Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity

I have a lukewarm feeling about this book. I'm a huge fan of filmmaker David Lynch, and that's why I purchased this title. But there wasn't anything particularly spectacular or substantial in its pages.

It only took me part of a day to blow through this book. It is a mish-mash of Lynch’s observations on how decades of Transcendental Meditation (TM) have greatly enhanced his creativity, alongside thoughts on how he encountered the ideas that contributed to the body of work he has accomplished.

Still, the book did reinvigorate in me an interest in learning to practice TM.

Lynch made some valid points on how new technologies are greatly changing the art of cinema. He sees the cinema at its best as a world into which the audience can enter and become lost, where each member is free to perceive a film through his or her own personal lens. He writes that seeing video as we do today, on a much smaller, less theatric scale (i.e. on an iPod), removes the viewer from having the opportunity to perceive a film in a unique way.

He believes high-definition resolution is almost TOO crystal clear to communicate the cinematic experience, because it takes away the gauzy mystique and feelings of other-worldliness, and sharpens imagery that should challenge the imagination, rather than appear in full, illuminated detail. I happen to agree. I found this the most interesting point that Lynch made. In our modern society, we seem to have this fixation with getting ever and ever perfect clarity in every film or television show we view. It's wonderful that we can avail ourselves of these technologies to achieve this. But, through this, films become too realistic. Don't we watch movies, because we want our minds to be carried away from all that is part of ordinary life – to escape the cares, distractions and stress of daily living?

A great degree of realism has its place. It’s acceptable in a National Geographic documentary. But it can be a deterrent to getting lost in the imagery of a David Lynch film.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Siteseeing: WEbook - Writing Loves Company

I just discovered a Bethesda, Maryland-based startup called WEbook today. It looks intriguing and uses the power of crowdsourcing, an interesting phenomenon that is gaining in popularity.
What is Webook?
Excerpt from the web site:
WEbook is a revolutionary online book publishing company, which does for the industry what American Idol did for music. (Modestly speaking, of course.) Welcome to the home of groundbreaking User-Generated Books. WEbook is the vision of a few occasionally erudite people who believe there are millions of talented writers whose work is ignored by the staid and exclusive world of book publishing. It just makes logical sense that if you create a dynamic, irreverent, and open place for writers and people who like reading to meet, write, react, and think together, the results are bound to be extraordinary. Cue WEbook.com, an online publishing platform that allows writers, editors, reviewers, illustrators and others to join forces to create great works of fiction and non-fiction, thrillers and essays, short stories, children's books and more.
For more, check out About WEbook.

Siteseeing: Altered Books, by Dan Waber

I haven't been making time to read for the past two weeks. My schedule became the schedule from hell. By the time I get home every afternoon, I'm ready for a nap, and I can hardly concentrate enough to enjoy a book. I hope to return to my love of reading when I can. I estimate that will be during my vacation to see family in Texas, April 22 to 28, especially during those times I'm on the plane or waiting in the airport. Having that free, unfettered time to devour a book during flights is the best.

Today I came across this project called Altered Books on the web site of creative soul, Dan Waber. The premise of this is a unique way to give new life to old books, reviving them as works of both art and poetry. Being an avid bibliophile for not only the literary value of books, but also the ways they touch my senses of smell and sight -- this really appeals to me.

I hope you enjoy!
-- Jen

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Siteseeing: WikiSummaries

I came across this site today and thought it was worth a mention on Observed in Books. Seems to be a useful resource as well as a place where we avid readers can add our two cents about our own favorite reads.

Free book summaries that anyone can contribute to! WikiSummaries provides free book summaries. The community is open to all, with the goal of helping to bring knowledge to the world, for free.

Please Join the Community and help us build out the summaries!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Continued Reading of American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

I'm halfway through Neil Gaiman's American Gods. I'm far from a slow reader, but as demands have increased in my life, I've had to compensate by confining my reading time to the rare spare weekend moments and weekday train commutes.

It's a thick read, but the writing is so lyrical, and the content so grabbing, most people wouldn't dream of quitting on it. I'm not quite sure I even want it to end. When I read this book, I feel I've lost myself in an alternate universe. When the protagonist Shadow (no real name revealed thus far) comes to reside for a short time in the quaint small town of Lakeside (set in Wisconsin, I think), I yearn to experience its small-town friendliness and eat "pasties" at Mabel's restaurant (specialty regional handheld meat pies) right alongside him.

Shadow is very likable. He easily perceives the inner desires of those around him. Although his character entered the story as a former small-time crook getting released from prison, you find it hard to hold that against him. I feel that he really wants to do the right thing and just survive his ordeals - he wants to return to a normal life again, before this metaphysical storm brewed and the "old" gods (i.e. his mysterious employer Mr. Wednesday, who is really an incarnation of the Norse god Odin) required his assistance. Now and then, his dead wife Laura pops in, unannounced, to say hello, moving about in the physical plane, but still appearing as the corpse that she is. Shadow wants more than anything to fulfill her one wish, which is to return to the world of the living.

He is a loner, no real ties to anyone, it seems. During the course of his work with Wednesday, he travels like a nomad, setting down roots just enough to graze the social topsoil, and then off again. He dreams of a mysterious Buffalo Man who sits beside a fire in a cave and speaks in riddles, never giving straight answers to Shadow's questions. Shadow is warned by Wednesday not to ask too many questions, and he wanders along in this arrangement not having a full picture of how he fits in. He is prodded to each next episode in his existence by odd occurrences and by taking direction from Wednesday.

Along the way Shadow is besieged by men in black who, so far, as I understand are on the side of the "new" gods, those of technology and modernization. They try to convince him that theirs is the "right" side. He is accosted by a Mr. Wood and Mr. Stone who work for the "new" side. They remind him of C.I.A. types, but they are not. Shadow is roughed up, interrogated, locked inside a nondescript space in an unmarked train, and assumes he is going to die. Just in the nick of time, Laura appears on the scene, kills his enemies and helps him escape. He sets off alone, on the run, toward a town called Cairo after a foul-mouthed raven in the forest tells him that is his path. There are other, just as bizarre, episodes in the book. Mad Sweeney, a self-proclaimed Leprechaun, who, although deceased, stays with the living long enough to drink and boast throughout his own wake. A being speaking through Lucille Ball's character from "I Love Lucy" talks to him from a hotel television set. She ends the conversation by asking him if he ever wondered what Lucy's tits looked like. Then, she offers to show him.

Wednesday seems to treat Shadow well. So far, it's hard to know why, of all people, he chose to so aggressively pursue Shadow as a partner, in particular - a freshly-released prisoner tasting his first inkling of civilization on a flight to what is left of his home. Maybe it's because he had no one, nothing to connect him to anything, and a drifter was needed for the job. Plus, he was down on his luck, no money, no job and desperate -- a good combination. I'm sure that will come to light further into the book.

Shadow seems to be able to read minds and possesses the ability known as remote viewing. He practices sleight-of-hand coin tricks to pass the time. Coins figure into the story very often. When he first seals the deal of working with Wednesday over a few bottles of honey mead, he gets a coin from Mad Sweeney, which he later tosses onto the dirt atop Laura's grave (this turns out to be the very object that brings her to life). He meets a strange, fragile old woman who is miraculously light on her feet late at night and accompanies her to a rooftop where she waves her hand over the bright image of the moon and, unexplainably, produces him a silver coin. He continues to grow quite capable of his coin tricks, having honed them during the endless moments of his jail term. Throughout the book, Shadow uses these to pass the time and amuse curious children. There is much symbolism in this book, although half of it misses me totally, and I imagine the coins somehow figure into that.

I anticipate the story will grow even weirder. The storm continues to brew on the distant horizon, and the signs of war are beginning to peak. And I haven't even reached the climax of the novel.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Close Encounters of the Gaiman Kind

I am currently on page 100 of American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. In my opinion, there is no better way to introduce this book to someone than chucking a copy at them and telling them to dive in.

This is the first book I've ever read of Neil Gaiman's. I've been very familiar with the author's name for years and had some of his books saved for possible future purchases on my Amazon Wish List. The content sounded right up my alley, as least in the fiction realm. Little did I know I would venture into Gaiman territory and lose myself in a swiftly spiraling, electric dream in the process.

There are some very unsettling moments in the book that you don't anticipate until they're upon you. Without giving away the story, for those of you who have yet to read it, I will say that one such instance involves a deadly wager made during a seemingly harmless game of checkers. Whew, yikes, I didn't see that coming. Talk about getting hit on the head! (little play on words that those of you who have read it will recognize)

I find it difficult to write reviews that are too in-depth. I don't want to influence the individual perception of a reader who comes to the first page, totally unaware of what to expect. It's like watching the movie The Sixth Sense and already knowing the ending. That would be a definite letdown. To experience that movie for the first time and not realize you are missing the little cues to the truth throughout the unfolding of the film is what it's all about.

The funny thing about me reading this book is that I'm not even remotely into fantasy fiction. But Gaiman sucks the reader in immediately, artfully, with a descriptively rich and yet unassuming use of language.

ODD SIDE NOTES: I picked up my copy of American Gods for less than five bucks at my local Daedalus bookstore since I'd always been curious. Sadly, the book then almost met an untimely demise as it sat in the back of my car, because we have no room for my literary outgrowth in our dinky one-bedroom apartment. The wetness trickling down from a snow shovel haphazardly tossed onto the rear floorboard of my car seeped into and throughout my book, rendering it a sopping mess. With hope, I placed it vertically on my dresser, pages spread, where it sat for weeks until it finally dried. Of course, now consisting of mostly warped pages, it's twice as thick and unwieldy as it should be. Otherwise, the words are thankfully intact.

After having become entranced by the stature of Gaiman's writing, I feel sorry I never made the time to read my copy of his novel Neverwhere. Unfortunately, It had to go, along with thousands of others in a collection I was forced to abandon to a friend in Wyoming. There was no way to ship that many by mail or afford to move cross-country anything I couldn't stuff into my already overloaded-to-the-gills Grand Am. Losing those books was quite the heartbreak. I had carefully hand-selected the perfect books that I would "one day" find time to read. Can you imagine?

There are worse compulsions, I guess.


Neil Gaiman's web site

For those of you who don't mind reading in e-book format, I just happened to discover today (synchronicity afoot?) that Neil Gaiman's web site yesterday began to host a link to a FREE copy of American Gods. It will be up through March 28 and appears to just be a version to be read online and not downloaded (although I'm sure crafty people out there will find a way). The book can also be accessed via the image of its cover on the sidebar of my blog.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

DailyLit for the Time-Challenged Bibliophile

If you don't have time to read, check out DailyLit, a website that will send you daily installments of books via e-mail or RSS feeds. There are over 750 books available for FREE, but even the copyrighted titles usually cost well under $10.

A great way to get your daily biblio-fix when you're short on time! For me, I imagine it would get really old stretching out the time spent reading a book over the course of almost a year or less. But, hey, it's better than not reading at all.