Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Big Bounce, Elmore Leonard

Posted by lea at 1:18 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I'm a self-proclaimed fan of Elmore Leonard and agree with the critics who say he's one of the best (if not THE best) crime writers around, but this book is not one of his best works.

The protagonist Jack Ryan is a fairly likable rogue (even though he takes a baseball bat to some guy's head in the very first scene of the book) who gets himself into trouble, egged along by young, self-possessed, trouble maker and vixon Nancy Hayes, who's playing a game only she knows about. It all seems like a bit of a cliche, but then I found out that the novel was originally published in 1969, so it was probably ahead of its time. Still, it didn't really do it for me. Maybe something about Nancy's character didn't really ring true, but in terms of dialogue, Elmore Leonard cannot be beaten.

Although it wasn't a fantastic book, it still had me reading to the end. Tells you a lot about the author.

Previous Elmore Leonard reviews:
Maximum Bob
Comfort to the Enemy

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey

Posted by lea at 12:08 PM 0 comments Links to this post
This is a difficult review to approach, knowing what a classic this story is (both book and movie) and how it tackles some pretty big issues. I won't even try to pretend this is a literary or artsy fartsy type of review – it's just my gut thoughts and reaction to the book. To begin with, it just reeks of tragedy and there's a sense of foreboding all the way through. I've never seen the movie so I had no idea where the plot was going to go, but my stomach could tell that it wasn't going to go without a fight.

The story is an allegory of what can happen in an institution when too much power is given to one person and left unchecked. Much like Lord of the Flies, it's a social experimental 'what if' that takes the question to its furthest boundary. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the individual in question in Nurse Rached, a passive aggressive tyrant who rules her ward in a mental asylum with a single raised eyebrow and icy stare, which is enough to quell the inmates – at least until the introduction of rowdy loud McMurphy, whose very sanity challenges and upsets the status quo.

McMurphy quickly throws his energy into overturning the Nurse's regime of power and restoring normalcy to the men. At first it's all a joke, a way to while away his time, but it soon turns into a power struggle that involves all the inmates and could potentially (in fact you know it will) turn very nasty. There's a dark thread of violence and abuse of power that runs through the book, from the orderlies' casual abuse of the inmates to the use of electroshock therapy and even frontal lobotomies, aimed to vegetate.

The entire story is told through the eyes of 'Chief' Bromden, an extremely effective narrator who sees all and hears all, yet remains a little distant from the action. The inner awakening of the Chief is thematic in the book, as a result of McMurphy's influence.

My first thought upon finishing the last sentence was, 'Why did Ken Kesey write this book?'. Subconsciously there was a part in me that felt that the book was rather didactic, but couldn't quite place my finger on the lesson. I discovered with a little googling that he used to be an orderly at a mental institution and this formed the basis of his book. He also experimented with drugs, and the first three pages of the book came from a drug-fuelled haze and were never edited out. Ah, suddenly things fall into place. This WAS the 60s after all. Mental disease was something to be feared and never understood, and you can see where Kesey's sympathies lie.

One place it doesn't lie with is women (how's that for a segue?). All the main female characters are either whores or powermongers. And the fixation on Nurse Rached's breasts, culminating in their violent exposure at the end, is somewhat troubling. I'm thinking that Kesey probably didn't have a very good relationship with his mother.

Overall, it's a good read, pretty intense and confronting at times, and also quite dark. While the themes are still relevant today, it would have been far profounder and more impactful in the 60s when the book was first published.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Young Victoria, movie review

Posted by lea at 12:01 PM 0 comments Links to this post
The Young Victoria, starring Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend, is a snapshot of the youthful years in the life of Queen Victoria. It's a lovely movie without too much melodrama, which manages to encapsulate very elegantly the difficulties faced by the young princess who then becomes queen, and makes her relatable to a new generation. The life of royals is always of public interest, and this movie allows a glimpse into this privileged yet restricted world.

The actors were all very good - particularly the two leads (who are too good looking to be royals – not a buck tooth between them). Emily Blunt did a great job portraying the strength, stubbornness and occasional self-doubt of the young Victoria, and Rupert Friend was the perfect blend of gentlemanly concern and masculinity as Prince Albert, seeking how best to serve and partner his powerful young wife. The courtship and love between them is really the central focus of this movie, and the peripheral aspects of political powerplay are only touched on in direct relation to its effect on Victoria.

The sceenplay, written by Julian Fellowes (who wrote Gosford Park and has just been signed up to write Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell) is quiet yet effective, which seems to be his trademark. The positive halo-view of England and English politics is more subtle than the usual in-your-face patriotism of US movies, but despite the unspoken monarchic-apologetic undertone of this movie, one can't help but feel that within the stifling palace walls, the royals can never really know what it is to be a normal person, and could it ever really benefit a country to have a leader so far removed from the common man?

Politics aside, The Young Victoria is an enjoyable movie and recommended viewing for those who enjoy a good drama that doesn't require things to be blown up to be fun.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferris

Posted by lea at 2:47 PM 2 comments Links to this post
You've gotta love this book, at least for the title alone. The idea is a goldmine – who doesn't want to work less hours and make more money? Tim Ferris manages to make it actually sound do-able. The Four Hour Work Week is packed with anecdotes, examples, exercises and step by step instructions on how to become the 'New Rich' - those who work minimal hours and extract maximum enjoyment from life.

There's a lot to be learned from this book, but the standout lessons for me were:

1. Apply the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule)
This applies to so many areas of lives – 80% of our results often come from 20% of our effort – keep doing the stuff that brings the big returns and eliminate the unproductive stuff.

2. Automate
One of the big thrusts of this book is to create a well-oiled machine that can operate even without your presence. If you're required to be on site constantly to keep it going, then it's exhausting and not a good use of your time. If you automate the process via outsourcing or advanced software or whatever, then you free your time and let the cash roll in with very little effort.

3. Set your goals and work backwards to achieve them
One of the exercises in the book asks you to write down in a table a list of all the things you want to be, do and have in 6 months, and the same for 12 months. Then you sit down and work backwards to figure out what you need to do in order to achieve those things, and you start doing them. Now.

This book is a manual of how to set up your own entrepreneurial project or free yourself within the confines of your current job. The practical advice, anecdotes and conversational language made it very easy and inspiring to read. The only thing that didn't work for me was the philosophising in the final section of the book, although I could see how some people might appreciate it.

The Four Hour Work Week is a good read for those wanting to break out of the 9-5, but even more, it's a pure winner for the author.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Spring cleaning my brain with non-fiction

Posted by lea at 10:21 AM 1 comments Links to this post
Non Fiction season begins

There are several non-fiction books that have been collecting dust on my shelf or have been recommended to me numerous times and fallen on deaf ears. I'm a fiction girl. I read for escape, not information.

But here's a challenge for the month of September: apart from my book club book One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, I'm only going to read non fiction to feed my brain and the entrepreurial beast within. My list:

The Four Hour Work Week

Good to Great
Good to Great Social Sector
How to Negotiate Everything
Something from the E-Myth range
One of Zig Ziglar's books

Hmm, obviously this is going to take longer than September. Perhaps October too. Better get started.

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