Speed the Plow


Another David Mamet play seemed a fitting read as I’m currently taking his MasterClass online.

I’d seen the play at the Remains Theater in 1987.

The play is a satire of show business. Charlie Fox brings a movie deal consisting of a hot star and a blockbuster-type script to his long time buddy, Bobby Gould, who’s career is on fire since he’s gotten a promotion. He’s got till 10 am the next morning to get a producer to agree to make it. So he trusts his pal to make the deal, which will earn them boat-loads of money.

They talk about the business and their careers.  They dream of what they’ll do after this life-changing film is released. In the background a temp secretary bungles along with the phone system. Eventually, she comes into the office and winds up having to read a far-fetched novel as a “courtesy read” meaning she’s to write a summary of a book that’s not going to be adapted to film.

 
After she leaves the office, the men make a bet, a bet that Bobby Gould, whom Karen is working for, will succeed in seducing her. Karen’s not in on this but she agrees to go to Gould’s house to discuss the book she’s to summarize.

Karen finds the book about the end of the world life-changing. Like many 20-something’s She’s swept up by its message. What’s worse, when she goes to Gould’s house she convinces him to make the crazy book into a film and to leave his pal in the dust. The book and play are brisk and, as you’d expect, contain rapid-fire dialog. I enjoyed this book, but can see how some would find problems with Mamet’s portrayal of women. I think he portrays Hollywood quite realistically.

Ikigai

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Ikigai is a Japanese word that refers to the intersection of your mission, passion, profession, and vocation (see below). Héctor Garcìa and Francesc Miralles investigated a village in Okinawa which has the highest number of residents over the age of 100.

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Their secrets to longevity and quality of life are useful, but the book as a whole could easily be edited down to an article. The authors travel to Japan and interview several active, healthy centenarians but all that’s shared are a few conversations and a list of quotations along with a description of 10 common qualities of these vibrant centenarians and explanations of how they implement them into their daily lives:

  1. Never retire – always participate in meaningful, helpful activities
  2. Take it slow – no need to rush which makes people stressed.
  3. Don’t eat till you’re full – stop eating when you’re 80% full or fast a day or two a week. One trick is to eat on very small plates, perhaps the size of a saucer and don’t pile food up.
  4. Keep moving through light exercise. You don’t need to do contact sports or run an marathon. Keep it simple.
  5. Surround yourself with friends. Have several relationships so if one ends, you have back up.
  6. Smile
  7. Reconnect with nature.
  8. Give thanks.
  9. Live in the moment.
  10. Follow your ikigai.

The trouble I found with the book was the meandering. I think there were 10 qualities just because ten is a round number. In addition to information about ikigai, there’s a lot of fluff about yoga, tai chi, Csikszentmihalyi’s flow. They also add paragraphs that should have been deleted about their trip from the airport and such banalities. The ideas about flow, tai chi, etc. were from the authors and not from the Japanese elders.

I’d hoped that this would be like The Little Book of Hygge, but it lacked the wit and the tone of the book. I think I’d rather read such a book written by an insider. Someone from Japan would be able to add insights two outsiders couldn’t.

So this is a book to get from the library and skim. then go out and find that passion, make more friends, smile and eat till you’re just 80% full.

Fetch

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I want to know more about graphic novels and non-fiction, so I checked out Nichole George’s Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home. Reading this story of George’s life with her ill behaved, but loyal and interesting dog, Beija. When she was a teen, Georges got Beija from a shelter. Beija had been abused and came with a lot of sensitivities. She’d bite people who bent down to pet her. She didn’t like men, and on and on. Originally, George’s bought the dog for a boyfriend, but his mother said “no” to this gift so Beija becomes George’s dog, sometimes shared with her boyfriend while they’re together.

The story is a chronicle of George’s life as she moves in with her boyfriend, finishes high school, moves out on her own with him and continues to move in search of a home where she and her dog can find peace and understanding.

I found the book interesting and Beija and Georges interesting and likable. I did think the ending dragged a bit, but the story was entertaining and endearing.

Hillbilly Elegy

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J.D. Vance’s memoir Hillbilly Elegy takes readers to Kentucky and Southwest Ohio, home of the hillbillies, the real one’s who make the Clampetts look like straight-arrows. Vance explains his family history starting with his grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw, who like many in their hometown left Kentucky in search of a more stable life starting with a well-paying job in the steel industry. Economically, the family gains security.

However, alcoholism, verbal abuse and other destructive behavior held back Vance’s family. Papaw’s drinking and Mamaw’s outlandish responses to it caused their divorce. Though his grandparents always provided J.D. and his sister with the stability their mother, a single mom with a string of boyfriends and husbands, couldn’t provide.

He shows the hillbilly culture with all its highs and lows. The loyalty and chutzpah on the one hand and the lack of structure, financial and social capital on the other. Vance is candid about his mother’s drug use and series of boyfriends and husbands, about his grandmother’s temper and outbursts, about his sister’s responsibility and life choices. All along he explains how he thought about his family and his own successes and failures.

Vance also shares research that helped him understand the sociology and psychology which had been done about his culture. He shares his thoughts on what policies could help such at-risk families and where personal responsibility or tough love are the only answers.

Vance now is a big success with a good marriage and good job in California. He struggled growing up so much so that it’s a miracle he didn’t wind up dropping out of school and dealing drugs. Many times when Vance was stuck with a bad situation he chose a great option, all things considered.

It’s a fascinating read and it belongs near the top of any policymaker’s To Be Read List. My only criticism was that the end could have moved more swiftly. The parts where he goes into statistics and research could be more concise and more graceful. These are minor points.

I just learned that Ron Howard is making a film based on Hillbilly Elegy. Vance’s life is getting better and better.

My 2018 Reading Challenge

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I’ve made up a reading challenge for myself. I have done Goodreads.com‘s challenges where I read a certain number of books per month. This time I’m adding some themes and other specifics to spice things up.

Susan’s 2018 Reading Challenge

January – read a memoir and another book that’ll help me change my outlook (i.e. achieve a resolution)

February – read a 19th century novel and a religious book (for Lent)

March – read a book written by a Russian author

April – read a play by Shakespeare and commentary in a Norton Classic edition

May – read a detective story

June – read a book of historical fiction

July – read a travel book

August – read a humorous book

September – read a book by a Japanese author

October – read something scary

November – read a book a friend has recommended

December – read a children’s book and a story or book with a Christmas theme

 

No one has to join this, but you’re free to do so.

I am curious about what sort of challenge you’d set for yourself. Share in the comment section below.

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops

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Jen Campbell’s Weird Things People Say in Bookshops is a light, clever read. It’s a collection of the strange things people say and the odd questions they ask. Boy, are some people clueless.

It’s a collection of dialogs and a fun amusing read, but not something you have to read cover-to-cover.

Here’s some examples:

“CUSTOMER: Hi, I just wanted to ask: did Anne Frank ever write a sequel?
BOOKSELLER: ……..
CUSTOMER: I really enjoyed her first book.
BOOKSELLER: Her diary?
CUSTOMER: Yes, the diary.
BOOKSELLER: Her diary wasn’t fictional.
CUSTOMER: Really?
BOOKSELLER: Yes… She really dies at the end – that’s why the diary finishes. She was taken to a concentration camp.
CUSTOMER: Oh… that’s terrible.
BOOKSELLER: Yes, it was awful –
CUSTOMER: I mean, it’s such a shame, you know? She was such a good writer.”

“CUSTOMER: I read a book in the sixties. I don’t remember the author, or the title. But it was green, and it made me laugh. Do you know which one I mean?”

“CUSTOMER: If I were to, say… meet the love of my life in this bookshop, what section do you think they would be standing in?”

“CUSTOMER: OK, so you want this book?
THE DAUGHTER: Yes!
CUSTOMER: Peter Pan?
THE DAUGHTER: Yes, please. Because he can fly.
CUSTOMER: Yes, he can – he’s very good at flying.
THE DAUGHTER: Why can’t I fly, daddy?
CUSTOMER: Because of evolution, sweetheart.”

“Customer: I’m looking for a book for my son. He’s six.
Bookseller: How about this one – it’s about-
Customer: Yeah, whatever, I’ll take it.”

 

Orange

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While the story started out intriguing, Ichigo Takano’s Orange sure presents a lot of shilly shally-ing. This manga, or Japanese comic book, is about Naho, a high school student, who receives letters from her future self. The future Naho lives 10 years ahead of the present and somehow wants to advise the present Naho on how to prevent the cute new boy at school from committing suicide. Naho’s got a crush on the new boy, Kakeru, but she’s quite timid about that. Another boy, of course, has a crush on her and can see the chemistry between Naho and Kakeru.

Kakeru moved because his mother committed suicide so now he must live with his grandmother in the countryside. There’s never any mention of his father, which seemed odd. Kakeru feels responsible for his mother’s death. If he had only gone straight home after school that one day . . . The other characters have no special characteristics.

The story starts out intriguing, but Naho’s ever-present hesitation and questioning of the letters from the future make her extremely indecisive. Since the story goes for 384 pages, I expected some resolution. There wasn’t any. It ends with “to be continued.” So who knows whether Naho and her pals’ efforts changed Kakeru’s future. It doesn’t seem worth reading another 300+ pages, many of which will probably be repetitive to find out.

The art is pretty standard Japanese manga style. More creativity in the art would have helped, but I don’t think the publishing companies care.