If You Fall…Get Back Up!

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Rise + Hustle, by Mike Whitfield

I’m no longer concerned with the oddities of commercial writing. Besides all the postmodern variations on story structure and purpose, I’ve reviewed a novel to be used for (other) business purposes, so I don’t blush at all to review Rise + Hustle, Mike Whitfield’s book about the promise and pitfalls involved in getting in shape. 

Disclosure: I’m a client of Mike’s, and I can attest to the difficulty of restoring strength and stamina following back-to-back heart and knee surgery as well as the success of Mike’s approach.

This isn’t a “how-to” book, although that’s in there, and it’s not a specific methodology; instead it’s a strategy toward life, toward efficiency in coping with life’s mundane details, toward finding your purpose in life, and (of course) getting in shape and losing weight. Mike accomplishes this by giving the reader page after page of advice and exhortations, each page a new and different vignette, each a bit of advice to be absorbed, not in the moment of reading, but over time in seeing the smarts behind Mike’s pages of modern day aphorisms. 

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His prose here isn’t literary, nor did Mike intend it to be. But his seasoning is here, as is the wisdom in turning the usual training manual upside down. Mike filters all this through his strong Christian faith, but were you to skip over those and deal only with the secular angle of his work and advice, the results, I think, would be the same or better as time wears on.

To sum up Rise + Hustle, 

1 – (how to) be efficient in dealing with life’s onerous responsibilities

2 – in life, take the long view toward success, toward “finding your bliss.”

3 – when you’re discouraged, persist. 

4 – In any journey, look for Mike’s “woosh” effect.

Of course, making such a list is easy; the trick is putting these four elements (and perhaps others) into effect. That’s where Mike and his fine book come in. 

My Rating: 17 of 20 stars

 

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Good Fortune in Dystopia

 

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I’m truly fortunate in being able to keep writing and in having my work published. This Saturday, March 15, 2014, a dystopian novella of mine will be launched as an e-book. The name? We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile.

It’s something of a fable, a cautionary tale, set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the U.S… oh, what the heck, I’ll just give you the cover blurb:

2090 A.D. — The America nation has collapsed, and its remnants have been at war for a half-century.

 Samuel II, mayor of Citadel, a Blue Ridge Mountain enclave, is determined to end the city’s wars with devolved tribal society, Freedomland. He sends troubled but insightful city archivist Jakob History to a bartering meet-up, hoping an interview with tribal leader Abraham Trapper might help further peaceful relations. Instead, the encounter leads Jakob to reexamine America’s past, to a danger-filled glimpse of Abraham’s tribal life, and to a final, fateful encounter with Abraham, these revealing human strengths and weaknesses that are at the basis of civilization itself.

 

I’m rather proud of this story for a number of reasons, foremost among them that I began with a vague idea of what I wanted to write and let my subconscious lead me into the morass of modern culture and the dangers it poses to us personally and to civilization itself.

And the book trailer was developed in similar fashion by my film ace, Kevin.

If you’re interested in buying the e-book after reading this and investigating it on my website, please wait until the 15th to do so. A number of sales on a given day are something you can collectively do to help the author. It’s available on Amazon, Kobo, and Nook.

Thanks,

Bob

Provoking, Informing, and Magazine Success

The Atlantic, March 2014

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In a world in which magazines are closing their doors daily, a few have found the key to success, and The Atlantic seems to have that key firmly in its grasp. What makes its mojo work, then? Simple – find a way to entertain as it informs, and do so in a fairly concise fashion.  Sometimes this involves provocation for the sake of provoking. We all remember what makes our blood boil, it seems, as in the case of Jonathan Rauch’s brief, “The Case for Corruption.”

Did you know that WalMart claims that nearly half its purchases are made on smart phones? Neither did Alexis Madrigal, in a quickie interview with WalMart’s Gibu Thomas.

James Parker tries to overlay today’s polarized political TV talk shows over the film, Network.  He has a point, I think, but it’s a strained one.

This issue takes on hockey, of all things (a sport I liken to professional wrestling), but as Chris Koentges depicts the sport in “The Puck Stops Here,” a Finnish promoter has transformed it from a brawl on ice to  international prestige.

Paul Bloom, in “The War On Reason,” rings my bell loudly by explaining that philosophy, the bedrock of Enlightenment reason, has drifted away from logic and reason into a physiological abyss. In this semi-philosophical world, reason seems devoid of  worth, but Bloom seems to hold out hope: our human need for moral values will trump this straying and bring reason back in new clothes.

I remember how the KA fraternity partied till they puked in my college days. Those well-oiled frat rats even killed a famous horse in the process. In the lead article, “The Dark Power of Fraternities,” Caitlin Flanagan tells us things are even worse, many frat peccadilloes now ending in court.

I’m a Southerner, despite all attempts to be a one-worlder, and I’m compelled to say that Ron Rash’s story “Where The Map Ends,” the story of two escaping slaves in the Civil War South, is the finest piece of short fiction I’ve seen in a magazine in a long while.

These are but my highlights in another fine issue of The Atlantic.

 

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Irony and Complexity

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The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson

As is my case with most books, I warmed up to this one slowly. My warming, however, became only tepid with The Orphan Master’s Son. I like stories, you see, and defined characters within such stories. That makes me an odd fit for postmodern literature, something I’ve posted on ad nauseum. This book of that ilk branches and wanders, flitting from character to vignette randomly, much as one might experience in a dream. There is a semblance of coherent story here, so I’ll take a shot at synopsizing it;

Pak Jun Do’s father is the ruling influence of a North Korean orphanage, and the boy’s mother has been spirited away to entertain high placed personages in Pyongyang, leaving Jun Do an orphan of sorts. He eventually finds himself in the role of kidnapper for North Korea’s high-ups. In such a country it’s best to blend in, to be all but invisible, but Jun Do’s role makes this impossible, and he continually finds himself skirting torture and death. Somewhere deep in this life he encounters a North Korean-type starlet, named Sun Moon, who has been conned away from Kim Jong Il to be the mistress of yet another muckety-muck. Jun Do falls for the wryly named Sun Moon, who sets a host of characters on a path to free her from the Dear Leader.

If this sounds like an overly complicated story – or perhaps no story at all – then you have a sense of what postmodern literature has to offer.

Two things tie Johnson’s novel into a semblance of coherence: first, it depicts the difficulties of living under such a regime. Second, it contrasts that form of society and life with that of the U.S., and it does so wryly, with irony of the highest order. The manner in which the author approaches writing this novel set in this particular culture is, I think, the reason it won the Pulitzer.

Johnson seems to have little regard for reader comfort in structuring this novel, even down to the insertion of dialogue tags in his sentences, and he apparently feels no need to lead the reader from vignette to vignette. His project here is perhaps overly ambitious, and I doubt he could have accomplished in a novel all he wished to without wandering about in this manner.

My rating: 15 of 20 stars.

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Short Stuff Makes It More Difficult

The River Swimmer, by Jim Harrison

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The novella as a literary form has been around for a long while; it remains as popular in Great Britain and Europe as it has been in the first half of the U.S.’s twentieth century. For readers, the popularity stems from its abbreviated length, its compact style that some writers and editors compare with the longer short stories. The difficulty for writers is two-fold, I think: you’re tempted to let the piece be static in structure, or you find yourself leaving great gaps in characterization or story line, gaps that would be filled in if the piece were of, say, sixty thousand words or more, i.e., of novel length.So one must write a tightly controlled story, not littered with too-many subplots and long, drawn out characterizations.

And for the publisher in this day, the book of dual novellas seems the only feasible mode of publication, as many publishers resist putting money into a short book that they can only sell for minimal price.

Thus we have two novellas from Harrison here, The first and least satisfying being The Land of Unlikeness. In it, an aging and still-struggling artist named Clive returns home to Ypsilanti, Michigan, and finds renewed fascination in reliving his younger years there, including high school romances. Harrison seems to want us to understand that creative fame is more or less accidental, but that one can still find fulfillment there once ego and pursuit of fame are abandoned. The writing here is uneven, dropping in erudite commentaries on painting and artistic styling, while giving us a story that could have been accomplished at short story length.

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In The River Swimmer, however, Harrison’s talent begins to shine through. He dabbles with Magical Realism as he coaxes the central character, Thad, through a nasty conflict with a girl’s father, then various self-actualizing exercises that he would just as well not put himself though. Through all this, the young man finds his only contentment in swimming the midwest’s rivers or, as Harrison writes in the final page, “ If there was a body of swimmable water nearby he would enter it. It was his nature.”

Harrison’s style and voice in these two novellas is offhand, leaving the reader to wonder whether Harrison would just as soon not have written the pieces, or whether he’s doing extra duty in erasing himself  from his readers’ minds.

 

My rating: 15 of 20 stars

 
Visit my website here, and my FB Fan Page here for more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you. I’ll soon be adding podcasts of selected book reviews to my website, as well as an opportunity to buy mp3 files of my reading of Sam’s Place – Stories, so look for those.

The Best Book I Read This Year/The Atlantic

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This is the summing up season, and almost everyone, including yours truly, is thinking “best-of” for the year. I find the list of books linked below by The Atlantic intriguing and, according to my taste, accurate, although there are always arguments to be made for books not mentioned. My own reads are always riddled with holes, and I find I’ve only read two of these thirty, another five on my “to-read” list.

I can only encourage you to pick from these thirty – and I wouldn’t mind at all if you decided to give my own books a look and a read.

I’ll be making a much shorter list of books I read this year – – soon! So please stay tuned.

 

The Atlantic

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

It’s a Guy Thing

I came across the blog post linked below this morning about Hemingway: the writer I’d probably hate being around, but whose work continues to enthrall me. The post lists a few of his many “accidents,” something I can identify with.

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When we’re beyond trying to impress women with our physical exploits, when we’re no longer trying to prove the best among men, we still feel the urge to push the limits of our physical vehicles: can our reflexes allow us to cut in between the semi and SUV in the next lane? Can we lift that twelve foot piece of sheetrock alone? Can we hike a steep mountain trail in record time, without a fall or a twisted ankle?

For me it’s been housebuilding, mostly – hauling tons of rock to the swale behind the house to prevent erosion. Hauling more stones to build a patio and a fire pit. And, ahem, the aforementioned sheetrock – among other physical challenges. It’s caused me enough scars for the missus to call me Frankenstein Junior: a shoulder surgery, two arthroscopic knee surgeries, hand surgery,  an abdominal surgery, and most recently, a knee replacement.

Would I have done things differently? Probably not, although I have rued the need for these surgeries.

Women will read this post and say, “This guy’s nuts.” Okay, I willingly admit. So was Hemingway. So are many, many men. Our insanity is of a sort, much different than that of women, and I can’t ask that women understand. But if you can tolerate, maybe we can make a little progress in bridging that awkward-to-negotiate, tempestuous phenomenon we’ve come to call the gender divide.

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Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.