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Friday, August 1, 2014

Book Review: Quiet Phoenix by Prasenjeet Kumar

Quiet Phoenix; An Introvert's Guide to Rising in Career & Life (2014) by Prasenjeet Kumar is, as the title implies, written on the topic of the challenges faced by introverts, or, more to the point, with Prasenjeet Kumar himself.

Prasenjeet Kumar contacted me via my blog/email and requested that I review his book.  He supplied a copy of it to me free of charge.  Which always makes me feel a bit weird when I find I don't like the book.  And I sadly, did not.

Mr. Kumar is a big fan of the book "Quiet.  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking", by Susan Cain.  He references it, and quotes from it extensively.  And this is a short, 220 page book.

It should have been a quick read but I found I kept putting it down and walking away.  It felt like a journal, a book review of Susan's book, and a book discussion of it with his own life applications more than it felt like it had something original to add.

I am the last person to criticize spelling, grammar etc because you've read my blog...I suck at it.  However, I would hold myself to a much higher standard if I was publishing a book.  Kumar really, really needed an American, English-speaking editor or proof reader.  English is not his native language (he lives in India) and it is apparent throughout the book that his English translations were often rudimentary at best.

For example, when describing something that required understanding, he used the word "apprehending" instead of "comprehending"...multiple times.  Those two words are very different in meaning and not interchangeable.  While he is certainly far more capable of writing in English than I could ever hope to be in any other language, it is sort of a basic requirement of publishing that your writing be in order and accurate.  His composition and sentence structure and the way he arranged the words on the page was also confusing.  Not a grammar issue per se (or maybe it was), but sentences that stood alone as paragraphs, and capitalization of words that didn't require it (like the word Firm, when referring to the law firm he worked for...which is a noun but not a proper noun), plurals and singulars interchanged.

I overlook a lot because such things are not gifts of mine either, but there was enough that it distracted me from content. I would wager that there is little to no difficulty understanding his spoken English, but the nuances of writing in a second language are more challenging than they are in conversation and they require more attention to detail and more help from those who have English as their first language.  For example, I know very little Spanish, but I know even less if I was required to write in Spanish.

Content was, well, the best I can say is it was more like a conversation with a friend about how his life had been as an introvert in a high-paced law firm and how much he liked Susan Cain's book, than a book in and of itself.  Does that make sense?

There was repetition of points chapter to chapter, and use of terms such as "I will tell you more about this later", or "I told you earlier I would expand on this, so here we go" (those are not direct quotes).  The proper way to do this is to arrange your chapters clearly and then don't announce what you will say later, or what you said you would say now...just say it when it's time.  This speaks further to the need for good editing and proof-reading by someone who speaks American English, if this is his audience.  Good editing and proofing by an outside source would help eliminate these redundancies, figures of speech, and incorrect translations.

He refers to his office mates in the law firm as "boys and girls" vs "men and women" or "males and females" which gave it a juvenile feel to it, despite the fact that I was reading about a highly educated attorney who was known for his ability to write.

Kumar spent much time expounding on details of corporate law which were not relevant to the stated purpose of the book and took the reader on tangents that strayed from the point.  Not just once, but many times.  It is important to strike a balance between using your own story to expand upon the topic, vs just telling your own history or the history behind the history.  He would have done well, to frequently re-read his title and then what I'm saying now on target with my stated topic, or am I off topic and expounding on things that are not relevant to my topic.

Kumar states in one portion of the book that in India, they don't have gyms at the office and exercise rooms like they do in Western corporations or law firms.  This is not a common perk in most corporations or law offices in the U.S. and, in fact, is rare.  He seems to have made a mythical assumption in this regard.

Where Kumar did manage to stay on topic, I disagreed with his stance on the importance of socializing with work peers and that of the open office plan. In her book, Susan Cain states such office layouts are difficult for the introvert.  Kumar feels it is not a problem for him, therefore, likely a good plan for introverts.  I find open office settings, or cubicles, or "bull pen" arrangements very nearly torture.  I don't like to socialize with work mates, and I can't focus on my work when I am exposed to everyone else's noise, phone calls, and conversations.  I need peace and quiet to think, focus and get my work done effectively.

So I'm left feeling really rather awful that Prasenjeet supplied me with his book, his baby, something he is clearly very proud of, and I flat out didn't like it.  That makes me feel bad.  That is always the risk when an author asks me to review their work.

What I love is:

I loved the feel of the cover material and the paper used to print the book.  It is smooth and comfortable in the hand.

I love that Prasenjeet Kumar is passionate about the subjects he writes about.  Through his writing, I could tell he is a kind person, and one that I would very likely enjoy spending time in conversation with.

I love that he found his way and is honoring his personal style and has now moved from a job that perhaps made him money and gave him prestige, but was a poor personal fit and a soul-draining career, to his passion, which is writing.  He has also written some cook books.  He writes about what interests him.  I like his spirit and his courage to strike out in a new direction in order to lead a more fulfilling life.

In the back of the book, he gives his website and apparently also offers tutorial assistance with how to get your own works published (this was a self-published work, as are his others, I believe).

Sadly, I just didn't come away with any new insights.  Prasenjeet was clearly inspired by the book Quiet..., and wanted to share his story.  I just feel this might be better suited to a blog than a book.  The title was misleading.  It really wasn't very helpful in terms of being a "guide to rising in career and life" as much as it was praise for Susan's work, and the story of how he struggled in his law firm.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Book Review: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (2013) speaks of a story of reincarnation...but after reading it, for me, the concepts speak less of reincarnation than of possibilities, probabilities, and traversing different planes of existence simultaneously.  But then, I don't think anyone has quantified or fully explained (or can) the concepts of reincarnation.

Ursala lives in the English countryside just prior to the onset of World War II.  Throughout the book time is toggled forward and backward between about 1910 and 1967 and the various outcomes of her life (and those in her immediate circle) had different choices or different circumstances prevailed.

According to commentary in the back of the book by Sarah Crompton:
"Its basic premise is to imagine - as Nietzsche suggested - that we have endless chances of living our lives, parallel paths through the universe, where fractional decisions or fleeting moments decide our fate and the fates of those around us.  As one of its characters says; 'What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right?  Wouldn't that be wonderful?'...As you read it, it asks you to think about your expectations of the plot and the outcome."

According to commentary in the back of the book by the author herself:
"...I wanted something more complex than that, something downright trickier, something multilayered and slightly fractal (if something can be deemed slightly fractal)...if pressed, I think I would say Life After Life is about being English (on reflection perhaps that's what all my books are about).  Not just the reality of being English but also what we are in our own imaginations."

She goes on to say:
"As a reader, I dislike historical novels where I am continually stumbling over an excess of facts, although I readily understand the compulsion to include all the fascinating stuff that you've spent so much time reading about.  But there are few things more uncomfortable for the reader than to be constantly stumbling over the pathologically recondite research of an author."
You see, I really did need these commentaries because the book, despite supposedly being a "national bestseller" and Time referring to it as "Entirely thrilling", I was lost most of the time, confused, and ultimately as a result, bored to tears.  It took me forever to finish this book because it was so easy for me to walk away from and not desire to return to.  I had originally been drawn to it by the concept of reincarnation...and then when it appeared to me more to be parallel realities playing out nearly simultaneously, that may be the only thing that kept me going...the IDEA of it.

I don't do well with "fractal" writing, I guess.  The hopping back and forth made it a challenge to bond with the characters and to understand what was happening.  Perhaps it was way more sophisticated than I am.  I was super happy to be done with it.

I will say, in agreement with the author's comments about how bogged down historical novels can get with facts, that she traversed this issue beautifully.  The accounts of being a volunteer during the Blitz, of sifting through bomb sites for victims was vivid...sadly, it came towards the end of the book.  But she weaves the historical bits into the story so that you think you're there, not being told about it.  That takes talent.

It just was SO not my cup of tea.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Movie Review: Lucy

Lucy (2014) is categorized as a French action film.  I would also say it's sci-fi.  Lucy hooks up with the wrong party guy (let this be a lesson to you girls!), and as a result, is used as a mule for a new designer drug.  When the packet leaks in her system, her brain rapidly evolves toward utilizing 100% of available neurons vs the 10% most humans have access to.

This film incorporates elements of current quantum physics, brain science, and scientific ethics.  For example, it asks the questions:  should we jump ahead and speed up evolution if we can?  If we had the technology to utilize 100% of our brains would we use it for good or for bad?  Would we lose what makes us human and connected to one another?

It is fast paced and violent (although not terribly graphic) and is rated R for this reason primarily.  We would have worked some scenes a bit differently...we would have given her the ability to instantly and kinetically heal herself and others and the final scene went on far too long and wasn't plausible...we would have divided it up showing her portion of things to completion, and then enter bad guy.

The film met with polarizing reviews.  I found it highly entertaining and engaging with good special effects and CGI.  Most action films are not plausible...but that's usually why we watch them.  I might not remember it tomorrow, but it was a fun way to pass a couple of hours.

Watch the trailer below or via this link.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) is a retrospective of the life of a hotel owner.  The hotel, The Grande Budapest Hotel has lost its grandeur and fallen from popularity.  Due to changes from the war and the economy, only a few regulars and residents wander its cavernous halls. The retrospective explores how the current owner climbed the ranks and came to BE the owner.

The film has a star-studded cast, including: 

There is a surrealism about the film that reminded me somewhat of Dick Tracy; bright vivid colors, caricature-like characters, and dry, straight humor.  Hubby said he was entertained but felt it was a little slow in spots.  I felt it was a lot slow and a lot strange.  I wasn't bored and it kept my attention but I'm undecided as to how I feel about it.  Didn't hate it...didn't really like it either.

We watched the DVD via Netflix.  It is rated R for some language and very brief nudity.  Watch the trailer below or via this link.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Documentary Review: Dear Mom, Love Cher

Via Netflix, we watched the documentary "Dear Mom, Love Cher" (2013), which chronicles the life, career and loves of Cher's 88 year old mom, Georgia Holt.

Georgia, born in 1926 grew up extremely poor and was somewhat exploited by her father in order to make money from her singing ability.  Married 7 times (twice to the same man), this documentary shows you who she was and what influenced her life and in turn, that of her actress daughter Georgianne, and Cher.

I don't think it's rocket science where Cher gets her anti-aging genetics from.  Georgia appears somewhat frail in her movements, but that's about all that betrays her.  There's no way she looks like a woman approaching 90.

The documentary has a lot of photos and clips of the family, the men, the kids, the career.

I'm a big fan of Cher, always have been.  So this was just an extension of that...gaining a bit of understanding of where she came from.  I enjoyed it.

Watch this duet clip below, or via this link.  They don't sound much alike do they?  HA!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Movie Review: Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain

Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain (1966) is a story of the scientific race to nuclear power, government conspiracy and spies.

American physicist Michael Armstrong (played by Paul Newman) has funding cut to an important project of scientific research.  He has taken the formula as far as he could and is, in theory, stuck.  He pretends to defect to East Germany in order to trick a scientist there into giving up the part of the formula he needs.

His assistant and fiance Sarah Sherman (played by Julie Andrews) knows he's being dishonest and evasive but isn't sure why.  So she follows him and ends up in the middle of some very dangerous situations.

He gets into the country easily enough by feigning that he HAS the entire formula...but once he actually gets it, it's a little harder getting back OUT of the country.  A lot can happen...and does.

The film was made at the height of the popularity of both Paul Newman and Julie Andrews.  Andrews had recently finished both Mary Poppins and Sound of Music and both Newman and Andrews were big box office draws.  The extras on the DVD are interesting.  It was fun to watch Julie Andrews in such a serious and non musical, non-whimsical role.  Both Newman and Andrews are believable characters in their roles unlike many of the others in Hitchcock films.  This is yet another film I had never heard of.  We rented it from Netflix but you can, no doubt, watch all of it on YouTube.

"Torn Curtain" has to do with them going "behind the iron curtain" of East Germany and then getting back out again.  Hitchcock appears in the hotel lobby with a toddler on his lap in his cameo.

Watch the trailer below or via this link.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Movie Review: Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie

Alfred Hitchcock's "Marnie" (1964) is a disturbing psychological thriller starring Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery.

Marnie, played by Tippi Hedren is a compulsive thief and perhaps a bit of a sociopath.  Sean Connery is a business man who catches her in the act and then entraps her.

Mark Rutland (Connery) has a hobby interest in animal behavior and waffles between appearing to be helpful/genuine, and manipulative; as though Marnie is an animal for him to trap and study and modify.

Marnie has a traumatic childhood secret that has closed her off from others and Mark wants to "fix" her.  He goes about it in questionable ways...including forcing her to marry him or go to jail...and marital rape.

Sean Connery is his usual fantastic actor self.  Tippi Hedren (who also was the star of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds) is over the top corn-ball acting.  But that was still an acceptable norm in that era.

I don't think I had even heard of this film and it's been interesting to work our way through as many Alfred Hitchcock movies as we can find.  Yes, you see Alfred's cameo appearance coming out of a hotel room.  I love watching for his "Where's Waldo" moments.

We rented the DVD from Netflix and I also enjoy watching the extras on the DVD where the process of filming, casting, etc is discussed.

Watch the clip below or via this link.