Posts Tagged ‘Books’

Book Review: Who Could That Be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket

AuthorLemony Snicket
TitleWho Could That Be at This Hour?
Narrator:  Liam Aiken
Publication Info: 9781619695375
Other Books Read By Same Author:

Summary/Review:

Daniel Handler under his nom-de-plume Lemony Snicket narrated the trials and travails of the Baudelaire children in a A Series of Unfortunate Events.  In this series, All the Wrong Questions, Lemony Snicket tells “his own” story of how as a teenager he became involved in a secret organization, was assigned to the worst chaperon, and begins his first assignment in the town of Stain’d-by-the-Sea.  The book reads as a pastiche of classic children’s adventures and noir detective stories with memorable characters, a lot of humor, and puzzles to solve.  It’s a good start to the series and I look forward to reading more.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Even This I Get to Experience by Norman Lear

AuthorNorman Lear
Title: Even This I Get to Experience by Norman Lear
Publication Info: New York : The Penguin Press, 2014
Summary/Review:

I was born in the 1970s and became aware of television at a time I consider the golden age of sit-coms.  TV comedies were uproariously funny, but also addressed social issues in a way that ordinary people encounter them and grapple with them.  The best of these shows included All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Good Times, Sanford and Son, Maude, and One Day at a Time.  And all these shows had one thing in common: they were created by Norman Lear.

With this in mind, I figured Norman Lear would have a good story to tell, and I was right.  I was pleased to learn that, like me, Lear spent much of his childhood in Connecticut.  The formative figure in that childhood was Lear’s father, a man he revered as a hero as many children look up to their fathers, but someone who was in many ways a scoundrel and even a criminal.  Lear’s father would become the model for larger-than-life characters like Archie Bunker, Maude, and George Jefferson.

Lear traces the course of his career in this memoir.  After attending Emerson College and then serving in a bomber crew during World War II, Lear enters into the nascent television industry writing for some of the top variety shows of the 40s and 50s.  In the 60s, Lear worked on writing and occasionally directing comedy films.  The 1970s saw his return to television, eventually having as many as seven comedy series in production at the same time (with all of them among the top-rated shows).  In the 1980s and beyond, Lear became more politically active founding People for the American Way and professionally producing movies, including many of the great comic films of Rob Reiner.

Apart from the story of his career with glimpse into his creative process, Lear also discusses his personal life which includes troubled marriages and his children, for whom he wasn’t always present for.  For a show business biography, this is a good book giving some insights into the mind of an influential figure of American popular culture.

Favorite Passages:

“I’ve always divided people between wets and drys. Dry people are cold, brittle, and very certain; they don’t hug well, and if you should hug one you could cut yourself on his body. Wet people are warm and tender, and when they hug they melt in your arms.”

“It was very important to me that Archie have a likable face, because the point of the character was to show that if bigotry and intolerance didn’t exist in the hearts and minds of the good people, the average people, it would not be the endemic problem it is in our society. As the ‘laziest, dumbest white kid’ my father ever met, I rarely saw a bigot I didn’t have some reason to like. They were all relatives and friends.’

“I’ve never heard that anybody conducted his or her life differently after seeing an episode of All in the Family. If two thousand years of the Judeo-Christian ethic hadn’t eradicated bigotry and intolerance, I didn’t think a half-hour sitcom was going to do it. Still, as my grandfather was fond of saying—and as physicists confirm—when you throw a pebble in a lake the water rises. It’s far too infinitesimal a rise for our eyes to register, so all we can see is the ripple. People still say to me, ‘We watched Archie as a family and I’ll never forget the discussions we had after the show.’ And so that was the ripple of All in the Family. Families talked.”

“He was afraid of tomorrow. He was afraid of anything new, and that came through in the theme song: ‘Gee, our old LaSalle ran great / Those were the days.’ He was lamenting the passing of time, because it’s always easier to stay with what is familiar and not move forward. This wasn’t a terrible human being. This was a fearful human being. He wasn’t evil, he wasn’t a hater—he was just afraid of change.”

“The story line for every episode of every show originated at the conference table in my office. I had instructed our writers to come to work prepared to talk about their marriages, kids, family problems, health problems—their lives in the context of what was going on in their communities and the world. The topicality of our work, the personal nature of so much of it, and the serious subjects we chose to deal with grew out of that. The audiences themselves taught me that you can get some wonderful laughs on the surface of anything with funny performers and good jokes, but if you want them laughing from the belly, you stand a better chance of achieving it if you can get them caring first. The humor in life doesn’t stop when we are in tears, any more than it stops being serious when we are laughing. So we writers were in the game to elicit both. My favorite charge to them was ‘Let’s bring the audience to their knees.'”

“When people get upset with the amount of sex and violence on television, they tend to look west to blame Hollywood. Wrong. The content creators—the writers, producers, and directors—are not, and never have been, in control. Television is a business and, as with all businesses, it’s governed by supply and demand. If the demand didn’t exist at the networks, writers would not be supplying it. The blame lies to the east, on Wall Street and on the giant, often international media entities that answer to its short-term interests.”

Recommended booksDangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” by David Bianculli and My Song: A Memoir by Harry Belafonte
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Ninety percent of everything by Rose George

AuthorRose George
Title: Ninety percent of everything : inside shipping, the invisible industry that puts clothes on your back, gas in your car, and food on your plate by
Publication Info: New York : Metropolitan Books, 2013.
Summary/Review:

As the title implies, freight shipping is important, but overlooked.  The author looks into the industry which appears to be impossible to regulate and awfully dreary at best for the sailors, yet surprisingly compelling.  The heart of the book is George’s journey on the giant container ship Maersk Kendal from Rotterdam to Singapore by way of Suez. Apart from her own journey, George explores the hardship of the sailor’s life and those who depends on them, shipwrecks, the effect of shipping on whales, the merchant marine during war, and Somali pirates.  It’s an interesting glimpse into a vital part of human life that can be beyond the brain’s capability to comprehend.

Recommended books: Trawler by Redmond O’Hanlon and The Invisible Hook by Peter T. Leeson,

Rating: ***

Book Review: Airman by Eoin Colfer

AuthorEoin Colfer
TitleAirman
Narrator: John Keating
Publication Info: [New York] : Listening Library, 2007.
Books I’ve Previously Read by the Same Author:

Summary/Review:

Irish author Eoin Colfer, creator of the Artemis Fowl series, spins a classic adventure story set in the fin de siècle era on the Saltee Islands off the coast of Ireland.  In this story, the Saltees are home to a fictional sovereign kingdom which bases its economy on diamond mining.  The protagonist of the story is Conor Broekhart who is friend of the daughter of the island’s progressive, American-born king.  Conor shows an early proclivity towards science and engineering and when he is 14 he is framed for the murder of the king and sent to prison/mining colony.  It’s up to young Conor to escape from prison and save the kingdom through his knowledge of flying machines.  The outcome is never in doubt but Colfer spins an entertaining yarn with a lot of action and many memorable characters.  John Keating does a magnificent job of narrating this escapist story.

Recommended books: The Land That Isn’t There, An Irish Adventure by Leonard Wibberley, The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois
Rating: ****

Book Review: Fifteen Minutes Outside by Rebecca P. Cohen

AuthorRebecca P. Cohen
TitleFifteen Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids
Publication Info: Sourcebooks (2011)
Summary/Review:

This book exists because parent Rebecca Cohen asked herself: “What if I got outside every single day, and what if I could get my kids to come along? It would be easier to pull this off in the middle of summer, but what if we did it all year round, no matter what the weather was like?”

This book provides a different activity for children and parents to do outdoors for each day of the year.  The book presumes one has a large yard and a mild climate (the author lives in Virginia), so one may have to adapt a few things to one’s own circumstances.  Cohen is also really into gardening so probably about a quarter of the suggestion have to do with planting, weeding, and harvesting vegetables.  Nevertheless, this book is chock full of creative suggestions to make spending time outdoors a fun daily activity varying by season.  As a parent, it’s good to have a reference to help get started because sometimes you just can’t think of a convincing reason to go outside, especially when it’s too cold or too hot.

I listed some of my favorite suggestions below.  One may also download  “50 Outdoor Activities for Busy Families” from Cohen’s website (email required).

Cohen also provides a number of websites to go to for more ideas:

Favorite Passages:

“While your kids are outside enjoying sunshine and physical exercise, why not have them exercise their imaginations as well? Encourage them to climb a hill and pretend it’s Mount Everest, build a fort with tree branches, or prepare a pretend feast using leaves as plates and wild berries as the main course. Ask them about stories they are reading at school and at home, and join them in acting out their favorite parts. Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House series is perfect for this, but there are hundreds—even thousands—of great children’s books (and movies and even video games) to draw on. Folk tales like “The Three Little Pigs,” “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” and “The Gingerbread Man,” or children’s favorite board books such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle or We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury are a great place to start.”

“Close your eyes and have your child lead you to a tree. Use your senses—touch, smell, and hearing—to learn all you can about your tree. The bark will have its own texture, tiny buds may be forming on branches, and the trunk will be easy or hard to get your arms around. With your eyes still closed, have your child lead you back to where you started. Open your eyes and try to find your tree. Now it’s your child’s turn!”

“A female entrepreneur once told me that when she was a kid, her mom would tell her to sit under a small tree and have small thoughts, and then sit under a big tree and think big thoughts. Try it with your kids, and have fun discovering what each of you thinks about.”

“Some days are so dreary, you find yourself wishing for even a little brightness and beauty. Trust me, even in February, it’s out there—but sometimes your family has to work together to find it. Bring in everyone’s perspectives and head out to find something that is beautiful. Each person’s job is to look until they find something in nature that they like and to share why.”

“Red-tailed hawks mate in March and April and usually make their nests in the tallest trees, and they might even take over a nest that a great horned owl used in January and February. I learned this tip from David Mizejewski, naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. And sure enough, for several days in March I heard loud and unusual birdcalls. When I looked up, there were hawks locking talons in flight. Find out from your local nature center when to look for hawks.”

“As the leaves fill the trees, it may not be as obvious that there are large sections or large branches that have fallen from trees. As you walk, notice fallen branches; see if your child (perhaps with your help) can find which tree a specific branch fell from by looking.”

“A cousin in France once said that she did a sociology experiment in college and asked people to purposefully look up and around for a day. What she found was that it not only opened people’s perspective to the physical beauty around them, but also to a more psychological openness of possibilities. Take this idea into play with your child when you walk outside and start looking at what is above your eye level, and take turns pointing out what you see.”

“This one is adapted from a tennis camp game, and it works whether you have two people or ten. The “coach” throws a tennis ball across an imaginary line to each person standing and lined up in a row facing the coach. If you do not catch the ball each time the coach throws it to you, you lose a limb (e.g., put an arm behind your back, then stand on one foot or sit down, until finally you have no limbs left and are out). The last person left wins and becomes the coach.”

“Pick a day every week to go out to the same spot with a notepad and pencil and write about or draw the changes you notice that are taking place in nature. Or keep a notepad and colored pencils in the car for your child to sketch the changing landscape as you travel around. Have them present their art to you, and write down their story beside their art if they can’t do it themselves.”

Recommended booksGet Out!: 150 Easy Ways for Kids & Grown-Ups to Get Into Nature and Build a Greener Future by Judy Molland
Rating: **

Book Review: A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin

AuthorGeorge R.R. Martin
TitleA Dance with Dragons
NarratorRoy Dotrice
Previous books in the series: A Game of Thrones A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swordsand A Feast For Crows.
Publication Info: New York, NY : Random House Audio, p2011.
Summary/Review:

So I’m at last caught up with the published works of A Song of Ice and Fire.  Unbelievably, five tomes into the series Martin is still introducing new major characters and plots.  So it drags it times and can be hard to keep up.  But largely this is still a compelling story and it is good to catch up on the stories of characters like Daenerys, Jon, Tyrion, Theon, and Arya.  And there’s a really cool part with a dragon. Now I join the rest of the world in waiting for the next novel. My theory is that Martin has actually written material for several new books and is constantly rearranging chapters, unable to cut anything, and introducing entirely new families and storylines.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Art of Mindful Living by Thích Nhất Hạnh

Author: Thích Nhất Hạnh
TitleArt of Mindful Living
Publication Info: Sounds True, Incorporated (2000)

Summary/Review:

This book is actually a lovely collection of lectures delivered by Thích Nhất Hạnh on finding the “kingdom of God” here and now by escaping distraction.  He mostly focuses on breathing exercises (a bell tones throughout to remind listeners to breathe). He also has interesting techniques such as taking a moment to breathe every time a phone rings (which benefits both oneself and the person calling) and the practice of hugging.  Only two hours, but full of wisdom and a delight to listen to.

Rating: ****

Recommended Books: Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Keating

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