Tag Archives: Book Review

Columbine – A Book Review


Related Content from And There Came A Day



Columbine by Dave Cullen is utterly engrossing, disturbing and moving. Exhaustively research and intricately told, this story about sadness, violence and its aftermath pulls the reader in from the first paragraph and keeps its hooks in until the last. The players in the story become more than characters, they become people we know and understand. The events of the tragedy become more than plot points, the become signposts of change in the lives of those directly affected and in ours. Columbine is a brilliant piece of investigative journalism that sheds light on a crucible moment when, it is not too hyperbolic to say, the world completely changed.

Perhaps the most shocking thing about the book should not shock us anymore: the narrative of the attackers and the attacks is almost entirely wrong. Much of the misinformation and myth of the story of the Columbine High School shootings is being dispelled, especially as we approach the 20th anniversary of the massacre, but the pieces that hang on – the ideas of outcast gunmen, the trench coat mafia, the targeting of specific students, the girl who said “yes” – remain almost fixed in place as if dispelling them would somehow to a disservice to the memories of those who were lost and changed by this day.

As a high school administrator, I can say that my colleagues should, conversely, read this book immediately and avoid it patently. We should read it to allow ourselves into the important what if journey and to open ourselves to the more critical what can we do question. We should not read it because it is a terrifying and maddening experience invoking sadness and confusion and helplessness.

I am not one to avoid truths and there are many to uncover in Columbine. I can write with certainly that I am forever changed having read it.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books

The Escape Artist – A Book Review


Related Content from And There Came A Day


 

gcp-slider-meltzer-escape-artist-3d

The alternating story of two characters, army artist Nola Brown and Dover Air Force Base mortician (you read that right) Jim “Zig” Zigarowski, The Escape Artist attempts to spotlight both characters while telling a compelling story about government secrets and high espionage. The results and very mixed and your mileage with the book may vary. I wanted to like The Escape Artist. I very much want to like novels by Brad Meltzer. I have read a few of them and they left me less than excited. I was hoping The Escape Artist would inspire a different reaction.

It did not.

While Nola Brown has elements that make her compelling, she is no Lisbeth Solander as I have read suggested. She is fairly well written, but there are some parts of her story that are so impossible to swallow that they strain credulity. And her counterpart Zig Zigarowski is the type of character who the reader is supposed to believe can do things far beyond what his experience would suggest simply because he has lived his life around the military. While there are interesting elements to both these characters, especially to Nola, neither riveted my attention for the entire book.

There is a surprising amount of darkness in The Escape Artist. Dark back stories lead to dark plot developments which lead to some very, very dark conclusions for characters. I was not expecting that from a book like this and, while I do enjoy being surprised as a reader, some of the turns were just a little too out there. They took me out of the story.

I will say, from a plot stand point, there is something fun going on here. Brad Meltzer is well known as a debunker of American (and worldwide) myths and an uncover-er of secret portions of history. He lends the plot of The Escape Artist that kind of gravity, suggesting that one of the most famous men in American entertainment history was, in fact, a spy for the US government. The conceit (pun intended) works and the plot hums along at a pretty solid pace.

But the dialogue has two major issues: one, the characters do not have distinct voices. They all sound alike. Two, the characters speak too cleverly by half. Not everyone has razor sharp, Aaron Sorkin-like wit in the real world. In Meltzer’s world, they do.

The Escape Artist is not a bad book, but I wanted it to be so much better…

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing – A Book Review


Related Content from And There Came A Day


When-The-Scientific-Secrets-of-Perfect-Timing

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing is a wonderful book and one that delighted, challenged and affirmed. Daniel H. Pink is a television show host, a best selling author, a social observationalist and one of the most renowned business thinkers today. His books, including Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us are highly influential and he is a sought after lecturer.

After reading When, I can see why.

This is a terrific book for anyone who is interested in when successful people do things. The central concept of the book is that when we begin things, when we change jobs or buy homes, when we start diets, when we make decisions is critically important to the success of those decisions, job changes, diets, etc. The central conceit of the book is that people are fairly good at why, or, at least, people are very good at thinking about why they do things. They make check lists and pros and cons columns and flip coins and plunge ahead.

Rarely, though, do even the most careful thinkers consider when.

As it turns out, according to the book, the when of when we do things is very, very important to the success of those very things and Pink cites plenty of data – anecdotal and scientific – to back up the claim. Covering concepts like temporal landmarks, chronotypes and “time-hacking,” the book makes a compelling case that we should factor the whens along with the whys as we set out to make decisions.

For educators, whens are critically important and Pink’s book set me thinking about beginning conversations with my colleagues about why we do things when we do them. It sounds like a basic and simple concept. Pink illustrates that it is neither, but it is a central one to success.

Pink is engaging and funny and easy to read. This is a solid book.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – A Book Review


Related Content from And There Came A Day


Essentialism

Essentialism is not simply a book. It is a philosophy, and a challenging one at that.

In 20 very readable and engaging chapters, author Greg McKeown explains the origins of the philosophy of essentialism, the fact that he has embraced it in his life and the manner in which his readers can make it a part of theirs. He also makes no apologies for the fact that essentialism is a challenging – some might say “difficult” – pursuit and that becoming a true essentialist takes mindset, energy and time.

The book is entertaining, the material presented with a very appealing mix of research and humor. McKeown is a talented writer, balancing anecdote and data deftly. And, while he is clearly proselytizing for his vision of the world and is championing the essentialism philosophy, his approach is not off-putting in the least. Yes, there were moments when he would share how this lifestyle works and my response would be “nice, but how does that work in the real world.” There were elements I found, for me, far more aspirational than achievable. However, the overall concept is very, very appealing.

Do less. Do it better. Do what is essential. It is difficult to argue with those maxims and, when presented in such a compelling fashion as they are, who would want to?

The world seems to demand ever more of us and, in the world of education in which I work, it surely demands ever more of students and teachers. The idea that a significant analysis should take place, that we in authority should slow down and ask if we need to do all we are doing is powerful. What can stay? What can go?

What is essential?

Great questions.

While daunted by the philosophy and intrigued by whether or not I would have the discipline to become an essentialist myself, I heartily recommend the book!

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, Literature

The World According To Garp – A Book Review

GarpI am not sure when I first read John Irving’s The World According to Garp. I know that I was young, like middle-school young. I know that I pulled it down from the massive shelf of books that my grandparents had in their basement. I suspect I was searching through those books for covers that showed something salacious – some scantily clad women or some romantic scene that I thought would be played out within the selected books’ pages – to tantalize my teenage libido. My guess is that the cover to Garp showed something like that and, for this reason, I took the book home with me.

That, today, I would consider The World According to Garp wildly age inappropriate for someone in middle school didn’t cross my or anyone else’s mind when I was working my way through its pages. No doubt I was pleased with myself for attempting to read an “adult” book – my motives for doing so notwithstanding, and I guess my parents were happy to see me reading anything that didn’t feature Batman, Superman or other so-called “four-color heroes.”

I can hardly imagine what I understood from the book on my initial reading. Having revisited it on a couple of occasions in my adulthood, most recently earlier this spring, I can barely articulate what I get out of it now!

One thing that I certainly took away from the book was my love of the prose of John Irving. Upon first completing that novel, I knew that I loved Irving. That is an affection that has stayed with me my entire life and I look forward to the publication of each of his works. A Prayer for Owen Meany remains, far-and-away, my favorite of his books, but The World According to Garp cracks the top five mainly because you always have a special place in your heart for your first, don’t you?

The World According to Garp tells the story of T.S. Garp, novelist and seeker, whose complicated relationships with the women in his life propel the book through multiple vignettes, each more outlandish than the last. Each stage in the main character’s life is passed in association with women and Irving populates his novel with a fascinating collection of them. One of the critiques of the book is that, while the women may be fascinating, they may not be entirely realistically drawn. That’s a pretty fair assessment, I think. Where Garp is a fully realized creation, even the most important women in the book can be stereotyped to a certain extent. Likely, Irving knew this and, skilled writer as he is, employed stereotypical women for a reason: to make his point about sexual relationships and sexual politics in the 1970s.

As one might expect, Garp’s most powerful connections are with his mother and his wife. From his mother, Jenny Fields – the author of the account of her own life entitled A Sexual Suspect, Garp discovers that not all popular writing is good writing and that radical feminism was a growing tide to be reckoned with in late 20th century America. From his wife, Helen Holm – English professor and intellectual, Garp discovers that even those who know and love you best may not always fully understand you.

A motif that Irving returns to in many of his works is introduced here: writing-within-writing. Apparently suggesting to J.D. Salinger that, if you’re going to write about someone writing something brilliant and make that idea a cornerstone of you narrative, you better actually show the goods, Irving supplies examples of Garp’s prose throughout the novel. The stories the main character writes are esoteric and inscrutable but, thematically, always tied to Irving’s main purpose: that of showing his main character trying to understand his path through life.

At its core, The World According to Garp asks the fundamental question: what does it all mean? That Irving leaves the answer to the question up to the reader is hardly surprising. Great works of fiction – and The World According to Garp is surely one – pose the questions and prod the reader to engage upon them before letting the reader make up her or his mind on their own.

Some of the themes that will permeate Irving’s books are on display in The World According to Garp. Life is charged by sexuality. People are slaves to it or liberated by it. Men need to know who their fathers are to be whole. Life can be violent. Death can be a sweet release. These ideas, powerful and clear, are addressed, time-and-again, in Irving’s books and, in later works, to better effect. But they are first on view here and watching the author work with them is exciting. Also on full display is Irving’s ability to create Dickensian characters who populate the imagination long after the reading of the book is complete. Interweaving the stories of a myriad cast of characters into the life of a single protagonist is a strength of the author and it really stared in The Wold According to Garp. Characters are introduced for a reason. No characters’ story is unimportant. They are all tied into Irving’s broader themes.  Upon completion of The World According to Garp, the reader knows that Irving is something special.

Hell, I understood that in the 8th grade. And, while I’ve not loved everything I’ve read by him, I have loved him enough to sample everything he’s ever published.

The World According to Garp is a complex novel about significant themes. I cannot say that I agree with Garp’s conclusion – that everyone is a terminal case – but I can say that I don’t know upon my re-reading of the book that Irving agrees with that conclusion, either. Bad things happen in The World According to Garp, the types of bad things that can destroy people, that can make them run and hide from the world, that can batter them senseless. Garp might experience moments of retreat and there are certainly times when he’s cut off from both his writing and his voice, but he never gives in. He never considers himself a terminal case.

In the end, The World According to Garp is a hopeful novel. In fact, all of Irving’s works are and that conclusion keeps me coming back.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, John Irving, The World According to Garp

Gone Girl Opens Today

A few months ago, I read and reviewed Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl. Today, the film starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike opens. The Cinnamon Girl and I will be joining The Junior Senator and his wife to see it today.

You can read my review of the book HERE.

Film review coming soon!

Poster from usatoday.com.

Poster from usatoday.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Gone Girl – A Book Review

Gone Girl

Photo from nytimes.com.

Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl, has been interviewed many times about this book, her third and, far-and-away, her most popular. She has been asked about the protag/antagonists Nick Dunne and Amy Elliot Dunne. She has been asked about the narrative structure. She’s been asked about her influences. She’s been asked if the book is a treatise on marriage. She’s been asked to discuss the novel’s ending.

The heat around Gone Girl is about to pick up again as a film, directed by the marvelous David Fincher and starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, is going to open this fall. We’ll be seeing Flynn everywhere.

And that’s a good thing. She writes a great story.

Gone Girl tells the story of Amy Elliot Dunne who goes missing on the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary. Suspicion immediately lights on Nick Dunne, her husband. The reader is set up to think that the novel will cover a fairly standard arc of investigation and clues and discovery and punishment.

Flynn masterfully subverts all those expectations.

Rather than narrate the novel from a simple third person perspective, Flynn employs Nick and Amy as the book’s narrative voices. Nick is telling the story post-event. His narrative begins “The Morning Of…” as in the morning of the first day that Amy has gone missing and while his voice proceeds linearly from that point, Nick does flashback, where appropriate, to his earlier life with Amy.

Amy’s story, on the other hand, is told pre-event. Her narrative begins months before she goes missing and is presented as a series of journal entries. These proceed linearly providing a countdown to the day that she will, inevitably, go missing.

There is much writing discipline evident from Flynn. Each Nick chapter is followed by an Amy chapter and that routine is never broken throughout the course of the novel. More impressively, Flynn manages to make each chapter engrossing. In many books that employ similar narrative devices or, in fact, in any book that shifts it focus from a character or situation in which I am heavily involved to a character or situation in which I am not as involved simply to provide more information or other plot points, I often find myself skimming to get back to the object of my interest. Not so with Gone Girl. I was both interested and fascinated by Amy and Nick, even when it became clear that they were highly unreliable narrators.

I assume that Flynn had, by her computer as she wrote, an outline of how events in Amy and Nick’s lives really played out, how the day of Amy’s disappearance really went down, because a reader is not ever going to get the full truth from the interlocking narrative. Writing narrative from perspectives readers cannot trust is a very difficult thing to do. The author must make the reader invest in the narrative voices before illustrating that they cannot be trusted. Otherwise, there is a risk of the reader asking “what’s the point?” and putting the book aside.

I knew I couldn’t trust Amy. Or Nick.

And that is the fun of Gone Girl.

Not only didn’t I put the book aside, I devoured it.

The book is populated by interesting supporting characters from Amy’s parents (who’ve made a small fortune – and lost some money, too – on a series of children’s books based on their own daughter, the Amazing Amy series) to the cops investigating the crime, to Nick’s sister Margo (“Go” for short who is his twin and with whom he shares a significant bond) to Amy’s former boyfriend Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris will play him in the movie and I. Can’t. Wait.). All of the characters appear well drawn and avoid stereotype and most of their motives are as convoluted as Amy’s and Nick’s.

Too say much more about the plot would be to steal the fun and I am no spoiler. I won’t be spoiling anything. I will say that the book, thematically, has something to say about relationships and marriages and the perceptions – both of the outside-looking-in and the inside-looking-out variety – that people have about them. The book also has points to make about identity and the manner in which people build their own identities. It also touches upon a middle America that is struggling with economic collapse that makes it yearn for something else to capture its attention like a steamy husband-kills-wife plot.

I will say that I felt a little let down by the ending of the novel and I felt that let down coming. The Cinnamon Girl had read the book and had noted that she wasn’t crazy-nuts-in-love with the end, but my reaction wasn’t based on that, it was based on the growing idea that I felt there was no perfect way to end the novel. All of the conclusions of which I could think felt unsatisfying in some way and the one that the author reached did, too. Flynn has said that the film will have a different conclusion than the book and I look forward to seeing what she does with it.

I loved the book. I put aside things to read it. I made time in my schedule. I looked forward to returning to it each day. If that’s not a reaction every author wants readers to have, I don’t know what is.

Gone Girl receives FOUR AND A HALF AMAZING AMY STORIES out of a possible five.

1 Comment

Filed under Book Review, Movies