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Book Review of High Five To The Boys

high five boys.jpgThis is a cute and inspiring read aimed at young people, arguably young men.

It celebrates male Australians who have made a difference in a variety of areas – from the entertainment industry to science, politics, charity and the environment. Some are well known, like Hugh Jackman, and others are lesser known but equally as fascinating.

This is a great gift, and a great staple for school libraries.  It shows men a variety of ways to be successful and challenges some of those stereotypes about masculinity that can be so damaging to them living fulfilling lives.

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Book Review of Pulitzer Prize Winning Less

LessI picked this up a recent trip to Readings in Carlton, and there was just something so endearing about the blurb for this novel… and then the giant sticker proclaiming that it had won the Pulitzer Prize this year.

Andrew Sean Greer’s Less is just as expected – a well-written and endearing novel about an aging gay writer – Arthur Less – who in a desperate attempt to have a legitimate excuse to skip the marriage of his long-term lover, accepts every offer possible that takes him out of the state- and even out of the country. Less just happens to be turning 50 around about the same time. And his latest novel, has been rejected by his publisher.

Witty, affable and charmingly sincere, Less is an engaging subject. It’s also lovely to enter his world of writers – and the mindset of writers who can never be sure of their own genius. But it’s apparently not that Less is a bad writer – his second last novel wins an international prize on his strange journey. It’s apparently that he’s a bad gay – always making his characters suffer. Somewhere on his journey amidst the broken heart, the self-flagellation, the nostalgia, the injuries, the madness and the alcohol, he completes a re-write of the new novel, and in turn, rewrites himself.

The novel is also intriguingly narrated by a disembodied narrator who moves closer and closer to the action of the narrative as the novel progresses, only to be revealed just as the story closes. Sweet, smart and honest – while this won’t be the book of the year for me by a mile, I dare you not to like it.

Book Review of The Life and Death of Sophie Stark

sophie-stark-e1448060209378One of the real luxuries of holidays is to throw all serious reading aside and pull out a book of relaxing fiction. 

First I started with a Lianne Moriarty, but that turned out to be too light. I settled instead for Anna North’s The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, a book that had been on my to-do list for a while. I ungraciously pounced on it when a friend revealed a whole bag full of second-hand book goodies she’d managed to pick up .. and she much more graciously allowed me to take this, offering that she had plenty more to keep her going.

So the story of film-director Sophie Stark… it’s quietly intriguing and cleverly crafted. Told in sections by the people closest to her – and not entirely chronologically, they each paint a picture of that tortured artist trope – a woman trying to communicate with the world via film and through appropriating the powerful stories of those in her lives. Equal parts genius and destructive, Sophie is a vivid figure who none – including the reader – are likely to forget. 

I absorbed this with a quiet fascination over about three days. It’s a book with few likeable characters and some clever storytelling. Although trite in places, it’s the kind of book you wished you’d come up with the concept for yourself. Worth picking up

Book Review of The Female Persuasion

Female persuasionI’m still pondering this eleventh novel by heavenly novelist, Meg Wolitzer. From Wolitzer I can normally expect a kind of fast-paced tour-de-force of the human condition…. Often with very young characters coming into adulthood. The Female Persuasion feels more grown up, more of a thinker, but certainly it lacked the obsessive must-read quality many of her other novels have been characterised by.

In a well-timed move, The Female Persuasion looks at women – their relationships with each other, and beyond this, the women’s movement. At the centre of the novel is Faith Frank, a 60-year-old iconic feminist known for her sexy high boots – a women who has meant a lot to the movement over the years, but is approaching the point of irrelevance. The main character, Greer Kadetsky, meets her at a talk as a Freshman at Ryland University, where her feminism is just awakening after being sexually harassed by an older classmate. Greer’s best friend Zee introduces her to Frank’s work and legacy, but when Frank and Greer make a connection during the event, it is Greer who eventually goes on to work in Faith’s new organisation, sponsored by big business. Zee is left somewhat behind to forge a new meaning in her life, shut out by Greer from access to Faith and as such, the feminist world she longs to live in.

All the women struggle with definitions of feminism here – Zee must find a new way of making a difference without being an activist. In the end, she is the most balanced of the three. Frank’s big business backers radically change her practices as she finds she need to make compromises to keep the money rolling in. Greer’s naivety leads to an inevitable clash with Frank, although doesn’t stop her from having to re-evaluate herself and her attitude to feminism throughout the text – especially in regards to Zee and to her long-time boyfriend Cory whose life is derailed by an unexpected death.

The story is definitely a journey, particularly for Greer who steps into the spotlight of the new feminism at the end of the novel. Finely crafted and thought-provoking, an interesting change of pace from this author.

Book Review of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

eleanorThis book wasn’t quite what I expected – although good nonetheless.

Eleanor Oliphant is conservative – both in her appearance and thinking.  She doesn’t engage well with others, and lives on her own with a plant she is reasonably fond of.  She’s also fond of vodka and Tesco’s.  She doesn’t enjoy her job.  She doesn’t have any hobbies or any family with the exception of an absent mother she speaks to weekly on the phone.  Somehow though, the new IT technician at her work – Raymond – manages to make himself a part of her life when they witness an elderly man collapse on the street one day and rush to his assistance.

From here, I was expecting a heart-warming story of a quiet, shy individual finding herself and transforming her life, learning that she can form relationships and have a pathway to  happiness.  And there is plenty of that – and plenty of moments where you marvel at how life can change dramatically in such a short period of time.

But this was actually much more serious that than, delving into the reasons for reclusive Eleanor’s quiet lifestyle and rigid thought patterns.  Eleanor has a tragic backstory that gradually unravels as the narration continues.  This is unusual in a book that has a generally light feel.

The real genius of this fairly engaging novel is not just in the careful portrayal of Eleanor’s journey, but also in the colourful characters she encounters along the way.  The minor characters are beautifully detailed and quirky.  There’s something real in the beauty of this, and in the transcendence of everyday lives.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is getting a lot of attention right now.  It’s definitely not one of the stand-outs of the year for me, but worth a look nonetheless.

 

Book Review of Star Wars Psychology

star-wars-psychologyOne for the fans.

This series of essays links psychology principles to the Star Wars films – well, Episodes 1 – 6 that is (imagine the field day they would have with Kylo Ren!).

Some of the essays aim to use psychology to help readers understand characters, for example many focus on Anakin Skywalker across the six films and others aim to use Star Wars to help us understand psychological principles (i.e. the reverse). Both are pretty successful.

It was recommended to me by a friend who is a psychologist who had never seen a Star Wars film until the Christmas holidays, and has now seen them all multiple times and has several of these books (even I’m only planning on reading one!).

The content varies from dealing with grief, to mindfulness, relationships, the nature of good and evil and small investigations of how we view droids, loss of limbs (which happens to both Luke and Anakin), mentoring and the portrayal of women in the series.

There were some fascinating essays but I wouldn’t recommend you read this in one sitting – it’s better spread amongst other reading.  Just pick it up and read an essay when you feel like it.

Book Review of Switch – Making Change When Change is Hard

Switch.jpgLet’s face it – change is often hard.  And it is most hard when the status quo has been working for us.  Nobody likes to give up strategies that have been working for us.  And this is the key issue for organisational change – what is good for the organisation can sometimes get in the way of what is comfortable for the individual.

Dan and Chip Heath look at this in depth in Switch.  What I liked most about this this book was the ways to create change that they broke down and classified (see in attached picture.

They begin by looking at the mental aspect of change (they call this the ‘Rider’) and how to get people to understand the need for change, and the ways that can undertake it with ease.  Then they look at emotions (the Elephant) – which let’s face it, often trump our logical responses (you know another chocolate is no good for you don’t you, but who can resist?).  Appealing to emotions can prompt that visceral need for change and can build excitement for change. Finally they look at the small things – how to create a pathway for change to make it easier.  We often under-estimate how powerful a small behavioural change can be.  If I sleep in my gym gear, it’s so much easier to get up and go to gym in the morning. There was nothing complicated about that solution – just clever.  A small change can make a big impact.

The Heath brothers suggest that often you will need to work through all three of these aspects in order to be successful.  Some challenges might only need to consider one.

As usual, there are lots of clever and entertaining examples, and further steps that I don’t have time to outline here.  But this was a pretty enjoyable non-fiction read, and certainly one I can see myself referencing over and over.

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