Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hitching Rides With Buddha by Will Ferguson

Hitching Rides With Buddha is a delightful travelogue through Japan.  While living and working in Japan, the author decided to hitchhike from one end of the country to the other following the cherry blossoms as he traveled.  He made a solemn pledge to only hitchhike except of course, when he needed to take the ferry from one island to the next.  Every now and then however, two gorgeous Japanese girls in short, tight leather skirts driving a red corvette would stop to pick him up when rides were slim.

This book is a hilarious ride across Japan.  It is also wonderful insight into its people and culture.  I love all things Asian which is surely why I was drawn to this title originally.  I have no real recollection of when I came to own this title only that it must have been years ago when I was still freely spending my money on books I would never read.  Tucked inside I found a handout from a class on meditation that I took at least 5 years ago.  Several Buddhist mantras were written on it so obviously I put the list in what I thought was a safe and very appropriate place.  Getting back to yoga and meditation has been on my mind lately.

Anyway Mr. Ferguson was more into drinking good Japanese beer and vodka than yoga, but he did spend time in the many temples, communing with the sea and taking in the beauty of the cherry blossoms.   And he had a helluva lot of fun along the way.

Hitching Rides With Buddha is laugh out loud funny, fresh and culturally enlightening.  I give it a 4 out of 5.  If you have interests in Japan or traveling in general, give this one a try.  

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Classic versus Modern

I get many comments about how I come up with my ratings.  It's not really very scientific and as I've said before I wobble between my reader's mind and my writer's mind when I try to determine what the rating should be for a particular title.

I was posed a question after I posted my review of Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad.   If I was reading Shakespeare would I feel comfortable giving him a rating of less than five?  The answer is, 'of course'.   I don't read Shakespeare because I find it slow and uninteresting.  Just because I don't like it doesn't mean Shakespeare wasn't brilliant in his own right.  I'm learning not to spend my time reading what I don't enjoy.  There are too many choices and not enough time to read everything.

In the 19th century while Mark Twain was writing, there was no television or radio or big box bookstores with tens of thousands of titles to choose from.  A book entertained, passing the time between dinner and bed.  Each word savored by the reader, shared with the rest of the family by being read aloud, and read over and over until the pages were worn.  Mark Twain used lengthy descriptions to describe people and places unknown allowing readers to transport themselves to a faraway land.  Today we call that watching television.

John Steinbeck is another one of my favorites.  He wrote in the mid-twentieth century in a world with radio but not television.  Steinbeck tells poignant tales of the life during the depression, again in a time when books were cherished. His style is long and lingering but has a faster pace in step with our evolving and more complicated lives.

Today we have become used a life of instant gratification.  Books are everywhere.  If we don't feel like lugging around 500 pages, we can simply download it and read it on the computer.  Huge bookstore chains along with Amazon indulge our each and every whim.  We read a story and then discard it  before moving on the the next latest and greatest new idea.  Our society doesn't linger over anything anymore.

Shakespeare, Twain, Steinbeck are all wonderful storytellers and in the end are all writing about the human condition.  We want to discover ourselves in a book, what makes us tick, why we do the things we do.  Modern writers are all out to write the story that discovers who we are in a modern society just as the classic writers wrote about life that was relevant to their time.   Can we learn from these classic authors?  Absolutely.  I learned plenty as both a reader and a writer.  Are they worth investing my time in?  Absolutely!  Do I feel guilty I didn't rate them all as a five?  No.  My goal is to give my own readers a fair and balanced picture of what they are investing time and energy in.  Sometimes my personal bias creeps in.  I'm only human.

If we take the time to look at life as a learning experience, then the books we choose will enrich our lives and entice our palates. Will we read some dogs along the way?  Yes.  But we will have been made a more interesting human being because of it.   And we just might unlock the secret to our own lives.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

Several years ago my family took a summer vacation to Bermuda.  During a day of sightseeing we ended up at the Maritime museum.  On display was, as I recall it, a fairly sizable display of the Quaker City and Mark Twain's visit to the pink sand beaches of Bermuda.  I rushed home and got myself my very own copy of the book, The Innocents Abroad or, the New Pilgrims' Progress.

This book is a hoot!   The tale that is woven of Americans traveling in foreign countries in the mid-1800's is hysterical.  Every tour guide is called Ferguson since the foreign names are too difficult for them to pronounce.  The men are convinced that they will have the most marvelous shave of their lives while in Paris.  They are sadly disappointed when their faces are butchered.  In Athens they sneak ashore in the dead of night for a look at the Parthenon.  I laughed out loud at each new adventure.

I loved The Innocents Abroad especially since I have a few unbelievable travel stories of my own.  But this was written by Mark Twain almost 150 years ago in a different style than the modern reader might find appealing.  It's very long and  I found myself skipping over some parts where I felt he was running on.  I really wanted to get to the stop in Bermuda only to find it was only a few paragraphs.

I rate The innocents Abroad as a 4 out of 5 and I plan to keep it on the shelf.  It's a classic that's always good for a laugh.  

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Zero Game by Brad Meltzer

I came by The Zero Game several years ago at a writing conference I attended in Ft. Lauderdale.  Brad Meltzer spoke.  He was quite the funny and entertaining speaker as I recall.  I took that as a good sign and a good excuse to buy an autographed copy of his book.  Well, I'm learning.

The Zero Game is fair in my mind.  It's full of mystery and intrigue set in Washington, DC amid the political world.  Harris and Viv are very complex yet likeable characters.  Yet I constantly found myself rereading in order to follow what was happening.  It's full of action and I had trouble keeping track of who threw the punches and where they landed.  Maybe that's just me wanting a story that was more subdued.  The tension stayed at a fever pitch through the entire 400 plus pages.  Stories with that much pressure wear me out.  I try not to let my own personal preferences skew my reviews but it's not always possible.  Brad Meltzer is a highly successful author, but his writing just doesn't appeal to me.

So even though this is an autographed copy, I'm going to pass it along.  I rate it a 2 out of 5 so there's no reason for me not to find it another good home.

City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of Thieves by David Benioff It's World War II in Leningrad, Russia.  17 year old Lev elected to stay behind in the city when h...