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 jalapeƱos 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

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.

50BC2011 #7: The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium, #2)The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this one much more than The Girl with the Dragon moves at a much faster pace and didn't seem quite so intent on creating reality by including technical minutiae all over the place. It is nice to have a slightly better sense of Salander's character, as well, although she's still hard to pin down (and that is part of her character). I did NOT like the ending--it just doesn't ring true. I'll be curious to read the next one.

Friday, August 26, 2011

50BC2011 #6: Let The Great World Spin

Let the Great World SpinLet the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I loved the concept of telling the story of the world that spun beneath the tightrope. That said, I always had the sense that the author was trying to hide plot points that weren't really hidden, so that I spent much of the book just wondering when these revelations were going to poke their head out of the narrative. I enjoyed the moments inside Phillipe Petit's mind, and McCann does a great job of crafting NYC and its stories as a figurative gyroscope spinning around the axis of a single event.