The Life of Pi

I’m conflicted about this book.  I don’t know whether I hate it or like it.  Whether it’s brilliant or pretentious. And whether I’m spending too much pondering all of this. I’m trying to revamp the book list for my multi-cultural literature course and I’ve seen The Life of Pi on several lists.  So on a long road trip up to Northern Michigan I thought why not give the audio book a chance?

So why do I like it?  I like it because I enjoy travel narratives.  Pi’s journey goes from Pondicherry, India to Canada, and everything in between.  I also like survival narratives, partly because it makes my life seem so normal.  I’ve also been curious about the movie and I like to read the books before seeing certain movies.  I wasn’t disappointed by the travel narrative nor by the survival aspect, all though the later pushed even fictional survival skills.

Why did I hate it?  Because the beginning of the book spends A LOT of time on animal Pibehaviors, philosophy of animal husbandry in zoos, and religion.  And then we get to the shipwreck and none of that really matters.  It’s all abandoned for the survival narrative.  I don’t like my time wasted.  I also don’t like when writers use the ending as a pull-the-rug-out-from-under-your-understanding-of-the-book device.  Don’t give us an ambiguous ending with a somewhat truth-bomb revelation at the end and call it brilliance.  Yes, it made me review my understanding of Pi’s “truth” about the journey, but does that really mean I should question all “truth” that people share with me?

This is where I’m not sure if the book is brilliant or pretentious.  I’m leaning towards pretentious. I think the writing could’ve been edited better in the beginning.  We don’t need quite so much philosophy, especially if it’s not going to play a role in the major thrust of the plot.  Also, a kid growing up in India would face incredible discrimination for trying to practice Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism.  I appreciate that Martel is trying to show the universality of truth, but let’s not abandon reality.  I also appreciate that Martel is trying to show how there’s order to the animal world, even though humans as lower beings, yet we, the superior beings, treat our kind with just as much savagery and animilaistic behavior.  But the delivery of this metaphor was too on-the-nose.

It’s a good road trip book, but I recommend just reading the book.  It reads well.  Hopefully the movie shows just the exciting bits.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

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The Daniel Plan

I hardly read any non-fiction.  But when I do, it’s usually about food, health, fitness, or historical.  Lately I’ve noticed that my tastes have gone more towards fitness and health.  Previously I had read the books, Clean and Clean Gut, by Dr. Alejandro Junger.  These two books made me reflect on the relationship between what I eat and how it affects other systems in my body outside of digestion.  Since those two books, I’ve had my eye out for other books that are similar; relating the idea of what we eat to overall health.

The Daniel Plan, by Rick Warren, Dr. Daniel Amen, and Dr. Mark Hymen, furthers that idea Daniel Planbut also adds in important suggestions for fitness, faith, and friends.  I was skeptical about the potency of what would be suggested.  Many times, books that mix religion and diet tend to either be way too prescriptive or very vague.  Daniel Plan had a good mix of principle and prescription so I feel that there was a good balance.  Basically, the authors take a holistic look at the elements of what affect our diets: food, friends, fitness, faith, and focus.  Each one of those elements is spun off as a chapter.  The weakest one, in my opinion was focus.

Focus is the idea that we sometimes have a very negative view of our relationship with our food.  We tend to have negative self-talk about eating right or our ability to lose weight, begin a workout regimen, etc.  I agree with all that.  I just felt they took it a little too far and made it sound like I have to meditate before any meal to make sure I only have positive self-talk.  Sometimes I’m just hungry and want to eat.  I’m not looking to do yoga before every meal.

I felt the sections on fitness and food were science based, but also practical.  I do not think that you have to be wealthy to afford a bunch of supplements, nor be able to hire a person chef.  The authors were very balanced in their ideas for how to achieve success in choosing and preparing food as well as incorporating fitness into our lives.

One of the shocking sections was friends.  I had never analyzed the role my friends or family play in my health, but it makes sense that with whom we spend time tend to influence our habits.  If we hang out with people who constantly snack or wanting to go out to eat, we are going to adapt to that.  Or if you family is the meat and potatoes people, we will tend to eat that way.  The authors cautioned that it’s not that we have to abandon our family and friends who have negative impacts on our diet, but we have to be willing to stand up for our boundaries and eat right and work out regardless of the friends and family want to do.

I recommend this book if you want a practical guide to diet and fitness.  It’s not an exhaustive look at either, but it’s a good starting off point.

Slaying the Debt Dragon

My wife and I have been trying to untangle ourselves from the mountain of debt with which Debtcollege and graduate school has encumbered us.  We’ve adapted some of Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover principles, but it feels like we’re in the one step forward, two steps backwards.  Which brings me to Slaying the Debt Dragon.  I don’t remember where I saw the book but I was intrigued.  Cherie Lowe blogged about her family’s experience getting out of debt and has taken the blog and made a book.

Not only does she describe her family’s journey to being debt free, she also gives tips and tricks to squeezing every last penny.  Like us, she and her husband have applied Mr. Ramsey’s theory to their finances, but reading Ms. Lowe’s experience made it seem more attainable.  It’s that misery loves company mindset.  It seems like there’s hope for us, since someone else was able to make it debt-free.

I really appreciated her advice on things like gift-giving, cleaning supplies, and clutter.  The first thing to go when you’re trying to become debt free is extras.  When you stop buying extra stuff, you sometimes feel like you’re left with nothing.  But as you take stock of what remains, you realize not all of your clothes are threadbare, your books read, or your movies unbearable.  When you have to concentrate on what you have and need, what’s on hand becomes more in focus.

Ms. Lowe’s advice on making your own laundry and dish washing detergent intrigues me.  I like DIY projects and to be able to make my own cleaning supplies makes me feel magical.  Overall though I appreciated her humor and positive outlook on what is a very tough period of time trying to remove debt.  This is a good companion piece to those of you who may be trying to become debt-free.

Lobster is the Best Medicine

Last year I stumbled across a humorous tome, The Little World Of Liz Climo and was Lobsteramazed at how so much humor could be packed into a such short comics.  I’m delighted to share with you Ms. Climo’s latest work, Lobster is the Best Medicine.  I was honored to be contacted by Ms. Was to receive a review copy in exchange for an honest review.  I’ve never received an ARC, although I sign up for those giveaways on Goodreads ALL THE TIME.  The odds are not in my favor.

Not that I doubted Ms. Climo, but I was worried what I would say if this latest didn’t live up to my enjoyment of the former.  This wasn’t even the case.  The snark, wit, and overall conundrums of friendships are tackled adroitly in Lobster and, dare I say, raise the bar on The Little World.

Friendships are something we are all have, yet are so unique and unexplainable.  Each friendship has its quirks and complex rituals, yet we do a lot of it unconsciously.  There’s also that love/hate relationship that underlies many friendships.  There’s that thing your friend does that you can’t help but tease them about.  For example, in Lobster, there’s a shark in a pool that is creeping up on a boat, the narration goes, “And the giant megalodon stalks his unsuspecting prey.”  The next scene shows the same shark holding the boat behind his back, while speaking to his friend, who’s apparently just shown up.  The friend wonders if the first shark was talking to the boat and first shark is trying to play it off.  We’ve all been there buddy.

There’s also the times we accept the eccentricities of our friends.  Like the penguin who is wondering why his orca friend is lounging on the ice.  The orca responds that he had just had lunch and is waiting an hour before going back into the water (ba dum tiss). Or the otter who is asking his shark friend what his wifi password is.  The shark answers that it’s “I eat otters”.  He defends himself by saying that it was created before he was friends with the otter.

I could go on and on, but I don’t want to spoil all the comical instances that explore friendships that Ms. Climo has delivered to us.  I recommend that you read the introduction in which she shares a touching instance of when a friend helped her out and how friends have played a part in her life.  Here’s hoping there’s another Liz Climo work next year!

Saga, Volume 5

I’m all caught up on Saga, now.  Which should be a good thing.  But I’m not feeling so joyful.  I now have to wait for the next volume to come out.  Whenever that is.  The silver lining is that I don’t have to worry about spoilers and I feel like I’m now “in” with the Saga fans since I’ve read them all as they came out.  Now to just find a comic-con.

Volume 5 still continues the well thought out plots and character developments that have Saga 5become characteristic of the series.  Alana and Marko are still trying to find a safe place to lay down roots and raise their daughter.  Robot IV and the bounty hunters are still in play, although their reasons for pursuing have changed.  While the character development was the driving force of Volume 4, the plot becomes the vehicle for action in Volume 5.  For readers I think this alternation between plot and characters is a good way to pace the action along with the depth of the characters.

My only concern is that Mr. Vaughan and Ms. Staples are starting to become too much like G.R.R. Martin for my taste.  It seems like the characters I start to like usually don’t last long in Game of Thrones, and it’s starting to become a similar motif in Saga.  I’m still holding out hope, though, that Mr. Vaughan and Ms. Staples will give us a reasons for removing characters from the plot.

While the conflict has started to reach a fever-pitch, it doesn’t feel like it’s spinning out of control.  Instead, many of the background characters are stepping into the lime-light more and more and there are rays of sunshine in the increasingly cloudy world of our protagonists.  I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Pride & Prejudice

This is only the second time I’ve read Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.  I’m grateful to say that I enjoyed the book so much better than on the first.  The story of a landed gentry family from Hertfordshire who is trying to marry off their five daughters and raise their social status.  Social and political pitfalls ensue.

Pride & PrejudiceOne of the things I enjoy about plot is that Ms. Austen adroitly captures the complicated relationship between parents and their adult children.  The oldest daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, are in their twenties.  As such, they are very aware of their families oddities and social faux pas that have become part of their family’s identity.  They also are very aware of the ways in which their parents have failed to raise and correct their younger sisters.  But what can they do?  You can only suggest and interfere so much.  And while they are sometimes embarrassed by their family’s behavior, they still clearly love their parents and younger sisters.

Ms. Austen presents a somewhat realistic view of the complications of finding and developing love.  The first half of the novel is a bit of a slog, for me at least.  It seems like we are shown event after event where the reader cringes because of the Bennett family social awkwardness.  But once Elizabeth gets to Kent to visit her friend Charlotte, everything seems to fall into place and we become aware of how the early information is coming to play and what the “point” of the novel.

There’s no “bad” guy in this novel, except Mr. Wickham.  And he’s just a cad and gets his just desserts.  What I appreciate, as a male reader, is that there’s no romanticization of men and love.  No white knight coming to rescue Elizabeth.  Instead, Ms. Austen reveals to her readers that true love exists when a couple is able to process and look past the imperfections in the other.  To be truly in love is to be aware of your faults and work together with your beloved to each becoming a better person.

I highly recommend this read, whether you like books about love or enjoy humorous and witty repartee.  I hope you give Pride & Prejudice a chance or a reread.

Saga, Volume 4

I haven’t followed a series as intently as I have Saga.  Luckily I started reading them after several of the volumes were published (I don’t know how I would’ve found the patience otherwise).  As with any good series, some parts are better than others, but all the parts make up an amazing whole.

Saga 4We left off Saga in Volume 3 with Alana and Marko running for their lives followed by assassins and Robot royalty (I swear it’s not a meth induced dream).  In Volume 4 they have found relative safety (but it’s a series, so clearly conflict has to find them in someway).  However, the conflicts in Volume 4 come from within.  The characters take a break from chasing each other and have to face demons (not literal) closer to home.  Marko and Alana have moved passed the “honeymoon” phase of their relationship, the Robot Prince faces political conflicts, and The Brand faces a life-altering conflict.  Good thing is that we see more of who they are as people and what they are capable of.  We also get to meet new people, which I’ll be vague about to protect the plot.

I am still not sure how I feel about some of the internal conflicts; some feel a little put-on, but I’m giving Vaughan and Staples the benefit of the doubt that they know what they’re doing.  What I do know is that Vaughan and Staples have continued to balance the plot and character development and not only keep their current fan base interested, but also building the plot so that new readers feel like they are also learning new things along with the tried-and-true.

While Volume 4 is a little heavy, I still think it’s a good read.