plight of prisoners and I let the book do what it was aiming to do.

This author volunteers to teach Shakespeare in a maximum security prison to the most dangerous population of prisoners there.

The author's focus on Larry, a man who had done terrible things, was initially tedious. Completely blown away by Larry's intelligence and his grasp of Shakespeare's laborious compositions, she sort of adopts him. She is enamored. She is childless and many years older. I rolled my eyes a few times and braced myself for offensive cliches like: "He's actually such a good person. He never meant any harm." Blah, blah, blah. That is not how the book unfolds, though. And, frankly, when I saw the landscape of Larry's life - the things which brought him to his criminal crescendo - it seemed that it could not have ended any other way. Life in prison with no possibility for parole.

Surprisingly, his sentence does not stamp out his intellect. Through the "Shakespeare in Shackles Program" he ends up doing some impressive things. It really does beg the question.....should prisoners be left to rot from the inside out or is there a better way to approach the reparations which simply must be made?

Most interesting was the fact that most of the hardened, violent offenders really liked Shakespeare, understood Shakespeare, and related to the tragic characters. They came to understand themselves. They became more cooperative. More goal-oriented. More focused. Shakespeare was some kind of medicine for them. Fascinating stuff, right?

I'd like to go back to the simple black and white view I held of the prison system. It was less demanding. Now, I can't. Can we think of no other system other than to repay heinous, indecent behavior with heinous, indecent behavior?

I like books that transport me from my familiar world and introduce me to a different world with a different point of view. I think that's called learning ..... well, I learned a boatload reading this book!

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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Review: Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer

Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is such a dreamy cleverness about this rorschach blot of a story.

Martin Dressler, the dreamweaver, is not sure why he does what he does. He is a visionary. A builder. He starts quite young. A tireless worker, he naturally meets with early success. If he has imagined something - anything at all - then he moves forward with it as a project that needs to be completed, in accordance with his dream. Even if it doesn't make sense to anyone else and even if it has limited practical use - he creates outlandish spaces for the use of others.

One is left with so many questions about Martin. I don't know if Steven Millhauser meant to shine a light on the idea of innovation for the mere sake of innovation. Is he nodding in the direction of that nagging worry that some "advances in technology" turn out to do no one a lick of good. Maybe.

And the women.
His fragmentary love life and lack of judgment. He never really knows what it is he wants from other people. All he has is this ability to make buildings and businesses grow. So that is what he does.

Does Martin build simply because he can? Well, that is my take-away, but you really should read the book.

It seems that all of the events in this story are rorschach blots and we, the reader, get to make it be what we want. Sort of like Martin. See what I mean? Such a clever author.

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