Monthly Archives: March 2012

8) How To Win Friends and Influence People

By: Dale Carnegie

Date Finished: 03.26.12

By Dale Carnegie

“The principles taught in this book will work only when they come from the heart.  I am not advocating a bag of tricks.  I am talking about a new way of life.”

This book is definitely outside my reading comfort zone, or really my interest zone.  However, my boss suggested that I read it and I’ve always found the title intriguing, so why not?  Actually, I wasn’t won over until I learned the book had originally been published in 1937 (although I’m not so sure about the copy I read — Stevie Wonder was used as an example when his heyday came after Carnegie passed away.  Perhaps Carnegie was a time traveler or seer, in which case this book is not so different from the ones I usually read).  I don’t put much stock in the run of the mill self-help book, but this one’s pushing a century and still widely acknowledged.  Seems like it has earned some attention.

The book reads very easily, without confusing or dry scientific jargon.  Some of the references required me to extract memories from my U.S. History classes, but Carnegie does an excellent job of giving context where needed, despite being very close to some of the events.  Perspective, that’s what this man has in spades.  Carnegie uses a variety of examples expertly, providing the right amount of backstory and highlighting the appropriate passages to support his ideas; any English prof would be proud.  Most of the principles are presented as stories — a smart arrangement of historical accounts, testimonies from everyday businessmen, and Carnegie’s personal experiences.  The stories keep the book from becoming preachy and illustrate the points more clearly, much to the reader’s benefit.

In a nutshell, the premise of the book is slow down and treat people with the utmost respect.  It gives suggestions on how to cultivate a positive and productive attitude.  By exuding appreciation and showing a genuine curiosity in the other person’s interests, your interactions at work and at home will become smoother.  This book does not advocate passivity or blind acceptance in any way, but it maintains that you can accomplish more when you eliminate antagonism.

Certainly the right man wrote this book.  Carnegie approaches the subject with a childlike enthusiasm, as though he is still surprised that the principles work.  In many ways, it feels as though he is writing to himself and no one else.  This particular kind of humility makes his ideas easy to accept, which coincidentally is one of the themes of the book.  Hmmm…

At the end of the day:  I can dig it

7) The Night Circus

By: Erin Morgenstern

Date Finished: 03.18.12

By Erin Morgenstern

This book is, in a word, indulgent.  Indulgent like a taste of your favorite dessert enjoyed in solitude, a moment stolen away from rush of everyday life.  It is a book to be savored, to become lost within.  In several places, the writing itself is indulgent as Morgenstern allows her imagination run rampant.  This book is much like the circus it describes where the audience sits so close to the performance that the mechanisms should be easy to spot.  Instead, the show is effortless and the audience witnesses true magic instead.

The circus (Le Cirque des Rêves) arrives without warning.  Its gates open when the sun goes down and close when it rises, but the night is filled with wonderful impossibilities.  It is a living dream, connecting spectator, performer, and creator in an intricate weave.  The reader is privy to all perspectives as they unfold in a most fascinating pattern.  Far-flung players slowly move towards each other as essential pieces of an exquisite work of art.  The effect is truly amazing.

This book is written in present tense, which I’ve seen only a few times (most notably in The Hunger Games).  Unlike my other present tense experiences, I remained very aware of this pecularity while I was reading.  Granted, I read much of the book on my thirty minute lunch breaks, so the frequent breaks of concentration likely contributed to this.  On the other hand, The Hunger Games is also written in first person and tells a linear story.  The Night Circus covers quite a bit of time and jumps around between characters who are living years apart from one another.  Somehow the events of 1884 are happening simultaneously as events in 1902 (not exactly, but it feels that way) and somehow it’s exactly right.  This technique makes the reading a bit disconcerting at times, but the oddity only adds to the dreaminess of the experience.  The book could not be nearly as effective in the past tense.

I should also mention that this book elicited one rather loud and quite involuntary gasp.  This may seem like a small thing, but consider this: I have seen the unexpected in many stories and have accepted such events without question.  The occasional outburst of distress or recognition may accompany an unforeseen plot development, but I cannot recall a time when I have been genuinely shocked.  This gasp was the purest surprise I have felt in years of reading, working in theatre, and watching television.  That alone is all the praise this book needs.

When you read this book, please do not read it on your lunch break like I did.  Wait until you have a couple days with solid chunks of free time.  You don’t need to read it all at once, but reading it in larger sections will be more satisfying.  As for me, the next time I visit this book I will start at sunset and read through the night.  A book of dreams is meant to be experienced while the rest of the world sleeps.

At the end of the day (or night): Really, really for me.  In every way.  Really.

6) The Writer’s Tale: The Final Chapter

By: Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook

Date Finished: 03.02.12

By Russell T. Davies & Benjamin Cook

(Yes, I do realize this is the only way to make a book blog even nerdier.)

This book is extraordinary.  It is a book about Doctor Who that does not analyze Doctor Who.  It is a book about writing that does not analyze writing.  In fact, it is not a traditional book, rather an extended conversation via email.

On February 18, 2007 Benjamin Cook of Doctor Who Magazine emailed Russell T. Davies, head writer of Doctor Who with an idea:  “How about a magazine article on the writing of one or more of your Doctor Who scripts?  The nuts and bolts of the process, from start to finish.”  Later that day, Davies replied, “Well, that’s a yes, then.  You had me at hello.”  Thus began a two-and-a-half year correspondence.

(A little background…  this email exchange occured as Davies was starting work on Series 4.  It quickly surpassed the length of a magazine article, leading Davies and Cook to publish “The Great Correspondence” as a book instead.  The original Writer’s Tale covered only Series 4, but during that year, Davies formally decided to leave the show and chose a successor (Steven Moffat).  In fact, most members of the creative team passed on their roles to new people.  To give the new team a chance to nail down their vision for the future, the show took a year off between Series 4 and 5.  Davies and the old team stayed to provide a few specials to fill the space and lead up to the regeneration into a new actor for the Doctor.  As such, Davies and Cook extended their discussions until Davies physically left the show.  The book I read (The Final Chapter) includes the original book and a second book’s worth of emails from that final year.)

There are similar books out there — Scott Westerfeld’s From Bogus to Bubbly is a prime example — but nothing touches on writing as deeply as this.  Westerfeld’s book is wonderful and gives great insight into the writing process, but it’s told in retrospect.  It’s a tidied up version — smartly arranged and with the luxury of distance.  The Writer’s Tale was written in real time.  It shows writing in the midst of deadlines, shooting schedules, actor availability, and shipping containers falling on set pieces.  It shows writing in the midst of weddings, funerals, chicken pox, and hospitalizations.  Nothing else comes close.  And nothing else can come close.  If a writer were to publish their journal, it might be interesting, but flat, compared to this.  The richness of this book lies in the banter, the smart feedback, and the utmost honesty.  Cook constantly poses difficult, but insightful questions and Davies answers without hesitation.  Both men are truly remarkable.

Of course, if you’ve never watched the show, this book is one big spoiler.  As a (huge) fan of the show, I found the book almost more suspenseful than a traditional story because I knew the ending.  But how does he get to that moment I so love??  Plus, it’s downright hilarious.  Their reactions to the most absurd situations had me literally hooting.  (I don’t “hoot” often, but it’s one of Davies’ favorite terms and the most appropriate description.)  More often than not, the funny bits came along as I was reading in public — why does that always happen?  Embarrassing.  But, oh, so worth it.

If you’ve never watched the show, it’s worth doing so, just for the chance to enjoy this book.

At the end of the day: Really, really for me.