Book Review of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

hank greenI added this one to my reading pile not only because I enjoy John Green’s writing, but because of the amazing video content John and his brother Hank have created together.  I figure if Hank had tried his hand at writing, more amazing things would likely be on offer.

It took me a little while to get into An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.  This is possibly because the writing feels so different to his brothers.  (And why shouldn’t it?) Also firmly within the Young Adult Fiction world, Hank’s writing is a little darker than John’s, and a little less focussed around a mental health theme.  So it took several chapters to find my rhythm here.

Hank imagines a world in which a series of robot-like statues magically appear.  The statues are extra-terrestrial in origin, and inscrutable as to their purpose.  Young April May finds the first late one night outside a Chipotle in New York. Stunned by the artistry, she quickly calls a friend and they post a YouTube video praising the artist for this surprise installation.  She awakes to find herself an internet sensation, and the robots, which she has dubbed CARL, in every major city in the world.

What follows is April’s own story of fame as well as the world’s reaction to the Carls, with some hints as to the Carls’ own agenda.

April is an interesting character, flawed and honest about it.  Unlikeable at times in ways that are quite different to his brother’s work. But nonetheless, I ended up enjoying this and would look forward to any more writing Hank Green decides to do.

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Book Review of Audrey Niffenegger’s Raven Girl

raven girlI found this short book in a library sale. Picking it up for our book nooks, I could not resist reading it myself first.  After all, The Time Traveller’s Wife was a pretty great read, I even if I didn’t enjoy Her Fearful Symmetry.

Raven Girl is a lot of things.  Niffenegger says she wanted to create a Fairy Tale for our times, and in many ways she has.  It has the slightly disturbing nature of those real Grimm’s fairy tales – this probably isn’t a tale that Disney will make into a movie.  It’s definitely not for small children either – despite being shaped much like a children’s book and full of illustrations.

It begins with a postman, who falls in love with a Raven.  After some time, they have a child, who is human in shape, but Raven in mind and speech.  As she grows older, she comes to realise that she must take steps – radical ones even – to make the exterior match the interior.

This is an unsettling story in an era of body dysmorphia, But I guess at it’s heart, it is about being different and embracing your differences.  And the illustrations are beautiful.  I’m not sure this is for the younger boys at school, but might be an interesting short read for a more mature student who might find much to ponder in this.

 

Book Review of How We Work

how we workThis book was recommended by several people I follow on Twitter, so I thought it was worth a look.  The basic premise is to come to terms with the fact that working for a paycheck, and working for a purpose are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, seeking purpose at work is necessary for our own wellbeing.

This book wasn’t quite what I expected – being aimed in some ways at those looking to change their attitude towards work whereas I already feel a strong sense of purpose in what I do.  But there were some practical ideas that I can extrapolate from this to build on workplace culture – which is so important in schools whereby the workload and pressure can sometimes get to us if we do not keep our purpose – that being, contributing to the lives of young people – firmly in mind.

It also deals with compassion – both for self and others, failure and resilience.  All worthy topics that are a great part of self-development. And all are well supported by a strong combination of research and anecdotal evidence.  The anecdote in the compassion chapter about the real-estate developer who befriends the old woman who wont sell out to him  is one I can see myself thinking about and referring to often.

A useful read although not one that resulted in a drastic change of mindset or practice for me.

Book Review of The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder

beeAn engaging read with an intriguing narrator.

Jasper is a 13-year-old bird enthusiast.  He is also a key witness in the murder of Bee Larkham, a trouble post-teen who moved back to his neighbourhood after her mother’s death.

There’s just one problem – although he may have seen the man responsible for her murder, he will never recognise him.

Jasper has synaesthesia – a condition which causes him to see colour with sound.  This is why he finds the parakeets that have moved into his neighbourhood so fascinating.  But it has a cost – he finds recognising faces almost impossible – they are just blurs of colour. New things and new people are frightening to him – especially since the death of his mother, the only person who understood him.

But Jasper is determined to hide what he knows about Bee Larkham.  It is possible he was the last person to see her alive – and the incident is one he would rather forget.

A mildly intriguing story -an easy read with solid pace.

 

Book Review of Home Fire

home fire.jpgIt’s easy to write simplistic literature around terrorism today, and just as easy to focus on the many, many victims – whether of real threats or of the fear of threat. But what Kamila Shamsie does in Home Fire is so much more complex than this.  She looks intimately at the impact on two families when one son decides to follow his father into the darkness.  One sister abandons him immediately, while another does what she can to be there for him as he finds himself in a frightening and dehumanised world, which no longer makes any kind of sense to him.

Connected to this is a political family who become connected to his disappearance through the sisters, and to his desire to come home.  As Muslims and Middle Easterners under public scrutiny in modern London, the father uses his political power to make an example of those boys that renounce their citizenship in order to show himself to be a figure of unassailable morals.  But his staunch political correctness is trumped by a sister’s love, and her quest for her family to be reunited in any way possible.

Home Fire is a story of love, family, fear, regret, politics and sacrifice.  It’s hard to look away from, and clearly the work of a real talent.

Book Review of The Courage to Be Disliked

courageThis is the kind of book that changes asks you to confront yourself – but also forgive yourself a lot too.  It’s also quite a clever way to introduce Adlerian Psychology to a new audience, by staging a series of conversations between a philosopher and a young man seeking to understand himself and the purpose of existence more.

Their discussions cover a broad range a topics and a broad range of conclusions Adler came to – and a philosophy that is actually much simpler than many other theories, including Freudian theories.

Adler proposes the following:

  • That we all belong to a part of a greater community, and that we should see all others as comrades
  • All problems are interpersonal problems
  • That the past has no place in the future and if we hold onto it, it is because we choose to
  • You can resolve to change as you can resolve to like yourself
  • Confronting “life tasks”, such as work, friendship and love, are part of growing up
  • We should seek to do our tasks, but remember those that are the tasks of others.  For example, getting someone to like you is their task and not yours.  if it is not your task, you should not spend time or energy on it. This is the definition of freedom
  • Live your life to satisfy yourself – seeking validation from others is to not be free
  • Real happiness comes from a sense of contributing to that community we all belong to.

It’s an interesting book, and the challenges the young man faces in coming to terms with this change in thinking – one that removes the right to blame others and feel sorry for ourselves, may reflect reactions possible in a variety of readers.  But it is a fascinating work and one that will shape your thinking in times to come.  Definitely worth a look.

Book Review of Elevation

elevationStephen King’s latest novella, Elevation is a short read or short listen if like me, you’re a fan of audio books.

It’s a touching rather than scary story of a strange affliction – and how it works to actually bring people together.

Scott is a fairly lonely man living in a small town after the break-down of his marriage.  Then he notices something strange – he’s losing weight.  But only on the scales – his large frame remains unchanged.  And even more puzzling – is that no matter what Scott carries on the scale, his weight remains the same as it does when carrying nothing.

But with this lightness also seems to come a lightness of being.  Although concerned about what happens when the scales hit zero, he still takes the time to befriend a gay couple who move into the town and open a restaurant, supporting the two women to be accepted amongst the townsfolk who have fairly traditional views.  His actions change their lives and secure their future.

It’s a beautiful little story and on audio comes with an even shorter story about the power of animals to heal.  Worth a look.