bookspluslife

May 27, 2018

Book: Sensei by David Charney

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:40 pm

imageDavid Charney is a polymath. He is a Karate champion, he is an avid fan of Japan, and on top of that, he is also a Vice President in a cosmetic company. Trying his hand at writing a book, I will have to admit that he does a decent fist of it.

 

Don’t get me wrong: he is no Stephen King. This story is fairly amateurish, but keeps your interest. The characters are shallow and stereotypical and the story does not have a depth to it. Even the great twist at the end is not surprising because you can see it coming miles away. However, it is not a bad story and at the end of it, you do not get a sense of having wasted your time reading it. Let us see the story.

 

Lady Masaka is in labour and is brought to the castle of Lord Pumio. It seems to be an unwanted child. She claims it was given by God.

 

Isao wants to flee the village with wife Shinobu and children Akika and Mutsu due to debts. They take refuge with the Buddhist priest xxx.

 

Meanwhile, Yoshi, the now adolescent son of Lady Masaka,  is getting an education and loves Nami but she seems to have got engaged to the evil Lord Chikara. Her brother Ietaki is a rebellious young man. The priest is indeed a cousin who had chosen religion. Ietaki and the priest are sympathetic to the poor while the aristocratic Uncle Fumio and the aristocrat wanna be Yoshi do not even consider them human.

 

Yoshi tries to come to the rescue of the priest (his cousin) Genkai and ends up slapping the powerful Chikara after the latter insults him too.

 

Chikara cannot let the insult go and challenges Yoshi to a duel and after Yoshi surrendered, he still tries to strike him and Genkai steps in and is killed. Yoshi is inconsolable.

 

It is interesting that the term for suicide in Japanese is Seppeku. What we know as “Hara-kiri” really means stomach splitting and is a coarse way of describing the act (at least according to this book).

 

Yoshi and Ietaka decide to leave town and go to Kyoto, where Yoshi kills a Samurai Policeman to protect Ietaka in a large crowd.

 

Yoshi then proceeds to behave like a complete idiot (or impetuously, as youth are wont to do, depending on your viewpoint) by repeatedly drawing attention to himself among searching troops and running away just in time – like kids who press the calling bell and run in suburban neighbourhoods.

 

Hanzo was a soldier who decided to stay hidden faced with a suicidal attack by his army and his lord. He was too timid to be a sumo wrestler, in spite of his huge physique and failed as a Samurai – he did not have the ruthlessness to win. He is adopted by an iron smith, learns the trade and also marries the eldest daughter of the smith, who treats him as a son (The smith has only three daughters). When his wife and the to be born son both die in childbirth, Hanzo quits and moves to another city and lives in constant reminder of his earlier shame and founds his own smithy.

 

He finds an exhausted Yoshi near death, saves him and brings him up as his own son. Yoshi gets strong, works in swordmaking and learns amazing sword fighting techniques from Hanzo.

 

The cover says that this is a story about “feudal Japan”.  What it omits to say is that it is a children’s story. The characters are all two dimensional, as if you are reading a graphic novel. Even the death of Hanzo at the hands of the evil Samurai, who are the men of the evil landlord Kichibei (who is an underling of his old enemy Chikara – is it formulaic enough for you already? ) is flat and lifeless.  Very insipid dialogs – the  “I will avenge you father” kind of thing – is so cliche. Yoshi seems so credulous that he will buy the Eiffel Tower off of you  if you chose to sell him that but is saved by a lot of people who like him. This could be titled “Sensei – A bumbling idiot saved by a series of people who like him” and you would know the entire story. As a children’s story, yes, it has some merit, but not as a serious novel.

 

He comes back just in time to see Hanzo killed and takes revenge killing all of Kichibei’s samurais and also attacking Kichibei himself, killing him. After barely escaping from pursuing troops, he then goes to the master swordsman xxx to learn the art of sword fighting.

 

Through a jealous deputy, Kichibei’s men find him at the school and a fight ensues. He is grievously wounded and is saved by Ichikei, his tutor and friend.

 

He is sent back to Uncle Fumio and learns that Chikara has lost his lands and wealth and fled the place but Nami lives with Fumio. He is still in love with her. When his teacher comes in with him and again they stupidly set themselves up for an ambush and his ex colleague, now embittered, now kills the teacher treacherously and gets killed in turn, Yoshi knows that he needs to return to the school and take over as the teacher (Sensei) to continue the tradition.

 

Meanwhile treason is brewing in the country. Kiyomori, the king’s chief advisor has a confidant called Yorisama who is really a traitor working for their opponents, the Minamoto clan. When the brother of the king, a weasely, cowardly man agrees to rebel against the king, Chikara swiftly has him captured and killed. However, Chikara’s famous assistant challenges Yoshi for a combat and loses his life. Yoshi spends a night with Nami with assassins waiting to kill him. He fights with a multitude of them and survives.

 

When a drunk lieutenant of Chikara challenges Yomi to a duel and dies, Yomi openly challenges Chikara. There is a fight that ensues with predictable results. The twist I talked of is revealed just before the fight.

 

Not bad for an author who tried his hand at it on the side. 5/ 10

 

–  –  Krishna

Advertisements

Book: The Elephant and The Flea by Charles Handy

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:34 pm

imageThis was touted as a business book about how to succeed in large corporations as a (tiny) consultant but it has several surprises when you read it.

 

First, the story is very personal and is told by the son of a pastor. He has humility, emotions, and talks about himself in a very personal way that makes you instantly empathize with him.

 

Second, he has a nice flow of narration and it is like sitting next to an avuncular relative reminiscing about his life with a flannel robe and a pint in his hand perhaps. Not very like most of the grim business books, and definitely not the tone adopted by so many : ‘I know what you need to do, now read and learn’. Those two make the book stand apart, but if you do not like that in a business book, then you will be definitely disappointed with this one.

 

Now about the title –  Charles Handy talks about the fleas, the independent consultants, and the elephants, giant corporations where the fleas inevitably work on contract. I thought it is just a book about how the world has changed, how there are more fleas now than elephant constituents (workers in corporate empires) and how fleas can be effective going into the unfamiliar elephant world. It is all that, but a bonus is a personal peek into the life of Charles and what forces shaped it and what it did to him in terms of style and personality. He has this confidence imparting tone that makes you think that you know him – it is a rare gift. Add to that his self deprecating tone and clear thoughts on how he is totally unqualified for certain tasks because of his background and you end up liking him almost from the beginning of the book.

 

He teaches his principles from his life experiences, growing up as a son of a priest in rural backwaters of Ireland, and being disappointed by his father’s lack of ambition. His description of his father’s funeral and how he learns that his father’s life was hugely successful  is very touching and heartwarming. He seems to have the knack so brilliantly displayed by James Herbert of touching the right notes and making you warm up to him instantly. His retelling of his issues makes him not just vulnerable in your eyes but also endearing. He has also been leading the charge on defining what education should be like and has chaired many prestigious institutions. However, I began to wonder how much of management theory I really learned while reading the book.

 

He talks about the old corporations (old elephants) which had jobs for life, a very protected environment, endless profits because of oligopoly and what not. He talks about the modern corporations where it is a very different world, and the corporates who could not adapt to it died. Well written, with a clear vision and articulation.

 

But some of his views are out there. He argues that even though technology has transformed lives, fundamentally we are the same. He talks about however good the communication and ecommerce have become the logistics remains, and drivers, cooks and others will always be

needed. Good point, until you start thinking of driverless cars. I agree that people will be retrained and survive. He also bemoans the modern fascination with gadgets and what it is doing to the society. There is also a kernel of truth in it and there is some logic in saying that losing the personal touch (the mom and pop bakery around the corner, the handwritten letters, the train conversations) have all been irrevocably lost in some cases. His reminiscences (about, for instance, how he used to ring from Malaysia to England when he was in Shell and what it sounded like) add an inimitable human touch to the stories and make them come alive.

 

But when he laments about technology and intellectual assets, you realize how old fashioned he really is. One of the gentlemen of olden times, wishing for times when you can touch, feel and look at objects and things. Charming all the way, no doubt.

 

But he makes great points about the need to change and adapt since we are forced to anyway. And good points about how, even those who consider that they are worse off than their grandfathers will not like to go back to those times to live like them. Some of his points are very interesting. Like I said, I may not agree with many of them, but his points are well made. He talks of the evil of keeping shareholder value as the single most important criteria. If it were up to him, companies will have avuncular interest of employees at heart (even, if you read between the lines, when shareholder value is threatened) but it may not be practical. Leaving aside that, he makes great points of the shareholders – most of them anyway – are not the real ‘owners’ in the traditional sense. They, for instance, did not even pay their money to the company at all, having bought the shares in a secondary market.

 

Also nice are his laments about the fear when he became independent and how he continually tries to find meaning in life. Masquerading as a corporate book, this is simply an erudite old man’s reminiscences and if you are fooled by the title into thinking it is a business book like I was, it is a bit disappointing.

 

At the end, he tries to summarize why fleadom may engender selfishness and apathy towards the rest of the society. In all, this does not feel like a corporate book – our instincts at the beginning are right. True, there are some interesting facts. But they are few and far between. You get to look at the life Charles led and what is important to him from his point of view. Is it interesting? Yes. He is a really nice, charming, caring person and it comes through clearly. But it is not a corporate or business book, though the title makes you think it is. It does not, for instance, tell you as a flea, how to influence the elephant where you are currently working. From that point of view, it is a mis-sell.

 

Also his belief that the modern world with its selfishness will lead to destruction is not borne out when you see the natural philanthropy occurring even today.

 

But the book in itself is interesting. I will say 6/10

–  –  Krishna

Movie: Pacific Rim – Uprising (2018)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:23 pm

imageThis is the sequel (and second in what is probably going to be a series) in the Pacific Rim theme.

 

Interesting to see that John Boyega, of the Star Wars fame establish himself as an actor to consider for Hollywood Sci Fi genre. In this movie too he has a meaty role. Nice.

 

He is a crook – the son of the Commander in the first move Stacker Pentacost but is disillusioned with the Jaegar troops and turns to unscrupulous trading and cheating to survive. When he goes hunting for the core that he can trade with a few of his accomplices, he realizes that it is he who is in a trap because the accomplices confront him with past cheating and he realizes also that they plan to dispose of him once the core is given to them. He finds the core missing but manages to evade his co-cheaters turned enemies and goes after the core stealer, who just happened (Oh, year, right, you say?) to be running away with the prize. He catches up with her – Amara Namani.

Both of them get caught and Jake’s past reputation as a superb pilot makes Mako Mori, the General Secretary (and Jake’s adopted sister – another Oh yeah, right, moment) offer them the way out of prison – by training new cadets in the new generaton Jaegars. (Oh, if you have seen neither of these movies, a Jaegar is a large exoskeleton you run (with two people in the first movie but a short little one invented by Amara needs only one person – rather like the exoskeleton in the Aliens movie but with more technological details).

 

There is a biker gang like girl called Vik among the cadets who hates Amara on site and there are the usual Hollywood training and rivalry scenes to keep the drama going.

 

The company in charge (Shao Corporation) sends two executives, including a research head, Newt Geizler. He is a brash, all-knowing type who keeps getting in the way until a twist makes him worth paying close attention to.

 

There is a lot of drama where the breach that sealed in the Kaijus are released, the new exoskeletons are now operated by Kaiju brains and therefore their own weapons are turned against them, a lot of heroics by the good band.

Mako dies (not a huge suspense, so I can reveal it) and despite being kicked out of the Jaeger pilot force Amana manages to save the day (would you believe it) using her tiny one person Jaegar that she herself built.

 

Interesting stuff, worth watching. But spectacular? No!

6/10

 

–  –  Krishna

May 19, 2018

Book: Middlemarch by George Eliot

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:34 pm

imageA classic, so let us march right into the story.

 

Miss Dorothea Brooke and her sister Celia. Celia is practical but Dorothea is religious. Orphaned, they are looked after by their uncle. Dorothea, the elder seems to be a religious zealot of the first kind. Even though the baronet desires her, she likes the withered and old Casaubon, the philosopher.

 

She agrees to marry him even over the interest shows by Sir Chetham and contrary to the wishes of her uncle and her own sister. Sir Chetham is frustrated, but advised to look closer at the other, more practical, sister Celia by the town pastor’s skinflint, but practical, wife.

 

There are the Vincys, who are rich merchants. Rosamund and Fred are his children. Rosamund is an exquisite beauty and their old and cantankerous uncle Featherstone is rich and issueless so Fred hopes for a piece of the pie. Mary Jane, who lives in the house is plain but a close friend of the fair Rosamund.

 

Rosamund deliberately contrives to meet Mr Lydgate, who is handsome and a physician to boot, and manages to fall in love with him. Lydgate only cares for medicine and he fell for an artist once and was betrayed, so he has no interest in romance. He was a poor person who wanted to do medicine, but his benefactor approved “despite the impact on family dignity by this choice’. How different were those times.

 

There is an election for the priest where Farebrother is ousted by the more dogmatic but tedius preacher.

Meanwhile, in Rome, Dorothea seems to realize that marriage to Casaubon may not be what she thought it would be. He seems to want to do his research alone and rebuffs her every attempt to contribute. When she meets the young and sunny relation of Casaubon’s, Ladislaw, the contrast is immediately apparent. Ladislaw is amazed that Dorothea, who is simple and endearing, would have chosen his uncle as a husband. He himself is financially supported by Casaubon and seems to have no fixed aim in life.

 

His friend Naumann, an artist, also persuades both Mr and Mrs Casaubon to sit for separate portraits for him and seems to angle for Dorothea’s attentions at the same time.

 

Meanwhile Fred seems to have let his extravagancy impact even Mary’s parents and is vaguely guilty. He seems to have a reckless streak with no morality and no understanding of other’s pains even caused by his own actions.

 

When Fred gets ill, the younger Lydgate shows up the family physician Mr Wrench by diagnosing Fred’s illness as Typhoid, earning the wrath of the senior physician. Lydgate gets close to Rosamund as a result. She is delighted and is in love but he thinks of it only as harmless flirtation. Finally circumstances force him to confront his feelings and he finds that he is in love with her after all.

Meanwhile Celia and Sir James are betrothed.

 

Ladislaw becomes the editor of Pioneer, a newspaper under Mr Brooks, uncle of Dorothea and seems to want to be with Dorothea alone a lot, much to the disgust of Casauban.

 

Lydgate creates enemies by openly talking about the new medicinal methods and when Bulstrode finances a new hospital, the protests against Lydgate’s “arrogance” rises to a fever pitch.

 

Ladislaw tries to meet Dorothea, much to the disgust of Casauban. After asking her to promise to fulfil his wishes after his death without specifying what they are, Casauban himself dies before she can give her promise. When they realize that the will says that she will not inherit a cent if she marries Ladislaw, everyone is scandalized.

 

Ladislaw goes away for a long time.

 

Meanwhile, Fred asks Fairbrother to plead his case to Mary. Setting aside his own attraction to Mary, Fairbrother does so. Fred decides not to pursue priesthood, and settles on business (an unpreferred profession!) as assistant to Caleb, much to the chagrin of his parents who consider his university degree “wasted”.

 

Lydgate finds himself in debt due to increased expenses after marriage to keep up with the Joneses. Now, it is cute that he is “obliged to keep two horses” like we would two cars these days. He tries to bring up the subject to Rosamund but she is bewildered.

 

Raffles, the rapscallion, comes back to haunt Bulstrode, calling him “best friend” and extorting money. We learn that Bulstrode, in his past life, married a wealthy woman hiding the fact that the daughter who had runaway had been found and keeping all the money for himself (when the woman died eventually). Raffles was in on the secret and has ever since been blackmailing Bulstrode for money. Now he tells Bulstrode that he plans to ‘come and live’ permanently in Middlemarch, close to his victim.

 

Ladislaw goes away for good.

 

Meanwhile, Rosamond and Lydgate have a rift, especially when Lydgate suggests that they live within their means, with bankruptcy staring in his face. Now we find that Bulstrode faces Garth who had realized, through Raffles, who seem to be dying, the secret and resigns his post. Bulstrode himself cares for Raffles and lends the money needed to Lydgate in a change of heart.

 

When Bulstrode’s deceit gets exposed in a public meeting, much to his chagrin, Lydgate finds himself tainted by mere association. But Rosamund is feeling more and more out of love with Lydgate and refuses even to commiserate, immersed in her own misery.

 

When Dorothea goes to comfort Rosamond, she catches her in what seems to be a compromising position with Will Ladislaw and flees the place, causing pain to both Rosamond and Ladislaw.  All is sorted out and the lovers who made up decide to marry, even at the risk of Dorothea losing most of her inheritance.

 

The ending is neat, especially the epilog which, later, like Harry Potter, follows the characters several years later and tells what happened.

 

6/10

 

–  –  Krishna

Book: Sun in A Bottle by Charles Seife

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:26 pm

imageSometimes, you just have to read a couple of pages in some books to know that this is one that you will enjoy. This seems to be such a book. This is about the quest of humankind to harness fusion as the solution for world’s energy needs. Starts from the gruesome scene of the result of fission, the bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Also, the subtitle of the book explains the context better. “The Strange History of Fusion and The Science of Wishful Thinking”.

He gives a great layman’s account of what happens inside an atom bomb when the chain reaction starts and why such destructive power is unleashed, without the least bit resorting to any technical mumbo jumbo, the author provides interesting tidbits about how Enrico Fermi was the one who first showed how to control a nuclear reaction so that it does not become runaway (as in a bomb) but harnessed for power (as in a reactor).

 

Lovely portraits of the scientists themselves, reminding one of the style of that brilliant book from Bill Bryson, ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’. Consider this. Oppenheimer was the most unlikely person you would pick to head the Manhattan project which was in charge of perfecting the atom bomb for the US during the forties.  He mastered more than half a dozen languages including Sanskrit. But had difficulty even soldering copper wires. He considered himself a failure in Cambridge and contemplated suicide. He became even more erratic and tried to strangle a colleague. And claimed he placed a poisoned apple on the desk of a fellow scientist. Imagine in the current world of Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin – would he now be given a chance to head perhaps the most important scientific project?

 

Still not convinced? Consider this. At the time of his appointment, Oppenheimer was a security risk.  His brother and sisters in law were members of the communist party.  In addition, his ex-girlfriend was also a member!

 

It is interesting to know also that Richard Feynman and Enrico Fermi were both members of the team. Interesting stuff also about Edward Teller, the sinister scientist with an obsession on fusion and who was going his own way in the project.  Amazingly, Truman is forced to take the side of fission  bomb when it turns out that a senior scientist of the project was exposed as a Russian spy and has been handing the fusion research secrets to the Russians all along.

 

The latter humiliation of Oppenheimer by a vicious vindictive Teller is well told.

 

Fabulous backstory about how the scientific community figured out electrons, protons, and neutrons. Even radioactivity is put into perspective better than I have seen done anywhere. Great stuff to read. The chilling plans to build canals and change the shape of the earth is told well. How many of us were unaware of these plans!

 

To think that Lake Chagan in Russia was actually created by a fusion bomb is astonishing. The tests that America and Russia did, and especially the hoax which took in Juan Peron to spend tens of millions of dollars on a fusion engine by a fake scientist, all are brilliantly told.  It can be a bit too technically oriented (despite being explained in simple terms brilliantly by the author) for people looking for stories but it definitely is fascinating to read.

 

First he takes on the cold fusion fiasco bordering on fraud by two famous scientists, both with glorious pasts, and their ultimate humiliation and exile to the fringes of the scientific research and he explains it very well.

 

Again I must reiterate : I have never seen anyone explain complex concepts so well. He explains how lasers are generated. Fascinating. It is by hitting molecules with light particles in a particular way with a particular colour of light. And he describes how when another molecule of light simply passes by, the light emitted by the atom that is hit “marches in lockstep with it”

 

The fiasco of the Cold Fusion hype is well told. I knew what cold fusion even was only by reading this book. Nice. But the detailed description of failure after failure can seem a bit long and a bit of a narrow focus for some readers.  But his description of  Talayerkhan’s blind pursuit in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence and his final literary evisceration by the scientific community make fascinating reading. Then comes the fiasco of bubble fusion, where scientists seem to border on deceit or at least self deception to claim results that are not from quality experiments and sometimes bordering on fraud.

 

The next piece about the fusion research and the hidden agenda of the countries is well told.

 

The ending? Meh. A lot of proselytizing and some repetition of the older ideas. Could have been better. His explanation of complex concepts is awe inspiringly masterly. Just for that, this book should be read by anyone interested in fusion or fission.

 

In my final rating, the rate is a bit low only because of the subpar ending.

 

7/10

– – Krishna

Movie: A Quiet Place (2018)

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:58 pm

imageI will try to avoid giving away much but it is so difficult in this type of movie. Perhaps I can preserve how it all ends, so that, if you have not already seen the movie, you still have something to look forward to.

 

First of all, hats off to John Krisinski. I did not know he had it in him to direct and act in something like this. If you watched his performance in The Office, he managed to underwhelm. His trademark was to look into the camera with a puzzled expression (He was Jim, dating Pam forever and married to her later in the series. He managed to be outshone by both Steve Carrell and Rann Wilson, who played Dwight) and I thought he did not have it in him to make a mark in acting in movies, let alone direct one. He proved me wrong. (I am reminded of Bryan Cranston, who was similarly underwhelming in Malcolm in the Middle, before spectacularly breaking out of the mold in Breaking Bad).

 

It is kind of a family project because two of the main characters is him and his wife Emily Blunt.

 

There are many things to love in this movie. One is that it does not patronize you and just gets on with the story. The story starts simply at Day 89. Day 89 of what? They don’t bother to explain but make you understand with things in the story. (Paper cuttings, white board notes and simply as things happen). The effect is spectacular. You piece them together bit by bit, and it is as if they had told you everything in order starting from ‘One day, a terrible thing happened’.

 

The second nice thing about this movie is that there are not many people in the movie. It is all about the Abbots – husband Lee (John Krisinski with a beard and he manages to shake off his association with The Office character Jim as the movie goes on), wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt, giving adequate support) and the central character who steals the show, Regan, who is a hearing impaired daughter. Apart from them is the son Marcus, who needs medication due to his asthma. There is another daughter Beau but she is “taken” right in almost the first five minutes and so the whole movie revolves around these four.

 

And there are hardly any dialogs. They talk in sign language (and neatly explained and credible because of Regan, they had to learn all this).

 

The story starts brilliantly. You realize that they had to go only in the daytime and quietly at that. Sound is lethal, as demonstrated when Beau sneaks a rocket (he is a great rocket enthusiast) and, falling behind when they go back home, switches it on. In seconds, he is snatched by something that you hardly see (it is a blur) and is gone.

 

You slowly learn the background. The earth (or at least the US) is taken over by an alien race, which eats anything alive, including humans. From Lee’s meticulous notes, you find that civilization is broken down and there are hardly any survivors in the area he lives in. These aliens are blind, and hunt by sound alone – which is why US is now “A Quiet Place”. They also have a body armour so it is hard to kill them even with guns. There is a note that “two were spotted in that area” so to survive they stay indoors, with trip wires (they light up when tripped and do not sound alarms) and silent navigation. Lee keeps trying to make hearing aids (no shops or malls are populated anymore) and like in The Walking Dead, they have to scavenge stores for medicine and other supplies.

 

Even supporting actors are only three (if you count one that is already dead as an ‘actor’).

 

The tension rachets up when they accidentally make noise breaking a lantern and setting a rug on fire and then hear sounds on the tin roof. In typical horror movie fashion, it turns out to be a raccoon. Finally they (and we) do come face to face with the horror of the monsters, and they are also hiding when these go around their own house looking for them and they try to stay still with no noise in order to thwart them.

 

Great scenes where Emily discovers that she is pregnant and you are as anxious as them to see how the new child will survive. In order to ratchet up the suspense, the kids get trapped in a grain silo with the monster(s?) outside and Lee goes to get them back and Evelyn steps on an open nail with another one of them right nearby and cannot even scream. Well planned story, huge tension with no sound at all (except for the background score of course).

 

I will not tell you how it ends, as promised, but the end suits the whole theme of the movie. Nice work. Definitely worth watching. I am sure Jim is as surprised as everyone else how much of a hit this turned out to be, but it is really a well made, well crafted movie. Every one has done their part and Millicent Simmonds, who plays Regan, has done a spectacular job and nearly steals the show from everyone else.

 

Good movie, nice to watch. I enjoyed it.

 

8/10

– – Krishna

May 12, 2018

Book: Valley Of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:28 pm

imageThis was a cult classic and was a rage when it was published way back in 1979. Today, it reads differently, at least for me. You judge for yourself.

 

Anne is bored of her tiny city and goes to New York to be released from the predictable life of a housewife with strict obedience to a man she does not even love.  She finds a job as a secretary and works for a nice man.

 

Emily dates a man (Allan Cooper) who seems to be boring but a struggling salesman and treats her with kindness while many in the company chase her. The boy toy Lyon Burke comes back to the company making every woman swoon there.  She discovers that Allen Cooper, who she thought was a down and out salesman is really a very rich man and wants to marry her.  She, however is not in love with him, and says so to Allan’s father Gino.

 

Meanwhile she discovers the “soft” side of Lyon Burke and also discovers that Henry Bellamy is in love with her. (She, according to the story, is incredibly beautiful.) It gets interesting when Allan Cooper takes it for granted that she will marry him and she fights back to preserve her independent decision making. No one else can understand why she does not like to marry a catch like Allen Cooper.

 

She is in love with Lyon but he is a playboy and everyone feels she will be hurt by him. She befriends Helen Lawson despite everyone telling her that Helen is a bitch.

 

Helen is after Gino but he is uninterested. The story takes a big turn towards boredom with Emily sticking up for Helen despite what you can see as a spoiled brat behaviour by Helen and also about Allen finally pressing her to move the relationship forward. It is the usual confused melee and the lovely flow of the story stalls abruptly. She finds a part for Neely.

 

Then the story gets too boring with Emily and Lyon expressing love and doubt and love. The nice and easy storytelling descends into the run of the mill pulp romance.

 

Lyon one day simply disappears to ‘write his story’. Jennifer marries Tony Palar only to discover that she is a trapped wife and he is a boy in is brains and Mariam, the sister, controls everything. Neely is seeing wild success but Mel, her boyfriend feels as useless as Jennifer. Emotional ragweed blows all over the story landscape.

 

Neely becomes the most sought after star and then crashes. Everyone starts sleeping around Jennifer sleeps with a French man even though she knows he is using her and goes to Paris to be a porn star. Neely has a succession of husbands, all of whom fail her. She goes to prescription drugs and drink in desperation. Her husband sleeps around with a young thing (before being kicked out) and even her producer sleeps with a young star who he wants to supplant Neely.

 

The uptight, initially virginal Emily sleeps around with Gillian, even though she does not ‘feel the passion’. So on and so forth.. The book steadily goes downhill fast.

 

Everyone also struggles through life. Jen making it, losing it, doing porn in France, coming  back to conquer America and just when she finally found the love of her life with a Senator, everything unravelling (breast cancer) and unwilling to face mastectomy, ends her life.

 

Neely keeps wrecking her life, getting repeatedly suicidal and finally is checked into a mental correction facility.

 

When Lyon comes back Emily goes right back to have sex with him, abandoning Kevin who stuck by her all his life without a second thought. All the girls thus seem to behave in a weird and unpredictable, almost cruel way to everyone around them and this seems to be a human emotional frailty? Spare me the explanations, please. They all seem to be extremely nasty.

 

What a pessimistic book it is! It was considered a cult classic in the late seventies, like I said in my preamble but if the author is trying to explain the strengths and weaknesses of three women (Ann, Jennifer and Neely) what we get are three selfish, conniving, manipulative, vindictive women who behave like totally spoilt, ungrateful, vicious brats and kind of get what they deserve. Even the men in the book (Lyon for instance) are sleaze bags. It is all very depressing, but not in a very good way either. The ending is equally depressing and abrupt.

 

4/10

–  – Krishna

Book: Second Shadow by Aimee & David Thurlo

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:17 pm

imageThis is a simple story, intended to be a thriller and too simply written to elevate this into the realm of interesting books.

Dinetsoh is wounded and is being hunted. He

 

alone knows who killed Anglo attorney Powell Atkins and is trying also to protect the briefcase he is carryi

ng.

 

Emily is being attacked by two men and James rescues her with the aid of a folding metal stick (Don’t laugh.) He has been in love with Emily and even saved here before but disappeared before she could properly thank him.

 

He promises to protect her. They discover a secret document stored inside a wall after a lot of philosophy about Navajo tribe  from James. They handle a very suspicious-acting neighbour. They are puzzled by the theft of maps from her father’s study. Behind a loose board in the house, they discover a paper that tells them that her dad was acting as a lawyer to the Tribe.

 

While the bully neighbour claims that her father had agreed to sell the entire property to him they discover proof that he had rejected the offer. Also found hidden in the safe deposit box left by her dad is a paper with what looks like coordinates on a map.

 

She goes investigating and generally flirting with James. They find and thwart an attempt to stymie her construction crew with a fake investigation for a gas leak.  Another attempt at their life is made in the street by a set up tree trunk in their path and the shoulder of the road rigged with soft sand.

 

The sabotages continue. A blond with a stunning figure seems to be involved, though no one knows who she is. Then they find out that the mastermind shooting at them repeatedly is none other than the neighbour Woods.

 

For all his expert skills Jason keeps leading Emily into trouble constantly! Woods seems to be everywhere and doing everything. If you think that it is a setup for a whopper of a twist at the end, stop thinking. This is not any complex story. A simple story not aimed at thinking minds. Just read and forget.

 

The way they overcome Woods and the way they learn of their mystery is all very sudden and simple. Nothing to work out here, folks.

 

It is entertaining after a fashion but will not stay in your mind.

 

3 /10

–  –  Krishna

May 6, 2018

Book: The Son Also Rises by Gregory Clark

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:36 pm

imageStarts well. Explores social mobility. Can birth alone determine your future social status? Is the American dream which says you can be whatever you like a myth at least partially? He does an interesting analysis by just surnames and discovers that the social mobility is very small, much smaller than you would think or want to believe. The discussions are fascinating. He argues that this is not a pessimistic view, since if you elongate the timeframe to about 300 years, the deck gets shuffled and everyone reverts to the mean. In the end, even within the dynasties, it is the ability and not the money that matters.

 

What starts promisingly thus descends into analysis of percentages that never ends and you rapidly lose interest and consider it one of the most boring books you have read. Interminable statistics about the same point over and over and you feel even more tired than watching the family videos of a distant acquaintance when forced to sit on their house and watch for half a day.

 

He moves painfully from Sweden to the US. More of the same blather. The one short piece that holds your interest is how the surnames in Medieval England originated. We of course know that Baker, Carpenter, Smith, Clark, Cook, Butler are all based on professions that became surnames (in the thirteenth century, this book tells us). But I had not thought of Chamberlain, Carter, Shepherd, Ploughman, Thresher and Wright came from the same. Some are even more obscure, the textile industry professions gave the surnames Webber and Webster (for weavers), Skinner, Tanner and even Glover (from the leather trade), Barker (from textile as well), Coward (a corruption of cowherd), Baxter (from Baker) and Dexter (from Dyer).  The elites, who moved from their native cities to the royal court took the cities as surnames and hence we have now Montgomery, Holland, Kent etc.

 

And you learn that the surname Spencer really comes from dispenser and Clark or Clarke comes from cleric.

 

After that brief illuminating discussion, it sinks back into the same analysis but with Medieval English times.

 

He also says that Old Sarum in 1831 had a population of 7 and an electorate of 4.  152 out of 406 MPs were elected by fewer than one hundred voters. (they were called the rotten boroughs). In other words, a handful of people wielded political power through representatives out of all proportion to their numbers until it was reformed shortly after 1830s.

 

Then the author says “OK I will explain why my theory works always as opposed to other studies that show a greater variation” . You sit up and say, “At last! We will get to know the theory instead of interminable examples proving the same in excruciating detail”. He then disappoints by giving an equation like y = bx + c and explaining what the constants b and c are and therefore why this rate is the same! You go ‘Serves me right for expecting something, in spite of my experience so far.’

 

More blather about how educational help to children does not seem to boost the level of change.

 

There are some interesting thoughts in the book. For instance, he describes how when we track the descendents of Charles Darwin, who expounded the theory of the survival of the fittest, we sees his own progeny dwindling from generation to generation!

 

There is also firm evidence that affirmative action or the equivalent reservation system has not produced any improvement in the plight of the disadvantaged, no matter what the government does. Well, it does, but nowhere near the effect that was sought. But you have to sit through a lot of dross that sounds like a research analytics in detail to get at these nuggets.

 

A couple of interesting facts emerge. Why are Coptic Christians, a religious minority, in elite status in Egypt? Because, all the poorer people, unable to pay the tax to practice other religions, converted to Islam, leaving the elite in place, who were richer. Given the persistent rates of social immobility, this persists to the present day. Similarly, the explanation of how a handful of Ashkenazi Jews in the earlier centuries became so populous and elite. Interesting vignettes indeed.

 

But the book is mostly dross and I cannot in all honesty, as a lay reader, give it more than 3/ 10

–  –  Krishna

Book: Some Do Not… by Ford Maddox Ford

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:31 pm

imageThere is not much to give by way of preamble so let’s jump right down to the story. This was written in 1924 but I have not heard of Ford Maddox Ford the same way I know of Dickens or others.

 

Two men are going in a luxurious train. Tietjens and McMaster, two polar opposites. McMaster fancies himself as a writer and is orderly. Tietjens is a happy go lucky fellow. They are from the University. Tietjens is of aristocratic lineage and everything came to him easily. But they are good friends. Tietjen’s father helped McMaster get a job.

 

Tietjen marries, moved to another house (while McMaster continues to stay in the original Tietjen house) and his wife runs away with a lover, leaving him stranded with two kids and then after many weeks, the wife coolly writes and asks him to take her back.

 

Some British aristocratic blather follows. How McMaster hopes to escape into the nobility through the sheer power of writing by getting books published and stuff like that.

 

Then they get into morality and religion argument that is fairly boring and seems to be frankly routine in many of the really old stories.

 

Sylvia is a colourless woman who just ‘is bored’ about everything and annoys the hell out of you whenever she appears on the pages of this book.

 

Then even the conversations become annoying. They talk about stupid stuff that has no relevance to the story at all.

 

All of them behave counter intuitively, annoying a reader like me. Tetjian hates golf but still plays anyway, for instance.

 

He meets and lets a tomboyish girl escape. They are fighting for women’s right to vote.

 

The dialogs suck. An example : “Cats and monkeys, monkeys and cats, this is the entire humanity”. You may think this is out of context but the book throws them at you without any context either. So droll, all of it.

 

It is painful to read. One vile man seems to behave totally weird and McMaster “knows” how to handle him. (Punch him in the groin is his solution.)  Tetjian falls in love with a Miss Winstrop. Her mother seems to be a great bore (to us readers, not intended by the author to be such).

 

He is a man of many talents, this Tietjens but seems very boring. While playing golf he is bored with the game but amuses himself by mathematically calculating the trajectory of the hit ball. Come on….

 

Even the twists are oh so boring. It is as Homer Simpson famously said about the Disney Park Epcot Centre “Aaah! Even flying over it is so boring!”

 

They finally realize that Tetjian is a saint and a man with almost infinite talents. Yawn…

 

But one interesting thing stands out – you learn that the proverb about ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into heaven’ comes from the difficulty camels  had of passing through a gate in Jerusalem called ‘The Eye of the Needle’.  True? I don’t know, but if so, this is very interesting!

 

More blather about who should have an affair with whom and why they don’t. Final blather about how everyone is jealous of Tetjian.

 

The ending is equally lame. Since this is no great twist, I would like to let you know that the title stands for ‘(Outside of marriage) Some Do Fornicate and Some Do Not Fornicate’. Big whoop.

 

It is not totally boring and so let us say a 3/10

 

– Krishna

 

Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: