December 4, 2012

Sitzbook: Four Quick Reviews

Hi Everyone! Today I'm continuing my reviews for Sitzbook. My thoughts on the four books I'll review today weren't terribly comment-heavy, so I decided to do them in a quick, compressed format. Here we go:

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
The Good: This book is about Professor Randy Pausch, a man who was terminally sick and gave his famous "last lecture" to highlight how to really achieve one's dreams. You can read more here. It's a great way to think about what's truly important in your life.
The Not-So-Good: The book gets very personal at times, and Pausch occasionally comes off as having all the answers. I know that certainly wasn't his intention, though, and it's not like that sensation is overbearing or anything.
Should You Read It? Yes, possibly, but as I read the book, it occurred to me that this is the type of book everyone should write, since it's a great way to leave behind a record of our values, memories, and love. So read it if you want, and then write your own "last lecture."

Coming to theaters: Sitzbook: The Movie, starting Jason Statham.
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
The Good: I read this because I had the impression that it wasn't really about statistics and baseball, but in reality it was. I guess it's good in the sense that it makes statistics and baseball sort of interesting. The writing is also good, and one can identify with some of the people mentioned in the book.
The Not-So-Good: At the end of the day, it's still about statistics and baseball.
Should You Read It? No, just watch the major motion picture starring Brad Pitt, although that's not that much more interesting, seeing as it's also about statistics and baseball.

The Big Short by Michael Lewis
The Good: Like Moneyball, it was a free book from Amazon's Kindle Lending Library.
The Not-So-Good: It's about the roots of the recent financial crisis and it's really boring as a result.
Should You Read It? No. C'mon, I just said it was boring.

Earth (The Book) by The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
The Good: It's pretty funny in a few parts, and you can find the hardcover "textbook" version for a couple of dollars at a Barnes and Noble near you. Nice pictures, too.
The Not-So-Good: America (The Book) was quite a bit funnier in most parts.
Should You Read It? Yeah, sure, but maybe not from cover-to-cover, but rather just leave it in the john to read a page or two every now and then.

You'd think that reading two pages with so many pictures would be a breeze, but it took me quite a bit longer to read this book, per page, than one that's purely text.
So, that's it for today! I'll be back with more reviews throughout the week, and hopefully I'll get caught up. Thanks for reading!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

December 3, 2012

Sitzbook: "Casino Royale" by Ian Fleming

OK, so this will be a bit different. I just read this book last week and I wanted to review it for Sitzbook. However, a few friends and I just started a blog about movies and stuff like that, so I wrote a review there comparing the book and the movie. I'll reprint that in this post, but you can also check out the review here. The blog is called Cinematic Attic, and it's pretty fun! If you're interested in movies, books, and music (but especially movies, at least thus far), then check it out!

So, here's my review from Cinematic Attic:

(She's not really purple, though. This isn't Star Wars.)

I'll try to write a short, fast review for this, but that's what I say every time.

OK, I just recently read Casino Royale by Ian Fleming for Sitzbook. It was OK; not that great, but also somehow addicting. It was published in 1953, and the (2nd) movie version came out in 2006, so there are obviously going to be some differences, especially in things like technology. But the movie was very different.

The main characters are the same, at least in name. You've got James Bond, Vesper Lynd, Le Chiffre, M, and Mathis. And there is a high stakes card game at a casino where Bond is trying to defeat Le Chiffre. That part of the movie starts about 1 hour into the movie, but what comes before that is absolutely different from the book. In fact, it's not in the book at all. Bond fights a guy on a skyscraper in Madagascar. Bond goes to the Bahamas to seduce some lady to get closer to her terrorist husband. Bond foils a terrorist plot to blow up a prototype airliner in Miami. 

All that is the first hour of the movie, and it's completely unnecessary. It's supposedly a set-up to help us understand the background of Le Chiffre and the type of people he runs with, but still, Fleming was able to establish all that in about two paragraphs. That's not to say it's not fun, since it is, but then after all that you still have a 1.5 hour movie to get through. The people who made the movie should have just stuck with the Casino Royale story, which is followed fairly closely after that point. There are some differences like location (book is France, movie is Montenegro), and the ending is completely different, but I also understand they needed to make it look cool and sexy, and it's a lot easier to watch an action scene than to read one.

Eva Green (center) and Daniel Craig (right) with a dog (front). I don't remember the dog in the movie, but he could have been the guy helping out the croupier.
So, which is better, the book or the movie? I'd say the movie, but only if you start at about 55 minutes in. They should have just used those 55 minutes and added them to the next Bond movie, because the rest of the story is well done. Daniel Craig is a great James Bond, although I must admit I've only seen a few Bond movies and don't really care that much about the Bond character. So, I'll correct that: Daniel Craig is a cool actor and I like how he plays Bond. I also like how Eva Green plays Vesper. Much stronger and confident, much less stupid and useless than in the book (again, it was written in 1953, so I realize times have changed).

I'd give the book 10 stars out of 17. I'd give the first 55 minutes of the movie 7 stars out of 17, and the second part 12 stars out of 17. 

Yeah, yeah, I know I should see the 1960s movie version, too, if I really want to compare these. But one thing at a time, guys. 

Have a good week, everyone!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

December 2, 2012

Sitzbook: "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" by Michael Chabon

Hi again! I'm back with another review, although this one will be mostly quotes. My brother gave me The Yiddish Policemen's Union for Christmas and it was, in a word, excellent. The story takes place in an alternate reality in which Sitka, Alaska, has taken in millions of Jewish refugees during the Second World War, thereby basically avoiding the bulk of the Holocaust. (In reality, this was actually a plan that was briefly proposed in the US Congress but ultimately came to nothing.) Anyhow, the story picks up in more modern times, when the city is about to revert to American/Alaskan control, since it had been an autonomous region before, basically controlled by the Yiddish-speaking Jewish community.

Still following? OK, the main thing though is that there are crimes, intrigue, mysteries and a strong "human" element in the form of the relationship between the (anti-)hero Meyer Landsmann and his ex-wife Bina. I don't want to give away anything, since I knew basically nothing going into this book, and that's the best way to approach this one. Just pick it up and let the story take you away. But I do assure you that the book is one of the best ones I've read this year, and even in the last two years, of Sitzbook. And I don't know exactly what I expected when I first saw the cover, but I somehow know that the book was completely different than what I might have thought it'd be about.

I'll give you a few quotes to show you what the writing is like.

From p. 262, Landsmann is hearing some people speak Hebrew; the content of the quote isn't that amazing, but it does illustrate how great of a writer Chabon is, and how he's able to paint vivid images in the reader's mind:

“In the dreamy seconds that precede his loss of consciousness, the guttural language that Landsman heard Roboy speaking plays like a recording in his ear, and he makes a dazzling leap into impossible understanding, like the sudded consciousness in a dream of one’s having invented a great theory or written a fine poem that in the morning turns out to be gobbledygook. They are talking, those Jews on the other side of the door, about roses and frankincense. They are standing in a desert wind under the date palms, and Landsman is there, in flowing robes that keep out the biblical sun, speaking Hebrew, and they are all friends and brothers together, and the mountains skip like rams, and the hills like little lambs.”

This is from p. 362, when Landsmann's being held by American police officers:

“Landsman pisses away the next twenty-four hours in the hum of a chalk-white room with a milk-white carpet on the seventh floor of the Harold Ickes Federal Building on Seward Street. 
In teams of two, six men with the variegated surnames of doomed crewmen in a submarine movie rotate in and out of the room in four-hour shifts. One is a black man and one a Latino, and the others are fluid pink giants with haircuts that occupy the neat interval between astronaut and pedophile scoutmaster. Gum chewers, overgrown boys with good manners and Bible-school smiles. In each of them at moments Landsman sniffs out the diesel heart of a policeman, but he is baffled by the fairings of their southern and gentile glamour. Despite the smoke screen of back talk that Landsman puts up, they make him feel rattletrap, a two-stroke old beater.”

And finally, I just liked this quote from p. 64:

“Brennan studied German in college and learned his Yiddish from some pompous old German at the Institute, and he talks, somebody once remarked, ‘like a sausage recipe with footnotes.’”

This is half of the inside cover. To be completely honest with you, it's beautiful.
I obviously thought this was a great book, and above all else its most intriguing accomplishment is the ability to make the reader really ponder "What if?" The whole bulk of the story is also excellently done, but that underlying idea that there could have been a way to prevent so many people from dying, well, that's what made me think a lot more than the actual plot of the book.

If you've read anything else by Chabon and enjoyed it (like Wonder Boys or The Mysteries of Pittsburgh), you'll surely like this one, too. And if you've not read him, then get going!

Thanks for reading this, by the way! Have a great week!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

December 1, 2012

Sitzbook: "Lamb" By Christopher Moore

This is a dazed bird that crashed into the Formerly Crappy Casita.
It's got nothing to do with this post, but I didn't have any other pictures to illustrate this book.
Hello! It's been a while since I wrote a book review for Sitzbook, so I really need to catch up. As a quick re-cap, I've been reading a book a week for the last two years. At this moment, I still have 7 more to go before the end of the year, so December will be a busy month for reading. It will also have quite a few reviews, since another goal for my project this year was to write at least a short review for each book. I know that no one really cares that much about my opinions regarding any given book, but I do, and I like to look back on old blog posts to remember what I thought about things, including books, of course.

Anyhow, today I'll start to bring us up to speed by reviewing a book I finished a few months ago. To do that I'll stick with the format I stole and adapted from AnnaLisa, which will feature the categories of "The Good," "The Not-So-Good," and "Should You Read It?" But this time I'll also add a few quotes.

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

The Good: Brad recommended this book to me and thus far, his recommendations have all been hits. It tells the story --no, it makes up the story-- of Jesus as a child and young man, as seen through the eyes of his childhood buddy Biff. It's a bit satirical, of course, but not in a disrespectful way. However, I realize that religion is a perennially touchy subject so if you don't like the idea of a Jesus who is different from the scripture you've read, then just steer clear of the book to avoid controversy. I thought it was quite funny, though.

The Not-So-Good: Actually I thought it was all well-written, and it made me want to check out more by Moore. Although like I said, if books that look at religion in a joking way bother you, don't read this one.

Should You Read It? If books that look at religion in a joking way don't bother you, then yes.

A Few Quotes:

"That's the difference between irony and sarcasm. Irony can be spontaneous, while sarcasm requires volition. You have to create sarcasm."

(Biff is talking about the gospels, which he has discovered in a hotel Bible while being kidnapped by an angel and forced to write his own gospel):
"Mark begins with the baptism, at thirty! Where did these guys get their stories? 'I once met a guy in a bar who knew a guy whose sister's best friend was at the baptism of Joshua bar Joseph of Nazareth, and here's the story as best as he could remember it.'"

"A wall is the defense of a country that values inaction. But a wall imprisons the people of a country as much as it protects them."

And to finish, this quote is actually by the author, in the acknowledgements section at the end of the book:
"Finally, this story was set in a dire time, a deadly serious time, and the world of the first-century Jew under the rule of the Romans would not have been one that easily inspired mirth. It's more than a small anachronism that I portray Joshua having and making fun, yet somehow, I like to think that while he carried out his sacred mission, Jesus of Nazareth might have enjoyed a sense of irony and the company of a wisecracking buddy. This story is not and never was meant to challenge anyone's faith; however, if one's faith can be shaken by stories in a humorous novel, one may have a bit more praying to do."

So! One more down, a lot more to go. Tell me if you've read this, or have any thoughts or comments. Thanks for reading, and have a good one!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook