Wednesday, August 20, 2014

50BC14:#2 Clavell's Shogun & #3 Coelho's Manuscript Found in Accra

This year's 50 Book Challenge is actually going to be a 20 book challenge as I am starting in August.  I actually finished both of these books before the Solnit, but forgot to blog them.


Shōgun (Asian Saga, #3)Shōgun by James Clavell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Epic is as good a description as any to describe this novel--not just for its length, but for its scope. There are moments of real beauty in the scenic descriptions and the cultural tapestry woven by Clavell. It is an art to reveal culture and history through fiction with finesse, and Clavell excelled at this. Blackthorne is a most excellent figure in that the reader learns as he learns, and we realize that in some sense, we are Clavell's pawn much as Blackthorne is the pawn in a larger game. Some of the political strategy and inner-thinking can feel long-winded, and if you are looking for a book full of action and plot, this book may not give you wa.

 Manuscript Found in AccraManuscript Found in Accra by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This has a lot of the same lessons as The Alchemist and many of his other books, but lacks the same beauty simply because of the format. There are some timeless aphorisms and beautiful nuggets of wisdom, but the poetry is missing. I felt the book was tedious in the final two lessons from "the Copt," save for the last two pages of the book. That's where the real wisdom is, and it is made all the more effective, actually, if the reader finds himself/herself mildly frustrated by the formulaic approach. Those last pages save the book.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

50BC14: #1 Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

A Field Guide to Getting LostA Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is quite possibly one of the best books I have read in the last ten years. Rebecca Solnit weaves together threads in a tapestry of colors that may seem unrelated, but then you step back and realize what an amazing and beautiful work she has created. From Simone Weil to the Clash, Solnit takes you on a journey of getting lost, with the markers of her own experience to guide you. She engages in what she calls the "delicate work of awareness" and invites the reader to do the same, but without artifice, psycho-babble, or reaching too far out of reality.

As a historian, I found this passage particularly stunning and resonant:

A man once told me that much of my writing was about loss, that that was how I imagined the world, and I thought about that comment for a long time. In that sense of loss two streams mingled. One was the historian's yearning to hang onto everything, write everything down, to try to keep everything from slipping away, and the historian's joy in retrieving out of archives and interviews what was almost forgotten, almost out of reach forever. But the other stream is the common experience that too many things are vanishing without replacement in our time. At any given moment the sun is setting someplace on earth, and another day is slipping away largely undocumented as people slide into dreams that will seldom be remembered when they awaken. Only the continuation of abundance makes loss sustainable, make it natural. There are more sunrises coming, but even dreams could be emptied out.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

50BC2012 #2: Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Man's Search for MeaningMan's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars



My only regret is that I didn't read this book earlier in life. The seemingly clinical detachment with which Frankl writes clears the way for the meaning of his words. it is the lessons he draws from his experiences that are so valuable, not the recollections of the experiences themselves. He recounts harrowing and heartbreaking stories from his personal experience during the Holocaust, but to hold it up as an example of suffering that everyone at least intellectually understands, if not viscerally. The concept of "unconditional meaningfulness" and it's connection to Frankl's Logotherapy is a powerful one. William Winslade's afterword in this edition is a wonderfully concise and informative biography of Frankl, and helps to summarize some of ideas espoused in the first part of the book. Frankl's search for a "tragic optimism" underscores the journeys of so many, and I do think that this is one of the most important books of the twentieth century, and likely beyond, as I think the search for meaning will always be part of what it is to be human.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

50BC2012 #1: A Whole New Mind--Daniel Pink

It isn't that I haven't read any books since 2011 (my last post). I have. That said, two full-time teaching jobs and one consulting/independent contractor job have pretty much consumed my life, so if I read, I don't have time to blog. My cooking blog and musicology blog have both suffered this fate--and I promise that I have cooked dinner occasionally and I've certainly had lots of interaction with musicology. I think I'm destined to be a "summer-only" blogger for awhile, but remain hopeful that my schedule will improve with each academic year. So, with this post I inaugurate Summer Blogging 2012 and this year's 50 Book Challenge (better May than never!) I will post some books that I read between January and May, but we'll start with the most recent.

 A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the FutureA Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel H. Pink
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a healthy suspicion of hype, and this book fell into that category as everyone I know seemed all a-buzz about it with commentary that bordered on hagiography. That said, when something hits the mainstream conversation in academia, I feel obligated to check it out. I was pleasantly surprised. As is so often the case, the title, "Why Right-Brainers will Rule the Future" is a bit misleading. Pink doesn't advocate for right-brain over left as much as he calls us to recognize its value and how it helps foster a creative economy.

On a personal level, the book actually made me think more about my left-brain, as that is the part that isn't immediately obvious in my profession. I liked Pink's writing style--it is accessible, but not patronizing. At the end of each section he lists very helpful resources and "portfolio" activities to help stimulate the right-brain. I definitely advocate Pink's vision--a society that honors art, passion, and laughter as much as technology and science. I don't sense that who "rules the future" is so much his point as it is to use underdeveloped skills such as metaphor and visual design to "go beyond the self" and embrace the totality of the future.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

50BC2011 #10:Mission Street Food

Mission Street Food: Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable RestaurantMission Street Food: Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable Restaurant by Karen Leibowitz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


“Cookbook” doesn’t begin to touch this amazingly honest, engaging, inspiring, and creative narrative about two people, their friends, their perseverance, their sheer luck, and the joy to be had in both dreams and realities.

From flatbreads on a food truck to a full-fledged restaurant, Mission Street Food is a tale told in the words of its two heroes, chef Anthony Myint and his wife, Karen Leibowitz. It is the story of a “start-up” like no other, set on the streets (mainly one street) of San Francisco, transforming a “mom-and-pop” Guatemalan snack cart into a thriving and charitable food experience. The authors aren’t shy about sharing the many bumps in the road, but both Myint and Leibowitz write with an enviable sense of humor in the face of each challenge. Leibowitz recalls opening night on the food truck, as a line of people formed down the block:

“It had never occurred to us that we might have more than a few customers at a time, so we had no system for organizing orders. On the fly, I decided to give each person a letter, which was a big mistake. A lot of letters sound the same, so I spent the night yelling things like “Order D! D as in Depeche Mode!” It was like taking a free-association test in front of a hundred people. I had no cash register, of course, so I kept ones and fives in my front pockets, tens and twenties in my back pockets—a regular carnie.”(p.31).

When Myint and Leibowitz found more permanent facilities for MSF at a “decrepit Chinese joint,” they continued to surmount obstacle after obstacle, all the while creating unique and inspired cuisine, at no profit. One gets a sense the venture was one part grassroots endeavor to two parts spontaneity that would rival 1960s “Happenings.” In amidst the entertaining tales of small victories and near-mishaps, Leibowitz tucks in what ultimately makes this book so very appealing:

“When we got home, I felt exhausted to the point of despondency, but I also felt a little bit sentimental. Anthony had become a chef. I had become a restaurant manager/dishwasher. Our friends were pulling for us. We were incompetent. We were successful. Nothing made any sense. I felt really lucky.” (p. 54).

And truly that’s what this book is about. You need not be a “foodie” or even remotely interested in starting a restaurant in order to enjoy this remarkable project. Myint and Leibowitz are testaments to the value of spirit, energy, friendship, and love. Their story is one of turning dreams into living one’s life to the fullest, rather than waiting for “something to happen.” It is hard not to be inspired by Mission Street Food, and you’ll find yourself smiling and laughing along with the authors. Along the way, you’ll also learn how portion your own steaks from a rib roast, how a CO2 charger might provide 30 seconds of pure joy for your dinner guests, and that jalapeños and snickerdoodles can make excellent bedfellows.

Read this book for the fantastic photographs. Read this book for the excellent writing and the entertaining story. Read this book for the comic strip on pages 37-44. Read this book for recipes that will challenge and inspire you. But most of all, read this book because chances are, at some point, you’ll need a reminder of your own aspirations and possibilities.

(Reposted at http://rebiscooking.blogspot.com)


50BC2011 #9: Schuman, Persichetti and Mennin

The Music of William Schuman, Vincent Persichetti, and Peter MenninThe Music of William Schuman, Vincent Persichetti, and Peter Mennin by Walter Simmons

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


professional review forthcoming




50BC2011 #8: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I held off writing this review until I had read the sequel, which is why this is listed as 50BC2011 #8 instead of #7 (The Girl Who Played With Fire).



This is an intriguing book because Larsson didn't seem to know whether he wanted it to be a mystery, a thriller, a novel, or some combination thereof. The story is really fascinating, but if you are an instant-gratification kind-of reader, you'll be disappointed. Larsson takes his time in getting to the juicy mystery-type material. I like that Salander is instantly enigmatically likeable, even though he reveals very little about her in the first book. She's an excellent character--complex, but honest in that she occasionally surprises herself. I did feel the book is a bit heavy-handed with all the references to technology--there are pages that read like Mac ads. The Girl Who Played with Fire moves much more quickly, so I'm glad I stuck with this one long enough to want to read the second one.