Saturday, April 16, 2011

read: Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success

Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of SuccessBounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success by Matthew Syed

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An enjoyable and interesting book on the subject of nature vs. nurture. The author examines the now well known "ten thousand hours of practice" rule of expertise, using both anecdotes and research, and shows that it seems to apply even to so-called prodigies. He also examines the psychological aspects of performance and how it applies to both success and "choking".

There may not be, as critics have pointed out, anything totally knew or revelatory here. But it is well presented and easy to read, and a somewhat compelling introduction to the area. The final two chapters, dealing with doping and racial issues, seem a little out of place. But they do not overly detract from the overall message.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

read: Djibouti

DjiboutiDjibouti by Elmore Leonard

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I give up. I'm barely halfway through the audiobook and I'm not going to finish. I probably gave this more of a chance than it deserved, just because it was Elmore Leonard. It had to get better, right?

Nope. After the first couple of chapters of meeting some potentially interesting characters and traveling to an interesting place, all of the interesting departed the story. All that remained was a confusing mush of jumping back and forth in time between boring dialog (not typical of Leonard) about past events, those actual past events, and some current, so-called, action. Viewpoints are jumbled together. Voices are indistinct and many seem too Western. Even the reader had a hard time making it clear who was speaking.

But that all didn't matter much because I stopped caring about the characters long ago. Moving on...

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Friday, April 8, 2011

read: Water for Elephants

Water for ElephantsWater for Elephants by Sara Gruen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very character-driven book. But that means it's not the type of book I typically read: plot-driven science fiction, thriller, or fantasy. I guess I am glad it seemed to develop a sort of plot after a while. It's also a good thing that most of the characters are interesting and distinct. I ultimately found it to be quite a compelling story--at least part of it.

The part I found compelling was the circus part, the part set in the past, the part that dominates the book. The circus part is set in the Great Depression. This has the risk of being overly familiar and overdone, since both have been covered by probably hundreds of previous books and movies. Yet the author does a fine job of keeping her characters and situations just far enough out of stereotype to pull the reader into a fascinating world and keep them there.

The trouble I had with the book was the framing story that is set in a nursing home in present day. I felt like it diluted the parts set in the circus. The characters here felt a little flat and the situations a bit contrived. Really? The circus comes to town and sets up its tent across the street from where a former circus worker is living? Really? There are also several unresolved plot threads in this part of the story, which I have determined I'll just have to live with. My dissatisfaction with this aspect of the book was exacerbated real-life synchronicity of dealing with parents and other family members residing in such places.

One minor oddity of the book is that it's written in a sort of present tense ("He greets me with an awkward nod...", rather than "greeted"). I think this is an attempt to emphasize the presentation of the story as memoir, as a story being told. But it's a bit of a distraction until the reader adapts to it.

Even though this isn't the sort of book I usually read, I had intentions of picking up Water for Elephants long before I knew a film based on it was coming out. I wanted to read it because it is an example of a story written during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I wanted to see a story that began life during that 30 day scramble for words and made it into print. Having the film coming out just made it that much more urgent to read the book first.

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

"The Other Guys" [B-]

Will Ferrell does his riff on the buddy cop movie and it's fairly amusing. For a while. A little over half way through, I started wondering when an actual plot would show up, along with some new jokes. Obliviousness and absurdity alone cannot carry an entire film. The best part of the movie was the over-the-top performance of Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as the stereotypical movie hero cops who get a little too full of themselves for their own good.

"The Other Guys" (IMDb)