Archives for posts with tag: book review

“The Wind Rises” was released under the original title “Kaze tachinu”. I will refer to the film as “The Wind Rises” as this is the title under which I saw the movie.

“The Wind Rises” is directed by Hayao Miyazaki, written Hayao Miyazaki comic and screenplay.

So.

My favourite school of philosophy, The Kyoto School, was/is made up of Buddhist philosophers. One of the biggest criticisms that was leveled against the “school” was that the philosophers supported Japan’s involvement in World War 2 and, after it was over, it was thought that, as Buddhist thinkers, the school should have condemned involvement. I remember my prof telling us that some of the philosophers could never reconcile themselves in their support of the of the war.

This film delves into some similar themes – the main character, Jiro, wants to fly, and when prevented from becoming a pilot by near-sightedness, becomes an airplane designer, who then has to face the certainty that those designs will be used for war and, to logical conclusion, killing people.

The story is told through a combination of dream-scapes, where Jiro interacts with his idol Italian aeronautical engineer Caproni as, in his life he navigates through historical events such as the Great Kanto Earthquake 19 23, the Great Depression, TB epidemic, rise of Nazi Germany and Japan’s involvement in World War 2 and his own life and love.

I love these Studio Ghibli films – they evoke fantasy and whimsy while still keeping a root in reality. The film is nicely textured and with typical Japanese restraint. The characters offer wry lines and moments of humour and they are always 3-dimensional, complex beings. You feel for them, their hopes, dreams and loses.

Although not graphic, there are scenes in the movie that suggest the violence of war and death. I thought that it was nicely handled in abstraction and left it to the viewer’s imagination to understand what is going on and come to their own emotional conclusions.

This film has more in common with the most recent Studio Ghibli film “Up On Poppy Hill” which doesn’t contain any magical or fantastical creatures that are touchstones of Studio Ghibli films – this film is about reality and remains fully aware that a more realistic style is appropriate.

In conversation about this film with a friend, I noted that just because a film has a PG rating and is animated doesn’t necessarily mean that it is film for children – the themes and emotions are complex, yet restrained, so the content of the film are appropriate for all ages, the themes may be a little boring for children, The pacing too, is quite relaxed and there are many jumps through the passage of time, without guidance.

I loved it.

I do have one issue with this movie – according to the schedule, I was supposed to see a Japanese-language film with English subtitles. What I saw was a dubbed film in English. Now, I think the English-speaking cast did a great job, always good to hear the talents of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but I actually wanted to hear the Japanese and read the English. So, for the people who did up the schedule and posted the information inside the theatre – wish you guys would have gotten this right on behalf of people who wanted to hear the original Japanese, I would have seen another screening given the chance.

 

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“Cloud Atlas” is written by David Mitchell.

I sat there, after seeing the movie, thinking “I missed something.”, so I figured I better go and read the book.

So. The book.

The book is structurally beautiful – 5 stories are told half-way in historical chronology, a sixth story completes and then the 5 stories are completed in reverse historical chronology, so it ends with the first story. I kept think “like a rose unfolding”, but is actually more like a multi-layer sandwich.

Mitchell is obviously very talented and has an ease with language – this books encompasses 6 different genres, 6 different types of writing, 4 different historical periods, 2 imagined historical periods and many, many different characters’ voices.

I enjoyed all 6 of the stories and the connections between them are interesting and the break-up of each narrative make more sense in the book when compared to the film. It also works as a book, as most of the characters are reading to find out about the story and character in the previous story.

Look, I have to question the excerpts of reviews from the likes of The New York Times and the Guardian UK, I can’t believe that they have never read something like this book before, where things and people interconnect and where an author offers up so much in a novel.

Mitchell doesn’t challenge or inspire, he entertains and entertains masterfully. His structure and words are beautiful, yet he doesn’t offer any new insights in the human condition or reveal any new truths. It is a beautiful experience, but there are moments while reading that I could only think that he was trading style over substance. I get the feeling that the reviewers may have been distracted by the beauty of the structure and the narratives of each story that they assumed that they were treated to something deep and meaningful.

I don’t know, maybe I read too much philosophy to really appreciate this book or maybe I’m just looking for something more challenging.

The book put some of my issues with the film to rest – the motifs don’t carry through all the stories, the theme of reincarnation is only suggested once, and the book suggests more about interconnectedness – the failings of the film aren’t the film’s, they are from the book!

So, yeah, this book is 6 really fun reads, but as a unit this book is decidedly lacking.

At least now I know.

 

“Distrust That Particular Flavor” is by William Gibson.

Disclaimer – William Gibson is one of my fav authors of all time, so yep, I admit I am more than a little biased when it comes to reviewing his stuff. So, I guess you should take this review with a grain or at very least remember that it was written by…dare I say? A fan.

For those who aren’t familiar with the works of William Gibson (kind of unbelievable to me, but I admit my bias) you will be surprised how much impact this guy living and writing sci-fi in Vancouver has shaped and influenced your life and experiences. If you have heard the any words beginning with “cyber” – most recently in the Canadian news “cyber-bullying” – heard a joke about wanting to download skills or information or implanting a chip in your brain to avoid reading or practicing, you have been influenced by William Gibson.

Gibson made his career writing sci-fi that primarily imagined a technology-based dark future.

This book is a collection of non-fiction essays that Gibson has written and published in various sources over the years, his first publication of this kind.

Interesting read, Gibson’s non-fictions style is strongly evocative of his fictional style, winding through unexpected twists and turns and his allows himself to get caught up the journey, often he ends a piece by explaining how he isn’t sure if he accomplished the point he was given in writing the piece.

The essays are prefaced by Gibson sharing a bit about his writing process and the difference in his fictional and non-fictional process. For me, this part was fascinating, I loved hearing and reading about the artistic and creative process and that he took some time to explain his struggles with writing non-fiction and taking direction and not writing to his content.

Gibson’s essays are on various topics – his love of Japan, collecting, watches, his personal adventure of getting a computer and learning about email, eBay and using the internet.

Excellent read that indulged my love of non-fiction essays but still felt like a short stories.

I recommend this to anyone who has read anything by Gibson or anyone who wants an insight into the non-fictional mind of the guy who imagined the internet years before technology made it so.

“Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal” by Christopher Moore.

Christopher Moore excels writing alternate views of major, well-known stories. I loved his take on “King Lear”, with his book “Fool”; and “Lamb” is very much in the same vein, offering an accounting of Christ’s unlikely childhood from ages to 9 to 30, those “lost years” that are not ever mentioned in the Bible.

It is bouncy, crazy ride, full of sex, love, friendship and philosophy. Moore messes with historical accuracy for the sake of a good story (notably when narrative Biff puts forth both the supposition that the Earth is round and the Theory of Evolution.) I love the multi-religious studies and the travels and adventures these young men have before Christ becomes The Messiah. Moore skillfully addresses what many philosophies and dogmas often are loath to accept – that the prescribed way of living from religions and philosophies are more similar at their core than they are different.

I really enjoyed the Biblical misquotes and how Moore plays fast and loose with books of the Bible – knowing the Bible isn’t a requirement to enjoy this book, but I found, for me, it added to the enjoyment and humour.

The friend that suggested this as a read noted that her Dad found that there was a lot of sex in this book, which I totally agree with. But, compared to Moore’s book “Fool” the sex isn’t much of a focus, but I would suggest that those easily offended by imaginative and honest descriptions of all kinds of sex give Moore a pass.

I found “Lamb” less funny than “Fool”, but perhaps that is my comfort and knowledge of the subject, also I find that it is far more difficult to find alternate takes on Shakespeare compared to the amount of material about the Bible and critiques on faith, religion and philosophy. It wasn’t laugh out loud funny, but funny in a way that provokes thought.

Moore’s sense of humour and facility with language is very enjoyable and I’m very happy for another opportunity to play around in his brain. This book is a great time for anyone who isn’t easily offended and enjoys being provoked – I loved it.

 

“Halting State” is by Charles Stross.

This book was recommended to me by the good staff at Bakka Phoenix Books in Toronto.

Set in the near future (2018), this book starts with an impossible robbery that happens in a game world/virtual reality called Avalon 4 and brings together unlikely characters such as a gaming programmer, a police sergeant and a forensic accountant. What follows is an unraveling of everything the characters (and we) think we know about the separation between reality and virtual reality and an exploration of the games we think we are playing and how these intersect in our real lives.

I liked the way this book explored the concept of deep play, how we use technology and how the implications of being dependent on technology.

Also, I loved how the book kept referring to old school gaming – Dungeons & Dragons and LARP (live-action role play, for those not in the know) – it seems that when I speak to virtual gamers in my life, I recognize them for fellow gamers, but I am seldom recognized in the same way in return as a gamer. This continual referring to made me feel very much a part of the game and gave a nod to the roots of virtual reality gaming, which was greatly appreciated.

The shifting points of view between the major players was interesting and suited the story. If I’m honest, I believe this was very effective in drawing the reader in and leaving the story with the plausible thought that perhaps the characters are merely avatars/characters who are being played by one real person…things that make you think.

The only thing about the book that I disliked was the book being written in second person POV. I admit that when reading fiction I have a basis for stories written in third person POV, I like first person POV, but third person POV is my favourite. Second person POV always seems to knock me out of the story and it is not only hard to write, but difficult to read. I think Stross has written it really well, but I’m not fond of it. If this is something that detracted from my enjoyment and I’m interested to see if Stoss’ other novels use a different POV. But, that being said, I think it was very effective use, considering the gaming and virtual reality themes.

All in all, a good read where fantasy, sci-fi and crime genres intersect. Nicely done.

 

 

“Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” is written by Amy Chua, published by The Penguin Press

Been meaning to read this one for a while – received a lot of press recently and caused something of a stir in terms of creating a dialogue about different parenting styles and how the author was supposedly endorsing a specific way of parenting. The backlash against this book was pretty intense for a while there and seems to have touched something of a chord in a lot of parents about how to best raise children.

This book, contrary to the interviews I heard and other reviews, isn’t a book about how to raise children in accordance with “Chinese parenting” styles, rather it is a book about one mother and her two children and their successes and failures.

It is interesting to journey with Chua through various piano and violin lessons, auditions, concerts and the ups and downs of raising children to be “prodigys”.

Very interesting and intriguing read, but at times I have to admit that I’m not sure who I feel sorrier for – the mother who goes to tremendous amount of personal sacrifice and time to do for her daughters, her two daughters who by the end of book seem to feel resentful to each other and their mother or the father who is a mostly silent character in all this.

Chua does a nice job of defining what she means by “Chinese mothers” and what she means by “Western mothers”, which is much-needed in a book talking about cultural differences in parenting and she rightly points out that “Chinese mothers” aren’t limited to females of Chinese descent, but rather means a greater group of parents who are more structured, more militant than the average permissive parent that seems to abound in today’s current society in USA and Canada.

I liked it.

Chua offers some interesting insights and some interesting views about parent-child relationships and how children learn to become adults themselves including how the parent-child relationship changes over time. Cleverly, she provides an interesting tension in the differences between her two daughters, the elder one who is responsive and obedient and the younger, rebellious one.

Chua shows that what works for one child, for some children will be the complete downfall of another. Interestingly, she almost completely destroys the relationship with both children in the process, but she gets there and learns her lesson.

About mid-way through the book, Chua starts dealing with a sister who is diagnosed with a rare form of aggressive leukemia, which provides an extra layer of interest and tension to her family dynamic and struggles to raise her two daughters.

Enjoyable kind of read, but not exactly what all the hype was about. This was less a book about how to raise your children in accordance with Chinese parenting practices and more about how every child and family is unique, she ends up making more of a case for birth order psychology than for parenting style.

Good read, especially you have four hours and are interested in stories about parenting styles, but now after reading, have to say that it wasn’t a book that was true to its hype.

Or maybe I missed the point again.

“The Gum Thief” by Douglas Coupland

Oh, hey I read a book this morning.

I feel kind of silly writing a review for this book, first, this book is about 5 years old and Coupland has continually evolved since writing this. One of the works that I plan to take a closer listen to is his 2010 CBC Massey Lectures “Player One: What is to Become of Us”. I heard about 2 hours (not in a row, but total) of the 4 hours and it sounded intriguing, so, yes, going to check it out.

But back to the book at hand. Ok, in my overnight bag.

Reading this book I had this really funny feeling that I read it before and even wrote a review for it.

I double checked – I hadn’t.

But it seemed just, very, very familiar. So I’m not sure what that is about.

I enjoyed it.

One of the things I like best about it is how Coupland plays with the narrative style. He writes stories within stories and short stories with novels and layers the plot so that it becomes unclear as to what is really going on.

He manipulates language in fun, witty and interesting ways and his characters volley back and forth. Love the fresh imagery and break down of the structure of a novel.

One of my fav things about reading Canadian authors is sometimes, sometimes I recognize the geography, the landmarks, the unique Canadian “voice” – Coupland brings it.

Funny thing about this book is, really, for a satisfying read, not much happens. Seriously, if you are looking for a book when people change, learn things, grow etc. if that is how you like your novels and characters then move along – this book isn’t for you.

Me, I’m good, give me a book that is clever, entertaining, uses language in a new and interesting ways and I’m good, very good.

Not a “must read”, but an “I’m really glad I read this”.

“Naked” by David Sedaris

Oh, look another book review.

I really like Sedaris, this is the second book I’ve read by him, the first being “Me Talk Pretty One Day” and he is hilarious, laugh-out-loud-on-the-train funny.

In this book, Sedaris tells a series of autobiographical short stories about growing up, his family and various “adventures” hitch-hiking across the USA. Of course, this being Sedaris nothing is ever “normal” or straightforward – the hitch-hiking is with his quadriplegic best friend, his mother does impressions of his various ticks and behaviours as she serves his teachers drinks when they express concern about his troubling behaviour (licking light switches among them) and celebrating a family wedding in the face of death.

Sedaris is a funny, funny guy, a contributor on National Public Radio and has won numerous awards for his writing – none of these being reasons you should read this book.

It is a funny book, by a funny guy and as someone who loves short stories, I am a huge fan of how he organizes his books – these are short, funny, touching cat-naps for the brain and body.

Of course, I see that this book was published back in 1997, so you may have already read it. Oops! Sorry for being so late!

 

“Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” – by Lisa See, published in 2005.

This book was recommended to me by my friend Laura, who in a very short time taught me much about being and having good friends who are women, thanks Laura.

This book is about the life-long friendship between two women in 19th Century China, following them from girls, when they become “same olds” and through their lives, the agonies of foot-binding, the joy of marriage, the disappointment of marriage, traditions regarding families, child-bearing and through an unexpected and bitter misunderstanding that tears them apart.

This is a fascinating look at the fascination relationship between two women and the relationships of these women with other women in their lives – their mothers, the matchmaker, mothers-in-law, sisters, other women in the household and villages.

Of special interest is the method of communication – a secret written language, used only by women called nu shu, unique as the only written language solely used by women.

See does a great job of expressing the inner life of the main characters and how they see the world and how they navigate their personal lots in life – the characters are believable and true, without being overly romantic or sentimental. The characters are flawed and realistic and as they grow, they gain deeper understanding into themselves, the world around them and their place in it.

I’ve never read a book about women in China in this time, this being my first, I have to say how enjoyable it was, a pleasurable way to spend a mid-morning to early afternoon indeed. If you have ever wondered about the friendships of women in societies controlled by men, where their movements are restricted and where the spheres of the public and private are separate I highly suggest picking up this book.

Very enjoyable.

non-fiction by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

I don’t know why I keep calling these “reviews”. It is more like “Hey, I read this book and here is what I think.” I don’t know the word for that, so if someone knows let me know and then I will stop calling these reviews.

This book is a really personal read – passed to me by a friend with the suggestion that I read and enjoy. There is a special place in my heart for books that people pass along to me – I don’t much about anatomy, but I think it is somewhere near the left ventricle. I love being handed a book and told to “Go read.” I imagine it is like a wild animal being let loose back in their natural environment.

Mortenson and Relin bring together in this book two of my favourite things – climbing and learning. True story too.

Mortenson’s adventure into building schools begins with his  failed attempt to climb K2.

He is saved by his porter (we know them as Sherpas on Everest) and nursed back to health in a small remote village. He gets to know some locals, promises to return someday and build a school for the children. A year later – he does.

From there the book documents his adventures while trying to build schools for the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan. His efforts take him on a journey through meeting famous climbers and Alpinist, meeting villagers, learning how to pray, gaining a loyal body-guard, making friends for life, meeting Mary Bono in Washington, meeting war lords, seeing some of his first graduates. As time goes on the project that began as one school in a remote mountain community morphs into building women’s centres, paying teachers employed by governments who don’t pay them, proving scholarships for students who attended the village communities.

Everywhere he goes, he makes friends with unlikely people, wins allies and makes a lot of promises to build a lot of schools. He keeps every single promise. Where schools are knocked down by bombs, they re-build, as some elements try to stop the building, citing that is it is immoral for girls to be educated, they find more reasonable people who want girls educated.

I’m really bad at expressing how deeply affected I am by this book.

I dream about climbing sometimes when I sleep. Sometimes when I’m on the wall I think about rock, thing about going up and coming back down.  I’m not and will never be a high-altitude climber – I get altitude sick. And am afraid of heights, so I guess that lets you know how much of an ace climber I am. When you hear about climbers in the media you don’t hear about many things – you don’t hear about the failed attempts, the high-altitude blindness, the way the heart can rupture in the chest and the how badly a climb attempt can go.

Mortenson’s attempt was an incredible failure. He turned it into something beautiful. He continues to turn it into something beautiful.

Some of my fav things are in this book – climbing, education, learning and social justice. The compassion this man feels goes all the way through the book like mountain stream.

If you buy this book, then buy it through the website: http://www.threecupsoftea.com/

They donate 7% of your purchase to Mortensen’s foundation and they use the money to build schools, teaching children, especially girls.

Yeah, this is must read.

I cried and sniffed my way through much of the book – it really moved me.

I am in great debt to the friend who told me to read this book.