Welcome to my bookshelf

I am a voracious reader who is constantly found with her nose in a good (although sometimes not so good) book. I felt the need to share my experiences and suggestions, so here it is. Recommendations and comments are most definitely desired.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Yarg Maties

Currently Reading: Pirate Cinema

Pg 31: "If you want to double your success rate, triple your failure rate."

Pg 75: "All my life, my teachers had been on me to take notes, but this was the first time I ever saw the point.  I decided to do this more often.  Who knew teachers were so clever?"

So I am into this new career experience and can't help but now see everything in a different light.  Almost all the things I come into contact with these days is viewed with the whole idea of problem/challenge based learning in mind.  That's why I liked the first quote.  Failures are something we experience each and every day, but it is really what you take away from each failure that makes a difference.  They are all learning experiences.  And there you see why I like the second quote :)

Where I have been having some tension though comes from the definition of creativity.  What does it mean to be creative?  It seems like it has always had a certain connotation that lends itself to mostly artistic avenues, but as a mathy type person, this always bothered me.  Can't I be creative in a different way?  What if I don't want to write the next great American novel or paint some crazy picture?  Can I still be creative?  In my opinion, yes.  So this lead to some investigation on my part into how people define the term "creativity" and the act of being "creative".  What I found were lots of uses of the word with very little explanation as to what the users meant when they touted their exemplification of it.  Well, low and behold, Cory Doctorow has managed to help give me a new appreciation for such a controversial word.

Pirate Cinema is really just about that, pirating copies of videos and movies already made by someone else.  The main character in the novel, Cecil, is a filmmaker  but has never actually shot his own scenes.    What he does is take clips from other movies and put them together in such a precise way that they create new videos, following completely unique plots and characters.  Of course Big Brother doesn't like this and he eventually finds himself in hot water legally speaking.  Embroiled by the idea of speaking out for his art, Cecil himself says:

Pg 206: "But if we're being honest, it's easy to define creativity: it's doing something that isn't obvious.... It was doing something that didn't exist until I made it, and probably wouldn't have existed unless I did.  That's what 'to create' means: to make something new."

I thought this was an awesome way to thing about creativity.  Through all the aforementioned investigation, I was coming to the idea of creating being similar to making.  The Maker movement has been catching on with lots of folks these days.  I'm sure you all know a bit about it from my previous post so I won't go into too much detail now, but still, it is an awesome revolution taking place in our society.

While arguing with his friends and fellow pirates, Cecil is exposed to other people's viewpoints on creativity.  In fact it is his little sister who shares this gem:

Pg 208: "Everyone wants a definition of creativity that makes what they do into something special and what everyone else does into nothing special.  But the fact is, we're all creative.  We come up with weird and interesting ideas all the time.  The biggest difference between 'creators' isn't their imagination - it's how hard they work.  Ideas are easy.  Doing stuff is hard."

See!  I am not the only one who wants a definition !  Although, I must say, Cora states it quite nicely and instead of giving me the formal answer, she simply opens my eyes to a new way of thinking about the concept overall.  Obviously more pondering is needed on my part, but I feel like I am making some headway into the whole thing.

In the end, Cecil too changes his view towards creativity and becomes even more open-minded about it all.  Still, there are those others who need more convincing, and so he invokes a call to arms:

Pg 292: "Maybe from now on, creativity means combining two things in a way that no one has ever thought of combining them before... I think that a law that protects creativity should protect all creativity, not just the kind of creativity that was successful fifty years ago."

This is clearly a subject that is near and dear to Cory Doctorow's heart and anyone who has been following his work for the past several years, knows that he has been making some headway in the issue of publication rights.  He has championed the movement and is a big fan or organizations such as Creative Commons.  Many of his works are also available free of change on the internet.  The legal system is still not fully on board with the idea, but with backers as passionate as Doctorow, the future is bright for creativity of all types.

Now I still don't have my formal definition and of course that still bothers my left braininess, but I am at least a bit more satisfied with how I think about creativity as a whole.  Of course this book gave me lots to ponder on in this area it also provided something else for me to think on.  This book is dedicated to Walt Disney.  Now there was a shocker!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Quest for Absolution

Currently Reading: The Good Father

Pg 40: "In medicine you have to look past the easy assumptions.  The facts can be misleading.  There is a tendency to recognize only the symptoms that add up to the diagnosis in your head, but it is the symptom that doesn't fit you should be following."

Sometimes I wish I were awesome enough to have authors ask me to right a blurb for their book.  If Noah Hawley had approached me with this task, among the words I would give him would be haunting, compelling and all too real.  The Good Father follows the story of a man who is trying to be just that, a good father to his wayward son.  The problem is that he is too late.  Dr. Paul Allen's son Danny is arrested for killing a presidential candidate by shooting him in a packed auditorium.  Paul decides that Danny has been wrongfully accused and sets out to prove it.  The story unfolds in an incredibly readable fashion.  As the narrator is a doctor, his thoughts and actions all mirror those he goes through when diagnosing a patient.  He looks at the facts, follows them to their origin and thoughtfully considers their implications.  This seems like a great method, but he is stymied by the fact that this was a senseless act.  He simply cannot comprehend the reasoning behind Danny's actions.

Pg 148: "... Danny realized that everything in Texas either said Texas on it or was in the shape of Texas.  Place mats, road signs, security gates.  It was as if residents were worried they might wake up in New Jersey if they didn't surround themselves with reminders."

Throughout the novel, we follow Paul following Danny's trail across the country as well as back in time.  Danny had dropped out of school and from there he simply roamed about, stopping at places that felt "right" to him as well as a few he had heard of from former friends.  Texas plays a large role in the story as it is the location where Danny makes his pivotal discussion, partly motivated by what he learns of the events at the UT clock tower.  While Danny comes into contact only with this one lone gunman, Paul finds himself drawn towards to the tales of many other past assassins therefore exposing the reader not only to varying landscapes, but to the minds and actions of other impassioned killers.  Paul's issue though is that he just doesn't see his son in the stories of these strange and frightening men.

Pg 185: "I don't really like to talk about myself.  I guess that's a big part of friendship, but I just don't like telling people how I feel about something, or what I think.  I think most of the time people say stuff just to hear themselves talk ... I just think you learn more by listening that you do by talking."

A reason behind Paul's lack of revelations is that he just didn't know his son anymore.  Danny grew up in a house divided.  His parents divorced when he was merely eight and his father, Paul, remarried and had two other sons.  Danny found himself unanchored and misplaced.  Neither of his parents seemed to notice.  He appears to be OK on the surface, but due to a life-altering experience on a flight between his parents, Danny finds himself feeling like he caught a break he didn't deserve and slowly moves through life trying to find a purpose.  Unfortunately, that purpose leads to a sad end.

Pg 207: "America was a country that believed that crime was who a person was, not just what they did.  In this light there could be no such thing as rehabilitation, only punishment."

Danny pleads guilty, much to his father's dismay, and refuses any help in terms of appeals or a sentence reduction.  He is slated for execution, labeled as a terrorist and housed in a solitary cell amid hundreds of other "evil doers".  For Paul, this is his last chance for redemption, both for his son and for himself as a father.  He eventually goes for broke and ends up precariously close to losing his second family as well.

Pg 280: "Even if he was a pawn, a pawn is still playing the game ... You can't make a good person do bad things.  You can't change who they are fundamentally in the time it takes to eat a sandwich.  That's science fiction.  The only thing that can change who we are is life."

Paul's final attempt at exonerating his son revolves around a pair of ex-military men with whom Danny crossed paths on a lonely midnight train ride.  Despite countless hours of effort, this path does not pan out and Paul is finally faced with the truth, his son killed a man in cold blood.  There is no other way around the truth.

The Good Father is a remarkable glimpse into the mind of a man driven by the purest of aims, to help his son.  I found myself unable to put it down, anxiously turning pages in search of the next revelation.  While the main story seems to be about Danny and his plight for belonging, it is really about a man and what he can become when faced with the unthinkable.  If you are looking for a memorable tale of love, loss and a remarkable journey of self-discovery, I highly recommend this book.  Yes, you will feel some sadness, but in the end, you can't help but feel drawn into the power of parenthood.  It makes me appreciate yet awed by everything parents do for their children.  I cannot even imagine what Paul experienced, but am thankful to Noah Hawley for giving me at least a taste.

Now if you are feeling down after finishing The Good Father, do not fear!  I do have a couple hilarious recommendations for a pick me up.  Where'd You Go Bernadette and Lucky Bastards are two excellent choices filled with ridiculous situations and larger than life characters that will change your tears from ones of grief to ones of laugher.  And on that note, enjoy your reading!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

For The Win

Currently Reading: Gold

Chris Cleave is an author that has been on the bestsellers lists for several years now, but this is the first one of his that I have read and I am oh so glad I did.  Gold follows two women as they attempt to navigate life while at the same time training for competitive cycling.  It provides an insider's perspective into this fairly unknown sport, at least unknown to the general world of sports fans.  Kate and Zoe have been friends and competitors since they were 19 and now, at the ripe old age of 32, find themselves closing in on their last chance to go for the gold at the London summer games, an event close to their hearts as they are British citizens themselves.  As readers, we not only follow the exhaustive training schedule, but are immersed in their complex and emotional personal lives as well.  Cleave does a masterful job of relating this tale from the female perspective, making you empathize completely with these two very different athletes.

This story takes place over the course of a few months, but the reader is transported back through an impressive use of flashbacks and dreams.  You slowly gain a glimpse at what makes these two women tick, what events from their past have influenced their decisions today.  Through these journeys back in time, Cleave ever so carefully plants clues that eventually all come together at the end, leading to a whole new plot twist one might not have anticipated.  I know I was shocked at several revelations.

One of the most interesting things about the story is the dichotomy between Kate and Zoe.  Despite their being friends, they have very little in common and are two very different people, motivated by completely opposite desires.  Kate comes across as the more empathetic yet likable of the women.  Zoe is brash, unapologetic and downright scary at times.  And still, you can't help but at least sympathize with her.  As you become more intrigued with her backstory, Kate's desire to help her friend is increasingly apparent.

There are three other characters in this novel, each of whom have their own relationship with Kate and Zoe.  Their coach Tom, Jack the husband of Kate and Sophie, their young daughter, each play important roles in the plot.  Part of what makes Gold so powerful is that these five people rely upon each other so much and add to the story in enormous ways that there is no need for any auxiliary characters.  The small cast helps hone the action to create an intimate group which one feels privileged to be a part of.

Obviously, most of the novel revolves around racing.  I enjoyed getting to learn more about this extremely competitive sport, relating to bits of it, but awed by the dedication required to be a member of the cycling community.  The entire story itself contains many of the same features of a race.  Your heart will race at certain points, be given a bit of rest time in between, and then peak up to incredible heights as the plot unfolds.  Minute details such as diet, sleep patterns, and even the equipment help to transport us into the velodrome and become participants in the race.

Ultimately the main question raised by Gold is this, how much are you willing to sacrifice in order to win?  For each person, that answer is different and changes as they grow not only in age, but in character as well.  Really, the race itself can be replaced by any obsession in life.  Ask yourself the same question each and every day, but be sure of your answer.  It may not be worth the pain.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Currently Reading: Ready Player One

Only a few books have ever inspired me devote an entire day to their reading.  Notable ones include Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows and Revenge of the Sith (they release the novel before the movies).  These were both ones I waited in line for at midnight and then devoured until the last page.  Now I have another one to add to that list.  Of course I didn't pick up Ready Player One on the first day, but I literally spent my whole day yesterday eagerly turning the pages in anticipation of what came next.  Ernest Cline manages to do something quite remarkable, completely transport the reader into his fictional world which happens to revolve around a young man entirely transported into another fictional land.  As the tale transpired, I felt as if I was part of the action every step of the way however, I'm not sure this would be the case for everyone who picks up this book.

You may have noticed that I didn't start with a quote on this post as I do in most of my others.  The reason is that I seriously wanted to just quote the entire thing.  Ready Player One embraces a culture that for many years has been shunted aside, accepted only by the few brave enough to be true to themselves.  Or maybe that isn't the best way to term it, at least not for one outside this group because this culture is one filled mostly with misfits and dorks.  Those mocked at by the "popular" kids at school.  Yep.  I'm talking about geeks.  So why was I able to be so engrossed in the tale?  Well because I myself have been a geek forever.  Being able to recognize lines from sci-fi movies, pseudonyms from comic books and landscapes from video games has not always been an applauded asset, but it seems as though times are changing.  More and more, people are acknowledging their inner geek and getting on board with us.  The eye rolls have abated at least...

I think that part of what is causing geekiness to permeate more sectors of the prevalent culture is the expansion of the internet and all the things it allows people to experience.  Tech-savviness is no longer for the few, but required for all.  Who doesn't have some sort of avatar out there?  The online presence that they use to interact with others has become people's main face to the outside world, be this a good thing or not.

Ready Player One follows Wade AKA Parzival as he attempts to discover an easter egg hidden in his favorite MMO, OASIS.  OASIS is not mealy a virtual world for killing orcs and leveling up.  It has been embraced by all from the biggest corporations on down.  Almost all of the world's financial and social transactions occur on the network.  The easter egg actually allows its possessor to become the heir to the fortune left by the late creator of OASIS, an extremely wealthily yet lonely programmer and king amongst geeks.  As Z continues along his quest, he meets new friends, faces evil foes and eventually gains more than just his name on the list of high scores.  Yes, the end is a bit trite, but the journey is really what was important.

The secrets to unlocking the egg come through extensive knowledge of geek culture from the eighties on.  I couldn't help but be familiar with it all, and actually a bit of an expert at most.  It was amazing to get to journey through a world filled with my personal loves.  I was not reading it as an outsider, but truly a member of the community in which Z lived.  So that's really why I loved this book so much, I guess.  I felt like I belonged and longed to tell Wade that he too, was awesome and that there are those out there who understand where he is coming from.  I get you dude!

I'm having a hard time figuring out how to close this post, but I will leave you with this little nugget.  The entire time I was reading this book, a soundtrack a bit like this was running through my head.  It gives you all a bit of a glimpse of what the action entailed :)