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Category Archives: contemporary

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

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I highly recommend animator Guy Delisle’s graphic memoir Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. Deslisle, a French Canadian, had to go to North Korea for two months to supervise the animators his French employer contracted (for their ultra-cheap rates). As you might expect the landscape and city are dreary, dark at night save a lit up portrait of the Supreme Leader. He recounts his dull, ever-present translator and guide. The food is bland and the restaurants dirty. Foreigners are separated from the People. So Delisle’s only companionship is a go-between at work, and other foreigners at the hotel or in the NGO compound, which has parties on the weekend.

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It was interesting to read about the approved responses Capt. Sin, Delise’s handler would give to his queries about the country and to learn of the pervasive propaganda. One “high” point was a visit to the Museum of American Oppression, which was two stories of images (three photos and many paintings) of Americans doing atrocious things to the North Koreans. There are paintings of US soldiers forcing motor oil down the throats of children and other forms of torture including the use of the rack, which seem quite dubious even if you acknowledge that yes, unfortunately, and shamefully, sometimes American military has resorted to torture. Capt. Sin was very disappointed that Delise didn’t react as he’d expected to the museum trip.

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delisle_guy_pyongyangThere are plenty of anecdote’s of the usual the translator isn’t around when Delisle needs him so rather than wait for hours Delisle goes out on his own through the streets of Pyongyang in search of a gift for his godson. “What’s to buy in the DPRK?” you might ask. Delisle did return empty handed as he couldn’t even find a cheap kitsch. Poor North Korea, indeed. Delisle made me feel like a friend he was sharing his tales of North Korea with. I felt his treatment was fair and thorough. I sure wouldn’t want to stay in Pyongyang a minute past two months. If you do have to go, even for a weekend, Bring food. What they offer seems dreadful.

Based on this book, I’m planning to read his books on Shenzhen and Jerusalem. The later I’ve already ordered from the library.

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Posted by on June 11, 2018 in book review, contemporary, fiction, graphic memoir, postaweek, Travel Writing

 

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The Secret Knowledge

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David Mamet shares his journey from liberal to conservative and offers his understanding of his past beliefs and the strengths of his more traditional views in The Secret Knowledge. The book is well written and Mamet offers insights that never occurred to me. I think it’s good practice to taken in insights from a wide variety of perspectives and with that in mind, I got a lot out of The Secret Knowledge. 

If you’ve seen or read, Mamet’s plays, you won’t be surprised by his forceful writing. He packs a punch, which is probably why he likes boxing.

Published in 2014, Mamet doesn’t comment on the Trump Presidency, but he does examine the 60s, 70s, and on up to 2012. He is well read and thoughtful.

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2018 in contemporary, essay, fiction, non-fiction, postaweek

 

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How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 3.09.01 PMScott Adams’ book How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life feels like a friendly mentor sharing tips for success and life experiences. The tone is conversational and the content wise and helpful.

Adams describes how he formed habits that aided his success. He didn’t grow up with parents who had stellar professional careers. In fact, no one in his hometown did. He didn’t have a checklist of goals for year 5, 10, 15. Actually, Adams asserts that “goals are for losers.” Instead, he advocates systems. When you have a goal, most of the time you’re dissatisfied as you’re not there yet. For a short time you glory in achieving a goal or are bummed about failing. Then you’ll probably find a new goal and will return to feeling insufficient. Most of the time, you sure aren’t riding high.

With systems, like being active or learning as much as one can, most of the time you’re in the zone you want to be in. Eventually, this sort of broader challenge will result in the success a goal promises, but along the way, it’s easier to stay positive.

Adams did not have an easy way to the top. No nepotism was available and he wasn’t stellar at any of his corporate jobs. In fact, he admits, he isn’t an excellent artist or masterful writer, but he is good enough. He advises acquiring as many skills as you can because the more skills you have that put you in the competent range, the better. (You need to be able to do these things in a job, but you don’t have to be among the 1% of those in your field.)

I found Adams’ suggestions made sense and are something I’ll apply. Also, I thought the chapters where he chronicles how he had a rare voice condition that made conversation impossible and thereby hurt his speech-giving career, authentic and helpful as far as coping and searching for a solution to a problem that experts say has none was illustrative and heroic.

The book addresses diet and fitness as well as career success. If you’ve got no energy or are sick are you really that successful? Adams is clear that he’s not a doctor or dietician and that his approach to systems rather than goals worked for him. He doesn’t tell you what you should eat or what activities you need to do. Instead he offers new ways of thinking about your daily diet and fitness routines.

Whether you’re starting out or midway through your career, Scott Adam’s How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life is worth a read.

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2018 in book review, contemporary, memoir, non-fiction, postaweek

 

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The End of the Affair

end of the affair My online bookclub read Graham Greene‘s masterful The End of the Affair. I love how he makes Christian theology and faith real and meaningful to his characters – even nonbelievers. I’m impressed that he can make unlikeable people engaging despite their flaws. He captures Bendrix, the narrator, Sarah (the wife/mistress), Henry (the cuckolded husband) and the priest and the atheist preacher in such a way that you feel that God really does love them and us when we’re so flawed.

Here are some more thoughts:

I read this book years ago, but don’t remember how long ago. I now realize that it’s a book for mature readers, or one that the over 30 (maybe 35) crowd must get much better than young adults.

I loved how Greene writes from the point of view of an ordinary man, i.e. not a monster or villain, but a middle class, educated man who must seem quite normal to all around him and how he fills this man with self-acknowledged, un adulterated hate. It’s bold and honest. My guess is few if any writers today would deal with such a strong emotion without overdoing it or making the character implausible.

I loved how theology is absolutely in the water, air and earth of this world. The characters, all non-believers for most of the book, grapple with sophisticated ideas about God in a deep, unflinching way. Again this is bold and I don’t see it much in the modern era. I wonder how an atheist would take this book. Many seem to like their Christians to be simple-minded, superstitious fools (straw men) and a good many of us just don’t fit that mold. Since Greene carefully chose his characters’ traits and background I wonder who his imagined audience was. Was he trying to show non-believers the Christian God more so than to write for “the choir”?

I thought the writing was so masterful and the phrasing strong and riveting. That made the book a “quick” read, while there were also several passages I underlined and hope to remember or come back to.

There is amazing power and significance in a love story with a “sad” ending. (Yet is the break up of an affair sad? I think Greene would say no. I’d agree.) Because we have so few stories that have the courage to take this route, readers and viewers don’t get to experience this catharsis and emotion. It’s quite sophisticated to have an audience experience a character walking away from a relationship. The marketers don’t understand that they’re stunting American audiences’ emotional growth by mainly (only) giving us stories that provide the happy endings that young people crave. I just showed one of my classes Once, a film where the couple doesn’t wind up together. It’s a beautiful, compelling story, rather noble actually.

I’ve been digging around the internet and found some articles on the book. I’m plowing through one scholarly article that looks at desire and desire. It’s quite erudite so it’s slow reading, but I think it’s worth it. I’ll offer more insights soon.

There’s a recorded version of the book with Colin Firth as the narrator, which should be worthwhile and there’s a fairly recent movie that changed the ending, which I won’t bother with.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in British Lit, classic, contemporary

 

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Director’s Brief on Scoop.it

My final project for my Hyperlinked Libraries course.

I’ve been delighted with Scoop.it since I learned about it last semester. Scoop.it, a digital curation tool, not only is useful in school libraries, but I argue should be used in public libraries as it capitalizes on librarian’s skill and aligns well with a public library’s mission. I chose to imagine I was working at my hometown’s library.

To see the Issuu version, click here.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2013 in contemporary, Library and Information Science

 

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The High Window

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[Chandler] wrote as if pain hurt and life mattered.
The New Yorker.

I just love Raymond Chandler and can’t believe I didn’t read his novels till this year. The High Window has Philip Marlowe working for a nasty, rich, cold-hearted widow whose ex-husband’s rare gold coin has been stolen. The story starts simply enough, but soon the body count piles up. First a rookie detective who was following Marlowe is killed. Next an expert Marlowe spoke with, then a third body appears. All are connected to Marlowe, though not closely.

The best thing about Chandler’s writing is the prose. His style is one of a kind. Here are some examples:

“I have a damn fool of a son,” she said. “But I’m very fond of him. About a year ago he made an idiotic marriage, without my consent. This was foolish of him because he is quite incapable of earning a living and he has no money except what I give him, and I am not generous with money. The lady he chose, or who chose him, was a night club singer. Her name, appropriately enough, was Linda Conquest. They have lived her in this house. We didn’t quarrel because I don’t allow people to quarrel with me in my house, but there has not been good feeling between us. I have paid their expenses, given each of them a car, made the lady a sufficient but not gaudy allowance for clothes and so on. No doubt she found life rather dull. No doubt she found my son dull. I find him dull myself. At any rate she moved out, very abruptly, a week or so ago, without leaving a forwarding address or saying goodbye.” (p.12)

He held an empty smeared glass in his hand. It looked as if somebody had been keeping goldfish in it. He was a lanky man with carroty short hair growing down to a point on his forehead. He had a long narrow head packed with shabby cunning. Greenish eyes stared under orange eyebrows. His ears were large and might have flapped in a high wind. He had a long nose that would be into things. The whole face was a trained face, a face that would know how to keep a secret, a face that held the effortlessness of composure of a corpse in the morgue. (p. 76)

Each sentence is flawless.

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2013 in American Lit, contemporary

 

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Some Girls: My Life in a Harem

some girlsJillian Lauren‘s memoir, Some Girls: My Life in a Harem takes readers from the world of starving artists/escorts in New York to the palace and yachts of Brunei. A fascinating, witty read, Some Girls chronicles Lauren’s life through the before, during and after of her time as a party girl/concubine for Prince Robin (that’s his English name).

Lauren candidly shares her feelings and background with objectivity admitting when she’s conned herself vis-a-vis her family, birth mother, drinking, neuroses, boyfriends, jobs and time in the surreal world of royals in Brunei. Smart and funny, the book is more than a tell all though it doesn’t shy away from relating the seamy side of the machinations and competition between the girls from America, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore as they vie for a handsome Prince, who’s married (with 2 wives), cold, manipulative and far from charming.

FYI – It all starts with an offer of $20,000 for two weeks of partying, smiling and pleasing.

Thanks to whoever left this book in the teachers’ book collection.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2013 in contemporary, memoir

 

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