Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Filed under:self-help,Writing — posted by Randolph on February 20, 2018 @ 10:43 am


Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

This book is mostly a supportive book written in a self-help style, and almost a spiritual style. It has a lot of anecdotes detailing her experiences dealing with all the roadblocks that we encounter or put up in our own path. She has a neurotic sense of humor that makes the book entertaining at the same time.

In this book, she writes a lot about the publishing process, adding a hearty dose of reality to want-to-be writers.

This book came recommended to me, although I can’t remember the source. I felt the book got off to a slow start. The first few chapters leaned more toward the spiritual style which didn’t appeal to me, but later chapters had more useful information. Overall, I found the book an enjoyable read, even if it didn’t give me all I was expecting.

Time Travel: A History by James Gleick

Filed under:Philosophy — posted by Randolph on January 21, 2018 @ 2:00 pm


Time Travel: A History by James Gleick

The book’s title has two meanings. The first is obvous, time travel at other than the normal rate. The other is traveling through history discussing attitudes and knowledge about time.

The first few chapters discuss historical perspectives about time, putting them in context of the local cultures. Then it gets into fiction, early suggestions of time travel cluminating with H. G. Wells and the actual consideration of traveling through time.

With Wells’ book, there is a lot of discussion about reactions to the idea, from supportive and expansive fiction to ridiculing reactions as reviews.

It expands on this idea to talk about how time travel is used to tell stories. This includes backstories and telling a story from two differnt time periods concurrently, as opposed to the current idea of time travel.

Finally, there is some discussion about the arrow of time, current ideas on time travel, and more journeys into fiction.

The book is interesting and worth reading, but didn’t provide a lot of new information of philosophical ideas.

New Grounds: The Manual for Non-Toxic Etching by Regina Held and Ray Maseman

Filed under:Art — posted by Randolph on January 16, 2018 @ 1:47 pm


New Grounds: The Manual for Non-Toxic Etching by Regina Held and Ray Maseman

This books is a text for a class taught by New Grounds. But it does stand on its own very well.

The book start off with a historical introduction, then chapters describing techniques to etch and print a plate. After that it goes on to describe different techniques to create and apply grounds: hardground, aquatint, spit bite, softground, crayon softground, liftground, Crisco liftground, color proofing, Chine Collé and finally curing the print. Each chapter goes into step-by-step details to create the ground, etching, timing considerations and finally some common problems and their solutions.

This is a great book for beginners as well as intermediate-level printers. Maybe advanced, I can’t speak to that.

The Long Utopia by Terry Pratchett

Filed under:Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on November 21, 2017 @ 2:51 pm


The Long Utopia by Terry Pratchett

I was disappointed in this book. It is part of a series known as The Long Earth, I wasn’t aware of that when I started the book. The premise is that there are a large number of parallel universes that can be stepped through, they are mostly similar with minor differences, mostly involving plants and animals. The plot involves an alien invasion in one of the parallel-Earths.

It felt like the world wasn’t thoroughly thought through. It is easy for people, either individuals with abilities or with devices, to step between the worlds. Yet, in a world, almost all thinking is normal within the world. Rather than build a house, then step into a parallel farm to work, they would build a normal farmstead. It would seem more interesting with four-dimensional dwellings and working environments.

The other problem was that the solution was just handed to the main characters. Someone showed up, this is how we solve it, and bang. There was a moral dilemma associated with the solution, but this, too, was solved to easily. And there wasn’t sufficient explanation about why it would actually work, muchh less discussion. Some of this could have been explained in the three earlier volumes that I haven’t read.

I would say that the series isn’t worth the time to read it, but I’d first like to have a discussion with someone who has read them.

The Lazarus War: Artefact by Jamie Sawyer

Filed under:Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on October 17, 2017 @ 10:21 am


The Lazarus War: Artefact by Jamie Sawyer

This story is told in first person, from the perspective of an elite soldier named Conrad Harris, he has earned the nickname Lazarus because he keeps coming back from death. The book examines the future of warfare, in this story, Conrad leads an elite team of sims. This team uses enhanced clones of themselves to go out on missions, they die and wake up again. The book looks like it’s going to examine this and its meaning to humanity, but doesn’t get there.

The writing is mostly plain. The author’s descriptions go from good and interesting to the kind of bland writing you want to race through. He uses only an occasional metaphor or similie, but it feels contrived.

The characters are one-dimensional. The author does use backstory to try and fill out Conrad’s life, but it doesn’t work. Often, the actions, and more so the dialog, of Conrad and his team feel more like amateurs playing soldier than elite soldiers. The descriptions of action on a ship during combat occasionally belie an ignorance of shipboard procedures.

If action and military sci-fi appeal to you, you will probably enjoy the book. I could not finish it.

The Wailing Wind by Tony Hillerman

Filed under:Mystery — posted by Randolph on September 29, 2017 @ 1:50 pm


The Wailing Wind by Tony Hillerman

Another book in the series of Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. In this book, Jim Chee is investigating a murder which may be related to a self-defense murder in the past. In a complex plot involving gold mines, abandoned military bases and a missing wife, Joe Leaphorn get his curiosity up and starts his own investigation.

This book starts out following Jim Chee and one of his officers, Bernadette Manuelito. These characters eventually take a back seat to Joe Leaphorn who does a lot of the investigation.

This book gets involved in some of the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni (?) cultures. It is one of Hillerman’s better stories.

The Color of Pixar by Tia Kratter

Filed under:Art — posted by Randolph on September 28, 2017 @ 3:52 pm


The Color of Pixar by Tia Kratter

I received this book as part of the Early reviewer program on LibraryThing. I was a little disappointed and also enjoyed it.

First, the images are very good. I enjoy seeing what people can do using the technology.

Then, the book has a nice layout. The cover is appealing and the pages are colored to the visible light spectrum. It is very nice.

But, there is no text discussing the images, techology, nor the artists. I was expecting that kind of information. Second, the images seem to be inserted at random, there is no organization by theme, techniques, film or artist.

Last, the book is a little small. These images demand more space, there is a lot of information in them and they would have a better appeal if they were larger.

Overall, I like to book. It is pleasing and can fill a few random minutes of your day.

Lila: An Inquiry into Morals by Robert Pirsig

Filed under:Philosophy — posted by Randolph on September 5, 2017 @ 3:01 pm


Lila: An Inquiry into Morals by Robert Pirsig

The book seems to be trying to present a philosophical argument and to be a work of fiction at the same time. It succeeds at neither.

Philosophically, Robert Persig is presenting his idea of the Metaphysics of Quality as a philosophical concept. Yet he uses the emotional tie-ins of his fictional story to sell the idea. From the start, it bothered me that his use of Quality is quite different from our usage. I would think another term would be more appropriate, but I believe he wants us to associate his idea with our idea of quality without having to say it.

His initial ideas are interesting, and it started to look like it may have some merits. However, after the mid-point of the book he tries to sell rather odd ideas. He redefined science from a set of objective truths to subjective truths, because that fits better in his philosophy. Now science can have different truths in different cultures, which is the opposite of the goals of science.

Psychology, likewise is defined as culturally dependent. He sells his ideas using Lila, a psychotic young woman who responds beautifully to the predictions of his philosophy. She is not likable and not very believable. Some of her behavior doesn’t feel consistent, the author would describe her as following a value system that is not consistent with that of society, but has “value”. In his philosophy, value comes from experience.

As a work of fiction, Robert Persig is constantly talking to the reader. The characters are one-dimensional and I eventually lost interest in them.

It only got worse. I have not been able to finish the book.

Analysis and Critique: How to Engage and Write About Anything by Prof. Dorsey Armstrong

Filed under:Art,Writing — posted by Randolph on August 25, 2017 @ 3:20 pm


Analysis and Critique: How to Engage and Write About Anything by  Prof. Dorsey Armstrong

This lecture series provides a guide for writing critiques. It is one of the Great Courses lectures series presented by Prof. Dorsey Armstrong of Purdue University.

The lectures focus primarily on organizing your thoughts and getting them on paper in a well-structured and readable form. She also encourages reading in as broad a spectrum as you can manage. Then a lesser emphasis on analysis, which, for me, felt like it came more from making your own thoughts clear and concise, then getting them in written form.

She speaks clearly and is well-organized. This makes it easy for her to get her points across. Her thoughts are reflected in the accompanying booklet. Although I felt it was too close, as it is often verbatim. Having read the book first, I felt like large portions of the lecture were redundant.

The material does a good job of covering the subject, and it felt adequately in-depth. In 24 lectures, each just shy of a half-hour, she covers a lot of ground. Although most of the lectures either discuss the subject matter abstractly, she does draw good examples from several works including fiction, poetry, drama and non-fiction. One lecture is devoted to grammar, which I felt was more of a sore point for her and, for me, felt like it should have been outside the scope of this lecture series.

I felt the lectures were good and well worth the time. I listed to several of them multiple times.

Most Secret War by R. V. Jones

Filed under:History — posted by Randolph on July 12, 2017 @ 3:23 pm


Most Secret War by R. V. Jones

Dr. Jones was a physicist who, when WWII began, was thrown into the role of scientific intelligence. The book chronicles his experiences during the war, detailing how he learned and analyzed the German capabilities and how he figured out how to counter them. There is some surprising guesswork and counterintelligence that made the book interesting.

It also delves into the relationship between him, Churchill, and various other organizations. These involved some politics and infighting, even during wartime.

After the war, Dr. Jones had the opportunity to interview some of the top Germans working with radar. He throws in their perspectives and ideas from time-to-time giving interesting new perspectives on the war.


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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace