Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Review: Zen in the Art of Writing

Here's something a little bit different for the writing community. Unlike many other "method" books by established authors, Zen in the Art of Writing captures not the nuts and bolts and howtos of the craft, but the underlying emotions that drive a writer.

This is a series of eleven little autobiographical sketches cleverly disguised as essays. Each one stands well on its own, but collectively they tell the tale of how Mr. Bradbury discovered his voice as a writer. One surprising element: He's a strong advocate of poetry and recommends that writers read a poem every day.

It shows in his writing. There's some wonderful imagery in this book...

...Oh, and a very, very cute black cat across from the title page, too. I give this book two paws up.

Review: The Book on Mind Management

This is a self-help book on the general theme of "Control your thoughts, control the images in your brain, control your life."

Although a lot of what's in here has been said by... Well, by just about everybody in this particular genre... There is one particular gem nestled away on Page 190:

At a seminar, one of the participants protests to the author, "What you are having us do isn't real. We're just making this stuff up."

The response from Mr. Deaton: You're right; we are making it up... Just like we've made up all the other stories that rule our lives. "The question becomes," he goes on to say, "which movies are productive?"

If you don't care for anecdote after anecdote, this probably isn't the book for you. It also would have been nice to have a bibliography and a bit of research on how we use visualization in our lives. That said, this is an easy enough book to get through, and at very least it's a comfortable and thought-provoking trip.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Review: Lords and Ladies

Crop circles.

Angry bees.

Elves. Killer elves. Loose on Discworld...

This book fits into the "Witches" mini-series of the Pratchett canon, due to the presence of Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick. In this book, as Magrat prepares for her Midsummer Eve marriage to King Verence II (q.v. Wyrd Sisters), amateur witchcraft and outdoor theatre combine to provide a gateway for some rather nasty entities.

Lords and Ladies has a surprisingly dark tone, more horror than in previous Discworld novels. Offsetting this is the usual banter from Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, and a rich cast of supporting players that includes a contingent from Unseen University and the world's second greatest lover, the dwarf Giamo Casanunda.

And, thanks to some exemplary work by Greebo, the quantum physics of Erwin Schrödinger will never quite be the same...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Review: The Mindful Way through Depression

This book, subtitled "Freeing yourself from chronic unhappiness", is a not-too-thick, no-nonsense volume that bridges the gap between talking about meditation and actually doing it. Being a cat, I knew most of this stuff already; but Mindful Way explains it really, really well.

Better yet, it explains without religion, without strange languages and secret handshakes, without a whole bunch of Seventh Level Yoga Hopping Trances or other such woo-woo. There is a yoga exercise in here, but if you want to call it "Paying attention to my arms and legs while I move them around", go right ahead.

The authors (Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn) do an excellent job of staying in the same room with the reader: Each chapter is a good, balanced mixture of anecdote, theory, exercises, and things to consider while you're trying the exercises. It's also an easy read.

Despite its title, Mindful Way isn't just about depression. I think that you could use it to deal with just about any problem of People Who Think Way Too Much... Stress at work; procrastination; chronic multitasking.

Quite possibly one of the best beginner-level books on meditation ever written.