There are a lot of books out there about writing, filled with age-old truisms and not-so-truisms. Some are helpful, others...well...less so.
"Writing...moreThere are a lot of books out there about writing, filled with age-old truisms and not-so-truisms. Some are helpful, others...well...less so.
"Writing To Sell" was highly recommended to me by an old mentor of mine who had recently started writing a lengthy work of fiction. It's easy to understand why.
This is an easy read, full of practical advice. Much of it is dated, particularly in the context of the publishing world and as some other reviewers have noted the typewriter-vs-computer debate. However, the basic advice on good writing, manuscripts, plot development and dialogue are all timeless—especially for those who are either too busy to take a creative writing class or frankly, uninterested in shelling out hundreds of dollars for one.
Where the book really shines is in its practical approach in getting published and author Scott Meredith's glee in debunking "writer myths"—particularly the ones of writer's block, alcoholism and genre. This is no-frills advice at its finest and you're spared a lot of the flowery tips that some writers spout ("Don't give up on your dreams," "Persistence is key!" etc).
This is a good introductory book on writing and a good brush-up read for those already honing their craft—I would also recommend Stephen King's memoir "On Writing," for some more tips to the slightly more polished writer.(less)
What a relief it is to read a book skeptical of the "Extrovert Ideal."
I've always been told to speak up, be more sociable, more lively, etc. That I wa...moreWhat a relief it is to read a book skeptical of the "Extrovert Ideal."
I've always been told to speak up, be more sociable, more lively, etc. That I was too reserved and to smile more at family outings. But now after reading Susan Cain's "Quiet," I finally feel a bit more justified in staying true to my introvert sensibilities.
Cain does a wonderful job in challenging the popular bias that extroversion is the key to success—she neither hails it as inherently good or inherently bad, but something that when utilized correctly, can be extremely valuable. The book is well-researched, with 46 pages of notes citing scientific studies, articles and interviews, and explicitly explains the underlying differences between the extrovert and introvert.
Divided into four parts, the book systematically explores why Western culture has come to idealize the extrovert, the role of genetics in determining introversion and personality, cultural differences and how introverted people can better cope with the demands of work and love in a pro-extrovert society. It also poses the question of whether the current path of always-there social media and "group think" are actually the best ways to nurture the economy and grow as a nation.
Fans of Malcolm Gladwell and other pop-science nonfiction will enjoy this thought-provoking book, but it is not without its weaknesses. As an Asian-American, there was quite a bit of eye-rolling at Chapter Eight (Asian-Americans and the Extrovert Ideal). Cain isn't racist, and its clear she took pains to treat the issue sensitively and explore the differences between two cultures that value two different personality types. But I can't help but feel the interviews she highlighted in the book feed into the "Oh, Herro prease, I'm very quiet and shyyy Assssian" stereotype. I'm an introverted Asian-American, and some parts of that chapter rang pretty false.
Also, as I don't have kids, the section on how to raise a well-rounded introvert child was a bit of a snooze fest. It might be fascinating later on in life, but right now? Not so much. (less)
This book was recommended to me by a coworker, and he said to power through the first third. How right he was. Diamond lays it on pretty thick, and mo...moreThis book was recommended to me by a coworker, and he said to power through the first third. How right he was. Diamond lays it on pretty thick, and more often than not, sounds like some New Age-y infomercial hack than a nutritionist. He spends a majority of the book hinting that he's figured out the secret to healthy living, but meanders around before he actually gets to the tenets of his eating philosophy—which at its very core is raw veganism.
That's fine. Put simply, Diamond advocates eating "more living food than dead food," positing that cooking your food kills precious enzymes that support better health. In practice, "Fit for Life" would have you subsist off of raw veggies and fruit. And if that's all you eat, of course you're going to lose weight. Eating more fresh fruits and veg, that's sound advice. My problem is that a majority of the "evidence" he puts forth is either 1) scientifically unsound or disproved; 2) anecdotal; and 3) sounds way too much like intelligent design.
To be fair, Diamond puts in a disclaimer about his profuse reference to "God"—but it has no place in a book where I'm trying learn more about eating healthy. It's one thing to tell me fruits are naturally full of all the vital nutrients needed by the human body. It's another to tell me that since fruit is so chock full of nutrients, it's evident that God intended humans to eat them. At one point he also says that since carnivorous animals only eat plant-eaters, it's obvious plants are the superior source of nutrition. This is spurious logic. Maybe carnivores target herbivores because they're easier to kill. Broad generalizations are not scientific fact.
Diamond is also extremely dodgy about the studies he presents. For one, he references Pottenger's cats—an experiment in which scientists studied two groups of cats that subsisted on diets of only raw or cooked meat (guess which group contracted more illnesses)—as proof that cooked food is bad for you. Last I checked, humans are not cats. As proven by animal testing, what works for animals does not always work for humans. Broad generalizations do not scientific facts make.
He also barely mentions the role of exercise in his diet, saying walking is sufficient to lose weight so long as you eat a diet of at least 50% raw food. What? I call bullshit.
All in all, I appreciate the wisdom behind eating more fresh fruit and veg. But the majority of this book is fluffed up rhetoric.(less)
Fenn and Raskino do a good job explaining what the hype cycle is, and why its relevant in terms of innovation adoption. All in all, its a very thoroug...moreFenn and Raskino do a good job explaining what the hype cycle is, and why its relevant in terms of innovation adoption. All in all, its a very thorough book with the first half providing the theory, and the second half acting as a detailed how-to guide. It's clearly written, with plenty of graphs and case studies, which helps to make the ideas discussed more easily digestible.
However, it did get a bit repetitive at the end, and I felt that perhaps they were looking to fill up some space. I'm not sure each step of the "STREET" process they mention needed such in-depth analysis. Also, by book's end, I grew a bit weary of colorful terms like "the trough of disillusionment" and the "peak of inflated expectations."
I do, however, commend Fenn and Raskino for their honesty. It would have been very easy to market the "hype cycle" as a potential, one-size-fits-all innovation, like some of the innovation examples detailed in the book. Instead the authors take care to emphasize that sometimes the best course of action is to avoid unnecessary baggage, and to prioritize innovations that benefit a company's core ideals.
I heard about this book after randomly perusing the NY Times' Book Review section, and was drawn by its title and premise.
Joshua Foer (who apparently...moreI heard about this book after randomly perusing the NY Times' Book Review section, and was drawn by its title and premise.
Joshua Foer (who apparently is the younger brother of Everything Is Illuminated's Jonathon Safran Foer) investigates the science of memory over the course of one year as he trains for the U.S. Memory Championship. Foer sets out to investigate claims from "Mental Athletes" that superior memory is not a birthright, but rather a skill that can be sharpened with practice. Anybody can learn to memorize a deck of cards, phone numbers, grocery lists, etc. so long as they take the time to learn the techniques and practice.
"Moonwalking with Einstein" is an enjoyable read that raises some good questions about the nature of human memory when juxtaposed against evolving technology. For me, the best parts of the book where the sections where Foer details his time with the KL7, an elite club formed by the world's top memory champions. His detours into the history of memorization were interesting, but I'm fairly certain that's more due to my personal interest in the subject rather its contribution to the overall cohesiveness of the narrative. In the end it's a bit unclear what the reader is supposed to take away from Foer's experience other than an increased appreciation for the complexity of the human mind and memory itself.
Part participatory journalism and part pop-science, Foer's writing style reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell. It's accessible, fun, and piques your interest about the chosen topic--but it's not a deep investigation or a "how to". Those hoping to learn some of the tricks of the trade will be disappointed (though, amazingly I still remember Ed Cooke's to-do list). Foer describes some of the techniques he used, but he glosses over the "how" and tends to focus on the "what" and "why." The only real techniques the reader might come away with is a rough idea of the "memory palace" or "PAO". To be fair, Foer explicitly states "Moonwalking" is not a "how-to" book in the introduction, but I have a feeling a number of readers will feel mislead anyway.
Overall, "Moonwalking" is a well-researched, entertaining introduction into the subject of memory. The extensive bibliography at the end of the book is a valuable resource for those who want to learn more. But at the end of the day, even if I have a better understanding about how it works, my memory is still the same as it was when I started this book. (less)
In another instance of art mimicking life, Rich Wilson's "Lifting Shadows", much like Dream Theater's music, will only appeal to the already converted...moreIn another instance of art mimicking life, Rich Wilson's "Lifting Shadows", much like Dream Theater's music, will only appeal to the already converted. The book is jam-packed with interviews from the band members themselves (including the taciturn John Myung!), crew members, producers, and collaborators for a panoramic view of the band's many trials and tribulations.
Indeed, there's much more drama to the Dream Theater story than one might initially expect from "the greatest band you've never heard of." Wilson is keenly aware of his niche audience, and as such, seeks to answer many of the questions fans have wondered about over the years. Aside from the interesting (and sometimes amusing) anecdotes of band interaction, the best parts of the book are the ones that give insight into the music industry. Wilson does a fine job of showcasing the band's perspectives, as well as conflicting perspectives from the record executives they struggled against.
Wilson is clearly quite familiar with Dream Theater's history, and "Lifting Shadows" is very much a book "for the fans, by a fan." Each chapter details the story of the band by album, and it's here that Wilson's music journalism background really shows through--sometimes to the book's benefit, other times to its detriment. Wilson coaxes great interviews from all his subjects, and his research is impeccable. However, there are times where he waxes on about each album as if he's writing a glowing music review when it's clear that anyone reading this book will already be quite familiar with Dream Theater's discography.
Finally, reading this book after Mike Portnoy's departure is both telling and quite sad. The book depicts an interesting picture of the drummer, who loves the band as much as he loves perfection and control over it. No one would be able to doubt Portnoy's dedication to the band, but its interesting to see some of the threads that eventually led to his departure. Knowing that, the closing chapters of the book take on a bit of sadness as the reader knows how the band's expressed optimism turns out.
Fans of the band will love this book, and the DT fanatic would be remiss to miss Wilson's article in Classic Rock magazine detailing Portnoy's departure. (less)
Reading Saunders is a perfect example of how a writer's voice can make or break a piece. "The Braindead Megaphone" is funny, outspoken and one of thos...moreReading Saunders is a perfect example of how a writer's voice can make or break a piece. "The Braindead Megaphone" is funny, outspoken and one of those very rare books that's both entertaining and intellectually stimulating. Saunders has a distinct way of drawing you in with his easy-going voice, and relatability. For many of his pieces featured in the book, it feels like having a long conversation with a good friend on topics ranging from the immigration debate, the decadent hotels of Dubai or a literary debate on the merits of Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn."
It's Saunders' unique voice, and I'd argue excellent story-telling skills, that makes his longer pieces such a joy to read. For me, the standout pieces of the book just happened to be the longest, and seemed to send Saunders off to far corners of the earth just so he could tell us what these exotic, far off places are like. He has an astute eye for observation, which makes reading a 42 page essay on America's illegal immigrant problem a genuine "can't-put-your-book-down" experience. That said, the hands-down best pieces of the book were: "The New Mecca," "The Great Divider," and "Buddha Boy."
The reason why this book gets 3 stars instead of 4, however, is that I feel the structure of the book as a whole is a bit lacking. Normally, I'd be care a little less about that sort of thing as its a collection of essays--there's just one niggling detail. In the titular essay, Saunders sets out with an obvious agenda to "take back" the reigns from the terrorist-hating, fear-mongering pundits of the post-9/11 era. In fact, you could say that most of these essays hew towards a particular theme of trying to get the reader to think outside the box, to question the status quo and to think in a new light. Does Saunders always succeed? In short, no. I found some essays a bit preachy and clearly advocating a strong liberal bias, which in my opinion, ironically puts the megaphone in Saunders hands. The most grievous offender was the book's closing essay, "Manifesto: A Press Release from PRKA." Written as a quasi-"call to arms," it read as far too preachy and left me wishing for a better ending to what was generally a wonderful collection of essays (Or perhaps that's a huge meta joke, based off of his discussion of Huck Finn's widely panned, deus ex machina ending).
He also has quite a few essays on the nature of literature and writing itself, and its evident to see how his interpretation of good literature and writing has shaped Saunders into the talented writer he is today. Some were more satire and experimental--with varying degrees of success. I enjoyed "Woof: A Plea of Sorts" but thought "A Brief Study of the British" went on for longer than it needed. Still its refreshing to see more experimental work.
Overall, "The Braindead Megaphone" Is edutainment at its finest. (less)
In general, the “Best American” series is more often than not, a mixed bag and gamble. I find that whether or not I find the series successful is sole...moreIn general, the “Best American” series is more often than not, a mixed bag and gamble. I find that whether or not I find the series successful is solely dependent on the Guest Editor’s taste in reading matching up with my own. The way the series is structured, a series editor (in this case Robert Atwan) whittles down a veritable pool of submissions from various publications for the best 100 or so essays from any given year, and the guest editor picks, in his/her own personal opinion, the best 20 for the book. I read the 2005 edition of the “Best American Short Stories” and found that Michael Chabon and I have vastly differing taste in fiction, and therefore found the experience rather uninspired.
I had higher hopes this time around as I generally admire Christopher Hitchens as a writer. Overall, I was pleased, but by no means blown away. All of the pieces are well written, but Matt Labash’s “A Rake’s Progress” is the only one whose writing really left a lasting impression and reminded me very much of Gay Talese. Essays covered a wide variety of intellectual topics ranging from eyeballs to sadistic necrophiliac lions to a discourse on how Einstein divided America’s Jewish population. I’d recommend this book to anyone wanting to brush up on long-form essay writing, or looking for inspiration for creative non-fiction writing with the caveat that some of the pieces will probably be uninteresting for those with no desire to read about sometimes obscure topics such as 18th century French poets or George Orwell’s political and literary evolutions. (less)
The book was recommended to me by my boss, but when I looked up other reviews on goodreads, I was disheartened to see so many people start off their r...moreThe book was recommended to me by my boss, but when I looked up other reviews on goodreads, I was disheartened to see so many people start off their reviews with "I never really thought Steven King was much of a writer, but..." The man was recently voted the number 1 best-selling American author (and one of the most prolific), so regardless of whether or not he's "high brow" literature, he's doing something right.
Admittedly, before reading this book I was only familiar with the works of Stephen King through television and movie adaptations of his work. That being said, this is a book is a must-read for any aspiring writer. The book reads as a semi-autobiography, and a semi-"How To" book on the ins and outs of fiction writing. It's got a lot of insightful tips on how to get started, the tools needed, editing, and even includes some exercises. He even gives a nice little list of books every aspiring author should have/know (Strunk's Elements of Style, for instance) and his own personally recommended reading list. He has a very Hemingway-inspired view towards prose where less is more, which may not appeal to some. However, its a view that definitely has its merits and probably contributed to much of his success. Most of it was stuff I was already familiar with, but was a nice refresher.
For me, the most interesting part were the bits where he described his own writing experience--his brief stints with journalism as a child, the spike where he posted all his rejection letters, the moments that inspired his first novel Carrie. More or less, his story left me feeling inspired and eager to write in a way few other things have. For that reason alone, I would recommend this book to anyone who wants who hopes to someday make a living off of writing. (less)
I had heard only good things about Malcolm Gladwell as an author prior to reading this book--and I can see why.
Gladwell is a great story teller. He ta...moreI had heard only good things about Malcolm Gladwell as an author prior to reading this book--and I can see why.
Gladwell is a great story teller. He takes a concept about intuitive decision making and makes it a fascinating read. The stories he tells to illustrate his point are written in a very engaging manner; so much so it doesn't really feel like you're reading anything educational at all. There's even sections where you're asked to test yourself based on your own preconceptions.
As a whole, if you take the book as an illustrative piece about the wonders of the unconscious decisions people make everyday--its a successful book. I know it made me think about the way I make decisions, and introduced me to some new concepts/theories that I'd previously been unaware about. Gladwell also takes some well known (i.e. New Coke vs Classic Coke) real-life examples to illustrate his point.
However, if you're looking at the book in terms of "well what's Gladwell's point, what's his thesis, what's he trying to advocate?" I think you're going to be disappointed. I don't think it was his intention to say that all people should rely more on their intuitive decision making instincts. Like I mentioned earlier, I think its more illustrative; its saying, "Hey, there's a lot of dimensions to the human decision making process we haven't explored yet" and while there may be pitfalls and downsides--its something worth exploring.
Summarily, it's an entertaining read as well as thought provoking. But I think you'd do wrong to take it at face value as absolute truth. (less)
An interesting essay that reflects the historical period it was written in; Tanizaki goes into painstaking detail about the differences between Wester...moreAn interesting essay that reflects the historical period it was written in; Tanizaki goes into painstaking detail about the differences between Westerners and Japanese in terms of "light"; it can be interpreted as a larger metaphor for resentment towards Westerners at the time of the Meiji Restoration and a call to return to "Japanese-ness".
Can also be interpreted as slightly racist, but I think it's better to just take it for what it is and put that into context while reading. (less)
As a whole, Outliers took a really interesting approach towards answering the question about why some people are much more successful than others. I t...moreAs a whole, Outliers took a really interesting approach towards answering the question about why some people are much more successful than others. I think with Gladwell though, you have to read him and take what he's saying as something meant to give you a different perspective.
I agree with some of his critics that some of his theories are not thoroughly explained. The trap of Gladwell is that you might get enticed by his admittedly fluid writing style and take what he's saying as absolute truth. But if you take the trap of treating his theories as complete poppycock, you're also doing a disservice and not getting anything from his books.
Ultimately if you read this book, the best thing to do is to just take in what he's saying as an alternative explanation for success and see how it applies to your life. He brings up some really valid and interesting points, like how your birthday, background, and work ethic really make a difference in an individual's success. It's interesting, and thought provoking which is what a good book *should* be. Yes you should read it critically, but reading critically doesn't mean finding flaws and hating a book because its popular to do so/it's not perfect.
I will criticize his definition of "success". Success is relative and Bill Gates' kind of success may not be success for the majority of people.
Overall, I enjoyed this book and Gladwell really knows how write in terms of making non-fiction read like a story. It's engaging and interesting and the validity of its content is wholly up to the reader. But I think it's worth a read. (less)