Saturday, April 30, 2016

April 2016 Bookshelf

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina
301 pages

No joke, one of my first thoughts as I got into this book was: John Medina is more of an advocate for evolution than Darwin himself was!  I'm joking, but maybe not. *wink*
Excellent book from Medina on our brains. Just excellent. It's irony at its best when you are reading a book on your brain and are hoping you can remember the information - ha. Medina knows the human brain, inside and out. He's also not afraid to say what he doesn't know and is still learning. His humility on the subject is refreshing.
John Medina takes 12 principles that affect our brains and breaks them down, one by one, into ways that us normal, non-sciencey, people can understand and assimilate into - as the title suggests - work, home, and school.  He covers exercise, sleep, stress, wiring, attention, memory, sensory integration, vision, music, gender, and exploration in regards to the brain. All of it fascinating. Spoiler alert: Vision wins over all other senses.
Medina writes for all. He isn't dry or overly academic. He doesn't pontificate. He keeps his topic relateable. I don't know if he has to work at keeping it relateable or if that is another of his talents but it comes off to the reader as effortless. Not only does he educate about the brain but he also expands what he has observed and learned all these years into ideas for how to improve the workplace and education to utilize our brains to their fullest potential. Great ideas which make so much sense. I'm crossing my fingers I can remember the most important points of Medina's teachings.




Counting Stars by Kathleen Long
Kindle Edition - 354 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Counting Stars is a follow up title to Long's Chasing Rainbows. I wouldn't say sequel, although it certainly is, but follow up because it can be read as a stand alone and Chasing Rainbows is not required reading to pick this story up.
Bernie is blocked. She has writer's block and isn't sure what to do about it. 31 days, seven hours, and approximately 32 minutes ago her brother Mark had died from a sudden and unavoidable heart complication. She hasn't been able to write since then. The problem is writing is her livelihood, it's how she pays the bills. 31 days, seven hours, and 33 minutes after her brother Mark died suddenly his widow, Jenny, shows up in tears on Bernie's front porch. Carrying a book in her hand and babbling about not taking Mark seriously Jenny pushes the book at Bernie and flees back to her house and her children. It's Mark's "Bucket List" book - created long before bucket lists were a thing. And Bernie decides that the best way to unblock her writer's block and honor her brother is to travel his bucket list and mark it off for him. She manages to coerce her Mom, Jenny, and her best friend Diane, into riding along on this "in memoriam" adventure.  With a body switch the day of departure, Bernie and the girls hit the road in an RV named Georgie and a lot of reluctance that this bucket list is going to do much good.
I really liked this book. It may partially be due to the fact that I just lost my Aunt, who died unexpectedly and entirely too young, and so living life to the fullest is at front and center of my heart and mind. It's also partially due to the intrigue of bucket lists and living them out. And Long's bucket list theme for Mark is especially intriguing to me. Cheesy but lighthearted and oh so fun. I want to take the trip and make those stops - and I hate road trips! So kudos to Long for making me want to hit the road, in an RV, and tour the nation for kitschy tourist stops.  Long's characters are warm, relatable, and easy to empathize with. There are some important lessons about the grieving process woven into the story as well. All in all a really good read.




The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
274 pages

Let's first address the genre the book falls under. Many call it sci-fi based on a few inclusions in the book like rocket ships. I totally disagree with that genre label. It is really, and firmly, a member of alternate history. Now that we've gotten that out of the way... *grin*
Dick writes a book in which WWII was won by the Germans and Japanese. Clearly that would be a very different world. Any research points that way - the research Dick did to write the book as well as other research done for other alternate history accounts (for example, The Children's War by Stroyar). So we find ourselves, as the reader, located in the PSA - the Pacific States of America. It's about 15-20 years after the end of WWII and the Japanese are the ruling power in the PSA. The East Coast is governed by the Germans. There is a neutral zone called the Buffer zone consisting of the Rocky Mountains and the states it covers. Slavery is legal, Africa has been decimated through genocide, any remaining Jewish people are still being found out and burned up. The world under the rule of Hitler and his SS is as oppressive as we all feared it would be. Germany is looking at taking out their once ally Japan and truly taking over the world. Factions for both sides, as well as people residing in the Buffer zone, are making moves and deals to try and gain momentum for their side. A book is making waves - the Germans have banned it, the neutral zone is selling it, and the PSA is tolerating it - because it tells a tale of a different ending to the war, one in which Germany and Japan lose. In an ironic twist the book we, the reader, are reading of alternate history also contains within it a tale of alternate history. It's a different history than what has actually happened but Dick couldn't write it verbatim or see into the future. What I found interesting about the alternate history the book's characters are reading about is that they scoff and jest at the idea that Germany and Japan would or could have ever lost the war and life could and would be very different than what they experience under the govern of those two superpowers. But we, at least me and the people in my circles, do not scoff and jest at the idea of Germany and Japan winning the war, we breathe a sigh of relief and feel a bit unsettled and scared at the thought of the "what if." It literally strikes a bolt of fear through my heart to consider the idea.
There are some main characters in the book but I'm not going to review them or the book based on them. I'm more focused on the overall theme and ideas of the book than the characters that Dick creates to carry it out. If anything what the characters prove is that there is always - always - a remnant of people in each culture and society that fight the establishment and kick at the goads of injustice. And the book's characters are doing just that in their own circles and with the methods and opportunities afforded them. Juliana, living in the Rocky Mountains, does so when confronted with the choice to follow Inner Truth. Frank, living in California PSA, does so through his artistry and craftsmanship. Mr. Tagomi, working for PSA Government in California, leans upon the Oracle for his guidance in political matters. Mr. Baynes, a Swede, figures into the story in his way and in his time. And then Bob Childan, an American Artifacts Dealer, finds himself involved in a bigger story than he thought. The commonality between all the characters is their secret hope that somehow things will change - that somehow Germany and Japan could be thwarted and life could become pleasant and safe once again.
Dick published this book in 1962 when the war was still rather fresh in the minds of the world. It was bold of him to release a book that imagined a different outcome with still so much angst present due to the toll it took on humanity. I thought it was well-written and imagined for its time. Dick entertained the thought of writing a sequel but a couple of books that started out with that intent became different stories all together. He finally admitted at one point that in order to write a sequel he would need a co-author and someone to do the research for he didn't think he could bear to go back and read anymore about the Nazi's. What they did was too much for him to continue to research for the sake of a book. The Man in the High Castle is very open-ended, it does leave things wide open for a sequel but it also leaves things wide open for the imagination.
**The Man in the High Castle Amazon Series** - the series is based, loosely, on the book. Dick's novel could only be transformed into a movie/show to a particular extent. At the point it is fulfilled or realized further imagination, storytelling, speculation needs to happen in order for it to become anything worth watching. And the Amazon series IS worth watching. It is a fantastic visual of Dick's book and beyond. I wonder what Dick would think of it were he still alive. It realizes his "what if's" in spectacular ways and the series brings to Dick's book a human element slightly lacking in his written tale.