Monday, July 31, 2017

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and OrganizingThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a great book of half truths. As one of my wife's previous book club reads, I saw it and thought "why not?" I was in between books and didn't have one on deck.

The truth half of the book- don't hang on to stuff that doesn't make you happy. Don't waste your life accumulating stuff. When organizing, focus on reducing volume before creating or buying storage solutions. Everything should have its place, and there are two reasons things are messy: you don't know where they go, or you aren't very good at putting them there.

The false half of the book: (These are my statements, or responses to themes in the book that I did not agree with.) Things are things, they aren't alive. They don't have feelings, and they don't talk to you. They may elicit emotion, but that comes from you, not the thing. Happiness doesn't come from having nothing. It is OK to stock up on something if it makes you happy and is not a sign that you are a hoarder. For example, I believe that being prepared for a natural disaster is a good thing. Some modest stores of food, clothing, and other supplies brings me peace. I do not have a fallout shelter with a 5 year supply of MREs and guns however, nor is my day-to-day life filled with anxiety over the potential for disaster.

In the end, this book was OK. It had too many contradictions for me, with the chief one being that the author promoted living in a way that brought you joy, but then portrayed her ideals and lifestyle as the true way to experience joy. If have some extra time and you are interested in tidying up something in your life, sure read this one. But I would take it as something to think about, not a prescription or process to follow.

Friday, July 21, 2017

You Can Write a Mystery by Gillian Roberts

You Can Write a MysteryYou Can Write a Mystery by Gillian Roberts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I struggle with nonfiction. It is sad but true. This is a great book that covers not only the basics of writing a mystery, but the basics of writing any fiction book. And it handles that huge task in around 120 pages! What more could you ask for? It was well written, concise, and the tips were perfect for the budding author. And yet it took me somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 weeks for me to finish it! Something about nonfiction just doesn't hold my attention, even when it is a topic I'm interested in, it is well done, and gets straight to the point. I find my mind wandering after half a page, or even after a paragraph or two. It was ridiculous. I've encountered this before with other books and had suspicions that the books were boring or the content was off, but this is empirical evidence that it is all me. This was a great book and I recommend it highly. I also need to get some medication or something...

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

Warbreaker (Warbreaker, #1)Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What to say about Brandon Sanderson... Really, there is only one thing to say. The man is a flipping genius.

Every book he has written has had deep characters, unexpected plot twists, unique magic systems, and have been true page-turners. And they are all connected! I have to believe that unless he massively implodes like a one hit wonder rapper that just won the lottery, by the time his career is over he will be the GOAT (greatest of all time, for all you non NBA fans out there) of fantasy fiction.

So I'll stop geeking out over the Sanderson, and get back to the book. As the first book he wrote, it is a book about princesses. Can anyone spell "cliché"? Well, my spell checker can. But he took a mediocre fantasy setting with princesses and added a cool magic system, deep political and religious themes, and a bloodthirsty magic talking sword. How can that go wrong? And it didn't! I thought it was amazing, with plot twist after plot twist until you are so turned around you don't know good guys from bad guys. Then you have to keep reading to find out.

The only flaw I saw in this book was the magic system. The concept is cool, and the action scenes it enabled were also cool, but the system itself is tricky. I felt he got stuck fairly often. For example, at the end Vasher has to get fancy with his breath, and needs color to do it, so he uses the bloodstains on his clothes? If that's possible, no one is without color, they can just cut themselves in a pinch. Or they can dump wine on their clothes to stain them, and then immediately use the color and not even have to send their clothes to the cleaners. You couldn't torture an awakener that still had breath, because their own blood would give them power to escape. Anyway, that is one example. There are other details that bothered me, but the key thing is that it is a finicky magic system. I wonder if that isn't the reason Sanderson has been slow to come back to this series. I felt the same way about the Rithmatist.

Having said that, I loved this book, and look forward to reading more like them. I still need to read Elantris, and then I might break down and start the Stormlight Archives. My son is a huge fan and has been tempting me to read them, although that goes against my rule of not reading an in-progress series. We'll see.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek

Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon GreatnessEat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Once again, my marathon training schedule had eaten through my downloaded audio books, and so I grabbed this one on Audible. It was a great choice for the situation. You can't complain about a 20 mile training run while listening to Scott's experience running 50, 100 or 135 miles... and winning! The insider look at the life of a world-class ultra runner is definitely motivational.

On the other side, a large portion of this book was devoted to promoting vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. That was interesting, but less so than the running part. I can appreciate how Scott feels it contributed to his success, but I can't help but feeling like he was crazy every time he started talking about it.

And then there was the personal life part of the book. I don't know that it was meant to be a subplot, and it was somewhat subtle, but when I stepped back from the story, it was about all I saw. How did his running affect his view of the world? While he was a professional athlete, how did he contribute to society, and how did he detract from it? Were the relationships he touted throughout his story the type of relationships I want my cross country running sons to seek out? For me, none of those answers were positive ones, and it shaped my view of the whole book.

So at the end of the day, while I found the book to be motivational from a running perspective, for me this was a story about how to succeed at running while failing at life. It shows how to justify a lack of focus on others by focusing on "finding" yourself. Being "present" is not necessarily bad, except where being "present" keeps you from planning for the future. While I'm sure Scott is a nice guy to talk to, he is not a role model for my kids, or for me for that matter. My life is defined by my commitment to my wife and my family, not to my profession or hobbies. That sounds a little pointed perhaps, but it is how I felt about it as I listened to the story, pounding out mile after mile by myself, hoping to succeed at a personal goal while not costing my family too much.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd (Flavia de Luce, #8)Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

By now there isn't much I can say about Flavia that I haven't already said. I guess I can add that she has a superhuman ability to operate in all kinds of weather. If I was walking, riding, or sleuthing in the rain and snow like she does, I'd definitely at least complain about it, if not hesitate to go on or even completely give up. Then again, I plan on retiring to Arizona some day.

Of course, the situation with her father has implications for the rest of the series, but Bradley kept that as a subplot the whole time, and I'm not sure what to think. Part of me feels like it is the replacement conflict now that the Harriet and Buckshaw questions seem to be resolved. Or rather than the new conflict, this could be a resolution to her father's financial problems, thereby letting the series either wrap up or move on to new territory.

I am now in the unfortunate situation of waiting for the next book to come out in September. I hate that, but I have no one to blame but myself. As for this book, I give it a solid 3 stars. I enjoyed it, but nothing in this series is wowing me at this point.