Saturday, December 13, 2014

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell


I am a latecomer to the ranks of Malcolm Gladwell fans so forgive me if I am a bit overly enthusiastic. I found a copy of the audio version of David and Goliath on my desk just before Thanksgiving. I wasn’t sure if I had ordered it or my husband had but I needed something for the long drive home, on the day before Thanksgiving, when the weather had turned bad, so I popped it into the CD player. I was entranced by the end of the drive. (Graciously, I allowed my husband to have it first since he had ordered it, but then I listened to it morning and night on my drive until I’d finished it.)

“David and Goliath is a book about what happens when ordinary people confront giants. By “giants,” I mean powerful opponents of all kinds – from armies and mighty warriors to disability, misfortune, and oppression. Each chapter tells the story of a different person – famous or unknown, ordinary or brilliant – who has faced an outsize challenge…”

Gladwell begins the book with the titular story of David and Goliath but explains it a bit differently than you might expect. David and Goliath has long been told as a story where the puny underdog wins against the vastly stronger and more dangerous giant through a miracle.

Gladwell contends that “ . . . we consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong. We misread them. We misinterpret them. Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness.”

Goliath was a giant warrior, well prepared for close hand to hand combat with mighty weapons. He didn’t expect a small and agile shepherd boy to fell him from a distance with a slingshot then dash in for the kill once he was down.

Gladwell uses stories from distant history mixed with modern history. He compares some seemingly disparate stories and shows us how the outcome can be explained by similarities you might not realize, as in the stories of Vivek Ranadive, who ran a successful software company, and decided to coach his daughter’s junior basketball team, and Lawrence of Arabia. In these two stories, not having the same advantages as someone else forces each protagonist to approach his challenge in a totally fresh way.

“Ranadive coached a team of girls who had no talent in a sport he knew nothing about. He was an underdog and a misfit, and that gave him the freedom to try things no one else even dreamt of.”

Likewise, T.E. Lawrence was a poet, not a military man, but he used what he had.

“There is a set of advantages that have to do with material resources, and there is a set that have to do with the absence of material resources – and the reason underdogs win as often as they do is that the latter is sometimes every bit the equal of the former.”

Gladwell covers so much in this book - the advantages of disadvantages (and the disadvantage of advantages) as well as the theory of desirable difficulty and the limits of power. He explains the U curve and class size. He talks about college choice and whether you will be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond.

One of my favorite chapters in the book is when Gladwell explains the principle of being a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond using the French Impressionists creating their own art show instead of sticking with the giant salon where they were lost in the crowd, and often laughed at. I think this is a great story which also illustrates my belief that we need to create the art we care about and then find the market rather than trying to conform to what we think others want.

I also particularly enjoyed his take on how dyslexia can affect how people approach challenges in a positive way and his points on how money makes parenting easier, but only up to a point, where it actually begins to make it harder.

I was absolutely fascinated by this book. There is a thread of persistence and audacity, being willing to face down the dreaded because you have nothing left to lose, that I have identified with at times in my life.


Gladwell’s reading was also particularly effective on the audio version. I recommended this to my writer’s group on the basis that the stories Gladwell tells are a great possible insight into character motivation, teaching you about the psychology of a possible character through stories. I think it’s also just fascinating insight into who people are and the way they function and thrive. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede





The Day the World Came to Town
by Jim DeFede

Most adults can tell you where they were when they saw or heard the news of the infamous day of September 11, 2001.  And the memory usually comes with a range of emotions including sadness and anger.

This book tells another story about that day, one that can bring a sense of healing and hope.

By 9:15 am on September 11, 2001, US airspace was declared closed.  All domestic airlines were required to land immediately at the nearest American airport.  All foreign airlines with US destinations were ordered to return to their countries of origin or to land in Canada.   This book is an account of how the people of Gander, Newfoundland, on the eastern coast of Canada (population: 10,000) generously opened their businesses, homes, and hearts to the 6,560 people (with a few animals, too) from around the world who descended upon the local airport during a time of great uncertainty, anger, and sadness.

The stories of the townspeople’s generosity and the response of the detoured guests are heartwarming.  My favorites include the respectful behavior of an executive of a high end clothing line who had to purchase underwear at Walmart.   And the Rabbi whose intuitive sense of purpose in this quiet place was validated by a visit with a local resident whose hidden past could now be shared.  And the man whose use of the local school’s computers to conduct a “little” business resulted in a large donation to the school. 

Soon after the last plane had left, the provincial government offered to fund a celebration for the townspeople, in honor of their service to the global community.  The townspeople declined, saying that they there was “no reason to throw a party just because they had helped a group of people who were in trouble…They did what they did for one reason only – it was the Newfie way.”

And what a wonderful way that is.

 Maryalice Little 14 October 2014

Friday, July 11, 2014

Halfway to the Grave: A Night Huntress Novel by Jeaniene Frost


Halfway to the Grave: The Night Huntress Series
By Jeaniene Frost

I’ve been on an Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance kick lately. This first book in The Night Huntress Series by Jeaniene Frost is more the former but there is a heavy dose of romance to it as well.  One description I heard said that if you could take the romance out and the story line still survived intact then it’s an Urban Fantasy. I’d say you could do that here but it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

Cat was going out to kill vampires, just a regular Friday night for her. (Most people don’t believe  vampires exist in this world.) Then a vampire named Bones captures her. When she comes to, she expects him to kill her but he wants information. He is quite convinced that she is human and must be working for a vampire to take out rivals.  Once he cottons to the fact that she is half vampire, he decides he’s going to train her and offers her a partnership. The other choice, of course, is death.

This is the beginning of a very interesting partnership. Bones has his own agenda and it is not quite what he tells Cat. (Once I got done with the book I had to go back and re-read the beginning, knowing what I now knew about Bones.) Bones trains her to fight better, toughens her up and they work together to kill the vampires who kill innocent people.

One complication, her mother, Justina, has always told Cat that she was the product of a rape by a vampire.  From the time she is 16 years old, Cat feels she has to atone for that by killing vampires, who must all be evil, as Justina tells her. It’s a good time as Cat unlearns some of her prejudices.

Just plain good old-fashioned vampire fun.

The series continues with several books, the second one “One Foot in the Grave” is another rollicking good time and I am currently reading the third in the series. I don’t want to give too much away but I am thoroughly enjoying them and I hope you will too.





Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding





Bridget Jones : Mad About the Boy
By Helen Fielding

Okay, I loved this book! I will say that I didn’t go into this book with many preconceived notions because it has been over a decade since I saw the first movie and I never read the second book. I wasn’t as invested in the characters as someone might have been if they read the second book and were eagerly awaiting the third.

All the friends are still around – Talitha, Tom, Jude and even Daniel though he seems to be on a downward spiral. I won’t tell you what happened to Mark Darcy. It’s sad and a large facet of the story but it doesn’t overwhelm the story.

There’s romance, humor and even some action as Bridget takes care of the kids and attempts to get back into the dating and work worlds.

Bridget is now a single mom of two small children. As a mother I could relate to so many of the sentiments. There’s a point where both kids are sick to their stomachs and in the midst of all the gross out, “Billy’s bewildered expression overwhelmed self with love for Billy.” I felt it when she said that. You can’t help feel sorry for and overwhelmed with love for the sick munchkins.

One bit of the humor is kind of over the top and does maker her seem overwhelmingly stupid.  She’s working on a screenplay adaptation of Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen but spells the title wrong and has the wrong author. If you’re adapting it, you must be referring to a copy of it so how do you get those things wrong? However, most of the time the humor is gentle or even a bit slapstick.

The format can take a little getting used to, mostly written in journal type entries with texts, emails, and tweets interspersed with regular prose. Hang in there and you do get used to it. I enjoyed it tremendously on audio CD.


There’s depth to this book, as well as humor. I highly recommend it. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby

By F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

This was not the book I thought it would be. At first, I thought it rather boring, with its description of the opulence of the parties. Then it got interesting when Gatsby finally appeared and you thought it was a love story. Then, I thought it was less about love and more about Gatsby obsessing about someone who was out of his reach. It was not a simple book and I have still not decided.

 

Illustrative of how World War I changed how people thought and felt, the narrator, Carraway, says of returning home after the war, “Instead of being the warm center of the world the middle-west now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe…”

 

The narrator’s shifting perceptions of Gatsby take us through the highs and lows of this book. He is not a one sided character, all good or all bad. As with life, it is in large part about perception. He is a self-made man who thinks that the end justifies the means and that he can get what he wants with money. Sound familiar?

 

 “Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!”

 

But no, no, you can’t, and the fact that he can’t or won’t see or accept that simple immutable fact tells you something about him.  He is fooling himself. He wants something so much that he is willing to lie to himself. Either that or he’s just plain crazy. Crazy in love? Perhaps, perhaps.

 

As I said, Carraway goes back and forth, based on events, thinking Gatsby a great guy or a jerk, by measures. His perception of Jordan, the girl he dates a bit, changes, as well as the husband Tom. Oddly enough, Carraway’s perception of Daisy, Tom’s wife, never changes. She is unscathed, though he comes to almost hate Tom.

 

It’s a short enough book, under two hundred pages, but I felt like I’d really been on a journey with this story. I hadn’t seen the movie and didn’t know a lot about it so I was surprised at every turn. I never saw the car accident coming or, honestly, what happened to Gatsby.

 

I highly recommend it for the aspiring writer. I learned so much from the most deceptively simple sentence, “As I tiptoed from the porch I heard my taxi feeling its way along the dark road toward the house.” "I heard my taxi feeling its way along the lane in the dark." Wait, what? Yeah, that is a beautiful sentence! The fact that the taxi is “feeling its way” is not possible and yet you know exactly what he meant, how a car moves slowly along a country lane so that the driver can see within the limits of the headlights. Then, the choice of “my taxi” instead of “the taxi” gives it a totally different feel than if he had chosen the other word. I was mightily impressed.

 

“Literary miracles are the work of writers who come closer than other writers to expressing what is in their minds through innate genius augmented by control, technique, craft.” Matthew J. Bruccoli, The university of South Carolina, 1992, in Preface to the 1995 Scribner edition of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Isn’t that the trick though?

 

Much like Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, I did not go into the book expecting too much and found a true classic of literature that I soundly recommend people read. If you read it before, read it again. It is the type of book where you will find something new at a different age.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Hellraisers : The Life and Inebriated times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris , Peter O’Toole, and Oliver Reed by Robert Sellers

 
 

*This weeks Story Musing is written by library staff member Christine DeSousa. Thanks Christine!
 
Hellraisers : The Life and Inebriated times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris , Peter O’Toole, and Oliver Reed 
by Robert Sellers

This book was funny, crass, raw, and crude - and I loved every second!

Hellraisers is an unapologetic account of the lives of the four most alcoholic, self-indulgent, womanizing men on the planet. Following the lives of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, and Oliver Reed, it takes you on adventures of naughty nannies, restless school boys, liquor, and starving actors to starlet conquering, fame and fortune, more liquor, love, and up to their greatest last bows.

This wasn’t some expose intended to shock the reader, this read like you happened to walk into a bar and sat down with these men and just listened to their life story over a drink.

Now, in no way am I making saints out of sinners. These guys have crashed more cars, been hospitalized, hospitalized other people and caused more trouble than any star today. It also makes the case that these men were just fun loving guys and they wanted to live life to the fullest. They certainly seemed to, all died with their boots on. They were funny and irreverent but they weren’t malicious.

One of the things you have to be prepared for when reading this book is the colorful uses for words. It’s not a book for those who are easily offended, that is something that needs to be made abundantly clear. There are many cases of violence, profane language, sexual situations and alcoholic brawling.

It certainly never got boring, in part because of all of the different words they came up with to describe physical parts, or the recurring use of the word pissed in all of its definitions.

The most trouble I had was the way it was set up. Each chapter is a different decade and, within that, it covered a couple of years at a time, rotating through  Burton, Harris, O’Toole, and Reed, then back to Burton throughout the decade.

This book was written in 2002 so it was before Peter O’Toole died but it follows him up to that point, remembering each star in his turn - the good, the bad and the drunk. I highly recommend it.

C.D.


Friday, June 6, 2014

Skin Game: A Novel of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher



Skin Game: A Novel of the Dresden Files
By Jim Butcher

How do you review a book like this without giving spoilers? I just loved it. I want to tell you all the wonderful, funny, unbelievable stuff that happened, but I won’t.

Jim Butcher is probably my current favorite author. He consistently writes at a level that I can only aspire to at this point. The books are deep and rich while being action packed.

Harry Dresden is a wizard in modern day Chicago and currently the Winter Knight for Queen Mab. He doesn’t really want to be but a wizard’s got to do what a wizard’s got to do, right? His character has developed throughout the fifteen book series, facing new challenges and growing. The twists and turns the books take are believable and yet surprising.

One of the things that I think makes these books so enjoyable is the “warm point of view” that Butcher talks about in his LiveJournal on writing.  That means that although there is a lot of action, there is a lot of time spent on Harry reacting to what happened, worrying and generally feeling.

And there’s a lot for him to worry about in this book. His friend, Michael, is taking care of his daughter, Maggie, whose mother he had to kill in the last book when she became a vampire. He has no real contact with Maggie, hasn’t even told her he is her father. Meanwhile, there’s a parasite in his head that’s giving him terrible headaches only Demonreach, the island, can suppress.

Then Queen Mab lends his services to his enemy, Nicholas Archleone, for one job in payment of a debt she owes. Archleone is a Knight of the Blackened Denarius and partners, you might say, with a Fallen angel. The job? Break into Hades vault in the Never-never and steal THE Grail. Harry is quite sure that Archleone has no intention of him surviving the job. Harry has other plans.

Hell’s bells. It’s another excellent book and the narration is good too if you prefer to listen. Enjoy!