Archive for ‘Nonfiction’

June 12th, 2013

The Dip by Seth Godin; Review
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by Madeleine Rex

Title: The Dip

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Author: Seth Godin

Published: May 2007

Number of Pages: 96

Rating: 2/5

Synopsis:

The old saying is wrong—winners do quit, and quitters do win.

Every new project (or job, or hobby, or company) starts out exciting and fun. Then it gets harder and less fun, until it hits a low point—really hard, and not much fun at all.

And then you find yourself asking if the goal is even worth the hassle. Maybe you’re in a Dip—a temporary setback that will get better if you keep pushing. But maybe it’s really a Cul-de-Sac, which will never get better, no matter how hard you try.

According to bestselling author Seth Godin, what really sets superstars apart from everyone else is the ability to escape dead ends quickly, while staying focused and motivated when it really counts.

Winners quit fast, quit often, and quit without guilt—until they commit to beating the right Dip for the right reasons. In fact, winners seek out the Dip. They realize that the bigger the barrier, the bigger the reward for getting past it. If you can become number one in your niche, you’ll get more than your fair share of profits, glory, and long-term security.

Losers, on the other hand, fall into two basic traps. Either they fail to stick out the Dip—they get to the moment of truth and then give up—or they never even find the right Dip to conquer.

Whether you’re a graphic designer, a sales rep, an athlete, or an aspiring CEO, this fun little book will help you figure out if you’re in a Dip that’s worthy of your time, effort, and talents. If you are, The Dip will inspire you to hang tough. If not, it will help you find the courage to quit—so you can be number one at something else.

Seth Godin doesn’t claim to have all the answers. But he will teach you how to ask the right questions. [From Goodreads

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Quote:

No one knows more about the way you think than you do.

Official Review:

In The Dip, Seth Godin puts to rest the myth that winners never quit, insisting that winners quit better than anyone else.

This seemingly contradictory statement disguises a simple idea: Winners know which roads to take and which ones to not bother with. Or, in Godin’s terms, winners know which Dips to struggle through and which aren’t worth the trouble. The Dip is the struggle on the way to success, the conflict that must be overcome before one can be successful. The Dip may be stress, lack of confidence, or more tangible problems like too few funds. Whatever it is, it must be surpassed in order for one to become “the best in the world.”

Godin’s primary point is that Dips are tiring, but worthwhile if you chose to fight through the correct Dips. If you’re wasting time and energy working through a Dip that will only lead to average, quit now. Quit fast. Reserve that time and energy for a Dip on the way to something extraordinary – something at which you will be the best in the world.

My qualm with the book is its repetitiousness. It seems many books of this sort fall into this trap. The same hypothesis is repeated over and over again. Of course, this is probably an attempt to remind the reader what the point is, but I found that it started to feel childish. I wanted to tell Godin that my attention span was longer than he was giving me credit for. Naturally, this is a small and petty issue when I consider the fact that I do think his theory is intriguing, not to mention the fact that the book can easily be read in little over an hour.

Though not a primary facet of his argument, I found Godin’s discussion of what being the best in the world means fascinating. He argues that “best” is entirely subjective. If someone wants their carpet cleaned, they won’t look for the best lawyer in the world, they’ll look for the best carpet cleaner. It stands to reason, then, that there are countless opportunities to be “the best in the world” – you simply need to figure out which niche you will excel in.
This aspect of the book was particularly interesting to me because it’s so promising. It operates as motivation to read and follow the rest of Godin’s guidance. It assures us that all the fumbling and confusion that we’ll have to deal with as we strive toward greatness will be worth the reward, as long as we’re working toward the right goal. Since when do people not want to hear, “It will be all right in the end?” The fantastic thing about Godin, though, is that he means it. He’s sure of it. His certainty not only in his method, but in the reader, is encouraging. It’s also rather infectious.

Ultimately, The Dip is a little book with a short but paradigm-shifting message: Figure out what you don’t want and quit messing with it. Figure out what you do want and fight till you’ve got it.

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June 8th, 2013

Plain and Simple by Sue Bender; Review
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by Madeleine Rex

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Title: Plain and Simple

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Author: Sue Bender

Published: October 1991

Number of Pages: 176

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:

An urban Californian vividly describes her sojourn with the Amish that changed her outlook and values and healed her fragmented life–complemented with her evocative drawings of Amish life, artifacts, and designs. [From Goodreads

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Quote:

There are a few within the review. Honestly, there’s no quote here because I forgot to look for one, and I want to post this now! Haha.

Official Review:

Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish is, I’m afraid, the sort of book I would probably never pick up of my own accord. Thankfully, my mom convinced me to do so, and any book recommendation from her has great weight, considering she doesn’t read much. To my delight, Plain and Simple turned out to be one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read.

I think one of the reasons the book resonated with me was its applicableness to issues I’m dealing with in my life, but its message is one that anyone could benefit from. It’s full of the sort of anecdotes that will be lodged in your brain, ready to be accessed when a need arises. Bender’s struggle, sort of a mid-life crisis, really, is so relatable. She’s not going through a drastic, dramatic change, but she’s dealing with the confusion and muddled nature of everyday life, trying to figure out what her place is in her family and where she belongs in this world. The dilemma may sound mundane, but upon reading Bender’s story, I realized that these are the issues that we inevitably face, often over and over again. I also realized that I’ll be reading this book over and over again when I find demons of self-doubt have risen once again.

A qualm I have with many books of this nature – self-helpy books – is monotony. It seems they always repeat the same “epiphany” in every chapter. The fact that this book weaves narrative with self-reflection helps eliminate this issue, but Bender also shows the reader how her epiphany evolved over time. Sometimes, in fact, she found that what she thought was a wise conclusion was, in fact, not, and she must keep looking for answers. In this way, Plain and Simple becomes less of a self-helpy book and more of a journey, an adventure.

I also appreciated the insights into the life of the Amish. It was fascinating to learn that there is much variation between different towns and families. Bender relates her visits with various Amish families in such a raw, unpretentious way that I felt like I was discovering and learning alongside her. She never judged their way of life, forcing her perception of them on the reader, instead displaying all that she saw and allowing the reader to form an opinion of their own.

This unpretentiousness is another factor that I loved. So often, I feel like the author of a self-helpy book is preaching to me. Bender never does this. She never proposes that she’s found the key to success and eternal bliss. Instead, she concludes with, “This isn’t a story about miracles, instant transformations, or happy endings. My journey to the Amish did not deliver a big truth. I’m not radically different. No one stopped me on the street and said, ‘Sue, I don’t recognize you. What happened?’ … And I am not wise. Not knowing, and learning to be comfortable with not knowing, is a great discovery. Miracles come after a lot of hard work.”

This simplicity is what makes Plain and Simple plain and simple. The messages of this book are not going to go over your head or be too abstract to apply to your own life. There isn’t really just one message. This book is a buffet of ideas and food for thought, and you’re left to do whatever you’d like with it. I love this. I love that it means this book can be something different for anyone and that it can be something new every time its reread. Plain and Simple is whatever you need it to be.

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June 5th, 2011

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; Review
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by Madeleine Rex

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Title: Bird by Bird

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Author: Anne Lamott

Published: September 1st, 1995

Number of Pages: 239

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”

With this basic instruction always in mind, Anne Lamott returns to offer us a new gift: a step-by-step guide on how to write and on how to manage the writer’s life. From “Getting Started,’ with “Short Assignments,” through “Shitty First Drafts,” “Character,” “Plot,” “Dialogue.” all the way from “False Starts” to “How Do You Know When You’re Done?” Lamott encourages, instructs, and inspires. She discusses “Writers Block,” “Writing Groups,” and “Publication.” Bracingly honest, she is also one of the funniest people alive.

If you have ever wondered what it takes to be a writer, what it means to be a writer, what the contents of your school lunches said about what your parents were really like, this books for you. From faith, love, and grace to pain, jealousy, and fear, Lamott insists that you keep your eves open, and then shows you how to survive. And always, from the life of the artist she turns to the art of life. [From Goodreads

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Quote:

There are few experiences as depressing as that anxious barren state known as writer’s block, where you sit staring at your blank page like a cadaver, feeling your mind congeal, feeling your talen run down your leg and into your sock.

Now, you also want to ask yourself how they stand, what they carry in their pockets or purses, what happens in their faces and to their posture when they are thinking, or bored, or afraid. Whom would they have voted for last time? Why should we care about them anyway? What would be the first thing they stopped doing if they found out they had sixth months to live? Would they start smoking again? Would they keep flossing?

…clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground – you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip.

Review:

Despite the fact that many, many were, it’s odd to find out that certain books were written before I was born. For instance, this book was written almost two months before I was born, and now here I am, reading it and understanding it. Isn’t wonderful how time has no hold over literature? And it’s quite fortunate, considering how much this book has and will continue to help me with my writing.

As I’ve said before, it’s always a comfort to read a book on writing by someone who can very clearly write well. If the author can manage to make their nonfiction interesting, I am willing to learn from them! They’re gifted.

Bird by Bird is definitely the… deepest of the three books on writing that I’ve read recently. Anne Lamott ties life experiences of her own and of others into the concepts she’s trying to teach. In many cases, I forgot that I was reading a book on writing at all, because the “on life” factor is so dominant. At the same time, I learned loads about writing, specifically theme, characters, and the lifestyle that a person must adopt to devote themselves to writing. Anne Lamott was born into a literary household (her father was a writer). She learned to love books from her loved ones, and eventually learned to write from them as well. I was inspired by the stories she told of writing books for her dying father and best friend. What could be more worthy of our time, energy, and creativity than the people we love most?

I think the key thing I got out of Bird by Bird was a strengthened appreciation for the writing craft (or art?). It affects everything a writer does in life. The way we speak, the way we read, the way we think of people, and the way we see the world. As I come to understand how to create characters, I understand people far better. The more I learn about intriguing description, the more I appreciate the things around me. Anne Lamott stresses how wonderful – though sometimes brutally difficult – writing is, and it’s evident that she thinks it’s the best sort of life.

And isn’t it?

Bird by Bird is a touching, funny, and informative book that will teach and motivate. You will want to jump right back into your work-in-progress. You’ll remember why you began writing in the first place – it nurtures you.

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