Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I had several books come through all at once.

God Bless you, Dr. Kevorkian: Kurt Vonnegut - Call it chicken soup for slightly odd soul. I love this guy's work. This particular book is one of his more absurdest offerings, with the author supposedly undergoing several Near-Death procedures in order to speak to a variety of famous, infamous and unknown dead people. Funny and thought-provoking.

The Enthusiast: Charlie Haas -I picked this one up because the back of the book said he wrote Gremlins 2. I saw that film. I'm not sure why I watched it. The same is pretty much true of The Enthusiast. Occasionally funny, occasionally touching, occasionally insightful. The book meanders all over the place, starting as what might be farce or satire and eventually turning to sentimental schmaltz. Sort of forgettable.

A Framework for Understanding Poverty: Ruby Payne -This one was way outside the box for me. It's basically a teacher's manual and workbook for understanding and teaching historically impoverished inner-city kids. The basic gist is there are unspoken rules in each social class. Your success in life is based on your ability to understand and apply the rules. Most of these rules are things like how to talk to people in particular ways and in particular situations and what sort of values are assigned property.

If you're a poor kid, growing up in a housing project, you start off screwed because you do not know the rules --almost as bad, the way your world operates discourages you from having the capacity to learn them easily. It's not intentional, since the classes are cultures to themselves. Rising above your beginnings, in some cases, means accepting certain things you'd have thought beneath you.

I don't know that I agree with all of it, but I definitely can see some of her points. It was eye-opening.

Better Body in Six Weeks: Anita Bean -This is almost cheating to add to my 100, but I'm really at the point, when I'd kind of like to be done. This books gives a series of workouts to follow to improve strength, agility and flexibility. It's for beginners like me, who maybe know where the gym is, but isn't precisely sure what all the damned machines are for.

I've wanted to expand my workout for weeks now, but have sort of stymied by a lack of knowledge. I don't know what I'm doing past my hamster wheel activities. This book gives workouts and has nice, big pictures of what to do and on which machine.

Monday, August 17, 2009

33,32, 31

Three books this week, but really one was a leftover.

Zane Trace: Allan Wolf -An unusual story about grief, acceptance and suicide told with humor through poetry. Zane is your average, confused teenager. His family is crazy and he feels a little off kilter because of the loss of his father and his occasional epileptic seizures. He takes to drawing and writing on his bedroom walls and begins to believe the things he draws and writes become real. After the death of his grandfather, he embarks on a trip to Zaneville, Ohio to end his life, but instead travels along strange highways of the human mind.

A pretty trippy read done in an unusual way.

The Luck Factor: Dr. Richard Wiseman -I've bitched about my weird luck for years. Holidays and birthdays have always seemed like unlucky affairs: dark periods where I will suffer, go broke and feel like the gross underside of an old, high school desk.

This book offers advice on how to fix it. The basic premise is luck is really about awareness. People who let themselves pay attention and stop worrying so much about how bad things are or how bad they're going to be tend to have better luck.

It's a psychological approach to luck and what the hell, I'm trying it. So far, well... it's hard to say, but nothing too terrible has happened. I feel luckier, like good things could happen to me. So, maybe they will. We'll see. I'm just trying it out. If it doesn't work, I can always go back to bitching about the holidays and my birthday.

Age is just a number: Dara Torres -Olympic swimmer Dara Torres did the unthinkable in 2008, she medaled twice at the Beijing Olympics at the age of 41. She broke her teenage, prime-of-career, sprint times and smashed some of the ideas about how long someone can remain competitive at an elite level.

It's not a particularly informative book. She doesn't really explain how someone who is not her could do it, but uses her own struggle to remain competitive as an example of what can be done with determination, hard work and good science.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Strange Luck and 34

I actually have 34 and 33 done, but I can't remember the title specifically off-hand. It's under the couch or something.... I'll tack it on next week. No worries.

The Survivor's Club: Ben Sherwood -I have a morbid streak to me I feed often. I like books about people barely surviving or maybe not surviving disasters both personal and global. Keeping it together, enduring, outlasting means something to me. I don't know if these stories give me some sort of nourishment or if I'm hoarding them up for when the shit really hits the fan or if I just need something to compare my own small-scale tragedies to.

I like 'em. This book takes a leisurely look at how and why people survive all kinds of traumas and gives tips on what the average person can do to increase their odds of surviving. Some of it is obvious: healthier, younger people tend to do better in airline crashes. It also helps if you pay attention, have a good attitude, but are realistic.

Some of it is funny: Want to know where the best place to have a heart attack is? It's Vegas. They have defibrillators on the floor of most major casinos and the staff are trained to use them. Your odds of surviving there are much better pulling the one-armed bandit than if your heart seizes up while you're at the mall. Also it doesn't hurt to have a little faith in something: God is fine, but latching onto your kids needing you can be reason enough to keep going.

There are stories about amazing, even seemingly impossible, survivals and recoveries from traumas most of us will be lucky enough to never know. It's cool stuff.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Awake and dreaming

I've always considered myself to have pretty strange luck. I'm very lucky at some things (avoiding being killed, getting unlikely chances to do things) and awful at others (women, maintaining vehicles and large appliances, keeping homes or money).

This was particularly evident the other day when a couple of ugly things happened in a short period of time. On the way home from work, an old guy who was probably lost, backed into me while I was at a stop sign (I saw him coming and fast and very quickly slipped the car into reverse, making what could have been both expensive and possibly deadly into something only aggravating. He scratched the bumper then sped off). Waiting for me at the mail box was yet another rejection letter, which just plain hurt. Then, by the end of the evening, I figured out the washing machine is shot, the fridge is following close behind and the toilet won't be long after that.

None of these are tragedies, but they all suck and kind of made me feel like I'd angered the gods or at least a reality television celebrity. My luck seemed to have run out. I was upset.

But... the right information at the right time. A book I've been reading about survivors talks about luck and the idea that a lot of good and bad luck is the result of things you can control: conditions you set up. In Buddhist terms: seeds of karma blooming.

You can't control everything, not what other people are going to do, but really is it really such a bad thing that I avoided having my car totaled --even if the downside is I didn't get to tell the guy he was a dumb ass for not paying attention? From a pretty reasonable standpoint, it was a lucky break for us both that I reacted like I did. Nobody got hurt and the damage to my vehicle, at least, is barely noticeable.

The washing machine is twelve years old and has been moved half a dozen times. The matching dryer for it died two years ago. Is it really a surprise or bad luck that it's leaking like a sieve? Besides, as much as having to do my entire household's laundry across town seems like an imposition, I don't really mind and it's only temporary.

The toilet is probably as old as the house I live in, which isn't in great shape to begin with. Did I really expect it to last forever? As far as the fridge... eh... It's probably winding down it's lifespan, too.

And what about my book? Well, what does it mean when you get twenty or thirty rejections? Have I been doing all I can to get it published? No. I haven't. I figured that out a short while ago when it was sort of pointed out I might have been doing it wrong in the first place. It's actually been pointed out a couple of times. Have I really sharpened my query letter or synopsis? No. Could I concede the book might not be the best it could be? Yes.

Anyway, again, the right information at the right time. If I want my luck to get better, it helps to put myself in position to have the opportunity for it to get better. My luck isn't so bad. It just needs a little work.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Still swamped lately...

T.D. Jakes -Shayne Lee : A not particularly in-depth, a little sloppy, but eventually biting biography of South Charleston-born preacher turned televangelist T.D. Jakes. There was some information, though a lot of it was pretty sketchy, but ultimately I barely got a sense of the man. I got the impression Lee was proud of Jakes accomplishments, but not so crazy about what they actually were.

The Perpetrators -Gary Phillips: I picked this one up because it looked like a high-octane, hard-boiled sort of adventure story. It's that, but it sucks. The book is on par with an S&M porn novel I found in the trash once, only with much less heart. The dialogue isn't believable. The characters verge on comic book parody (which Phillips evidently writes. This fact alone made me want to cry. I like comic books). The scenes are contrived, at best, and the plot moves along like an 8-bit video game. This is shit fiction at it's worst.

I only finished the thing because it was short.