Logic’s Last Stand

April 27, 2009

What a Novel Idea

Filed under: Life, Writing — Zurahn @ 12:51 am

At the start of the year, I actually did make one menial resolution, that being to read at least 10 books over the course of the year. Well, I suppose I’m ahead of schedule. Having hit the mark, I figured I’d give a rundown of what I’ve read, as well as brief impressions. The list is in chronological order of my having read them.

1 – How to Be a Canadian (even if you already are one), Ian and Will Ferguson
That little subcaption about already being one is a little too pertinent. How to Be a Canadian is for better or worse a book best read by us northerners already here. Perhaps best described as a collection of inside jokes, unless you merely relish in the interpreted deprecation of Canada out of some underlying antimosity, it’s not going to be of much interest to anyone else.

That said, it’s a markedly enjoyable collection of inside jokes. The book consistently entertains, helped along gracefully by the banter between the brothers throughout.

2 – Don’t Make Me Think!, Steve Krug
The title could not be more apt for the content; Don’t Make Me Think! pounds it into your brain in its rather brief and efficient text that when it comes to a user interface, the thinking should already be done for you! While essentially common sense as written out in book form, sometimes that’s what you need.

Don’t Make Me Think! clearly permiates from start to finish with the personality of its author, for better or worse. It adds a bit of subjectivity to the work, but also some liveliness and energy. Its methodologies provide strong examples of how to consistently get positive results, as well as weed out the mistakes.

If not for nothing, while not directly, reading the book sparked a couple UI adjustments to the site upon completion.

3 – The Genealogy of Morals, Friedrich Nietzsche
Thought provoking cage rattling is the short synopsis that can be provided for The Genealogy of Morals, a collection of three essays from Nietzsche on the basis of supposed morality and the manipulation of true justice by authorities over time.

Nietzsche for the most part manages to stay within fairness and reason to all sides and push his own conceptions with solid clarity and backing. However, the writing manages to be somewhat obnoxious (perhaps only by translation), and many points without substantiation. An undertone to the essays is actual equally as interesting as the theses themselves, that being his clear bitterness both towards the opposition to his ideals including specific examples, as well as even moreso his bitterness towards love and relationships.

The philosopher’s job is to cause contemplation and forward new and often uncomfortable concepts. For both cases, The Genealogy of Morals succeeds.

4 – The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Carl Sagan
For where The Genealogy of Morals struggled, The Demon-Haunted World excels. Sagan puts forth a thorough advancement of reason and practicality to all matters of superstition and the supernatural. On every point, on top of rational solutions to fantastical situtations, a willingness to admit margins of error only strengthen the core thesis that we must take everything with a grain of salt.

Much beyond that, there’s little to say. On a personal level, the book is somewhat underwhelming by the mere fact that arguing with someone with whom you agree on everything is going to be quite the dull discussion. That said, given society as a whole, The Demon-Haunted World comes perilously closed to being desirable as required reading.

5 – The Island of Sheep, John Buchan
Like rolling down a hill, The Island of Sheep starts slowly and picks up steam right through to the end. Part mystery, part spy-games, Buchan creates a fanciful adventure that manages to keep its feet on the ground. Lead character, Dick Hannay, finds himself wrapped up in a plot surrounding several old friends surrounding events twenty years prior.

Each personality stands strongly on its own, important and irreplaceable in the story.

6 – Beauty, Robin McKinley
To most, the French fairy tale, La Belle et La Bete (Beauty and the Beast), is best known in its rendition as presented by Disney in 1991. Wherein Disney presents an enjoyable, though shallow exploration of the story, to a somewhat ambiguous moral objective, Robin McKinley’s Beauty shines. Every character draws you further into the world where each has their own set of problems and their own way of handling them. The Beast, instead of merely being socially inept with an anger problem, is a solemn figure nearly without hope for a normal life; withdrawn, but still human underneath.

Beauty stands as wondrous in all manners. Without need for flash or fanfare, the subtle charms of the whimsical world make it as easy to be lost in the pages as it is to be lost in the magical woods.

7 – The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
To describe a book using films, The Book Thief can very well be described as Life is Beautiful meets Grave of the Fireflies. View Nazi Germany through the eyes of Death himself, and how the story of the book thief was one he’d always carry with him.

Remarkable in style and substance together to create not only a markedly unique experience, but a truly heartfelt and heart wrenching one as well. As tempting as it is to write off World War II as a cliché by default, Zusak has managed to write a 600 page example why, just like life, that’s just not fair.

8 – The World is Flat, Thomas L Friedman
With The World is Flat, I was hesitant to start. With regard to the United States and its invasion of Iraq, Friedman had stood behind it. Consequently, I had a concern of heading into 500 pages of conservative rhetoric. Fortunately, Friedman appears to be a journalist first.

The book’s premise, that the world is “flat”, has the term “flat” meaning international communication and business. It all concerns globalization, and how much easier it has become and will continue to be even further. While perhaps somewhat dull–inevitable given the subject matter–it manages to never be preachy, gives areasonable enough substantiation to the provided conclusions on globalization, and at the very least provides some genuinely interesting incite through interviews of those in the midst of it all.

9 – The Messenger, Markus Zusak
Zusak, much like in The Book Thief has managed to maintain a markedly unique and entertaining writing style in The Messenger. Part mystery, part moral journey, part just plain life, the book puts forth the message that perhaps we could all do a little more.

The Messenger is a contemporary novel written from the perspective of Ed, a cab driver in a deadend suburb, who gets led on a path to helping the community one case at a time. It’s simply hard to imagine anyone not enjoying this book. It’s comical, intruiguing, inspiring and heartwarming.

10 – The Hero and the Crown, Robin McKinley
Along my little escapade of reading more books, I sat down with The Silmarillion, a book set in the world of The Lord of the Rings that was published post-mortem of JRR Tolkien. There was clearly a reason why it was never published, as it server to demonstrate every reason why aside from The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit that I fervently avoided all things fantasy. An overwrought, sesquipedalian nightmare with the only seeming purpose to inflate the ego of the author.

The Hero and the Crown serves as the antithesis to this problem. Taking both a entirely fresh writing style and characters that avoid the abundant cliches of the genre, McKinley weaves a tale that slowly sucks you in. What stands as truly unique to the title is that while there are key points of action and fighting, those points stand as anti-climactic and take a backseat to the personal interaction and the emotion struggle of the main character.

It may tread over some familiar ground at points, but there’s a fantastical adventure here for anyone willing to take a look.

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