Quiet by Susan Cain: a book review

I started this book thinking it’s one of those how-to self-help tomes. You know, the kinds that teach introverts how to play ball in a world that values extroversion. I was wrong. There’s so much more.

How we went from valuing character to to valuing personality. How that means we worship the ones who speak well.

How so much research about work culture by the top MBA schools are biased – because these schools themselves thrive on extraversion. Like open office concepts, brainstorming…

How brainstorming is still very valuable – as a social glue, not so much creativity.

How solitary, deliberate practice is needed to get real good at something.

But how social connections are still necessary. Too cut off from the world, can’t get anything done. Starbucks may have gotten it right with its third place idea.

I liked this book very much, but was glad to have finished it. Coz that means I get to go play! Ah the woes of an outgoing introvert.

Mimosa’s rating: 4.5/5

The Book Thief: a book review

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This is yet another book where I was drawn in by the movie trailer. And me being a “scaredy cat”, chose the safeness of book pages to plough through this story of war. Of course, it helped that this book is on my #penguinspo list.

Written by Markus Zusak, The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel, a girl who drew strength from books to deal with life and death in Nazi Germany.

I liked that each chapter was short – excellent for a commute that takes 30 minutes tops. I liked that Zusak gave a relatively “European” treatment, taking us through the boring bits, the everyday, just to build up th story. (The “American” way in contrast goes wham bam slam, and I didn’t watch the movie, suspecting it’ll pander to those tendencies of the audience.) But that also made it somewhat of a never-ending story.

I liked that Zusak showed it’s not just the Jews who suffered. The Communists did too, so did anyone who seemed the least bit unsympathetic to the fuhrer’s cause. It made me read more of history, and get a better understanding of the various political thoughts then.

I liked the generous sprinklings of German through all 300+ pages. The two new words I’m adding to my word bank: saukerl and saumensch. These are also the only two words I can remember. Repetition has its benefit.

What I didn’t quite like was the ending. It seemed as though Zusak needed to wrap the story up, or ran out of material. I also didn’t like how some characters like Hans Hubermann were so central, but seemed too one dimensional. All I remember is he plays the accordian, saves Jews, and is your everyday nice guy. Rosa Hubermann in contrast had three: sweet young thing, stern mama with a soft heart, sentimental woman with a sharp tongue.

I recommend this book. It’s young adult fiction, and maybe too easy for some, but I like how the simple things can flesh out the complex. Thanks Penguin Inspiration for the pick!

Mimosa’s rating: 4/5

Hello March

Well, hello. Two months have gone by so quickly, faster than I’ve had time to sit, breath and dream what I want for this year. 2015, you’re shaping up to be rather interesting. And so my resolutions will be made to keep growing near the sky, as I used to sing every day in secondary school.

1. Read 12 books this year. I just missed last year, even with the number of Agatha Christie books I’d picked up. This year’s getting off well. I’ve finished Snoop: what your things say about you, am on Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief, and have signed up for Penguin’s inspiration list. #penguinspo

2. Pack food for lunch twice a month. So many lovely recipes to try!

3. Exercise at least once a week, walk home more. Get the heart pumping, the blood flowing!

4. Be open to new people, new experiences. Ok I’m playing cheat with this because of a trip to NZ with two friends and 5 of their friends. Zip lining, hang gliding anyone? Two birds killed with one stone.

5. Master a new piano piece each quarter. No concert on the cards, but I need to keep those talons well oiled. Explore the emotions of songs, bring out the beauty in them.

Above all, I want to Live, Laugh, Love.

Snoop: What your stuff says about you – A book review

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I borrowed this book because it promises to impart Sherlock Holmes / Hercule Poirot type of deduction. These “armchair” detectives note some clues, piece them together, and voila! They’ve solved a crime. Imagine doing that in everyday life – whoever knows my superpower would quake in their shoes.

While the book delved into some things that can give contextual clues, there just weren’t enough examples. So yes, I now know that neurotic refers to anxiety in the psychological world, and signs of those are dark clothes and inspirational posters. But it’s all so general. And at some point, it felt like Sam Gosling was running out of material, using different theories to repeat the same points. I am more wowed by any of Agatha Christie’s or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s heroes / heroines, but perhaps that’s why it’s fiction…

So it looks like my class in superpower deduction didn’t go too well, but at least it reminded me to get to the NCIS episodes I’d recorded and set aside for this book.

Mimosa’s rating: 3/5

Not the End of the World: a Book Review

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Kate Atkinson’s work reads like a collection of short stories, but is like a box of Kinder Bueno chocolate eggs.

Surprise 1: A third of the way through, the stories start to collide. Two women drive through the same storm and accident on the M9 highway… A woman dies from a dental procedure, and another story tells why she’s shipped home without a finger… The same actress keeps appearing in magazines…

Surprise 2: The characters are so peculiar they’re memorable. I have trouble remembering characters when they don’t appear for some time, but Atkinson made me remember. Some have unique names like Hawk, Fletcher, Missy. Others experience the same events at the same time. Or go through similar things. Or like watching Green Acres or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Surprise 3: It’s all the result of a fertile imagination. At first, I thought the purpose of the collection was to show how everyone and everything is linked. Sort of a six degrees of separation. The stories get more whimsical and fantastical, and the finale tells why: it’s all stories that Charlene told Trudi to pass time while they’re locked up for the plague. A novel in a novel, if you like.

In that last tale, the despair is punctuated by hope. And that’s where I think the title of the book Not the End of the World comes about. The pair cling on to the things they knew when they were free. They yearn for the time when they can walk through the door. Meanwhile, they fight to stay alive. Kind of what life is like, only a more extreme rendering.

While I may not read this book again, I’m intrigued enough to read Kate Atkinson’s other works. That’s going on my reading list for 2015!

Mimosa’s rating: 3/5

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. A Book Review

How do you tell someone you love that you’re dying? Or leaving?

Safran Foer explores this through the adventures of Oskar Schell, a nine-year old who lost his father when the Twin Towers came crashing down. Oskar hides his Dad’s final voice mails from his mum, to protect her. He keeps his memories of his dad alive by searching out clues to a quest he believes his dad left him. Oskar’s grandfather writes tons of letters, and pretends everything is the same. Oskar’s grandmother cried her tears dry, and Oskar’s mum hides her tears.

Episodes kept repeating, but that made the characters’ grief process more real, like how I’d replay scenes in my head, scenes that I don’t want to forget, or just can’t. And Foer’s use of colours and text spacing told the story. What struck me most was when the words in a letter started getting squashed together, finally becoming one big black mass – too many words, too little space.

The book was a refreshing read, and I’m glad to have stumbled on it. A trailer for the TV premiere intrigued me enough to pick up the book, and I’m glad it delivered, after some other media darlings disappointed. The only down side is the narrative gets a little slow and repetitive at times, though that served its purpose at the end.

Mimosa’s rating: 3.5/5

Living in the Present

Life’s so filled, it’s so easy to jump from one thing to the next. To yearn for the next big thing that will tickle our fancies, entertain us. But this poem – written by a 14-year old (wow, I mean, wow so philosophical at such a young age) really reminded me to live in the present. To cherish what I have now. To BE with the people I’m around. Not have my mind wandering around, or constantly being distracted by my phone.

Present Tense

It was spring, But it was summer I wanted,

The warm days, And the great outdoors.

It was summer, But it was fall I wanted,

The colorful leaves, And the cool, dry air.

It was fall, But it was winter I wanted,

The beautiful snow, And the joy of the holiday season.

It was winter, But it was spring I wanted,

The warmth, And the blossoming of nature.

I was a child, But it was adulthood I wanted,

The freedom, And the respect.

I was 20, But it was 30 I wanted,

To be mature, And sophisticated.

I was middle-aged, But it was 20 I wanted,

The youth, And the free spirit.

I was retired, But it was middle age I wanted,

The presence of mind, Without limitations.

My life was over.

But I never got what I wanted.

-Jason Lehman

Poem source: The Chicago Tribune, 1989