Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

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I highly recommend animator Guy Delisle’s graphic memoir Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. Deslisle, a French Canadian, had to go to North Korea for two months to supervise the animators his French employer contracted (for their ultra-cheap rates). As you might expect the landscape and city are dreary, dark at night save a lit up portrait of the Supreme Leader. He recounts his dull, ever-present translator and guide. The food is bland and the restaurants dirty. Foreigners are separated from the People. So Delisle’s only companionship is a go-between at work, and other foreigners at the hotel or in the NGO compound, which has parties on the weekend.

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It was interesting to read about the approved responses Capt. Sin, Delise’s handler would give to his queries about the country and to learn of the pervasive propaganda. One “high” point was a visit to the Museum of American Oppression, which was two stories of images (three photos and many paintings) of Americans doing atrocious things to the North Koreans. There are paintings of US soldiers forcing motor oil down the throats of children and other forms of torture including the use of the rack, which seem quite dubious even if you acknowledge that yes, unfortunately, and shamefully, sometimes American military has resorted to torture. Capt. Sin was very disappointed that Delise didn’t react as he’d expected to the museum trip.

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delisle_guy_pyongyangThere are plenty of anecdote’s of the usual the translator isn’t around when Delisle needs him so rather than wait for hours Delisle goes out on his own through the streets of Pyongyang in search of a gift for his godson. “What’s to buy in the DPRK?” you might ask. Delisle did return empty handed as he couldn’t even find a cheap kitsch. Poor North Korea, indeed. Delisle made me feel like a friend he was sharing his tales of North Korea with. I felt his treatment was fair and thorough. I sure wouldn’t want to stay in Pyongyang a minute past two months. If you do have to go, even for a weekend, Bring food. What they offer seems dreadful.

Based on this book, I’m planning to read his books on Shenzhen and Jerusalem. The later I’ve already ordered from the library.

The Secret Knowledge

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David Mamet shares his journey from liberal to conservative and offers his understanding of his past beliefs and the strengths of his more traditional views in The Secret Knowledge. The book is well written and Mamet offers insights that never occurred to me. I think it’s good practice to taken in insights from a wide variety of perspectives and with that in mind, I got a lot out of The Secret Knowledge. 

If you’ve seen or read, Mamet’s plays, you won’t be surprised by his forceful writing. He packs a punch, which is probably why he likes boxing.

Published in 2014, Mamet doesn’t comment on the Trump Presidency, but he does examine the 60s, 70s, and on up to 2012. He is well read and thoughtful.

 

 

Parisian Charm School

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In Parisian Charm School Jamie Cat Callan provides an orientation to the uninitiated to the to élan of Paris. Her lessons on fashion, color, use of voice, flirtation and such explain why the French have such elegance and poise. In addition, she gives the names of tour guides and teachers with businesses that give unique experiences to English speakers.

The book is a fun, breezy read, that gives a romantic look at all things French. It’s far from a complete or sociological look at the City of Lights. I thoroughly enjoyed Callan’s writing, but realize that like any country France has its pros and cons and that a lot of the tours or experiences would be pricey. So remove your rose-colored glasses before you sell your house and move to Paris in search of amour.

Jules and Jim, the Novel

Truffaut’s film Jules and Jim intrigued me for days. It’s a beautiful film, but the story itself haunted me. Through the DVD extra interviews I learned that the film was based on a book and the book on actual lived experience. Oh, my!

I tracked down the book to get a closer look, a deeper understanding of these people. Written by Henri-Pierre Roché, the style is clear and fresh. It’s a fast paced book, that covers more time and space than the film. Jules, Jim and Kate move from summer house, to Parisian apartment to chalet in Jules’ country, here and there again and again. I doubt Kate stayed in the same place for more than 18 months. Kate and Jim also find lovers quite easily so change was in their blood.

Somehow Roché’s style countered Kate’s destructive behavior and Jim’s sorry obsession with her. The style doesn’t hide Kate’s annoying penchant for looking for slights and then punishing men to get even because they did something she deemed “irreparable” (i.e. not idolizing her totally). For most of the book, I wished Jim would wise up and leave the crazy whirlpool that Kate creates, but he evidently was crazy too.

In the book there are many extra events. At one point Kate befriends a woman who’s a Freudian psychoanalyst. Psychology was a new field then and this analyst was a nincompoop who just took Kate’s side and blamed Jim for the wild moods and irresponsible actions that Kate used to manipulate those around her.

The book does present a different way to live and doesn’t glorify manipulation. It’s an excellent study for someone who’s adapting a novel to film because Truffaut whittles down the plot adroitly.

Library of Luminaries: Coco Chanel

Similar to the illustrated biography of Jane Austen, Literary Luminaries: Coco Chanel is a delightful biography that provides the main details of Coco Chanel’s life.  Again, charm prevails as delightful illustrations show Chanel’s life from childhood as an orphan to later success with plenty of love affairs along the way.

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It’s a good introduction to the life of the sophisticated, brave woman who pared down fashion, gave us the “Little Black Dress” and quilted purses.

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I’m glad I discovered this book via Farah Shamma’s A BookTube Book channel.

Pre-Suasion

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If you need to understand effective persuasion techniques, Robert Cialdini’s book Pre-Suasion is a must-read. Cialdini explains how the situation before people decide or act, highly influences what choice they’ll make. For example, when voters received a men email with a small American flag in the bottom corner, they were more likely to vote Republican. If the email asked them to take an action, e.g. click something, fill out a survey, they were much more likely to voter Republican.

Lessons learned include:

  • Your surroundings and associations matter. Research has shown that having photos of your customers in your office helps you create messages that better connect with them. When Cialdini was writing a book intended for a popular audience, the tone was suitable when he wrote at home, but when he wrote in his campus office, the tone was too academic.
  • Multi-tasking is impossible. When we try to multi-task, we’re just switching from one task to the other. When we’re switching there’s a moment when we aren’t concentrating on what we should adding up all these inattentive moments amounts to a meaningful time wasted not concentrating on what we should.
  • Humans, even babies, are quite wired to reciprocate. When you do some small, kind thing for someone they’re likely to reciprocate. My favorite examples on this are that when Osama bin Laden’s captors were getting no where interrogating him. They had given him cookies and tea everyday, but he never touched the cookies. They found out he was diabetic and so the interrogators started giving him sugar-free cookies. After this personalized, kind treatment the body guard answered all their questions.

    In a similar case, the CIA was questioning a tribal leader in Afghanistan who they noticed was quite fatigued. They learned he was overwhelmed with responsibilities including keeping his four wives happy. The CIA gave the man four Viagra pills and soon afterwards the man fully cooperated. Personalized touches work.

The book is full of clear examples and shows you how association, trust and directing attention impact successful persuasion before you even start to persuade.

Economix

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Michael Goodwin and Dan Burr’s Economix (2012) is a graphic nonfiction book that explains economic principles in an accessible way. The book uses the narrative of a guy trying to learn more about economics to engage the reader. Organized chronologically, Economix begins just at the 17th century, though the author notes that economics pre-dates that era, but people didn’t know how to analyze it.

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The book was most helpful to me when it explained new concepts or elucidated ideas like “supply and demand” which have more complexity under certain situations. I liked learning about economists I hadn’t heard of such as David Ricardo.

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N.B. Neither Economix authors agree with Malthus

I appreciated learning that world and national economies are often so multifaceted that it’s (practically) impossible to predict or understand them. That assertion seems honest and I hadn’t heard that before that I can recall.

Towards current era, the authors state that the book will be more aligned with the Democrats and appreciated that admission. It’s unmistakable, but their statement made me trust their final chapters more. I do think the book would be better if it wasn’t so connected to American history and used more examples from all over the world, however, I guess they authors didn’t think their audience was very cosmopolitan.

All in all, Economix is a good introduction to economics, dark science that I’m trying to learn more about.