You’re Not You: A Book Review

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From: here

A few friends and I decided to read this book together after seeing the trailer for the movie. Even though there were a lot of elements I liked about this book, ultimately I traded it in at a used bookstore.

But let’s start with what I liked.

  • The author does a great job stylistically with how descriptive she is. She really focuses on the details so that you gain a level of realism that many other books lack.
  • She allows her characters to be deeply flawed. For instance, her protagonist is having an affair. I think she assumes that most of her readers won’t agree with the affair, and yet she handles it unapologetically, and even explores the “other woman’s” point of view.
  • She explores ideas of identity and fulfillment through the struggling people she portrays.
  • She spends a considerable amount of time humanizing Kate who has ALS.
  • It brings up a lot of interesting thoughts and discussion about care taking, and the right to decide how we die.

Although I appreciated all of these things, ultimately it was a very difficult book for me. I just didn’t relate to the main character. Her life was so out of control, and I didn’t feel like she did much of anything to pull it together. She was very reactionary, and I felt like it caused her a lot of pain.

I don’t really think that anyone in the book was emotionally healthy. And not everyone has to be, but it was difficult to see that they weren’t expected to make any steps towards a healthier self. Most of their decisions was motivated my selfishness and after a while, it became wearing.

Sex was, in many ways, it’s own character throughout the novel. From the protagonist’s affair, to Kate and her husbands relationship, it was a constant theme. Despite it’s prevalence in the novel, at many points it felt gratuitous, and at all points it didn’t feel like it was helping the characters grow. I often felt like it was a cheap substitute for genuine interactions and communication. (Not that sexual relations can’t be genuine and communicative. They can and should be, but these weren’t, and that was the point of my frustration.)

It’s not a book I would recommend, but if the above exploration sounds intriguing to you, be my guest.

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Two Old Women: A Book Review

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From: here

This book was a recommendation of one of my co-workers Marinda. It’s a YA level book. Easy to read in an afternoon. And yet, it has a striking amount of depth. It’s the story of two old women who are part of a nomadic tribe in Northern Canada/Alaska area. In the culture, when food is scarce, it is not uncommon to leave the old and sick behind to better use the resources of the tribe.

The story is about two old women who are left behind, and decide they don’t want to die. It’s a story about survival, forgiveness, and appreciating life. It reminded me that the best way to facilitate success is to allow every member of a group to contribute. Most people have way more to offer than they even know.

This book is simple, beautiful, and well worth the read.

2015 Booklist

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Meme credit: here

For my birthday last week I did something a little unorthodox by way of gifts. You see, most of my friends are either students or breaking into their careers right now, and don’t have a ton of money to spare. And so, instead of presents, I asked all of them to think about a book recommendation for me. I don’t think I could have anticipated what a rare treat reading all their recommendations and comments would be. Part of that expereince was how wonderfully representative their recommendations were of themselves. For instance, Katelyn is a second grade teacher and had some wonderful children’s books for me, Megan has lived in Southeast Asia and shared some powerful memoirs from that region of the world. Rachel majored in Russian and gave me four beefy Russian novels (I’ll be lucky to get through one). While Jaclyn, the most genuinely positive person I know, suggested The Power of Positive Thinking.

It just illustrated for me that we are what we read. Books shape the way we think, and are often representative of what we care about. They take more energy to consume than a television show or movie. You can’t be passive about it; you have to focus on the words to read them, and turn the pages to continue. You choose with every second to keep reading. I love it, as you can probably guess just from the title of this blog. And so I wanted to share the wonderfully diverse and interesting list with all of you.

(Title- recommender)

  • The Art of Racing in the Rain- Sarah
  • Unbroken-Sarah, Jake, and Alex
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns- Susan
  • Ella Minnow Pea- Marinda
  • The Hiding Place- Marinda
  • Maximum Ride- Kristen
  • Peace Like a River- Jessie
  • Going Postal – Jessie
  • The Giver Quartet- Quincey
  • The Journey- Katelyn
  • Boy (Rhode Dahl)- Kateyln
  • Lunar Chronicles- Maryssa
  • The Power of Positive Thinking- Jaclyn
  • The Tiger’s Curse- Bethany
  • Blackmoore- Bethany
  • Survival in the Killing Fields- Megan
  • In the Land of Green Ghosts- Megan
  • Team of Rivals- Keaton
  • A Circle of Quiet- Katie
  • Crime and Punishment- Rachel
  • Anna Karenina- Rachel
  • Fathers and Children- Rachel
  • Brothers Karamazv- Rachel
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close- Rachel

A few books that are on my immediate reading list:

  • Brown Girl Dreaming
  • Two Old Women- Marinda
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog- Sarah and Rachel
  • The Enchanted April- Katie
  • The Divine Secrets of the Ya-ya Sisterhood
  • You’re not you
  • The Book Thief
  • Influencer- Liz and Rosie
  • Daring Greatly- I just loved her TED talk
  • The Power of Vulnerability

I probably won’t get through all of these books in 2015 since I have a full time job and a ton of other responsibilities, but I’m hoping to make a significant dent. Feel free to take advantage of this list for your own booklist, and add to it in the comments section.

Made to Stick: A Book Review

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I told you I would give you a variety of book reviews. Made to Stick is about communicating in ways that stick in people’s minds. Obviously advertising is one of the main fields this applies to, but also management and education, among others.

Let me tell you how this book got inside my head… I made a new acquaintance while reading Made to Stick. He’s interesting and passionate, and a philosopher. I loved having deep, intellectual conversations with him, but often his references and ideas were so esoteric that I could hardly keep up, despite my critical humanities background. Without even consciously thinking about it, every time we had a conversation I would talk to him about this book and try to help him see the importance of not just having good, interesting ideas, but also being able to help people without degrees in philosophy understand them as well. Literally, I think he assumed I was obsessed with this book.

But what I love about it is that clear communication is pretty effectively boiled down to six principles of sticky ideas. Some of them seem fairly obvious, but then they show scenarios of how to apply the principles. These were most helpful for me. Sometimes we feel like we are successfully implementing something until we see it actually working, and then we realize how much farther we have to go. I actually finished this book a few months ago, but I find myself going back to the knowledge at work and in my personal interactions.

If your life includes trying to influence people (and whose doesn’t, to some extent?), then I would wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Happy reading!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Book Review

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So the title is a bit of a mouth full, but it’s a mouth full you’ll be willing to deal with once you read this book and start recommending it to all of your friends. It is possibly one of the most charming pieces I’ve ever read. Like Sound of Music, I want to sing through the streets of Salzburg charming. If you just want to feel happy about life, read this book.

So with a title like that, what exactly is the book about? Good question.

It’s a fictional compilation of letters involving a young writer named Juliet just after the close of WWII. During the war, she wrote a column about the war that somehow managed to be humorous and charming. This seems impossible to do until you read 30 pages of her correspondence and then you stop questioning.

She broke off an engagement during the war, lost her house along with all her books, and is now in the process of rebuilding her life, along with the rest of the country. It is at this juncture that she begins correspondence with a book club on Guernsey, an island off the coast of England. An island that was occupied by the Germans during the war. (I had no idea!!)

The book club is called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, hence the name of the book. (There is a reason you learn in the text for such a crazy book club name) Although Juliet is the protagonist of the book, this quirky book club is the driving force. You just fall in love with every single one of them and want to take them home with you. Or move in with them. That might be better. They live in England.

Anyway, I loved this book. It has it all: history, sorrow, love, sacrifice, humor, bravery… I could go on. But mostly I loved it because it made me feel warm and happy inside. If you are or have an Anglophile in your life, get this book now!

Life of Pi: A Book Reviewread

Life of Pi

From: here

I remember seeing the movie a few years ago. My mom had half watched a trailer while doing 10 other things and figured it was a fun movie about a circus or something because there was a tiger. She suggested that we take all of the young cousins to the movie and so we did. Life of Pi is not a kids movie about a circus.

It’s gritty and slow and sad and beautiful, and definitely not a kids movie.

Luckily I wasn’t a child at the time and really enjoyed the movie. The cinematography is stunning. I love that the ocean becomes it’s own character throughout the movie. A fickle friend to the protagonist, but also his lifeline. I could go on, but right now you’re wondering why I’m talking about the movie in a book review. Well, because my experience during the movie really shaped the experience I had reading the book.

You see, the conclusion of the movie makes you think that the whole movie, the entire story, was a metaphor for the delusions that religious people allow themselves to believe rather than accepting the cold, depressing facts of mortality. And so, even though I thought the movie was beautiful, I didn’t agree with the thesis, and didn’t feel like reading the book.

Until I found out that Life of Pi was the favorite book of one of my friends. A friend whose taste in books I really trust. So I decided to give it another try.

Just like the movie, the book is slow. But you are rewarded for your progress with gorgeous prose. The kind of prose that feels like poetry because it’s so rhythmic and full. So if you’re a writer, the book is well worth your time merely because Yann Martel is a brilliant writer and you will want to read what he can do with the English language.

The book feels otherworldly, and often is. Sometimes it’s the rich descriptions of India, sometimes it’s literally a magical island that eats people. Martel invites all of his readers to suspend disbelief for this story. And he does it with the guileless voice of Pi, his protagonist.

What you come to love about Pi, both the youth and the adult, is his appreciation for life and faith. As a child, he joins Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism at the same time. He loves and believes all of them, and doesn’t find them mutually exclusive. They all help him connect with a higher power in a different way.

But even for a religious person like me, Pi’s journey begs the question: How could someone so faithful be forced to experience such a trial? What is powerful about the story is that even though Pi does ask the question as well, he doesn’t dwell on it. He continually returns to his faith to endure the months he spends in solitude on the brink of death. His story should be simple. He should have died. He should have starved. He should have been eaten by any of the wild animals he was trapped with. He should have lost his sanity. He should have committed suicide. But his story isn’t simple, because he doesn’t do any of those things. (Sanity is up for debate, I suppose)

The book’s conclusion contrasts the movie because it is less prescriptive. While the atheistic interpretation of The Life of Pi is there, it also has another interpretation. That although faith seems as remarkable as a boy surviving on a lifeboat for over a year with a Bengal Tiger, that doesn’t mean that Pi didn’t have that experience. And as remarkable as conceptions of faith are, that doesn’t mean that those who have had spiritual experiences of all faiths didn’t actually have them. In so many ways, the book explains spirituality to a modern world better than almost anything else I’ve ever read. And it does it through a beautiful, poignant story of a young boy named Pi.

Why I’m not Moffat’s Biggest Fan

Have you ever expressed an opinion and then been asked to explain your reasoning. Someone is curious why you think, I you want to tell them, but then you get tongue tied. That happened last night when I was having a nerdy conversation about Firefly, Supernatural, and Doctor Who. I expressed my dislike of Moffat as show runner and writer, and was asked to explain why.

Now I like to be articulate, and often I am. But last night I wasn’t. Part of that might be that most of my Who watching was done 6 years ago. I’ve gone back and re-watched some episodes, but there are many that I barely remember. But I came home frustrated that I hadn’t convincingly communicated the faults I saw in Moffat’s writing style and characterizations. As many English majors before me, I’m actually a better communicator in writing than I am in person, so let’s give this a try.

1. No respect for the cannon

The entire re-boot of the Doctor Who series is predicated on the existence of the fact that the Doctor is the last of the time lords. That he destroyed all of his kind to save the universe from the Daleks. Doctors 9,10,and 11 all have to grapple with that fact in their own way. There is something both selfish and self-less in the decision that he made. There will always be a dark side of the Doctor because of that choice. The entire re-boot of the doctor is defined by this piece of the cannon, but then Moffat decides to re-write that part of the story and have Galifrey just be hidden. Which leads me to number 2…

2. There are no real consequences 

Moffat hates consequences. He hates that hard choices mean that there isn’t always a pretty answer. My absolute favorite companion and story arch is Donna Noble. I love her. I love her development. I love her relationship with the Doctor. I love the tragedy of her memory loss. Davies knew the beauty of joy and tragedy. But I don’t think Moffat would or could ever write a character like that. He couldn’t do it to them. He would always find a way (with a giant plot hole) to get around the memory loss, or the time paradox.

He does this with bringing characters back from the dead too. For instance, Rory NEVER dies. Now I really like Rory. I felt like the whole 5th season was bleh until Rory and Amy official got together and we didn’t have to worry about the Doctor and Amy having weird tension. But, the fact that Rory as a character dies multiple times, only to be brought back… And Sherlock, and Irene Adler, and Moriarty, if you don’t mind me extending into Moffat’s other work. Even River gets another episode as a ghost. Nothing stops Moffat when he’s writing. He will bend the rules of space and time to bring you back if he likes. But only if he likes of course. He has all power, and translates that onto the Doctor.

3. He thinks the Doctor is God

This is especially apparent with Matt Smith’s first episode where he literally walks up to the invading space ship and says, “I’m the Doctor, I have so much power, you should run from me.” Over and over in Moffat’s writing I see this indestructible, all-powerful, all-knowing quality of the Doctor. While the doctor is more experienced and has been around for 2,000 years now, I feel like in the first few seasons of the re-boot he saw himself as a piece of the galactic puzzle, not as the center of it.

The Doctor in a very literal sense becomes the Christ figure in each episode. He did not give his own life to humanity, he gave his entire species’ life, which in some ways could be seen as a bigger. sacrifice The sacrifice of roaming the universe alone, of walking around with that guilt. The companions only exist so that the Doctor can save them again and again in each episode. That is one of the most defining moments of the newest episode “Deep Breath” that although Clara isn’t sure where she stands with the new Doctor, she trusts that he will come in the nick of time and save the day.

4. Misogyny 

Where do I even start with this? I’ll just come out and say it, Moffat over-sexualizes all of his female characters. I realize that romance is something that was introduced in the 90’s movie and embraced whole heartedly from 9 on, but even with Rose, the Doctor and Rose shared something much deeper than just attraction. They were partners and acted like partners. They needed each other and made each other better. The Doctor realized that and expressed it.

You can tell that Moffat is trying to capture that same idea with Amy, River, and Clara–the loves of Moffat’s Doctors– but there is always something shallow about their interactions.

In Amy’s first episode she’s a kiss-o-gram, and then later the Doctor gets into trouble when he tells Rory that Amy is a great kisser. In general, their relationship is always a little weirdly close for her having a husband around. And yet, he lies and takes advantage of her. He knows, or at least suspects, she’s pregnant and never tells her!  (There’s a lot of dishonesty going around, but it’s difficult to remember because none of this plot arch really makes much sense.)

River and the Doctor have great chemistry, and in so many ways she understands his world better most of the companions, but I still don’t see him as treating her as equal. He just flirts with her, and is confused by her, and enjoys his time with her, but he doesn’t really make any sacrifices to make her life better or to make their relationship work.

And Clara, I actually stopped watching the show around the time she came around because her character was so flat and I couldn’t stand it, but from what I heard the Doctor is always flirting with her, and also manages to kiss everything and everyone else too. Let’s not even get started with the fact that he kisses Jenny who is openly gay without her permission. Just because Moffat writes her indignant response doesn’t make the Doctor’s behavior any more palatable.

When the women do help, it’s often through highly feminized behavior. In the Christmas Special, Clara saves the Doctor’s life by crying for instance. Even when he writes more kick-butt female characters, like River, it’s to heighten their sexual appeal (the Doctor makes multiple comments about being attracted to River’s violence) and get the feminists on board with the show.

With one character, I could understand. It’s hard to write round characters and deep, meaningful relationships. But because this is a recurring theme among his female characters, I can’t help but assume that this is how Moffat views women in general. Always sexual beings, supportive and important to an all-powerful man, but never fully respected, equal partners.

I could go on, but I’ll end there.

5. Issues of race

And lastly race. I saw a post recently that sums this up here. Moffat’s shows have so many white people. And Britain is extremely diverse, so it’s not to reflect the local demographic. To add to his offenses, when he does include people of color to his cast, their characters are often belittled. The most disturbing example of this is in the very first episode of Sherlock when the very first time the audience meets Sargent Donovan, Sherlock  immediately embarrasses and sexualizes her by shaming her for sleeping with Anderson. Moffat preaches equality and acceptance with characters like Madame Vastra, but then he does not seem to know how to really write what that reality looks like.

In addition to those top five things, I could add huge plot holes and homophobia, among others, but I think that this was good enough for the moment. While Moffat had amazing potential, writing Blink, my all time favorite episode of Doctor Who, he has fallen in my esteem since he became show-runner.