Category Archives: Book reviews

This is an ongoing list of my reading habits…

Fantastic Voyage

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Fantastic Voyage
Fantastic Voyage

What a journey! Especially back in 1966. A journey through the body, through the heart, and onward toward the center of the mind.  Shades of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage is just as exciting and adventure-filled if not more so. Indeed, maybe more so with all of the new technological innovation one hundred years later since Verne.

Although Asimov wrote the novel, it was not his idea. FV is a novelization of the 1966 movie. The real credit, which Asimov relates, goes to Otto Klement and his partner Bixby, and to the many technicians and scientists who contributed to/were consulted for the movie idea.

Still, FV  as a novelization is an engaging read that still holds its own to this very day. BTW, so does the movie from which this book emerged.

Besides reading FV, make a point to view the movie, too. If made today FV would have to have a different tone, of course: it would take on frenzy and mayhem, much more than pacing and scientific explanations. I also hope it is not remade  either, or if so, perhaps without Raquel Welch this time – she was not fantastic in the 1966 movie.

Nonetheless, Ike provided an captivating written  version – as always.

Uncle Dynamite

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Mmmmmmmmm…

Pure candy for my tastes: P G Wodehouse novels! Today’s nougat is the 1948 vehicle Uncle Dynamite. When Uncle Fred, fifth earl of Ickenham, is let loose, one can be quite sure all will go topsy-turvy until resolving into a new order – all the while as Uncle Fred distributes his light and good intentions to the world and its actors.

Uncle Dynamite
Uncle Dynamite

3 or 4 times a year, I enjoy a return to the Wodehouse catalog of near 100 titles. Of the many titles read, I realize they are all very much the same, except oddly different.

In common:

  • English country houses
  • Bumbling aristocrats
  • Twisted romantic plots
  • Impersonations
  • Pilfering
  • Strong matrons to be avoided, etc.
  • French windows
  • On again, off again engagements

Differences:

  • New characters playing old roles
  • New twists on the same old, same old plots
  • New twists in language use and description
  • New twisted advice given

Examples:

The advice I give to every young man starting out to seek a life partner is to find a girl whom he can tickle. (page 27)

It was silly of him to take your breaking the engagement so seriously. My dear wife broke ours six times, and each time I came up smiling. (page 68)

A knock-out  drop in his bedtime whiskey and soda would, of course, be the best method, but I happen to have come here without my knock-out drugs, Idiotic of me. It is madness to come to country houses without one’s bottle of Mickey Finns. One ought to pack them first thing after one’s clean collars. (page 168)

All mirth and madness! Always a go-to selection when I am in the mood for lightness, gaiety, and harmless romps. Boffo!

Shakespeare by Bill Bryson

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Shakespeare
Shakespeare

This is the illustrated edition of Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare (2009 from the 2007 text), which is one of the best no-accounts of any of the no-accounts concerning the Bard’s life.

Bryson always speaks to me in a gentle manner albeit with a subtle tongue-in-cheek, especially here as he takes us for a walk through signatures, plays, lives, deaths, and sundry other items that all lead us to the same conclusive conclusion: We just don’t know! Sure, we can conjecture through all of the thousands of books about Shakey, but in the final analysis, we just don’t know! We just can’t prove!  Just like other great men who have changed our lives and perspectives – think Jesus, thing Buddha, et al – we know what they said, but we have no proof about their actual existences (and even then, we do not know for sure what each really said, if anything at all)

Even in the plays and poems of Shakespeare: We know nothing! Corrupt editions, bad typesetting, poor handwriting, unregulated spelling and grammar, et al againus, still we know nothing for sure!

The beauty of the world…the paragon of animals! (Hamlet, Act 2, scene 2)

Bryson illustrates, step-by-step, the marvels in reshaping history with every new iota of data found, or how to weave a whole history out of nothing.

As always, as well, the minutiae he digs up is always of great trivial knowledge (like in his At Home or in The History of Nearly Everything). One example in this book is about tobacco:

Tobacco, introduced to London the year after Shakespeare’s birth, was a luxury at first but soon gained such widespread popularity that by the end of the century there were no fewer than seven thousand tobacconists in the city. It was employed not only for pleasure but as a treatment for a broad range of complaints including venereal disease, migraine and even bad breath, and was seen as such a reliable prophylactic against plague that even small children were encouraged to use it. For a time pupils at Eton faced a beating if caught neglecting their tobacco. (page 81)

For me, it is factoidal passages such as this that makes each Brysonian expedition a treasure trove: in the end, who even cares if we know nothing about the main topic? It is the milieu of the times that actually has any true effect at all.

Regarding theatrical history and evolution, here are factoids just as engaging as the those concerning the possible life of this playwright;

  • at this time, theater began its true rise as an public entertainment
  • but because of plagues, theaters were closed for extended periods of time
  • due to the want and competition between theaters, new plays always were in demand, and performed but only a few times
  • plays were strictly regulated by the Master of Revels
  • actors had to remember many more lines and characters due to small troupes, increased number of characters, and high variety in turnover
  • even in times of great poverty and plague and disasters, theatergoers continued to pour in no matter what the cost (similar to the movie boom during the depression and world wars of 20th century America).

Theatres  boomed in the years just after Shakespeare’s death, even more so than they had in his lifetime. By 1631, seventeen of them were in operation around London. The good years didn’t last long, however. By 1642, when the Puritans shut them down, just six remained – three amphitheatres and three halls. Theatres would never again appeal to so wide a spectrum of society, or be such a universal pastime. (page 202)

By the time Bryson comes to the end of this polemical investigation – amidst the speculations, rumours, and red herrings concerning Shakespeare’s personal life and written legacy, he can emphatically conclude: “Only one man had the circumstances and gifts to give us such incomparable works, and William Shakespeare was unquestionably that man – whoever he was.” (page 247)

CIG to Amigurumi

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The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Amigurumi (2010) by June Gilbank inspired me to design and knit out a few of my own. Although ami’s are usually crocheted, I went  a knit route for a smoother texture.

CGI Amigurumi
CGI Amigurumi

The smaller the ami, the more it should be crocheted for the cute bumpy texture. This baby narwhal is crocheted:

Baby narwhal
Baby narwhal

 

 

 

 

 

The mother narwhal is knit:

Narwhal
Narwhal

 

 

 

 

 

As is Ella Phansa and her bull of a mate Elmo Phonso:

Ella Phansa & Elmo Phonso
Ella Phansa & Elmo Phonso

 

The Joy of Zentangle

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Thanks to my wonderful partner Jo who, through our wonderful friend Sherry, exposed me to this art, I am now finally tangling on my own with the assistance of this wonderful book.

Joy of Zentangle (2013) from Design Originals is a very useful guide that shows you just a few of the many tangles(101 in all here) to make (and how-to make them) and will inspire you  in all of your tangled moments.

Joy of Zentangle
Joy of Zentangle

Here are a few of my new tangles:

Tangle 1
Tangle 1
Tangle 2
Tangle 2
Tangle 3
Tangle 3

Blondes Die Young

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Although some folk think you cannot judge a book by its cover, I do not always agree and am drawn to investigate some titles just because of their artwork; thus, Blondes Die Young (1952) by Bill Peters.

Blondes Die Young
Blondes Die Young

On the rack as a $2 used book bargain, I fell hard for this Blonde. She had all the right stuff:

  • Blonde
  • Sultry pose
  • Lingerie
  • Cheap murder mystery
  • 1950s pulp item

Looking further under the hood, I found just what I like sometimes:

  • Terse sentences
  • Steamy prose
  • Wild metaphors and similes
  • High seediness factor
  • Chicago locale

Sample 1:

It was rush noon hour at Chicago’s Union Station and getting a cab was like finding an empty lifeboat during a shipwreck.

Sample 2:

The redhead looked demure, The expression was as incongruous as an elderly spinster’s conga.

Sample 3:

She didn’t have a chorus girl’s body, with voluptuous breasts and hips, but there was a clean functional line to her that I liked.

There you go.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Straight – no chaser.

And then:

  • Over
  • Resolution
  • Remorse
  • Onto yet another day

In. Out. Done.

Shark Tales

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Shark Tales: How I Turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business by Barbara Corcoran (with Bruce Littlefield) is the 3rd incarnation of the same book. 2003’s issue was titled Use What You’ve Got. Then, it was re-issued the following year under If You Don’t Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails. Since 2011, it has been swimming under as Shark Tales, riding the wave out on the popularity of the the Shark Tank television series.

Shark Tales
Shark Tales

And that is exactly the reason why I choose this to read upon finishing Lori Grenier’s book on ideas, investments, marketing, and “Shark Tank.”. For my tastes and interests, though, Barbara’s book did not match up. The latest version has a section added about some of her experiences on “Shark Tank,” but none of them are really worth any serious weight. As you’ll see, the adage holds true: You can put lipstick on a pig, but when all is said and done, it’s still a pig.

The main part of this recycled book recounts Corcoran’s lessons as a youth weakly attempting to parallel her years as a real estate tycoon. Before reading, I had almost as much respect for her as I did for entrepreneurial Lori; however, after this exposure, I see Corcoran as just another shark who preys on the weaker (then again, that is what sharks do, especially in the hunter take all game of real estate).

To be fair to Barbara, though (who has risen above strong odds against her), her misapplied intent does have value as it pays homage to her overworked mother:

“‘In the end, Mom, it all comes down to this: All my life, you never told me I couldn’t. You only told me i could.'”(page 227)

as well as Barbara’s own latest intent:

So far, I’ve had an amazing ride and figure I have about fifteen good years left. I plan to use those years helping as many people hit the jackpot as I can. I can’t wait to see what’s next. (page 290)

But her business advice tips are not anything new or earth shaking, especially 1) create a ‘need’ buzz for products, especially if no one wants your product (page 268), and 2) not everyone knows everything – you don’t have to get a new business right off the ground running, but you do need to get it going. (page 277)

Alas, though, and alack, too, this accounting is not even much of an insight for those learning about the real estate game. There is no playbook, so to speak – most businesses succeed by  a weirded combination of luck along with the right connections.

Like the Fonz, it appears that the shark has been jumped. Whoa! He-e-y-ay!

Galaxy S4 the missing manual

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To those have been following along, I have produced another lengthy gap in my posts. Why, this time?

Well, I have a new phone, and I needed to learn its ways.

Samsung’s Galaxy S4 is really a great computer that just happens to have a phone component available (which is quite impressive, too)! In fact, there are so many capabilities, I needed to dig below the surface and use a book/manual to peel away the S4’s full functionality.

Galaxy S4 missing manual
The Missing Manual series

So, I did.

Overall as most manuals go, there could be more pictures, or arrows pointing at several items within a picture, but the missing manual was quite helpful.

Also, as with most manuals: Application practice  longa, Manual brevis. I still have much of a curve to explore here, but now that I’ve passed into the other hemisphere I should be more available for other pursuits.

Regarding The Missing Manual series: It was quite useful, but in the future, I would still prefer the Visual Start series for new tech and programs, if available.

Jeannie Out of the Bottle

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Jeannie Out of the Bottle
Jeannie Out of the Bottle

Jeannie Out of the Bottle is actress Barbara Eden’s autobiography, written with Wendy Leigh in 2011.

Ms. Eden has always been a sweet, but level-headed actress and singer throughout the decades — hard to believe she in now in her early eighties, as hard to believe that I am now in my late fifties (and have made it through this far, yet).

What drew my attention to this book was an advertisement in out city’s newspaper that offered free tickets to an event that Ms. Eden would be headlining. Her book was mentioned, and I picked it up on a whim since much time has passed since I last indulged in a tasty tattle-tell tell-all entertainment-world bio. The result was much less a salacious accounting of Hollywood through the decades and a more-or-less informative documentary about how-things-are-accomplished in the entertainment racket. When I finished reading, I was convinced that I wanted to meet her, but by that point, her event had wrapped up the evening before. Alas. And alack, too!

Ms. Eden has earned my full respect for how she has played her hand all throughout. Like me, she has had her hands full of challenges; like me, she has had her own ups and downs; and like me, she has encountered many trials along the way and has risen above them. Regrets — we’ve each had a few, but then again, too few to mention. We both did what we had to do — and saw it through without exemption.

Barbara Eden is such a class act, that even Don Rickles never laid into her when he had a chance; and when offered a million dollars by Playboy for a nude-shoot, she turned them down without a blink (even though her family needed the money). But when it comes down to belly-button exposure, she was not a prude; it was the network’s skittishness, instead.

The only seduction that she succumbed to was saying any cuss words in a written performance (many, many years later…) Unlike Barbara Eden, I can cuss like a sailor when provoked — evidently one of the few differences we share.

I have lost many people along life’s path; Barbara had a stillborn childbirth, and her other son was a drug addict for many years, who eventually overdosed. We somehow learn the skills to continue on. And we do:

  The wonderful thing about my business and about my life is that I never know what’s around the corner. I’m very lucky to like what I do and to be able to work at it so happily and for so long. I’ve always considered my career to be a great joy and a great gift. I love it, and long may it continue. (page 262)

A true class-act, indeed, I reiterate.

In the final analysis, we both have grown throughout life’s challenges. As well, life will enfold, all in the blink of an eye…

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

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Mohsin Hamid has written the ultimate self-help book for one who wishes to extract the true elixir from life.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

As a young man pursues wealth by cornering a piece of the bottled water market throughout the years, the character “You” finds the true meaning of existence.

This novel parallels the format of well known self-help programs; each chapter presented here echoes what other formulas, too, suggest (but each with its own especially clever spin):

  • Move to the City
  • Get an Education
  • Don’t Fall in Love
  • Avoid Idealists
  • Learn from a Master
  • Work For Yourself
  • Be Prepared to Use Violence
  • Befriend a Bureaucrat
  • Patronize the Artists of War
  • Dance With Debt
  • Focus On the Fundamentals
  • Have an Exit Strategy

… all the while chance encountering “the pretty girl” along the way, as she herself follows her own program towards unmitigated success.

Not quite what Lori Greiner and other Shark-Tankers would suggest, but all-in-all, life unfolds to the inevitable no matter if you rise, or if you fall; inevitably you will at least go the route of the later (just ask Everyman).

“You” was always most rich when he and “the pretty girl” finally put away their quests for success that kept them apart.

If you can, please get the edition with this shown cover (or at least look carefully at it ) — the whole story is encased by this single drop of water.

From the last page:

…But it does not matter now. She is here. And she comes to you, and she does not speak, and the others do not notice her, and she takes your hand, and you are ready to die, eyes open, aware this is all an illusion, a last aroma cast up by the chemical stew that is your brain, which will soon cease to function, and there will be nothing, and you are ready, ready to die well, ready to die like a man, like a woman, like a human, for despite all else you have loved, you have loved your father and your mother and your brother and your sister and your son and, yes, your ex-wife, and you have loved the pretty girl, you have been beyond yourself, and so you have courage, and you have dignity, and you have calmness in the face of terror, and awe, and the pretty girl holds your hand, and you contain her, and this book, and me writing it, and I too contain you, who may not yet even be born, you inside me inside you, though not in a creepy way, and so may you, may I, may we, so may all of us confront the end.

Take that, Sartre!!