Saturday, June 27, 2009

"The Brothers Karamazov" by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I think it's season 2 in LOST where John Locke hands "Henry Gale", who we later come to know as Ben, a copy of Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamzov as a way to pass the time. Since that moment, I've been intensely interested in reading the book, especially sinced I skipped reading it even though it was assigned in one of my college classes. It's huge, 770 pages, printed small. Who can blame me?

After some fishing around wikipedia, I've found that The Brothers Karamazov has attracted some pretty famous fans, including Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud (Freud was practically drooling over the overt Oedipal storylines). So it would seem that the book, though long, is quite worth it.

I'm going to put myself out there and separate for a minute from the likes of Einstein and Freud, and the LOST writers who choose to include the book in the show for some reason (I'll mention what I think about that in a sec), and, gasp, say that I didn't particularly enjoy this book. It was long, meandering, full of religious rants and philosophical raves. In the end, I found about 200 pages of it really interesting, and I don't think I'd be hardpressed to sit through the other 500+ again, unless I was keen on some sort of torture. And I think the only reason it's in the show is that it echoes both Locke's and Ben's feelings of anger and hatred towards their respective fathers.

The book, if you care, is an intricate story that I'm too lazy to lay out in detail here. There are a couple of twisted love triangles, a family's very strained relationship, and three (or four, if you include the scary Smerdyakov) sons who all in some way want to kill their father. At the core of the book is the murder of the father and subsequent trial of his son, Dmitri Karamazov. I won't say whether he's guilty or not, so as not to spoil the surprise for you, but if you read it, this might well be the only thing that keeps you going. It was for me...

Themes abound in this novel, but how could they not. It's 700+ pages! Among the several philosophical inquiries into religion, ethics, and sacrifice, I think one or two discussions would have sufficed. Still, maybe this is a critique of someone who can't appreciate a long, sprawling novel, something with intricacies and details and sprawling discussion. So be it. I want my MTV.

The Karamazovs seem to be a microcosm of the world. It's fun to see them ruin themselves and strike back for salvation, but not if you like your time. There are so many cool covers for this one, too bad what's in between isn't enough to keep that interest going.

Friday, May 08, 2009

by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers is Malcolm Gladwell's third book, and it's clear that his unique perspective, great writing, and ability to search outside the box has served him well. Gladwell is what I think of as a sociological writer. He looks for connections between behavior and society, and how they interact. In Tipping Point, that connection was the interaction of people spread ideas or diseases and how small things turn into huge wildfires. In Blinking Point, my least favorite of Gladwell's books (which I still liked considering), Gladwell explores the power of first instincts, and how usually we're right on but fail to listen to ourselves.

All told, Gladwell takes ordinary things and finds fascinating explanations. Then he follows that up with intriguing examples. Outliers is no different. Here, Gladwell investigates success. More specifically, he wants to get at those who are enormously successful: the founder of the internet, The Beatles, Bill Gates, hockey players, and so on. The fact that he can correlate their successes into sociological cues is amazing in itself, but he takes it one step further. Gladwell's goal isn't just to find why these people are successful, he wants to make the idea of their road to success easier to attain for many more people. Confused? That's because he explains it way better than I do.

Basically, Gladwell takes the usual success story: rags to riches, or self-made, or whatever independent hard work success story you can come up with, and adds to it. He doesn't deny the hard work these incredible individuals had to go through. However, he does add that it wasn't all them. It was a combination of the time they were born, the family they grew up in, the resources available to them, and the amount of practice they were able to bring in. And, oh, also important is the culture they came from.

It's really interesting stuff, and Gladwell handles it well. I personally have a hard time reading books that make cases on statistics, and that is my only gripe with pieces of Gladwell's argument. I worry sometimes that he's such a great writer that he's able to bend his resources to support his argument. But no matter, even if he is, I agree with him. Success is more than just us. I'd be nothing without my wife, my family, excellent access to books and knowledge, my upbringing, the fact that my college got Avid Editing systems the year I started (so I had plenty of time to hoard a bay), and a big helping of old fashioned luck. Right place, right time. Good mantra to have, I think.

Read the book. It's good. The cover is simple, too. Also good.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Book of Lost Things
by John Connolly

This book was great!

I had been wanting to read The Book of Lost Things for a while, but it definitely came on my radar after a friend sent it to me to read. Even still, I let it sit on my shelf for months, and only recently had a chance to savor it. Mmmm, mmmm.

David is a young boy who loses his mother. He's sad and traumatized, trying to come to grips with the death, why it happened, and how to make sense of it in a world filled with violence and cruelty (the novel's set in London against the backdrop of World War II). On top of that, David's father develops a relationship with a nurse at his mother's hospital and they move to her big house in the country where they are to start their new family life together. David's Dad and stepmom are pregnant too, and he starts to feel more isolated and like a relic of a past life than part of his father's life.

On top of this, David suffers frequent blackouts, and books murmur to him at times. He loves to read, and only retreats further into books after his mother's death because it reminds him of her. He finds solace in the stories. And one night, through a crack in the stone garden wall, he enters another world, one filled with horror and gore, but also hopes of goodness. As David journeys through this world he confronts his mother's death, grapples with accepting his new family, and grows up. It is a terrifying, gory, and downright fantastic coming of age story.

Connolly has a deep respect for fairy tales, and uses them consistently here to forward his story. It's both what make the book unique and irresistible. I have not heard of him before this one, but he's on my list now. I will read more.

I recommend this book highly. It's got everything, and the cover is really cool, which usually means that the book will be good. Right?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Shakespeare: The World As Stage
by Bill Bryson

Alright Bryson, strike two. I was so excited to read A Walk in the Woods, about Bryson's attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail, and found it amazing, until he stopped walking halfway through the book. Then I was wowed and lost my socks over A Short History of Nearly Everything which made me so excited to get Shakespeare, because it's history and Shakespeare, so it can't be boring.

Swing and a miss.

The mantra of this book is: "There's not a lot we do know about Shakespeare." And the other mantra is: "And London at this time was going through the nth cycle of the plague, so it had this implication and that implication and sleep, sleep."

So, there's not a lot we do know about Shakespeare, but rest assured, every fact and statistic are brought up by Bryson. How many times he uses which word, how many known signatures there are of his name, and even twice he discusses how the bust above his grave was cleaned off and later repainted, leaving us with little idea of what Shakespeare actually looked like. Most of the book is spent (other than talking about the plague) bringing up what others have written about Shakespeare and then dispelling it as false with these words: but probably not.

I'm glad it was so short. It was a tough one to get through. You've got one more chance Bryson. Use it well...

The Chronicles of Narnia
by C. S. Lewis

I love to geek out. If you're looking for a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings books, I'm your man. Harry Potter? Loved it. So I feel like it was only natural for me to gravitate towards The Chronicles of Narnia books. I mean C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien were buddies and met to discuss issues with their writing. And I was very satisfied. Not only were the books quick reads, but they were fantastic stories that ignited my imagination in a way a book hasn't done since Harry Potter.

I decided to blog all seven books together, mostly out of laziness, but also because I felt it would be easier to write about as a series than individual books. First off, the books can be read in several different orders. The two I know about are: 1) Chronologically by events that happen in Narnia, from conception to the end of that world, and 2) By publication date. I read them, as a recommendation (a friend who, given his interest, I wholly trust), in publication date order. Though we jump around in Narnia time, the story follows chronological time of all the visitors to Narnia (children in London), and we get to work our imaginative muscles a bit more, fitting all the pieces together, jumping back and forth between worlds.

Collectively, the Chronicles follow the journeys of three groups of kids into Narnia (minus The Horse and His Boy, a stand-alone Narnia story with no travel between worlds), each time being sent or called into Narnia to save the land from peril. They meet talking animals and witches and river-gods and talking trees, fauns, minotaurs, and the like in this amazing world. There's not a lot I'd like to say about the books other than that I thoroughly enjoyed them, and look forward to one day sharing them with a younger audience.

C. S. Lewis' influence by Christianity in the stories is directly evident but not so overpowering that you feel like you're reading the Bible. Aslan, the talking lion, is the creator and deliverer of Narnia, and that has obvious implications, but I think far more important and interesting, for all faiths, is the moral code the stories follow (especially for children). Only the purest of heart succeed in Narnia, with kindness and respect for all things.

Here's the order I liked the books in, and the order I read them in:
6 - The Magician's Nephew - Two children find a portal between the worlds, set free an evil queen, and witness the creation of Narnia by Aslan. Obvious LOST connections here, and the story was riveting on its own. I thoroughly enjoyed.
5 - The Horse and His Boy - A tale about a boy who doesn't know his heritage that winds up warning Narnia about the threat of invasion from the neighboring, dangerous Calormen. A talking horse sets him on his journey and accompanies him, and they meet a strange man in the land between Narnia and Calor.
3 - The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - Straight adventure story here. Lucy and Edmund return to Narnia with their cousin Eustace, and embark on an adventure to the end of the world. Among other things, Eustace turns into a dragon and learns a lot from it.
2 - Prince Caspian - The four children return to Narnia hundreds of years later Narnia-time to help save the land once again from Men gone awry. This one is still resonant today.
1 - The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - The classic. Lucy, Edmund, Peter, and Susan travel through a wardrobe in a Professor's house to the magical land of Narnia and save it from the White Witches eternal winter, with Aslan's help, of course.
4 - The Silver Chair - Eustace and his friend Polly embark on a quest to save Caspian's son from the enchantment of a beatiful witch who wants to regain control of Narnia and intends to use the young Caspian to do just that.
7 - The Last Battle - This one started to get too hokey on me until the last twenty pages or so, when religion became philosophy and the story became beatiful. An ending really can save a book.

They're all fantastic reads and I highly recommend them all. The covers are cool, but I like the older, vintage covers better than the movie edition. Enjoy

Monday, March 02, 2009

"The Braindead Megaphone"
by George Saunders

There's something about reading a book that's a collection of anything. A book of short stories, to me, feels like speed dating through multiple books. You have to prepare for each story, and it passes so fast but you have to find some meaning, but you don't want to spend too much time on it because there are other stories to be gotten to. The same thing happens with a book of essays, except there's not a lot of preparation that has to be done for an essay. You read it, it means, and you're done. On to the next. But for me, it's worse. With essays, if I don't find them interesting, I lose patience and interest very quickly.

Unfortunately, I think The Braindead Megaphone suffered for my short attention span. And I'll even take the brunt of the blame because this book was really mostly just a break from reading the Chronicles of Narnia series. Still, I did want to read it, and was looking forward to it, so I don't feel bad in the least saying that it was a disappointing read.

I've read other books of essays that I've completely loved. The most recent one that comes to mind is Chabon's Maps and Legends. I found myself totally engrossed in that book, looking forward to each essay and wishing each could go on forever, like I might be able to sit in Chabon's den and have five to eight hour conversations with him about his writing and interests (no, I haven't thought about this before; well, maybe a little).

George Saunders is a very funny guy with an amazing grasp of language, love of stories, and a clever eye for observation. Reading his essays on this basis alone is fun. You laugh. Laughing is good. And yet I got bored. Saunders essays turned from funny soapboxes into rambling rants about various subjects, and left me wishing and racing for the final paragraph. I found more often than not that I desperately wanted out of the current essay because reading it was like listening to the crazy guy on the streetcorner talk about the media.

I rarely learned anything from these essays, and from a book of essays, that's what I'm looking for. Some piece of insight, or some new way of approaching a subject. I just didn't find that here. Most everything I read I've heard about before. There was one essay, though, that caught my attention. The second to last essay in the book, called "Buddha Boy". Very interesting, and I would recommend reading that one because of it's sheer interestingness. Saunders wit combined with this experience makes for a perfect essay, one that informs, entertains, and leaves you feeling better and smarter than you did before you started. I won't summarize, just tease. It's about Saunders trip to write about a boy in Nepal that was meditating uninterrupted for seven months in the middle of a jungle. Some people called him the new Buddha. He wrote the article for GQ, check it out.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
by Haruki Murakami

Time and place, this theme recurs a lot with me. And it definitely affected how I viewed this memoir/ode to running by Murakami.

Disclaimer: I've not read any other Murakami. I do mean to, specifically Kafka on the Shore and Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but haven't yet. This just grabbed my attention and my wife got it for me for Christmas. Points for her.

Second disclaimer: On my run this past weekend, I aggravated my IT Band, and so I need to take a couple of weeks off to let it heal and get loose so that I can run without a sharp, shooting pain in my knee. I was very disappointed. I started reading this book right after my, I-don't-want-to-call-it-one-but-for-efficiency-purposes-I-will, injury.

Murakami comes off to me as a little arrogant. He thought one day that he wanted to write a novel. So he did. And now he's very successful. He figured, "Hey, I should go running", and so he did, and now he's completed 26 marathons in as many years, with, as he puts it, no injuries. He doesn't stretch because he doesn't need to, and runs six days a week.

I almost threw up, on my bum knee, from all of this.

Truth be told, it was a great book to read. What I take for Murakami's arrogance at times turns in to a life-affirming book with frequent insights into the way life is, into the choices and sacrifices we make, and how to best deal with those choices. He is uber-passionate about running, and it's nice to go along for the ride with someone so gung-ho for working out. Still, at the end of the day, I found myself wishing Murakami had less time, or I had more, because it seems that he is able to live the life and has been able to for some time because he just does.

There's no pity-party here. Murakami talks about why he loves running, why it has worked for him. It's actually alot like reading a blog about running by a famous author. There is relatively little insight into his life, but he goes to some cool places to run and writes about them fantastically.

The cover's cool, I'm glad I read it, if not just for the inspirational quotes my wife wrote on the inside. Maybe I'll give it another go after my IT Band heals, and we'll see how it strikes me then, huh?

Until then, if you do, keep running.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
by Michael Chabon

I love this book. I love this book.

Fan-freaking-tastic, from start to end, I love this book.

I haven't read another of Chabon's books other than the non-fiction collection of essays Maps and Legends (which I also loved), but now I'm definitely adding a huge amount of his novels to my pile. I have to be honest here. About three or four years ago, I picked up Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay from the library and put it down after the first few pages. I guess I was afraid that a novel about comic books wouldn't be able to hold my attention for the duration of the novel, which (I peeked) was many many pages long. I was afraid of getting bored.

Time and place. I think that should be my motto, because when I picked it up this time I couldn't put it down. It got so bad that I started to wish off sleep and contact with other people just so I could lose myself in the world of Kavalier and Clay. Everything felt so real, and happy, sad, or just being, I wanted to be there, hanging out in 1940s New York with the creators of the best fictional comic book hero I've ever come across: The Escapist.

I don't think I can even do justice to explain the plot. Joe Kavalier escapes from Prague only to find himself trapped in the chains of getting his family out after him, which proves to be a very difficult task given the escalating situation in Germany. Along with Sammy Clay, they begin to create and write several different best-selling comic books, making their bosses rich in the process. And while they make a decent enough living in the process, they aren't able to break free from the tyranny of their jobs and the contracts they've signed. And then there's the beautiful Rosa Saks, who becomes entangled in both Kavalier and Clay's lives in so many ways.

Golems (specifically, their metaphorical relation to the creative process), magic, love, loss, tragedy, adventure. These are only some of the things that stand out as I sit and quickly go over how this novel affected me. Larglely, I was affected by the notion of escaping, and how that plays out in many of the character's lives, in so many ways.

Chabon does so many things with this novel. He entertains, he inspects, he elevates the comic books in the story from something most people view as juvenile to a multi-layered reflection of the main character's lives, worries, and cause of their problems. It's, simply said, just brilliant.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough, I only hope that I can put off reading it again long enough to get through some of the other books on my list. It's one of my all-time favorites, and I look forward to enjoying it again.

Friday, January 09, 2009

by Taras Grescoe

I put off reading Bottomfeeder for the better part of a year. My wife heard the author, Taras Grescoe, explain the book in an interview and recommended the book to me. I bought it, but decided I wasn't ready to read it yet because I wasn't ready to give up the seafood I love so much...

And one day, a couple weeks ago, I decided that the time had come. It was now or never. I must learn the woes of the ocean, and live by the code or rot in fish bowels.

I must say, I was pleasantly surprised. I don't have to give up a lot of the seafood I do like. Crabs, calamari, and lobster are still okay to eat, as long as you know where they're coming from, and there are now several other types of fish I can't wait to try (mackerel, oysters, and mullet). I'm also about to rediscover sardines, a fish I remember well from my childhood, eating out of a can filled with delicous mustard sauce (sardines, anchovettas, and a few other small species of fish are actually one of the few sustainable fisheries still existing in this world).

The book itself took some getting used to. With chapters divided by the places Grescoe traveled to to try a local specialty of fish, the book started off feeling like a gastronomic travel guide written by a pessimist. Nearly every major fish stock in most oceans and seas is overfished, and pollution and human contaminants, along with a major rise in fish farms, are contributing to the dwindling stocks of wild fish (that, obviously, are much better for you than their farmed counterparts). The first half of the book, for me, felt like a depressing novel that I didn't want to read anymore. And then, it just got better. Grescoe continued on his journey and visited some places I have a personal attachment to (British Colombia) and researched and ate some seafood I've also always been interested in: shrimp, salmon, cod, tuna, and now, sardines.

I'd recommend reading parts of this book (the chapters on small fish, shrimp, salmon, and the appendix), but by no stretch of the imagination do you need to read the whole thing unless you love reading about food. I love eating food, and like to spend my time doing that rather than delving into the sensations of said wonders...

If you're a seafood eater and you happen upon this post, I must put this out there because not enough people know it: don't eat farmed salmon. Farmed salmon are spreading disease to wild fish stocks and they're terrribly bad for you, filled with antibiotics, carcinogens, and artificial food coloring to make the meat red like their wild counterparts. Also, be wary of the shrimp you eat. If it's imported, it's probably affecting entire villages of people as well as devastating mangrove forests.

Eat sardines. Sardines purchased at Trader Joe's are sustainably fished (I checked). And if you eat tuna, make sure you get the "chunk light" tuna, which is a type of tuna known as skipjack that is not suffering like the bluefin tuna or high in mercury like regular tuna.

And this website's a great one for seafood choices: I've been using it for a while and it really helps one navigate the fish aisle and menu's at restaurants. There are too many restaurants that pay no attention to the state of our oceans, but if we don't wise up soon, all that may be left, according to Grescoe, are Jellyfish salads.

Happy eating of fish!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Year in Review and Preview

This year has been an interesting one. It started out full of promise, of hope, and slowly peppered off until few lights shined and I was screaming for 2009 to come. And in the coming year I hope just the opposite is true: that it takes the tread a bit to catch on, but when it does, I hope we really move.

Last year I read some really great books, including No Country For Old Men, Short History of Nearly Everything, The Invention of Morel, Ham on Rye, The Wild Trees, Iron John, The Assault on Reason, Watchmen, The Turn of the Screw, and of course, my year's favorite, Maps and Legends.

It was also a very introspective year for me, I think. I read several books on meditation and eastern religions. Alchemy, which has always intrigued me, found it's way onto my nightstand again. And Iron John gave me pause and insight into the plight and plunder of man proper. I'm glad last year took this tone and intend to continue that into the future. My search is far from over, and it's too fun and interesting to stop.

After the holidays, my reading shelf fills up faster than my waistline, and my dresser is practically throwing up books at the moment. I didn't get to nearly as many books as I wanted to last year, but I don't think I ever will. I still think I'll feel slave to a list if I come up with one, so I can't do that, because I always need room for innovation and books that may crop up, whether they be new or old. Still, there are a few that I do want to read this year, so I may as well list those out, as broad goals.

They are:
  • The Chronicles of Narnia series
  • The Brothers Karamazov
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
  • Watership Down
  • The Book of Lost Things
This is in no way a conclusive list. I'd like to read "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged", but that may be one too many thick books this year. And I'm also hoping to get to some David Foster Wallace, who I sadly overlooked until his death, but have since become very intrigued by. I picked up his book of essays, "Consider the Lobster", last night and hope to read that sometime this year too.

Here's to hoping 2009 is a much more prosperous, less shaky, and surprising year. I wish everyone out there in the internets a Happy New Year and hope for true happiness for you and yours, no matter where or what you are.

Read on!

"World War Z"
by Max Brooks

I don't have a lot to say about this book and I don't intend to spend a lot of time giving my thoughts on it.

I don't think I'm totally into the alternate reality of zombies. I can't buy into it.

Brooks novel is a mish-mash of "collected stories" from around the globe recounting the World War against the outbreak of the living plague, or zombies. It's filled with interesting, gross stories, but is so disjointed and the characters so underdeveloped that it never gained hold in my hands. I never became more than just superficially involved.

I want to read something good!

by Philip K. Dick

Reading Valis is like taking an extended vacation to the recesses of the mind. It truly makes one feel as though one is on some sort of trip, psychedelically speaking, which could be good or bad, depending on your intentions. For me, the trip got to be a bit long.

This is my second Dick reading experience, and I'm not sure if I'll pick him up again. Not because he's not a great writer. He is, he's very readable and his ideas are intriguing, but because I just don't find myself getting into him, not the way most Dick fans seem to.

Of course, I say that knowing I probably will pick him up again. His contribution to science fiction is too important to overlook. His novels too interesting to look past. So when I say I won't read another Dick novel, I say that with the best of intentions.

Valis is about God. More specifically, it's directly based on Dick's self-described experience with a "transcendentally rational mind." The story follows the experience of Horselover Fat, a schizophrenic compartment of Dick's actual self, as he follows a quest to find the messiah after a pink light that he thinks is God tells him how to save his son's life.

The novel rambles and raves about the nature of religion, makes compelling arguments about sanity, insanity, rational and irrational, and would probably be considered a legitimate study of theology if it didn't feel so drug-induced. I enjoyed the book, very much so, and it did make me think. Dick's quest is one to be admired and sought after, but I don't think I can read another. I don't have enough brain cells left.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

by Kurt Vonnegut

I miss Kurt Vonnegut. A lot. His books are witty and clever and they never fail to turn the world on its head, challenge our views, or reinvigorate life as we may never know it.

Bluebeard is probably not one of his better-known books, but as I was explaining to people while I was reading it, "It's Vonnegut". And even mediocre Vonnegut is better than most stuff floating around out there. That really is saying a lot.

I didn't immensely enjoy Bluebeard, but there were a few nuggets of wisdom in it, a few insights I agreed with. And, of course, I laughed a bit, I felt sad a bit, and I thought of my favorite Vonnegut-ism a bit: and so it goes. So, I guess, I missed him a bit too.

The novel is an autobiography about an Armenian artist who hung out with the crowd of Abstract Expressionistic painters, including Jackson Pollock. But it's more about the nature of art, the obscene price of art, and the beauty of art all at the same time. The great thing about Vonnegut is that when he says something that strikes a chord, it really strikes a chord. I especially liked his view on artists and communities. Now that we are worldwide, only a few artists are needed to satisfy the masses, but that leaves several other less talented people who would have sufficed in a village. Sad but true, even more so today, with the internet.

I don't know if I'd recommend this book to a lot of people. Artists, writers, and creative types will all get something out of it. If you can hold out, the ending is wonderful and beautiful and actually well-worth it, one of Vonnegut's best...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James

Henry James classic ghost story is on my "LOST" list of to read books, and, it being Halloween time, I thought it a perfect time to pick it up. And it was too, the chills provided here are slow but deliberate, much like a fog that creeps up on an evil night.

The story centers on a governess hired to watch over two charming children. The governess instantly falls in love with them, and believes they can do no wrong. Then she begins seeing apparitions, evil disturbing images that she finds resemble and very well might be the children's old caregivers, and she suspects that not only can the children see them, but that they might be in league with them. (Shivers!) Though the story is told by the governess, you never quite know if the ghosts are real or imagined, and as the weather turns cold, the children get mischevious, and the fog settles in, the air of disturbia wraps its warm cloak around the characters until you feel practically suffocated in its embrace.

James' writing is from another era, the Victorian, Gothic era. It is both beautiful and bold and very hard to understand. I found myself at times wondering what I had just read, and rereading, just to catch the meaning, and I think this took a bit from my enjoyment of the story. It's like being woken up by a cat in the middle of the night so you never quite get a full night's rest. Still, what James does is slowly layer the story with complexities that leave you unsure of what exactly happened, as if you encountered a ghost yourself and were unsure of whether it was real or not.

It's a fun book to read, delightfully twisted, and what better time to read it than the spookiest time of the year, when the weather turns and leaves die and the cold fog settles in late at night.

Monday, October 13, 2008

by Herman Hesse

Most of the books I read I like. It's hard because I've been recommended so many books and I'm always on the lookout for a new read that I'm usually excited by whatever book ends up in my lap. Sure, occasionally I'll cross a book that's bad, terrible bad, curl up in a ball and cry for your time back bad, but those are so few and far between that it's almost worth it. Or I just stop reading and donate it.

Siddhartha was a fantastic book. Big surprise, right?! Fantastic, though, for reasons I rarely see in liking a story. Every once in a while there is a book that you read, or a story you hear or see, that changes your outlook on a situation. Siddhartha, here and now, is that book for me. It was simply amazing. Perfectly clear and concise, the story rolled along. Reading it was like sitting and listening to the ocean.

Years ago I read The Alchemist, and like many other readers was profoundly affected by its messages. Without sounding hokey, the book was really insightful, and very provocative with its outlook that I've still not forgotten how it affected me and still adopt a philosophy very closely with its message. I've been meaning to reread it, but haven't had the chance.

A friend recommended Siddhartha to me last year, so I finally got around to reading it. Since The Alchemist, I have not been affected or found a book so spiritually inspirational. Its themes are perfectly in line with what bounces around in my small head most of the time, though much more clear and interesting, and it provides a perfect example of a life that is altogether human.

Siddhartha was the name of the real Buddha, but Hesse's Siddhartha is purely fictional. His life mirrors the Buddha's, but he takes his own path. The Siddhartha in the novel starts out as a member of the upper class that leaves the wealth of his family for a life of spiritual study with the shramanas, which are a band of traveling priests. He winds up leaving the shramanas with his friend Govinda to follow and meet the Buddha, a being he finds supremely spiritual and calls a saint. Siddhartha leaves Govinda behind because he realizes that he cannot find enlightenment in the Buddha's teachings, that his enlightenment path is different. He winds up becoming a wealthy businessman so he can learn the art of love from Kamala, and becomes sidetracked by the "child people", people wrapped up in their own life. Finally, he tires of this life and meets a ferryman where he ultimately finds enlightenment, but his path is not an easy one.

What I find most inspiring in Hesse's beautifully crafted story is its realism. Hesse does not make Siddhartha some mythical being, he makes him human. Siddhartha suffers through things I've suffered through, and he suffers through them again and again. Hesse shows life as a recurring cycle of events, something I find to be very true, but with every recurrence, Siddhartha grows a little more until, ultimately, he finds enlightenment. If I haven't said so, it's great, and sad, and yes, enlightening.

The simplicity of the cover is only half as simple as the inspiring story inside. If only I could do the lotus position!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

"Maps and Legends"
by Michael Chabon

I'm currently in Purgatory. I wake up, sleep through my day, and at night I flip open the pages of my latest book and weep. All because of Maps and Legends. It's just too good to follow.

In short, Michael Chabon's book of essays about everything from genre fiction (great essays!) to inspiration and the process of writing his early novels (fantastic!) to memoirs laced with lies to prove a point (get this guy a Guinness! brilliant!) has left me wanting more. Now I want a good mystery, a well thought out map, a journey through some fantastic land while being dragged along by carefully selected prose that brings the story to life.

I think the best books, and stories, inspire. Many of my revelations and enthusiasms have come from either films or books, be that a good or bad thing. And the best thing about Chabon's Maps and Legends is that it inspired me. Not only do I want to read a good mystery, or go back and walk through the forest of Mirkwood with Bilbo and Frodo, I'd love to write something. And even if it never sees the light of day, I'm thankful, because the fire that books like this ignite, the creative spirit they spark, is worth much more than the jacket price.

I say read this book. Not only does it have a really cool cover, what's in between isn't bad either.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

"Run Less, Run Faster"
by Bill Pierce, Scott Murr, and Ray Moss

This book dispels criticisms of not running every day in favor of more efficient workouts and a running program supported by quality cross training. The authors lay out specifically how to train, why to train, and why it works, while at the same time offering sage advice to runners new and old. Their website has many of the helpful tables featured in their book, and if you want more in-depth advice and training guides, you can check out their book from the library.

Like me!!!

by Alan Moore and John Higgins

Graphic novels are different. The blend of image and words to convey story results in a totally unique medium that's not quite cartoon, not quite novel, but the best of both. Watchmen is one of the better graphic novels I've read. It starts out slow and builds steam, until it's a giant boulder rolling down a giant hill with so much velocity and power that it became nearly impossible to put down. The story involves a group of normal people that dress up in costume and fight crime. And as we learn their history, we are following a new mystery involving the deaths of the costumed heroes. It's a brilliant subversion on the idea of a hero and is so with philosophy and interesting ideas, both in picture and words. I really enjoyed the character of Dr. Manhattan, and the image of him creating a giant clockwork out of the Martian sand, as well as some more insight into LOST.

Who watches the Watchmen? We all should. I highly recommend this fantastic graphic novel.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Assault on Reason
by Al Gore

A couple days ago, waiting to be seated for dinner, my wife and I were talking politics and I said, "You know who I hope Obama picks as his VP? Al Gore."

Why, you and she may ask...

Because I love Al Gore, in a he-was-the-best-president-this-country-never-had kind of way.

I mean, take The Assault on Reason, Gore's indictment of politicians having to spend more time searching for funding for 30 second TV campaign commercials than debating whether or not to go to war in Iraq, his full-on critique of the Bush administration, and his pronounced love for this country. The guy is a patriot, he is an American, the way it should be, not the way it's become.

It's sad when 10 years ago the country was crying for impeachment because Clinton lied about cheating on his wife (not that that's okay, I'm just saying) but no one even utters the word at Bush's outright lies about WMDs in Iraq. And that's just the beginning. The turn this country has taken in politics is beyond disappointing. Al Gore knows it, and he still has hope.

What's not to like?

Read this book. This is required reading if you are voting, whether you're Democrat, Republican, or neither, read it. Gore's views are bi-partisan, he's making a claim to both sides, and he gives both sides a chance. His book is enlightening and invigorating. It's books like this that make me hopeful that a democracy can be what it's meant to: not people agreeing but intelligently disagreeing, and openly debating about the best way to go. When Gore mentions, he mentions, it's Republican counterpart. He sees the need for diverse opinions in this country. It's just like farming, if there's only one crop, it's way more susceptible to pests and disease than if there are a variety of crops.

What Gore's against is the claim to faith and fear and things that make reason seem impossible. We need open debate, transparency in the government, and an electorate that doesn't take democracy for granted.

Al Gore was not picked as Obama's VP nor was he probably even considered, but he is still a very worthy American. I'm a fan, huge fan, and have the utmost respect for what he's trying to do. Now he just needs enough people to listen.

Chi Running
by Danny Dreyer

Sometimes I can get a bit obsessive. I recently got back into running, and as with any sport (especially running) there is a learning curve. My muscles ached, I got a minor case of shin splints, and even now my calf has some minor aches where it attaches to the achilles tendon after I run.

Naturally, I turned to books for the answer, and Chi Running was my first taste of that.

The idea: stand straight up, makes sure your posture is good, arms relaxed, tilt your hips back so that they are level and you're engaging your lower abdominal muscles. Now, when you run, tilt your whole body forward like a gas pedal, move your legs in circular, wheel-like motions, and relax. That's Chi Running.

On top of that, you're constantly checking in with your body, keeping your posture straight, and taking it as easy as you can. That's Chi Running. Dreyer claims it is a guaranteed injury-free way to run, and I can't knock him for it, the idea makes sense.

While the book was an interesting read, it interested me more in the mindful approach to running than did the form. I run fine, I just did too much too fast when I started and I need to ease up. Running is a high impact sport, you have to start small. Baby steps, or baby runs, right?

Still, if you're a runner or you're interested in the sport, I'd recommend this book. You'll get something out of it, whether it's form or mindfulness (body sensing) or both is up to you, but it's a worthwhile read nonetheless. I'm just curious how it stacks up against the other running books that my obsession has led me to. We'll see.