January 29, 2009

Rich Dad, Poor Dad ***

*** Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert T. Kiyosaki, 1998

On page 132, Kiyosaki says, "I am a terrible writer." And it's true. He is a terrible writer. So why the three stars? The information.

I've heard of this book for ten years, but just got around to reading it. I wish it had been around when I was in high school. Things might have turned out differently. Not that things turned out so bad, but, you know.

The ideas are not new, but are presented in a context that makes them compelling, if somewhat repetitive. Here are a few ideas from the book:

From Buckminster Fuller: Wealth is a person's ability to survive so many number of days forward . . . or if I stopped working today, how long could I survive?

An asset as something that generates income rather then expenses. This is not the typical definition. When you buy a house to live in, you're not buying at asset. It actually generates expenses, not income. When you buy a rent house, you're buying an assett. (Assuming the rent will cover the mortgage and then some.)

You should have a profession and a business, until you can afford to have only a business. By Kiyosaki's definition, your prefession is what you do to make money. Your business is what makes you money without you working for it.

Don't work to earn, work to learn. Get jobs that help you build your business, not your profession.

I recommend you grit your teeth through the writing and give this book a read. It is not overstating to say it could change your life.

January 22, 2009

Peace Like a River ****

**** Peace Like a River, Leif Enger, 2001

[Note: This review was written in 2003.]

I’ve been pretty busy these days, what with doing the day job, playing gigs 3 nights a month and writing my second novel. But when I called my editor GaryT and told him I was coming to see him, he said I wouldn’t be allowed in the door unless I had read Peace Like a River. So I bopped down to my local Logos Bookstore and grabbed a copy. I read it on the plane from Honolulu to Nashville.

I strongly suspect that GaryT recommended this book to me as a tonic against hubris, a totally unnecessary step, I might add. Regardless of the reason, I’m glad he did. This is one great book. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Time Magazine put it in the top five for the year. The Christian Science Monitor, the Denver Post and the Los Angeles Times all named it the best book of the year. Inside the front cover are accolades from over twenty publications.

So, what’s all the fuss about? A story set in the rural Midwest in the 1960s, narrated by an eleven-year-old boy named Reuben Land. His most constant companion is his spunky eight-year-old sister, Swede, who has been justifiably called the Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird) of this century. His teenage brother Davy is a hunter/woodsman of rare skill, but when violence invades their family, Davy ends up in jail on a double-murder charge. The bulk of the book takes place on the road as the family searches for Davy, who becomes a fugitive from the law.

The father Jeremiah Land is the glue that holds everything together even when it is falling apart. Enger gives us a portrait of something one rarely sees in fiction, or in real life, for that matter – a deeply spiritual Christian without religious pretense, a disciple at any cost. He not only believes, but practices a divine calculus that turns common sense on its head. His own epiphany transforms him from a medical student to a school janitor, to the dismay of his wife, who leaves after it becomes apparent this change is permanent.

While there is much to admire in the story Enger pulls together, in what happens, there is even more to admire in the storytelling itself, in how he says it. He doesn’t pull any punches in vocabulary; he uses the work that fits, be it small or large. His style sometimes borders on the ornate, but far from detracting, it enhances the story as it unfolds.

And, in case you fear, as I did at first, that this book might end up as some cheesy moralistic tale, lay your fears aside. It is all as real and raw as life itself. As Andrew Roe of the San Francisco Chronicle said, “Peace Like a River serves as a reminder of why we read fiction to begin with.”

This, my friends, is a great read.

January 15, 2009

The Bookwoman's Last Fling ***

*** The Bookwoman's Last Fling, John Dunning, 2006

More back story on Dunning and the Janeway books in my review of The Holland Suggestions. From my experience, the Janeway books are three star books. I almost took this down to two stars because the story drags in a few places, but Dunning's characters always deliver, so three it is.

I read Booked to Die and The Bookman's Wake back in 2000, but didn't realize there were more. I grabbed this one at Half-Priced Books, but now I see there are two others before this one, The Bookman's Promise and The Sign of the Book. Guess I'll drag out the old pocketbook and get them in the queue.

I also reviewed Dunning's Deadline in 2008.

January 9, 2009

Special Topics in Calamity Physics ***

*** Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl, 2008

First Novel

When I told The Number One Son that I needed some reading for the return flight, having finished The Lincoln Lawyer, he handed me this book, saying, "I finally found a novel that uses more big words per page than yours."

It is true that I don't suffer from hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia and I'm not ashamed of my vocabulary, but I'm not particularly given to sesquipedalianism. Actually, it's not hard to find a novel with a richer vocabulary than mine, and very readable ones, such as Peace Like a River.

Blue, the protagonist of Special Topics in Calamity Physics, is apparently a genius, hence her propsensity for the occasional (OK, OK, the frequent) size 15 word. She also has a tendency to provide references for all her allusions, some of which are amusing, others helpful. (Oh, so that's what she meant by that metahor.)

This is a good book. It passed The Ellilptical Test, made easier as it is a large hardback, and therefore easier to keep open while I'm sweating the lbs away. I liked the book and would recommend it, but there were a few . . .

Nit-picky things that bugged me:

p. 28. Howie Easton, who went through girls the way a deer hunter in a single day of shooting could go through hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Anybody who has actually been deer hunting knows you don't go through hundreds of rounds of ammunition. If you don't get it with the first shot, you probably won't get the chance for a second. And if you do shoot off hundreds of rounds, you won't get to shoot anything, because no deer will be within miles of you after the first few rounds.

p. 30. You got to put your goods on display, babe. Otherwise, not only will the boys ignore you but - an' trust me on this, my sister's flat as you - we're talkin' the Great Plains of East Texas - no landmarks - one day you'll look down and have no wares at all. What'll you do then? Don't try to tell Mark Cloud about the "Great Plains of East Texas." Anybody who has been to East Texas knows it's choked with forests. That's why it's called the Big Thicket and the Piney Woods. Head west on I-20 and from Tyler, TX to Columbia, SC it's 1,000+ miles of solid trees. Just a glance at this GoogleMaps satellite view tells the story. Great Plains of East Texas my hind foot!

p. ??. illicit vs elicit. I know how things like this can creep into a book. After Welcome to Fred came out, Ray Blackson pointed out that I had reversed Francis Marion's name, calling him Marion Francis. (Oops!) And Merle Bobzien found several typos, including Monkeys instead of Monkees, and rue instead of roux. (And me a good East Texas boy and all, with a Cajun uncle who made shrimp gumbo for Thanksgiving. I'm ashamed.) Even so, I was a little bugged to see this common switcheroo, especially since the protagonist is such a word braniac.

p. 432. He found him on a fantasy island called Paxos, livin' high off the hog. Although you will find a lot of people saying off, the proper saying is living high on the hog.

  • Living high off the hog has the word high describing how you are living. You are living high, and you are doing it off a hog. What the heck does that mean? How does a hog enable you to live high?
  • Living high on the hog has the world high describing the location on the hog. Specifically, it describes which cuts of meat you're eating, the more expensive cuts higher up on the flank. You're eating the good stuff, living high on the hog.

Yes, picky stuff, but hey, Blue is presented as an intellectual, borderline if not true genius. I can't cut her as much slack as I would another character.

Still, it's a good book. Give it a shot.

January 5, 2009

Daniel Lanois - The Maker

First up from the "Songs you won't hear on the radio" files:

The Maker by Daniel Lanois

Lanois has a moody, atmospheric sound. I find this song very moving with its themes of alienation, knowing and being known and allusions to the fall. He's produced Grammy winning albums for U2, Dylan, and Emmylou.

The music video

Emmylou cover

Willie/Emmylou/Daniel cover

Dave Matthews cover


Note on the Emmylou cover: About 25 years ago I jammed with the guitar player, Buddy Miller. Somewhere I have a tape of me and The Woman, Buddy and his wife, Julie, trading songs in his living room. With Daniel (Whittington, not Lanois) talking over one of my songs. He was 3, I think.

January 1, 2009

2008 Reading List

  1. *** The Lincoln Lawyer, Michael Connelly, 2005
  2. *** From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman, 1989
  3. *** The Maze of Bones, Rick Riordan, 2008
  4. *** The Battle of the Labyrinth, Rick Riordan, 2008
  5. *** Making a Good Writer Great: A Creativity Workbook for Screenwriters, Linda Seger, 1999
  6. *** Creating Unforgettable Characters, Linda Seger, 1990
  7. *** The Italian Secretary, Caleb Carr, 2005
  8. *** The Alientist, Caleb Carr, 1995
  9. *** Advanced Screenwriting: Raising your Script to the Academy Award Level, Dr. Linda Seger, 2003
  10. *** The Shape Shifter, Tony Hillerman, 2006
  11. *** The South Beach Diet, Arthur Agatston, 2003
  12. **Property Management for Dummies, Robert Griswold, 2001
  13. *** The Shape of Mercy, Susan Meissner, 2008
  14. **Murder on the Rocks, Karen MacInerney, 2006
  15. ** Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, B J Lossing, 1848
  16. *** The Year of Living Biblically, A. J. Jacobs, 2007
  17. ** The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley, 1982
  18. *** Demon: A Memoir, Tosca Lee, 2007
  19. ** R. Holmes & Co., John Kendrick Bangs, 1906
  20. *** Romancing Hollywood Nobody, Lisa Samson, 2008
  21. ** Texas: A Year with the Boys, by William Hoffman, 1983
  22. ** Anatomy of a Rodeo Clown, Aleta Lutz
  23. ** Burning Bright, John Steinbeck, 1950
  24. *** The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters, Christopher Vogler, 1992
  25. ** A Place Called Wiregrass, by Michael Morris, 2002
  26. *** Muslim Women in America: The Challenge of Islamic Identity Today. Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, Jane I. Smith, Kathleen M. Moore, 2006
  27. **** River Rising, Athol Dickson, 2005
  28. ***+ Straight Man, Richard Russo, 1997
  29. * The Shack, William P. Young, 2007
  30. *** Deadline, John Dunning, 1981
  31. *** Retribution, Stuart Kaminsky, 2002
  32. *** Embrace Me, Lisa Samson, 2008
  33. *** To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis, 1997
  34. ** The Holland Suggestions, John Dunning, 1975
  35. *** Finding Hollywood Nobody, Lisa Samson, 2008
  36. *** Skeleton Man, Tony Hillerman, 2004
  37. *** My Name is Russell Fink, by Michael Snyder, 2008
  38. *** Action Plan for High Cholesterol, Arry Durstine, 2006
  39. *** Sleep Toward Heaven, Amanda Eyre Ward, 2003