Friday, July 25, 2014

Anything You Want (Business Book)

When you make a business, you get to make a little universe where you control all the laws. This is your utopia.
Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur by Derek Sivers is filled with advice for an entrepreneur. Often running his business contrary to conventional thinking, Silver created the successful CD Baby, which gave musicians a way to sell their CDs on-line. The book is inspiring and easy to read. Because it is small, it is perfect for throwing into a purse, briefcase or backpack to read in spare moments. But, I am skeptical about how easy the ideas would actually be for most people to apply and be successful. I suspect it would take a person with an unconventional personality, who is comfortable in their own skin. Still, it is well worth reading and pondering.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Caine Mutiny (Pulitzer Prize Winner)

The sea was the one thing in Willie’s life that remained larger than Queeg. The captain had swelled in his consciousness to an all-pervading presence, a giant malice and evil; but when Willie filled his mind with the sight of the sea and the sky, he could, at least for a while, reduce Queeg to a sickly well-meaning man struggling with a job beyond his powers.

If I had read the ending of The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk first (as I have sometimes done in the past with books), perhaps it would not have taken me over three months to finish reading the novel. I was seriously considering giving up my goal of reading all the Pulitzer Prize winners. Something within me rebelled against the story. Perhaps, I couldn’t stand yet another war novel. Perhaps I was convinced that at the end of the book a likeable character would be hung for mutiny. Perhaps I am too tired of reading real-life stories of the abuse by people in power. This week, I finally forced myself to finish the last three hundred pages of the 500+ page book in one day. In the end, I appreciated Wouk’s storytelling ability and felt that I had a glimpse of the 1950’s mindset. While The Caine Mutiny is a novel about war, it is also a “coming of age” story.

Even before The Caine Mutiny was a film, it read like a 1950’s movie. It contains the classic scenes of love, bravery, and courtroom drama. The novel takes us from Willie’s first days in the Navy to his last. For me, Willie is sometimes an antihero and other times a hero. What impressed me most about the book was how, scene by scene, Wouk builds the events that lead to the mutiny aboard the Caine, a minesweeper. In the courtrooms scenes, Wouk helps the reader understand Captain Queeg, the captain the men rebel against, as well as the nature of command in the Navy. The courtroom scenes and the conclusion of the novel made me question the perspective I originally had about the mutiny.

I keep on feeling that I am comparing apples to oranges when I compare my experiences of reading the Pulitzer winners to my experiences of reading other types of novels. The Caine Mutiny, the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner,  is a thought provoking, well-crafted novel. My escapist fiction loving personality did not enjoy reading the novel, though toward the end I found my reading rhythm. The Pulitzer winners provide a different type of pleasure, one of experiencing admirable craftsmanship.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Noisy Paint Box (Children’s Book)

“With his noisy paint box, Vasya Kandinsky created something entirely new—abstract art,”
“It took a long time for people to understand.
‘Is it a house?’ ’Is it a flower?’ ’What’s it supposed to be?’
‘It’s my art.’ Vasya answered ‘How does it make you feel?’”

When I attended an exhibit of Kandinsky’s art a couple of weeks ago, a key turned in my mind, opening the door to a wonderful room that I never knew existed.  I wanted to learn more about the grandfather of abstract art.

The Noisy Paint Box written by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Mary Grandpr—ź is aimed at primary school aged children. It describes how Kandinsky’s synesthesia led to the creation of abstract art. The words and illustrations help the reader get a feeling for Kandinsky, an experience that is enjoyable for both adult and young readers.

I don’t have a lot of experience with children’s books, but the vocabulary level seemed a bit high to me: “cerulean point,” “Fugue,” “Improvisation.” Perhaps this is a nice book to introduce children to some new art and music concepts.

Friday, July 4, 2014

On What Grounds (Mystery Novel)

When the going gets stressful, the stressed find a fun book to read. I’ve been drinking way too much coffee to get through the day, so it was just natural that I would find On What Grounds by Cleo Coyle. The mystery is the first book in the Coffeehouse Mystery Series. The novel is as much about coffee as it is about a mysterious accident. Inspired by the book, yesterday I drank my first espresso since my college days. And, wired but very happy, I finished reading the novel.

Part of the fun of beginning to read any new series is meeting new friends. The main character is Clare Cosi, who has recently agreed to again manage The Village Blend, an over hundred year old coffeehouse that she left years ago. Madame, the owner, happens to be her ex-mother-in-law. As part of Clare’s contract, she is to be given the use of the apartment above the coffeehouse. She soon finds that her ex-husband Matt, a coffee buyer, is also to have use of the apartment when he is in the city. It would seem Madame’s motives are not totally pure. Clare's living companion is a cat, Java, who earned his name partially because of the color of his fur and partially because of his temperament. Clare and Matt have one daughter, Joy, who is in culinary school. The lead detective on the case in On What Grounds is Quinn, whom Clare feels compelled to rehabilitate from his life-long habit of bad coffee.

As for the plot of On What Grounds, after moving yet more of her belongings to the apartment above the coffeehouse, Clare finds the assistant manager, an aspiring dancer, lying unconscious on the floor of the coffeehouse. Is it a tragic accident or is it something more? Clare, with the help of her ex-husband, attempts to find out the truth. At time the plot seemed to be only a convenient excuse to introduce interesting characters and educate the reader about coffee. But, the novel ended up in fine mystery fashion, with the appropriate plot twists. The digressions didn't take away from my enjoyment of the novel, and I feel fortunate to have found a  new mystery series to take me away from the drama of my own life.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

I Can See Clearly Now (Autobiographical Book)

I Can See Clearly Now is more than a title. It becomes a mantra in Wayne Dyer’s most recent book, a sort of autobiography. Over and over, he describes clearly seeing how events shaped his life and his career. He describes his progression from self-help author to spiritual author. He describes how creating programs for PBS allowed him to take his message to a larger audience. He also describes his forays into promoting new authors, acting, and leading tours.

I Can See Clearly Now helps us better understand the man who is perhaps one of the most influential self-help authors of our time. The book reveals a man with tenacity, whose sheer pluck made his first book, Your Erroneous Zones, a success. He demonstrated that same determination in promoting his PBS specials. The book also clearly shows a man determined to not follow the crowd, to be his own person.

I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a fan of Dyer’s. He is such an intrinsic part of the self-help movement that I just automatically read his books as soon as I become aware of them. I listened to I Can See Clearly Now on audiobook. The experience made me step back and look at the man behind the books. I would love to say that it helped me to see clearly how the events in my own life shaped me; it did not. But, what it did do is start me pondering the influences in Dyer’s life and considering whether they had any relevance to my own life.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over (Non-fiction Book)

Many of us have gotten stuck in our lives. We live in a rut and have a hard time believing, in our hearts, that life could be any different. We desperately need something that can help us believe that life can hold new possibilities for us. It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over—Reinventing Your Life Dreams Anytime, at Any Age, edited by Marlo Thomas, could be just the inspiration that many need to again believe in possibilities.

The book contains sixty stories of women who found a new passion after they had already been established in their lives. Many of the stories involve women who launched a new career or who discovered a new avocation. Some involve women who found a new cause. Most of the stories involve a single passion, but a few involve ever-evolving paths. Most of the stories involve women who now are in their forties through sixties. Some of the women discovered their passions out of necessity, others out of a deep sense of dissatisfaction. The stories range from a woman who makes whisky to a woman who encourages people to be organ donors, from a woman who lived out her dream to be a cowgirl to a woman who runs a store that helps plus-sized women feel great in beachwear. Most of the stories involved happy endings, but in a few cases the women had major challenges before the book went to print. As I have thought about the stories in the book, I noticed that most involve a blend of serendipity and dogged determination. As I read the book, I noticed that a part of me whispered, “If these things were possible for these women, perhaps there are new, interesting possibilities for me.”

This is a book to read to be inspired. This is a book to buy to lend to people who feel stuck in their lives. For more inspiration see the "It Ain't Over Till It's Over" page of Marlo Thomas's website.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Ancillary Justice (Science Fiction Novel)

“Why is this novel such a big deal?” I wondered as I saw Worlds Without End’s listing of award nominees. As of this posting, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie has been nominated for the 2013 Nebula, 2013 PKD, 2014 Clarke, and 2014 Hugo awards and is the winner of the 2013 BSFA. I was more than a little curious. What I found is a novel with a fresh spin on the Space Opera genre. It is masterfully written and does an expert job of world building.

Ancillary Justice is written in the “first person.” Trying to explain that “first person” is not so easy and helps clarify why this novel is so refreshing. The narrator is an “ancillary.” In the world of Ancillary Justice, space ships are artificial intelligences. The physical part of an AI is composed not only of the ship, but also of the ancillaries virtually connected to it. Think of a traffic monitoring system with all the various cameras and monitors connected to it. But in this case the AI is connected to the bodies of what used to be living people, often those conquered by the Radch. The AI can not only receive information through each ancillary, but it can also act through each one; they are an extension of it. In some ways the relationship is also holographic, because each ancillary contains the memories and information of the whole AI. The narrator is both an ancillary known as “One Esk” and what remains of Justice of Toren, a ship that was destroyed. The narrator also calls itself “Breq.”

In some ways Ancillary Justice is a traditional space opera because of the scope the storyline. It covers over a thousand years. It describes an empire, the Radch, whose chief concern is expansion, “annexing” civilizations. The ruler herself has lived thousands of years and at one time can have over a thousand different bodies. Yet unlike most space operas, Ancillary Justice has a very personal story, partially because of the narrator. Breq is not some cold AI, but an individual who likes to sing and repeatedly demonstrates compassion. In the beginning of the novel, we learn that Breq’s goal is to seek revenge for the death of her favorite human, Lieutenant Awn. Much of the early part of the novel involves revealing the circumstances around Awn’s death. To complication matters, Breq discovers and takes care of Seivarden, who as a young lieutenant served on Justice of Toren. She is described as “not one of one of my favorites.” The once arrogant officer from a respected family was in suspended animation in an escape pod for almost a thousand years and is now an addict. Seivarden is both a hindrance and a sidekick as Breq goes about fulfilling her revenge.

Ancillary Justice is touching at moments, interesting most of the time, and even horrifying in a few spots. It takes some of the best qualities of a space opera and combines them with the character development that I associate with a novel that has a less grandiose setting. It works; I loved the book. The biggest flaw that I noticed in the novel is that Seivarden at times, especially near the end of the story, seems a bit of a caricature. All in all, I definitely think that Ancillary Justice is award worthy.