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Hande Z (Singapore)

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Why Smart People Hurt: A Guide for the Bright, the Sensitive, and the Creative
Why Smart People Hurt: A Guide for the Bright, the Sensitive, and the Creative
by Eric Maisel
Edition: Paperback
Price: 12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent people's designs, 12 Aug 2014
This is an interesting book because Maisel is trying to merge Zen and psychology. You need to understand some psychology and Zen to appreciate what Maisel is trying to do. The problem here is that he has not expressed his ideas more clearly and as a result, we see the comments from some reviewers Amazon US saying that he has identified the problem but has no solution. Another attacked him for a being an atheist bigot.

In this book, Maisel's points are as follows: We can deal with unhappiness by thinking more deeply and critically about the things that we value, asking if we truly value those things, and whether we can bring ourselves to do without them. Secondly, thinking is a rational activity but it is not only our rational selves that determine our happiness. Our emotional selves have a big say. We need to adjust our thinking and our feelings so that they harmonise with each other - enter, Zen. The clue is to divest ourselves of the perceived need to find meaning in everything. Some things will always remain a mystery, but we must think critically as to what truly is a mystery and what is simply false.

Those who understand this book will already be living a happy life. Maisel needs to revise this book to help those who struggle to follow his ideas. His reference to 'smart' people might have contributed to some misunderstanding.

Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words
Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words
by Jay Rubin
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.69

5.0 out of 5 stars Pauses between notes, 10 Aug 2014
This is an amazingly fascinating 'bio-criticism' - a combination of biography and literary criticism. It is topped by the fact that the author of this bio-criticism was the long-time translator of Haruki's books, Jay Rubin. The life of Haruki is told and at each juncture, relevant portions from Haruki's novels are brought up to show the relationship between fact and fiction in Haruki's life and work. They are so intertwined that only one who knows both subjects as well as Rubin could have pulled it off. Rubin also shows us how Haruki's love for music and the evocation of nostalgia are revealed in recurring themes in Haruki's books.

We are also enlightened by the choice of words Haruki made (in Japanese) and the relevance of his use of 'boku' for 'I' as the narrator. It is not the conventional 'watashi wa'. These are important illuminations which are not apparent in the translated novels. It makes one desire to immediately re-read all the Haruki novels that one had enjoyed through Rubin's translations, knowing that there are gems yet to be discovered.

Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment by Ferguson, Robert A. (2014) Hardcover
Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment by Ferguson, Robert A. (2014) Hardcover
by Robert A. Ferguson
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Burning read, 4 Aug 2014
This is an in-depth exploration of the psyche of the punisher in America. This fascinating book about punishment is not about the competing theories of why we punish or how we should punish. It is about why the urge to punish - and punish so severely. It examines all the institutions that have a role in the punishment regime - from the legislature to the police, the prosecutor, the court, and the prison guard. Ferguson studies the people in these institutions to help the reader understand why the American culture for punishment is so strong, and what can be done so that the punishment of offenders will be fairer and more just.

Ferguson forces the reader to think about the punishment mete dout to offenders more deeply. When the prison guard takes the criminal away after the court has handed down the sentence, the punishment begins for that criminal. But to the rest of the society, that is the end of the story. Do we know what happens after sentence is passed? That is the compelling question that Ferguson tries to answer.

Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion
Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion
by David Zweig
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.40

4.0 out of 5 stars Fly low, fly steady, 8 July 2014
This is not a book for egomaniacs. It is the opposite - it glorifies those who work hard and stay out of the limelight. It is about a breed of professionals like structural engineer Dennis Poon, a specialist in designing the structural strength of super-high buildings. Most people do not know him whereas they might know the architect. Another example is David Apel who creates fragrances for the big name fragrance houses.

The idea of this book is not just to contrast the two conflicting personality styles, but also to show which the author David Zweig, thinks is the more admirable. He believes that modern culture inclines towards self-promotion and almost everything we do must have a self-promotional angle to them; but this is what reduces the value and quality of what we do.

This is a book in praise of humility and conscientiousness - qualities of professionals.

Buddhaland Brooklyn
Buddhaland Brooklyn
by Richard C. Morais
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Learning to adapt to Western culture and falling in love with a woman, 5 July 2014
This review is from: Buddhaland Brooklyn (Paperback)
A young Japanese boy, Seido,was sent to a Buddhist temple to be trained as a priest. Neither he nor his older brother knew why he was chosen from among the four children in their family. When Seido was in the temple, his family perished in a fire. As a grown man and schooled in Buddhism, Seido was sent to build a temple in Brooklyn. Learning to adapt to Western culture and falling in love with a woman, Seido learnt the meaning of Buddhism in its fullest sense. He also understood a long forgotten event which shed light on the question why he and not his sibling was chosen for priesthood.

This book is at times humourous and amusing, but for the most part it is a tract on the difficult questions of life and the Buddhist way of dealing with them. It deals with the problems ignorance can bring, but knowledge is not necessarily a boon unless one knows how to handle it.

William Shakespeare's Star Wars
William Shakespeare's Star Wars
by Ian Doescher
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 8.39

3.0 out of 5 stars Will the dew rust a light sabre?, 25 Jun 2014
The concept for this series (there's 'The Empire Strikes Back' and 'The Jedi Doth return') is ingenious. This book is fun to read. I am giving it 3 stars and not 4 because the Shakespearean language of the author though admirable, does not match that of the Bard. It is an unfair comparison perhaps, but I thought that the reader should not expect too much. Here's an example of the text from Scene 8:

Han: Now dropping out of light speed's frantic rush
We enter swift unto the area
Where should there be great Alderaan in view.
But pray what madness meets the Falcon's flight?
Is this an ast'roid field I see before me?
The ship hath wrought a course direct and true,
Yet no Alderaan may here be found.
O errand vile, O portents of great ill!
What shall it mean, when planets are no more,
For those who make their wages by the stars?

Luke: What news good Han?

Han: - The ship's position hits
The mark, and yet no Alderaan there is.

Luke: I pray thee, marry, say: what canst thou mean?

Harry's Last Stand: How the World My Generation Built is Falling Down, and What We Can Do to Save it
Harry's Last Stand: How the World My Generation Built is Falling Down, and What We Can Do to Save it
by Harry Leslie Smith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 9.09

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stand up for Harry?, 25 Jun 2014
This is an easy book to review but not rate. I therefore took the mid point between 2 and 4 stars and gave it a 3-star rating. This is an immensely readable book and the reader may think that he can feel Harry's breath down his neck. Harry has a lot of gems for those in his generation or coming shortly after him. He has a way of describing life in England from the 1930's when he was a child - living in a 'doss house'.

However, the tune and tone of this book is utterly negative. Harry is 91 but he has chosen to gripe about it and blame the poverty of his family and all the poor in Britain through the ages on the giant corporations, government, and the spoilt youth of the present. His description of life may be dead accurate (the beauty of this book) but his conclusions and analysis may not be completely sound. Yet, his aged, defiant voice will strike a chord with many of us. When he has completed the book, the reader may very well think that Harry might be 91% right.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 19, 2014 8:41 AM BST

1001: Whiskies You Must Try Before You Die
1001: Whiskies You Must Try Before You Die
by Dominic Roskrow
Edition: Paperback
Price: 18.40

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars To go with 1001 nights, 22 Jun 2014
This book does not cover all the whiskies in the world but it seems like it has. It is a much bigger compilation than Ian Buxton's '101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die'. It is also slightly more up-to-date - this is a 2012 publication (Buxton's is 2010). Aside from that the information from both are informative and interesting. These books concentrate on the description of the whisky but have basic information about the distillery. Dominic Roskow's 1001Whiskies will make an excellent companion to Michael Jackson's 'Whisky: The Definitive World Guide' which focusses on the major distilleries of the world.

The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan-afghanistan Frontier
The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan-afghanistan Frontier
by Hassan Abbas
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 17.09

5.0 out of 5 stars How the Frontier was lost, 18 Jun 2014
The Talibans, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, are names we read and hear in news media every day, but what do we really know about them other than the impression that they are Islamic terrorists? Hassan Abbas grew up and was educated in Peshawar. He spent some years as a senior police commander in the hot frontier of Pashtun territory before he turned to the academic life in Washington DC. His book provides a history of the Talibans; a history that connects Britain, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, and the USA. He gave a detailed account of the Taliban's rise in the 1990's, its dispersion after the American 'war on terror' after September 11 in 2001, and how and why the Talibans are coming back.

This is an illuminating work that explains which tribe in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border is fighting which - and why they are fighting. It explains the role and reception of Al-Qaeda in the Afghanistan history. He also explains with great clarity the cultural habits and attitudes of the tribal people in that region. Without an understanding of their history and culture it will be difficult to have any effective engagement with the main parties there and hope that peace can result.

The problem with understanding Pashtun culture and attitude is that they are full of nuances. Hassan explains these nuances with the insight and experience of having lived there among them. Do we even think that the Talibans do not watch Hollywood movies and how such a seemingly innocuous omission could have serious practical consequences? Hassan retells a story (that now, removed from time and space, seems comic): A Taliban raided a village home searching for their North-Western rivals, saw a poster of Sylvester Stallone in his 'Rambo' gear. He immediately ordered the occupant of the room to 'Tell your cousin that he must surrender his weapon'.

It may appear that even the CIA did not know enough about the Pashtuns and the Talibans (not the same) and that might have led to a great deal of wrong decisions being made leading to the American war in Afghanistan as well as decisions made in the war. Perhaps this book was published too late. Perhaps not. Readers hoping for a wider historical context might like to supplement their reading of this book with Peter Tomsen's 'The Wars of Afghanistan', published in 2011.

A Tale for the Time Being
A Tale for the Time Being
by Ruth Ozeki
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Make time for this, 16 Jun 2014
Naoko was a 19-year-old who decided to write the story of her pathetic life before she ends it. She wrote in a diary under the cover of Marcel Proust's 'In Search of Lost Time'. She tells the sad story of her grand-uncle Haruki#1 who was a Japanese suicide bomber in the Second World War. She tells about her father's many attempts at suicide after he lost his job in Silicon Valley and had to move back to Tokyo, jobless and depressed. Naoko was raised in America and lived like an American. She could not fit into life in a Japanese school. She was subjected to severe bullying.

Her diary was washed up on the beach of an island in British Columbia. It was found by Ruth, a writer of Japanese-American descent. Ruth started reading Naoko's diary. She and her husband, Oliver, became enthralled by it. Ozeki weaved the thrill of a detective novel into the book and has the reader captivated by Ruth's efforts to find clues and trails that might lead her to Naoko who she thought might still be alive.

The wonder of this book is that it uses time, quantum physics, and philosophy to transport Ruth - and the reader - to a vantage point in which the meaning of life becomes a little clearer.

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