Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Deleted Comments---My Bad

Ummm...Yeah.  So...it turns out that when you delete comments from the published folder, you also delete them from the blog itself.  Didn't know that.  Doesn't make sense to me, because once you've posted them, why are they still tethered to the published folder?  Wish I knew that before I deleted the last 50 or so comments...

Well, anyway, I am working hard to find these comments again and re-post them.  I'm taking this very seriously, since if people are nice enough to take their precious time to read my blog and post a comment, they shouldn't get said comments deleted.

I especially apologize to Dreki, who has posted quite a few comments recently, and after a bit of a hassle.  I'm working hard to get those back.  And I apologize to Diane, who lost the most comments.  I'm sorry this happened.

So please rest assured everyone that I am working hard to resolve this problem.  If you have any advice to give about how I can do this, please leave me an email at sb[at]stevenbelanger.com, or leave a comment below.  I promise not to delete those, too.

If you've commented on my website since February 2013 (!!!), and if you still have a copy of it on your computer somewhere, please either send it to me and I'll take care of it (though I'd rather not have to do that), or just re-post it yourself if you don't trust my computer savvy.  I wouldn't blame you. If you don't want to do anything because you're as disgusted as I am with the whole thing, I wouldn't blame you for that, either.

The Road Less Traveled and Tough Choices


 Photo: It's got a long address, and I'm lazy, so I'll link it here.

Despite the high rating I'd give to this book, it's time to let it go.  By this, I mean it's off to the box for my yard sale, or the box to my used bookstore for credit, or yet to the box for donations to my local Salvation Army.  Probably in that order.

Why am I letting it go after all these years?  Why, if I'd rate it so highly?

Well, first, why I like(d) it.

It's got one of the all-time great opening lines for any self-help book: Life is difficult.

It is, indeed.  I also believe that life is often (though not always) supposed to be hard.  To not accept or expect this is to live a life of frustration and an inability to adapt.  That's me saying that, by the way, not Peck.  But he'd agree with me.

Peck was amongst the first of the popular self-help guys to really preach self-responsibility.  Or, at least to the point that he did so with popularity.

This is huge for me, philosophically and psychologically.  I've tired of the nature vs. nurture debate because it seems that many are trying to explain away self-responsibility.  It's not my fault, I have ADHD.  It's not my fault, I was raised that way.  It's not my fault, that's what I was taught to believe in.

He was the first to say that, no, everything was actually your responsibility after all.  Especially after a certain age.

I'm all for that.  I embrace that.  I live it and breathe it.  Nobody's more hyper and hyperactive than I am.  Yet I focus, accomplish much, balance my finances, control my emotions and treat others with respect.

But...

Here's why I don't really like it anymore.  It's not just because Peck turned out to be an addict, a sex addict, and a very frequent cheater on his wife.  But keep those things in mind as we continue--and remember the phrase "traditional values" in his title.

I didn't realize before, when I read this in my teens, how actually preachy it is.  I don't mind, now, that it's religious.  But I do mind that a trained psychiatrist would use religion and God as self-help.  Is that belief, or is that maybe a little too self-serving?  Dubya bought into this sort of self-help religion, as many recovering addicts do.  Which is fine and good, but...for a psychiatrist to preach this so heavily in a self-help book?  That's blasphemy, in my opinion, but blasphemy for practicing psychiatrists and self-help professionals and religious leaders alike.

Is religion supposed to be so self-serving?  Can one get better psychologically if one doesn't believe in the Christian God? According to Peck, in this book...Well, no.  Kind of.

And don't even get me started on the phrase "traditional values" in his title.  A psychiatrist should really, really know better.

What if you, and your problems, aren't traditional?  Can you still benefit from psychotherapy?  Well, yes, but according to this book?  No...kind of.

He hedges a lot when it comes to this kind of thing, like his psychiatrist self and his televangelist self were warring for control.  When his psychiatrist self wins, this book is almost ingenious. When he writes about accepting responsibility, delaying self-gratification, the difference between neurotics and personality-disordered people, and overall personal self-responsibility, this book is a winner and deserving of the 10+ million copies it's sold, and its place for a number of years on the best-seller list.

Ultimately, for me it's time for it to go.  I have literally hundreds of books, and it's time to make some tough choices.  This is actually a tough decision for me, but many books simply must go, so...

In terms of a book review, I reiterate that I do recommend this book because of its heavy reliance on self-responsibility.  It made a huge impression on me when I was a teenager, and this book was partially responsible for my decision to also major in Philosophy, and to focus on Existentialism, if I could.  I could and I did.

So this was an important book for me, and it may also be for you.  Read it and learn from it, if you wish.  But don't feel badly if you don't keep it in your bookshelf.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Cockroaches (Harry Hole #2) by Jo Nesbo--Book Review



Photo: Jo Nesbo, from his official website

Extremely well-written follow-up to Nesbo's The Bat, this book takes Hole's character and adds a little more depth to him.  We see more of his sister, and we see the ex-girlfriend, Kristin--mentioned in the first book--even more here, to good effect.  The girlfriend from the first novel is mentioned frequently here, too, as is his compunction for alcohol--though he may have a new drug of choice by the end of this one.  But then, if I had to spend this much time in the traffic and heat and humidity of Bangkok, Thailand, I might feel the need as well.  (I'm a wuss; I need the central air.)

Anyway, the plot of this novel is quite intricate, though the reader shouldn't be hard-pressed to figure out who done it.  The "Why?" and the "How?" may throw the reader; however, when you learn the how, you won't feel badly about not figuring it out.  Nobody would, or could, have.  Except Hole, of course, who is so good at this kind of thing that two characters openly marvel at it.

Nesbo, the Raymond Chandler of Nordic Noir, writes a book that is a classic of its kind.  The bad guy is memorable, as well, especially in a scene right out of Titus Andronicus near the end.  (This has to be on purpose, because Hole finishes it all off with an instrument from Shakespeare's early play as well.)  I always saw the guy who plays Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones as the villain, though I'm not sure he's described that way.  Weird.  At any rate, Nesbo varies the writing a bit here from his last: some chapters show the villain straight out doing his villainy, especially at the end; more chapters start off with a minor character's POV before quickly focusing on Hole once again.  A couple of chapters don't feature Hole at all, which is also different from the first book.  (I think only one chapter was without Hole in the first book.)

I read this book in less than 24 hours.  I'm on vacation, so I can do that.  You might not, but you'll read it quickly.  It's that good.  And as openly depressing as its predecessor, so be forewarned.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Bat, by Jo Nesbo (Harry Hole #1)--Book Review


 Photo: Paperback book cover, at this page.

The Bat is a very well-written and very different entry into the Nordic Noir genre.  It takes place in Australia, first of all, and its chapters differ in length and in substance, as some are there strictly for plot, while others show a quick glimpse into Hole's background and personal life.  Other quick chapters are thematic only.  The result is that you never know what to expect when you begin another chapter, and that's good for any type of writing, and in any series.

The plot plays second-fiddle to the characters and to the mood and tone, for the first half or so of the book.  It then takes off and shoots through its second half, with the body count (and the red herrings) piling up.  But it still manages to pause for some interesting characters, including a parachutist / homeless man, a beautiful woman, a serial killer, a transvestite clown, and other assorted eccentrics.  It's not so quirky as it sounds, and it all comes across very real.

There's a bit of info dump along the way--about Australia, about Aborigines, about the drug climate, about the city of Sydney, about clowns and the history of clown performances...but it never stops the flow of the narrative or of the plot, like in so many Dan Brown thrillers, or others of that ilk.  You learn as you go, and Nesbo is clearly interested in what he writes about.  It comes as close as info dump can to stopping the narrative cold--but it doesn't.  It works.

Two minor caveats involve the length of Hole's drunken binge (a little too long) and the sudden demise of two of its characters, an Aboriginal detective and a pretty barmaid.  The pretty woman especially is given short shrift at the end, but even this complaint is tempered by the mood of the book, as it shows other women in Hole's life who met quick, sad ends.

The book is certainly moody--both in an uplifting and in a sad way.  I found it more the latter than the former, but that's up to the reader.

The bottom line is that this is a welcome change from the harsh climate--both literally and metaphorically--of most Nordic Noir, and yet is similar to it in enough ways that it clearly belongs in that genre.  As one of the blurbs says, it takes on the cliches and starts new ones.

Definitely recommended.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The View from the Bridge by Nicholas Meyer--Book Review



Photo: Cover art of the book, from trekmovie.com

A very interesting book, more about writing and directing in Hollywood than about just Star Trek.  Having said that, it would help mightily to be a fan of the series.  It's not that you have to be a fan to enjoy it; it's that Star Trek, in some way, takes up probably 50% to 75% of the book.

Still, there are other interesting things here:

--It takes about two seconds for directors to become nobodies in Hollywood.  I thought it was fast for actors...

--If you're not going to act, you'd better be able to write.  And fast.

--Meyer culled five or six screenplay drafts of Star Trek II and wrote Wrath of Khan by combining the best elements of those unfilmed drafts, plus his own ideas.

--And he wrote the screenplay for free. 

--In twelve days. 

--And didn't take a screenplay credit for it.

--I watched Wrath of Khan again last week, after finishing this book.  It holds up surprisingly well.

--He insists those are Montalban's real pecs.  Says so repeatedly.  I still don't believe it.

--And there's no way a genius like Khan doesn't get the twice-repeated "If we go by the book" coded message from Spock to Kirk near the end.

--The latest Star Trek movie is, of course, a parallel-universe version of this.  Abrams clearly liked Wrath of Khan and honors it constantly in his film.

--Which is in some ways better.  But mostly I don't think one is better than the other.  Just...different.  Each couldn't have been made in their respective eras.

--(Back to the book.  Sorry for the digression.)

--Nicholas Meyer somehow survived very successfully in Hollywood despite very powerful depressive and neurotic tendencies.  By his own frequent admission.

--He says the Trek movies he wrote and wrote / directed (II, IV and VI) were the best ones.  He is, of course, correct.  One had its moments; III was okay but too predictable and violent; and V was just plain awful.

--His first novel, one that made Sherlock Holmes meet Freud, was very good.  I haven't read his others, but plan to.  His books overall have done pretty well, especially his Holmes.

It's an easy read.  If you're a fan of movies, writing, Hollywood, and / or Star Trek, give it a shot.