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Reviews of Books, Movies and Music
THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH by Ken Follett.
It is old but hard to put down once you start reading it.
THE WHITE TIGER by Aravind Adiga.
Winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize. It is a compelling portrait of modern India, The White Tiger takes the form of letters written from a Bangalore businessman, Balram Halwai, to Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Prime Minister.
THE KITE RUNNER by Khaled Hosseini.
Powerful story of two boys growing up in Afghanistan. Another great one by this author: A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS
Disclaimer (Steve): These are not necessarily "entertaining" readings,
but are some fun books if you are in the process of figuring out how to
tweak or promote some great, world-changing idea you have. But they also
contain good insights if you are just trying to sell fellow workers, friends
or even family members on some idea you would like them to agree with.
I've already applied many of the ideas in these books to how I present
things at work, how I set up my websites and even how I write up my papers
for my MBA classes (once I realized my professors were simply my "customers",
this stuff just fell into place!).
Made to Stick
A great book if you are trying to sell an idea or product. Written by brothers
Chip and Dan Heath, one a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford,
the other an education consultant and former researcher at Harvard Business
School. They look at the key aspects of what makes some ideas and stories
stick in people's minds. They boil things down to 6 key principles of simplicity
that make things stick in people's memories.
Some of the cases they analyze are urban legends, because these seem
to get around fast and are remembered long after they are heard. For example,
have you heard about the traveling businessman who went back to his hotel
room with a woman he met at the bar, only to wake up in the bathtub, full
of ice, with one kidney cut out of him?
After reading it I bought a copy for an old friend of mine who is a
professor teaching film studies, since selling a screenplay is the ultimate
challenge. He immediately picked up on several of their ideas and has used
them to tweak some of his latest proposals.
All Marketers are Liars - by Seth Godin (blog at http://sethgodin.typepad.com)
This book is interesting from a marketing perspective in that he says that
spending time and effort to convince people logically is a waste of resources.
People have worldviews that change slowly, and the best way to convince
them of something is to translate your product or idea into their way of
looking at the world. Telling people a truthful story that matches with
their way of seeing the world with what you have to say is the easiest
way to get folks to pay attention, especially in these days of mass media
This works for commercial products, ideas and anything else in general
(such as trying to get particular family members to agree to your way of
The Myths of Innovation - by Scott Berkun
A quick, must-read for any of you engineers or techies out there! He lists
and then debunks many of the favorite innovation myths we technical folks
live by, for example, "The Myth of Epiphany," "The Myth of the Lone Inventor"
and "People Like New Ideas."
Much of it helps describe to us technical folks why the rest of the
world does not accept our proposed solutions based on their sheer genius
and obvious (to us) improvement!
(I am still in the middle of reading this one, and would cite a few
interesting passages from it if it was not still on my desk at work where
I am reading it at lunchtime... and where several other fellow engineers
have expressed interest in borrowing it from me when I am done with it.)
THE WHISTLING SEASON by Ivan Doig
INHERITANCE OF LOSS
SHALIMAR THE CLOWN
WATER FOR ELEPHANTS
SUITE FRANCAISE by Irene Nemirovsky
Irene Nemirovsky, a Jewish Russian who had moved to France with her parents
during the Russian Revolution, wrote 2 parts of what was to be a 5-part
novel about France during the German occupation in WWII. She writes about
the lack of resistance and apathy of many of the French people and courage
of a few during these hard times. She only completed the first two sections
when she was arrested and sent to Auschwitz, where she died. Her young
daughter managed to save the manuscripts and has just had them published
in French and English. An amazing story; well-written.
AGATHA RAISIN AND THE QUICHE OF DEATH by Beaton.
This is an English story and those are my favorite and I think Joanne's
LEAVE IT TO PSMITH and SOMETHING NEW, both by P. G. Wodehouse.
These are light reading, perfect for summer.
THE INHERITANCE OF LOSS by Kiran Desai
Takes place in Kalimpong, a mountain village in the northeastern Himalayas
near India's border with Nepal. Tells the story of two young people: Sai,
an orphan girl who lives with her aloof grandfather (retired judge), and
Biju, the son of the grandfather's cook, who is trying to make a life for
himself as an illegal immigrant in America. Takes place in the 1980's,
when there is a growing unrest on the part of the Nepali majority, who
are relegated to a lesser status in this society. Really interesting book.
I read the whole book from beginning to end--a rarity for me since I usually
skip around or scan a lot.
PATRIOTS by A. J. Langguth.
This is about the men who started the American Revolution but provides
the real stories--the treacheries, ambitions, and driving forces--of men
such as Washington, Adams, Jefferson. This tells what the history books
THE LAST JUROR by John Grisham and THE RAINMAKER by John Grisham.
He is such a good writer. These are two of the very few books that I've
read all the way through rather than skip through a lot of the pages and
reading the ending first. Excellent writing.
Anything by Brian Greene
Brilliant new physicist, on subject of the cosmos and new string theory
(Marg; Paul agrees)
About a WW1 vet in an old people's home with flashbacks. Sort of a love
story but lots of humor about old age and life in general.
THE SCENT OF EUCALYPTUS - by Daniel Coleman
Goose Lane Editions, New Brunswick, Canada at www.gooselane.com.
This is about issues that arise when living in two cultures.
CARE OF THE SOUL, SOUL-MATES, AND THE RE-ENCHANTMENT OF EVERYDAY LIFE
- all by Thomas Moore
EATS SHOOTS AND LEAVES
THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE - by Brian Greene (brilliant physicist who
writes like a poet)
This book explains the latest theory of how our universe works: "string
theory" , which just might be THE grand unifying theory to explain everything.
It is also a great review of earlier theories. He also wrote another one
prior to Elegant Universe, but don't remember the name. Supposed to be
THE DA VINCI CODE - by Dan Brown
Ignore the Mary Magdalene as wife of Christ idea and enjoy the complicated
puzzles of the treasure hunt. I read it on Amtrak, perfect train reading.
Available anywhere I should think.
THE MEANING OF EVERYTHING - by Simon Winchester
The story of the Oxford English Dictionary, surprisingly interesting and
of course highly informative. I can lend this one.
HOUSE OF BLUE MANGOES
A story of village life in a southern Kerala community.
NUMBER ONE LADIES DETECTIVE AGENCY - by Alexander Scott Smith
Takes place in Africa. All his books are great.
LIFE IS NOT JUST HA HA HE HE
Indians living in England.
DON'T LET'S GO TO THE DOGS YET TONIGHT
An English girl who grew up in Africa whose parents were farmers there.
DEVIL AND THE WHITE CITY
About the Chicago World Fair, nonfiction
THAT OLD ACE IN THE HOLE - by Annie Proulx
THE HERO'S WALK - by Anita Rau Badami
Directed by Mira Nair. I can't believe we didn't have this on our list already. Most of you have probably seen it by now but it's worth seeing again.
BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM
Great story about conflicting values in an immigrant Indian family; the daughter wants to play soccer while the parents feel that this is not what young females should do.
About a Bangladeshi woman whose village family arranges her marriage to a man living in London. A tender story set mostly in London, filmed by a woman director, The story is filled with unexpected twists which makes it ever fascinating and unpredictable.
(from Elizabeth Hagen Smith, Kodai Class of '54)
Directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding), this is a story that follows an immigrant Bengali family from Calcutta to New York City. Shows the conflict between the Indian values of the parents and the American values of the American-born children. Really interesting.
Movies recommended by Betty, Gwen and Margy:
50 First Dates
Night at the Museum
Batteries Not Included
Shall We Dance (Japanese original- watch first)
Shall We Dance (American remake)
Take the Lead
World's Fastest Indian
Second Hand Lions
Searching for Bobby Fisher
Akilah and the Bee
Million Dollar Baby
Pursuit of Happiness
March of the Penguins (watch first) and followed by
Benny and Joon
What's Eating Gilbert Grape
American President (chick flick)
THE PAINTED VEIL
Takes place in China during the 1920's. Really interesting.
(Loey and Jo)
MRS. PALFRY AT THE CLAREMONT
We sisters saw this when we were together this February. Neat one.
MY BOLLYWOOD BRIDE
This was shown on Phyllis's flight home from India.
LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE
THE WORLD'S FASTEST INDIAN
This is not about an Indian from India; it's about a guy in Australia making
his Indian motorcycle fast enough to attempt a new record. Really good
PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION
If you enjoy Garrison Keillor, like we do in our family, you'll enjoy this
light-hearted movie about the ending of this famous radio show. Good cast.
MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA
The story of a little girl and her life as she becomes a geisha. Really
interesting and wonderful photography.
UNFAITHFULLY YOURS (1948), EASY LIVING, and CHRISTMAS IN JULY
Light family entertainment. These movies are by Preston Sturges, the emperor
of slapstick comedy (and do NOT get the 1948 version of "Unfaithfully Yours"
confused with the repulsive Dudley Moore version).
THE WEEPING CAMEL
A documentary about life in Mongolia and a camel that rejects her baby
Really interesting story that takes place in Newfoundland.
SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER
Based on historical facts is the story of the rise of the powerful Zulu
nation in Africa during the time that South Africa was under British control.
This is a series so plan to see the DVDs over a period of time.
Buster Keaton in an old-time silent movie is hilarious! Two stories are
on the one DVD and well worth an hour of laughter!
A moving, subtle, captivating movie!
Added note: we saw it too and we agree---it's a great one to see. (Jo)
THE WEEPING CAMEL
A documentary about life in Mongolia and a camel that rejects her baby
This is a great movie for kids. It's about a zebra who thinks he's a racing
A touching, tear-jerker about C.S. Lewis's late in life marriage to a New
York woman. A great glimpse into Lewis's life.
The real story behind the knights on which the legends are based. This
is NOT King Arthur and the Round Table, Merlin, etc. but is created from
some recently uncovered information about that period in history. An exciting
Highly recommended by Gary
A longish half documentary half movie thatis excellent in its description
of the problem of measuring longitude in the 1800s.
Obviously great as it won lots of stuff and DiCaprio is incredible.
(Loey and Gwen)
Nah - never got to the point of the movie.
Rated well by Nikhil
A true story about an expedition of Sir Ernest Shackleton's to Antarctica
in 1914. An amazing story of their ship being trapped in ice, the crew
of 27 camping on the ice, traveling by dog sled, and their unbelievable
journey fighting for survival.
THE RIVER SUTRA
An Indian story about a civil servant decides to semi-retire to run a government
travelers' bungalow (very Indian concept..very cheap rooms every so many
miles..mom and I used to stay in these) on the Narmada river...he meets
various people and hears their stories. Excellent.
THE QUEEN OF THE TAMBORINE
A British story about an English woman married to upper level civil servant
who goes somewhat nuts and makes her way out of it. Also good reading and
THE QUIET AMERICAN
Based on Graham Greene's novel.
Warm-hearted story about an Irish family that tries to learn how to survive
in New York City.
THE GOLDEN BOWL
Based on Henry James' novel; beautifully done period piece.
A wonderful fantastical story full of heart and soul, and with an actual
plot (surprise surprise in today's movie world) and quirky lovable characters.
SECOND HAND LIONS
Another off-beat, heart-warming story full of surprises and eccentric characters.
LORD OF THE RINGS
The trilogy (also my favorite books of all times).
All the books and movies
one of the best videos we've seen in years. It takes place among the Maori
tribe in New Zealand. Paikea, who is the granddaughter of the chief, fights
for her right to be the next leader of her people. The part of Paikea was
played by Keisha Castle-Hughes; she was nominated for the Academy Award--the
youngest person to have this honor. Good strong film for girls to see....and
boys too, for that matter. Grandma Jungas would have liked this film.
(Jo & Frank)
THE STATION AGENT
This movie centers around Fin (played by Peter Dinklage), a man with dwarfism.
Because he has been constantly ridiculed by others, he wants only to live
in solitude and be left alone. This story tells about the unlikely bond
that gradually builds between Fin and Olivia, an artist who has suffered
a terrible loss, and Joe, a talkative, friendly Cuban coffee vendor. It's
a really warm-hearted story, and the acting and script are great. The Station
Agent won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival and the Waldo
Salt Screenwriting Award. Definitely worth seeing.
(Jo & Frank)
This is a small, independent film with a lot of heart.
NOWHERE IN AFRICA
EAST IS EAST AND WEST IS WEST
TOUCHING THE VOID
Would you cut the rope linking you and your climbing partner?
What if you couldn't see him at all through the blinding snowstorm,
and you thought he was already dead?
And what if the weight of his body was pulling you slowly towards the
cliff edge, and your own certain death?
Would you cut the rope?
That's just one of the questions that sticks in your mind for several
days after you watch this documentary. It describes a climbing accident
on the 21,000 ft. peak of Siula Grande in South America and the incredible
survival story of both of its participants. It is filmed as a combination
of live interviews and re-creations, including some of the most spectacular
high-altitude mountain climbing shots I have ever seen. Although you know
the outcome from the beginning, you still will find yourself wondering
just how these men can possibly survive.
Definitely one of those movies that lingers in your mind for awhile...
especially if you have ever climbed in the mountains!
Books on Tape or Disk
Dreams of My Father - by Barack Obama
In preparation for the elections, I'm listening to the autobiographies
of some of the political candidates. It's neat because they are actually
reading the books so you hear the story from their mouths. I particularly
liked Barack Obama's Dreams of My Father.
Eventide - by Kent Haruf
...and anything else by this author is "down home" and brilliantly written.
I like listening to his stories rather than reading them so recommend the
CDs if you can get them. Eventide is followed by the sequel, Plainsong
(a finalist for the National Book Award). Both books are about rural American
life, written so compellingly that once you begin you can't put these books
down! Others by Haruf: The Tie That Binds and Where You Once Belonged.
This House of Sky - by Ivan Doig
About a boy growing up in Montana. THe author's memoirs are filled with
humor, memorable charactes. Highly recommended.
THE KITE RUNNER - by Khaled Hosseini
A riveting story you don't want to end about two boys growing up in Kabul,
one the son of a prominent, wealthy man, the other the son of a servant.
It takes you from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the
The First Ladies Detective Agency - by Alexander McCall Smith
You can get the books for his series or listen to them on tape or disk.
A MUST read/listen.
EVENTIDE - by Kent Haruf
Anything by this author is delightful. He writes in a "down home" fashion--brilliantly
written and wonderful to listen to. The sequel to Eventide is Plainsong.
Both are about rural American life, written so compellingly that once you
begin you can't put the books down (or turn off the tape). Others by this
author are: The Tie That Binds and Where You Once Belonged.
Bryan Rowe's Music Website
People can sample Bryan's music and purchase CDs through the CD Baby
link. His music has brought enjoyment to many people, and I imagine a number
of our family may enjoy it.
LA LUNA - by Sarah Brightman
The soprano who starred in the original "Phantom of the Opera" in London.
Haunting, lovely, very very emotional.
SIREN - by Heather Nova
I got hooked on Heather Nova's unique voice when I bought her "Oyster"
album years ago. "Siren" is a bit more mature and thoughtful, a good album
to put on while spending a winter day inside working on projects. Her latest
album, "South", is great roadtrip music.
FESTIVAL IN THE DESERT
Live recordings of the 2003 desert music festival in Mali. Musicians included
Touaregs, Malians, Mauritanians, Europeans and Americans.
A great mix of traditional North African as well as more modern flavors.