I find myself doing a lot of public speaking these days: presentations on my research, guest lectures in undergraduate courses, leading course sectionI find myself doing a lot of public speaking these days: presentations on my research, guest lectures in undergraduate courses, leading course sections, that sort of thing. I'm also one of those crazy people who actually enjoys public speaking: the bigger the audience, the better. Lecturing doesn't leave me terrified or drained, not even a little bit. Put me in front of a crowd and I'll feel energized, excited. It's probably my favorite thing about graduate school.
Am I turning this review into a "me me me" kind of thing? Perhaps, but public speaking can be pretty me-tastic so I don't mind too much. I do think that part of the reason why I love performing so much is because I've been doing it since before I could remember. I started out ice skating, and performed at shows, competitions, and evil USFSA moves in the field tests for over a decade. I cheered in front of my entire high school at pep rallies, in front of pretty much the entire town at football games (it was a small town, so football was all we had going on), in front of televised national audiences at competitions. In college, the NCAA basketball games I cheered at weekly were usually televised. I'm convinced that performance is something of a learned skill (although, note that I actively chose activities that involved performance, so there's probably also a third variable at play here). I mean, once you fall on your ass on ESPN doing a stunt that didn't work out the way you expected it to, lecturing in front of a couple hundred undergrads who are probably too hungover or too busy playing candy crush to listen to you is totally cake.
Anyway, I expected this book to be a compendium of tips for public speaking, and it wasn't, not really. Instead, it was one part memoir, one part non-narrative tips, which ended up a bit awkward. I would have liked the appendices at the end to be in narrative form, like the rest of the book, because the illustrative stories do lend a sense of concreteness to Berkun's advice.
Berkun's major point about public speaking is a good one: you need to organize your thoughts, and you need to practice (especially when it comes to the transitions between points). There's no use giving a talk that's not well thought-out: your audience is not going to learn something if you're only presenting them with a half-baked idea. Academics don't really have a problem with the thinking (when it comes to thinking, we're pros), but I'm as guilty as anyone of not thinking about how my argument can be summarized in talk form. I've definitely over-planned and given talks that had way too much information, because I didn't want to be accused of simplifying or leaving things out. And I've also seriously messed up transitions. I put those in my notes now, so that I can see them in presenter view. It works for me.
Another good piece of advice: talks are about the audience, not the speaker. Sometimes, speakers (especially less experienced speakers) want to make sure they come off as smart, so they give these sesquipedalian talks that only serve to obfuscate their topic. Here's the thing: the audience doesn't care if you're smart. The audience wants to feel like they're smart. It's more effective to give your points simply and clearly. Be to the point. Once you start throwing in huge words and double negatives, you've lost the audience.
The biggest takeaway is that, regardless of what happens, you really can't screw your talk up too badly. Even though everyone (or, at least, the attentive subset of everyone) is looking at you, they're not paying as much attention to you as you are. Think back to all the talks you've been to, and I bet you won't be able to remember that many mishaps. A typo on a slide might become a thorn in a speaker's side, but the audience probably won't remember it the next day.
Here's an anecdote from me, and then I'll quit talking (I promise!). Back in high school, we had these pep rallies where the entire school would gather (separated by class level, naturally. Us '04 kids wouldn't be caught dead talking to those '05 losers or smug '03 bitches), watch the cheerleaders perform, and generally get stoked for whatever "big game" was upon us. At one of these rallies (I think sophomore year) I somehow landed flat on my ass doing a high kick. And everyone noticed. Seriously, that whole week I got stopped in the hall and asked if I was "that girl that fell." I was mortified. Remember, in high school the stakes are high, and mortification is frequent (if the embarrassing stories from Seventeen magazine can be taken as a source, young women can't even purchase tampons without extreme mortification). Luckily, this incident didn't stop me from making varsity the next year, or from getting into college, or from earning a masters degree. The only lasting impact is that I now have a good story to tell at cocktail parties. And we all need good stories to tell at cocktail parties, right? So the next time you have to give a big speech, just remind yourself that, worse case scenario, you'll be laughing about this over manhattans in the very near future....more
I really used to think that Tolstoy was pretty sane, for the most part. Then I went and read this little book, and now I have to give up that idea becI really used to think that Tolstoy was pretty sane, for the most part. Then I went and read this little book, and now I have to give up that idea because, seriously, this book is completely....bizarre. But mostly in a good way.
I find it strange that, in Tolstoy's Russia, your companion on the train may have just happened to have murdered his wife (that's not a spoiler; it's on the synopsis in the back of the book, and we find out about it right upfront). He gives all these reasons why the bitch had it coming, including some random stuff about why marriage is bad, and why it's totally wrong to have sex for reasons other than procreation, but he also talks about how children ruin marriages (which is actually somewhat supported by empirical research, sad sad, but I digress). So I think the main point is that no one should ever bang anyone for any reason, ever, because it leads to jealousy and death.
Anyway, this is a great novella, but a little bit too awkward in theme for me to give it my usual "Tolstoy deserves all the stars" rating. Definitely worth a read, though, and you can probably knock it out in a day (I didn't, because I started reading this while I was way too busy with other stuff, and that might have impacted what I thought about this in a negative way. Oh well.).
Tolstoy slyly inserts this little bit of intertextual commentary, which I found amusing "These sufferings were so intense that I remember I was tempted to go out on the track and throw myself under the train and so end it." Well played, sir. I'll end with that.
Actually, I'll end with the suggestion that you really do listen to the Beethoven sonata that lends its name to this novel. Classical music and Tolstoy! All you need is a fur coat, a lorgnette, and maybe a nightcap or two. Combine those with the polar vortex we've been having recently and you'll be in a very 19th century Russian mood....more
3.5 stars, but I'm rounding down because this was far longer than it needed to be.
I'm not even going to bother to tell you what a Golem or a Jinni is:3.5 stars, but I'm rounding down because this was far longer than it needed to be.
I'm not even going to bother to tell you what a Golem or a Jinni is: other people have tried, and it really does make sense once you start reading. This is a story about outsiders to humanity, acting in a way that comes as unnaturally to them as it comes naturally to us. This is some nice fodder for both philosophical treatises on humanity and, by proxy, the immigrant experience. Unfortunately, the book never does this quite as effectively as, say, The Unbearable Lightness of Being or The Jungle.
But that's not my big issue with this: after all, most books aren't as good as the two I just mentioned. My problem was that it seemed that Wecker didn't know whether she wanted to write an updated fairy tale, or a sweeping epic narrative, or a quiet book about humanity, or an action-packed adventure story. So she kind of just wrote them all, and as a result things got a little muddled, to put it mildly. Thus, the pacing changed about 2/3 of the way into the book, characters I thought I knew did 180s on me, and story lines that should have stayed separate suddenly coalesced in a way that was so awkward I literally rolled my eyes while eating a grilled cheese sandwich at Panera. The exact moment this book completely lost me was when (view spoiler)[we found out that Joseph Schall, the creator of the Golem, was also the reincarnation of wizard that capture the Jinni. Come on. (hide spoiler)]
You'd think someone with an MFA would know better than to throw all regard to cohesive narrative structure out the window. Then again, it's possible that the MFA just convinces writers that they're totally allowed to break all the rules because, like, they already know them all. It's a good thing Tolstoy never got an MFA: I'm sure it would have drastically reduced his ability to write well.
Anyway, that's not to say this book wasn't fun: it was. It actually reminded me of the kind of mindlessly magical, adventuresome stuff that Neil Gaiman writes, and a lot of people seem to really like that. It's not exactly for me though.
My recommendation is to read The Snow Child instead: Eowyn Ivey managed to do the realistic modernish fairy tale without any dubious coincidences, and in less than 400 pages to boot.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Lots of books about wine follow the same path: they talk about terroir, then about the wine-making process. They'll probably pontificate about oak, thLots of books about wine follow the same path: they talk about terroir, then about the wine-making process. They'll probably pontificate about oak, then explain malolactic fermentation and complain that too many budget wines are unbalanced due to residual sugar. Following a few chapters of that, they say "Cool, so you know about wine now, why don't you go out and buy a Bordeaux first growth," as if we all have an extra thousand bones to just drop on a single bottle.
The Wine Savant is a refreshing respite to these sorts of wine books. Case in point: Steinberger starts out by telling people that it's okay to be a little bit snobby about wine. There's no need to take the super humble route at dinner parties, telling people "Hey, it's just fermented wine juice" because it's not just fermented wine juice, and we all know that. That's not to say that you should be an asshole about things, but there's no reason not to take ownership of your knowledge. After all, music lovers don't dismiss fantastic performances as "just" sound waves.
The short essays in here really are fabulous, especially for those of us who love wine (maybe not for those who don't). Steinberger, like most of us, extolls the virtues of Pinot Noir and Riesling. He talks about the ascendency of Burgundy and the decline of Bordeaux. California, of course, is a complicated subject, but fabulous wineries such as the legendary Ridge get their due. There's also talk about Globalization, Parkerization, and value.
Steinberger's book is quite opinionated, but that doesn't mean you won't learn a thing or two (plus, you'll probably find plenty to disagree with, which is always fun). I'd definitely recommend this for anyone who tastes, quaffs, guzzles, or otherwise imbibes....more
I couldn't help but imagine young Werther as a high school, tweeting about all his troubles to the ether. So, without further ado, I present to you: TI couldn't help but imagine young Werther as a high school, tweeting about all his troubles to the ether. So, without further ado, I present to you: The Tweets of Young Werther.
This is the kind of book that high school teachers should be making self-absorbed teenagers read. They can totally relate, both to the intense feelings of emotion and the complete conviction that no one in the world has ever felt the same way before. I couldn't relate that well, because really Werther just needs to man up and bang someone else, but I still (inexplicably) liked this book. Actually, my affection is explicable: we're talking about Goethe, after all.
I should really step away from photoshop and get back to work....more
Here's what I knew about A Tale of Two Cities before I read it:
-It starts with "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." -Charles Dickens wrote it -The two cities are Paris and London -It involves something about the French Revolution
A Tale of Two Cities is a weird book; I'm taken to understand that it's kind of a departure from the type of stuff Dickens typically wrote. I liked it, but I'm not exactly sure how much I liked it. It's about the reign of terror, so you probably won't be surprised to hear that it's not particularly uplifting. There's a lot of ominous knitting, though, so that's cool.
(view spoiler)[I'm not sure what to think about the ending. It felt a little too...convenient I guess. I don't really get Carton's motivation for sacrificing himself for Darnay. Actually, I don't much get anyone's motivations for anything, and I think that's what prevents me from thinking this book is truly brilliant. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
True story: I just finished reading The Shining and I'm completely freaked out right now. While writing this review, I've turned on The Daily Show (coTrue story: I just finished reading The Shining and I'm completely freaked out right now. While writing this review, I've turned on The Daily Show (comedy) and started making bacon mac and cheese (comfort) in an attempt to return to the real world, where the only thing that scares me with relative frequency is the economy. I don't know how well that will work, because I have an irrational desire to lock my bathroom door from the outside. If all else fails, at least there's wine....unless (and it's possible) Stephen King has also ruined that for me forever.
Deep breath. There are no creepy dead ghost zombie things in my bathroom. I am a scientist and I'm like 99.9% sure of that. If that degree of certainty is good enough for the journals Science and Nature, it's good enough for me.
My history with The Shining began spring quarter, Freshman year of college. I was taking Intro to Film Studies, a course which required a weekly screening of a pedagogically relevant film. For horror, we watched The Shining. Now, Film Studies was in a large lecture hall, with a large movie screen and a state of the art sound system. I walked in expecting some campy old "scary" film. What I saw was Kurbick's masterpiece in all it's analog glory. Let me tell you, biking from Buchanan back to my dorm that night was pure torture. And when I arrived in the Francisco Torres lobby, this is what I saw:
I lived on the 7th floor. I took the stairs.
Anyway, I kind of ended up avoiding reading The Shining for a long time, for a couple of reasons. First of all, I couldn't imagine that the book could be scarier than the movie (and it's not, but it's on par with the movie, which is pretty damn scary). More importantly, though, I knew that Stephen King hated the adaptation, which gave me pause. See, I thought The Shining (film) was brilliant, and I heard The Shining (book) had such contrivances as moving topiary. So, I figured that this was one of those times where a mediocre book somehow became one of the greatest films of all time.
I was wrong, both about the topiary (OMG please do not let me go near any topiary right now and also I am very, very happy that it is winter and all the plants are dead and I do not want them to come to life and try and kill me), and about the book.
Flash-forward to January 2014: I'm snowed in. A so-called "polar vortex" descends upon the Midwest, and for a few days it's too dangerous to venture outside. My brilliant idea is to read The Shining, because that seems fitting. Way to make the feelings of cabin fever dissipate, Casey. Luckily, The Shining (novel), which really is fundamentally different from The Shining (film), is actually incredibly good, and I'm kicking myself for not getting to it sooner. And I'm sure I'll stop being scared of it eventually.
Unrelated: I think I'll be using the bathroom at the Starbucks down the street until further notice. You know, just in case....more
The Happiness Project is a perfectly middling book about being happier through monthly projects. Each month, author Gretchen Rubin focuses on happinesThe Happiness Project is a perfectly middling book about being happier through monthly projects. Each month, author Gretchen Rubin focuses on happiness by doing things like decluttering and not nagging her husband. Is this book worthy? Nope; it's really just blog worthy. It's not uninteresting, except that everything could be covered in about 5,000 words. Having it all unnecessarily written out into around 300 pages made it all seem annoyingly repetitive. By the sixth month of rich white people resolutions, getting through each practically-identical chapter felt like an almost Sisyphian task.
(Sidenote: Rubin reprints blog comments in pretty much every chapter, with no commentary or attribution. This really irked me. If I wanted to read the internet, I wouldn't be reading a book.)
Speaking of rich white people problems: Rubin is rich and white. This mostly didn't bother me, except for the parts where Rubin talked about "ordinary people" increasing their happiness. Being wealthy isn't particularly ordinary, after all. And there was the money chapter, where Rubin concludes (against most empirical evidence) that money buys happiness. Great.
Any book that deals with peoples' problems is going to be highly personalized. Rubin expends a lot of effort trying to nag and yell less. I sure have a lot of flaws, but not those ones, so I had a hard time caring about how hard it was for her to hold her tongue when someone bought the wrong lightbulbs.
Also, if you're looking for a way to keep those health-related resolutions, look elsewhere. There's only a teeny, tiny bit in here about food, which I found strange (my life mostly centers around food, so that would be a large part of any happiness project I did). At one point, Rubin talks about giving up "fake food," but then backpedals and talks about how much she likes Diet Coke (Diet Coke features all too often in this book). At one point, Rubin recounts a meal with a friend, a salad with no dressing sprinkled with artificial sweetener, which sounds unhealthy (where's the protein? where's the fat?) and disgusting.
Overall verdict: skip it or skim it, unless you're really into this sort of book. ...more
A quick little introduction to wine that's too basic for me, but I still learned a few things. Apparently those huge jugs of wine used to be straightA quick little introduction to wine that's too basic for me, but I still learned a few things. Apparently those huge jugs of wine used to be straight up marketed as "burgundy" back in the day, which is kind of hilarious.
There's a super weird section in here where Paul Kreider recommends pretending like you don't know shit about wine in order to not sound like a douchebag. He says you should say something along the lines of "I've heard sometimes sugar doesn't ferment all the way and that makes wine sweeter, did that happen here?" If you know perfectly well what residual sugar is, it's fine to ask your sommelier or friendly wine shop owner about the residual sugar in a particular wine. The way to not sound douchey is to not act like a douchebag....more