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Hande Z (Singapore)

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In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise
In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise
by George Prochnik
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.61

3.0 out of 5 stars Hush...there's a decibel in the room, 14 Sep 2014
To some, this book may seem like making a great deal of noise over the virtues of silence. Although this book might have been more effective if it had been edited down to an essay, there may be something in the patience required to gradually absorb the details and anecdotes Prochnik expresses in his book.

The plot, so to speak, is simple - the world is growing noisier and we are being distracted and rendered less effective by the constant noise all around us through out the day. He points to research that indicates that unnecessary background noise affects the young in their effort to learn language. This failure to learn the language effectively is one of the causes of increasing numbers of autistic children in modern times.

Physical soundproofing is getting more effective (and more expensive) but we can learn, less expensively, to block noise, and maintain a healthy diet of sound each day.

You Can't Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom
You Can't Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom
by Nick Cohen
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Never mind the label, 14 Sep 2014
As one reads through this book, he is likely to forget whatever label he might have stuck on others or on himself. This book was written with a force of persuasion through the indignities inflicted by man on each other ('man' here includes women - both as oppressor and victim). Cohen tells the story of Hirsi Ali and her long journey from childhood to adulthood in Somalia and Europe, finding deep prejudice against her for her gender and her religion. The same goes with the story of one of India's most talented artists, Magbool Fida Hussain, who at age 94 finally renounced his citizenship because Hindu politicians made use of his art and his name to create political opportunities for themselves.

Cohen wonders how British law courts would ignore John Stuart Mill's declaration that no one has a right to restrain another except to prevent harm, and blithely rule against defendants who are said to have defamed another even though no harm was proved by the defamation.

This book provides numerous instances in which humans oppress others for no justifiable cause. Do we believe in freedom? That is the question he wants us to answer in our hearts. How do we justify limits to freedom without giving up our own space. We have to think about that.

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: 13.08

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

2 of 6 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.

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