Book Review: Vroom vroom!

Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars by Paul Ingrassia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m sure the subtitle has you curious, so here are some clues about the fifteen vehicles explored in this great book. Yes, there are only thirteen items listed below, but that’s because a few chapters overlap and include more than one exact make or model of vehicle.

The Big Bang

Bolsheviks, Nazis, and High-Performance Racers

Fins

Hitler to Hippies

Explosions

Iacocca

DeLorean, but not that DeLorean

Globalisation and Quality

Iacocca II

Yuppies

Iacocca III

Red(neck) Dawn

Full Gosling

Now to the review. The only downside to this book is that it ends. I would readily read Pulitzer-winner Pual Ingrassia’s take on any era of American pop culture or automobile. Even at 350+ pages, this hefty volume is still a quick read because it’s so entertaining. Not as quick as a GTO or Bimmer, perhaps. But still quick. Ingrassia deftly weaves history, pop culture, odd bits of trivia, and twinkle-in-the-eye humour into what could’ve been a dry subject.

To be clear, I’m not a petrolhead. I do daydream about taking a motorcycle adventure a la Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor’s Long Way Up, but I drive an old Toyota Camry. I’m not exactly racing for papers on the weekends. So, even if you aren’t a car person so much as a trivia or history person, I think there’s something here for you. However, it’s probably more fun if you do have at least some interest in car culture (or you are close with someone in that world). In fact, if you are stumped on what to get your dad this Christmas, you could do worse than this book! Just be prepared to gather around a phone screen as your loved one regales you with pictures and stories of their favorite hooptie.

4.5/5

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Book Review: “The practice of yoga teaches us to live fully.”

 

Light on LifeLight on Life by B.K.S. Iyengar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The practice of yoga teaches us to live fully.”

Iyengar is something of an ambassador of yoga. Even though he has died, he continues to educate and influence those curious about yoga’s practice and precepts. Personally, I first started reading Iyengar because he was on a href=”the”>https://yogawithadriene.com/adrienes-… reading list of Yoga with Adriene’s Adriene Mishler. The Tree of Yoga is the short and nourishing title on Adriene’s list, and that was the first one I read. This book is longer (around 300 pages) and still dense. However, while other books may be better introductions to yogic philosophy, don’t let that scare you. This is dense the way a sacred text or poetry or a textbook is dense. It’s not meant to be grasped all at once. If you’re a religious type, it’s almost like each little section is food for contemplation in a daily devotion. Photo of Iyengar

Whereas the Tree of Yoga uses the illustration of a…tree…of yoga…this book primarily uses flower petals of yoga as its through-line for its non-fictional narrative:

“There are eight petals of yoga that reveal themselves progressively to the practitioner. These are external, ethical disciplines (yama), internal ethical observances (niyama), poses (asana), breath control (pranayama), sensory control and withdrawal (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana), and blissful absorption (samadhi). We call these the petals of yoga as they join together.”

The book essentially zooms in on each petal from the external to the internal. That in itself is a nice example of yogic philosophy. The outward practices can lead to inward change, cleanliness, strength, and right action.

If you’re interested in reading more on yoga, I would say start with Adriene’s list first, including The Tree of Yoga. Next I’m going to read some Patanjali or Paramahansa Yogananda.

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Book Review: Dracula Sucks!

 

DraculaDracula by Bram Stoker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dracula sucks but the book doesn’t.

I go through phases of reading classics or otherwise tackling books with reputations of being difficult. Sometimes it’s easy to see why books are classics – they’re timeless and engrossing. A Tale of Two Cities is that way for me. So is Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. Other times the classics feel like archaeological work. The reader is excavating and extrapolating. Dracula felt like work to me, but the reader can definitely appreciate the book’s influence on future work. In particular, the book contains real stakes (STAKES!) and real horror, in the sense that things we would never want to happen…happen. It’s great at dread. Two or three scenes in particular stuck with me. One involves a cemetery and one involves a ghost ship. If you like cemeteries and ghost ships, maybe this book is for you!

I will admit that most of what I know about Dracula comes from the movie starring Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder (my two spirit animals). In the movie, Mr Harker (Keanu) is a young attorney sent on assignment to Transylvania where he is to meet an enigmatic Count Dracula, ostensibly about purchasing some land in England. It turns into an Airbnb trip for hell, though, as poor Keanu has to deal with all kinds of antisocial behavior from his host and the host’s trio of lady friends. Also, there are wolves!

The book starts in the same fashion. It’s a collection of journal entries and letters to and from Mr Harker as he journeys from England to spend time at the Count’s house. The Count knows nothing of England and is willing to pay a pretty pence to have a young solicitor visit him and advise him on acquiring property in England. Where should he buy? How can he make sure to get a good deal? What’s the culture like? It all makes sense on the sruface. The old man is friendly enough, even charming, but something is…terribly off. Locals won’t interact with him, except for occasional nomads. Why?

Eventually Mr Harker leaves Transylvania and heads home to England. He is unsure of what, exactly, happened with Count Dracula, but he knows he is glad to be home with Mina, his fiancé. Unfortunately, trouble finds the young couple and their friends, and Hugh Jackman (Professor Van Helsing) has to visit England to figure out why the friend group is acting so weird and why people keep getting beheaded. What a buzzkill!

That’s pretty much the plot, but the main attraction is the atmosphere. There’s a lot of sensational, creepy goings on. A lot of it is spiritual and religious in nature, and in this area I think the Mina of the book is the real hero. If you’ve watched Penny Dreadful, she’s very similar to Eva Green’s character of Vanessa Ives – haunted but resolute in fighting off the darkness in favor of the light. I don’t recall Winona Ryder’s character being so central in the movie, but it’s been a few years.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to casual readers, but you completionist nerds out there should consider giving it a go.

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Book Review: Mexican Gothic

Mexican GothicMexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Counter-intuitively, this Gothic horror novel was an absolute joy to read. Mexican Gothic cover

My attention span in 2020 is limited at best, but I could not put down Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic. Her main character, the impetuous and steel-spited Mexico City socialite Noemí Taboada, is truly alive. The rural Mexican setting is a delight, and the creepiness level is appropriate for those of us less versed in horror.

Noemí Taboada is a Mexico City mover and shaker. She lives in the 1940s-50s era, and has expansive ideas for her future. Maybe she’ll be a pianist, an anthropologist, or something else entirely. Who knows? Maybe all of it. She tries on boyfriends like clothes, and this annoys her father to no end. He runs a successful paint company and is hoping his daughter will act as smart as he know she is. In fact, he sends her on a mission to check on Catalina, Noemí’s sick cousin. The two women grew up together, but Catalina has recently gotten married and moved outside of the small town of El Triunfo. Catalina’s new family lives at High Place, an old mansion owned by an English family famous for its silver mining operation. Catalina has sent a letter to Mr Taboada explaining she is sick and needs help. Hence, the mission.

Noemí hops on a train to El Triunfo, despite minor protestations about missing some social events in Mexico City. As soon as she arrives in the town and meets Catalina’s new family at High Place, she knows something isn’t right. Gothicness ensues!

It seems that people either love or hate this book. I think it helps to manage expectations going in. As the name signals – this is a gothic book. There’s a Romantic, building dread. It’s all about atmosphere and mood and weird magnetic pulls to people and places. Don’t expect it to run hot and loud like Fury Road or some other action blockbuster. Just sit by the fire, sip a libation of your choice, and enjoy the glorious weirdness.

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Favorite Books of 2019

For posterity’s sake, here are my favorites I discovered in 2019!

BOOKS
I’m naturally an avid reader. That’s great for personal fulfillment and creativity and awful for my fun money budget, haha.  Since reading is a default hobby for me, my reading goals aren’t about reading x number of books or pages. Instead, they center around intentions. In late 2018, in the wake of all of the #metoo revelations, I decided to me more intentional about reading female authors, and also international authors. Roughly half of the books I read were by women and/or international authors. I think my favorites of the year hold that ration, although that’s been the case even when I’m not intentional about which authors I’m reading.

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino – Amazing collection of essays about identity in 2019. Tolentino is humane, funny, insightful, powerful. It’s been fun to see her humble response to this book’s reception. I have a feeling she’ll be one of my favorite authors all of my life.

Joyland by Stephen King – Wonderful coming of age story wearing a thriller’s leather jacket.
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung – A memoir centered about being an adoptee. Required reading for anyone in the adoption triad (biological and adoptive parents and adoptees).

The Primal Wound
by Nancy Verrier – A dated but empathetic work giving permission to adoptees to explore their feelings and worth.
The Crow by James O’Barr – When O’Barr’s girlfriend died because of a drunk driver he expressed his grief and anger through this goth comic made all the more famous by the great and tragic movie. 
Mistborn Series by Brandon Sanderson – My introduction to contemporary fiction, recommended by amigos Matthew and Brian.
Microserfs by Douglas Coupland – In the wake of the tv show “Halt and Catch Fire”, I wanted to learn more about 1990s tech culture. This book was recommended on a subreddit and I found it humane, interesting, and creative. I haven’t read anything like it, although it did feel at home in the 1990s so I guess in a way I have.
Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami – How can you even explain what this book is about, other than saying “very Murakami”?

Cork Dork
by Bianca Bosker – This was the Year I Finally Got Wine, and this book was a big part of why. Bosker embedded herself into a group of NYC sommeliers studying for their big test. Along the way she met all kinds of glorified winos, and it’s a fun and funny adventure. My takeaway, whether it’s in the book or not, is that elevating every day life by savoring it is kind of the point.

The Comic Book Story of Beer
by Jonathan Hennessy – Works very well as a comic (GORGEOUS) and as a beer history for beer beginners and novices.
HONORABLE MENTION: Witcher series. The first short story collections are the best, but all the books are fun (and now in English). I recommend reading the short stories before watching The Witcher on Netflix.

2018 Favorites

Favorite Books of 2018

Just for Fun

Lara Jean trilogy by Jenny Han – A fun coming of age story about three sisters.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell – Rom-com set in 1999 with realistic characters.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – An introverted fan-fiction writer heads off to freshman year of college.

Literature

The Road by Cormac McCarthy – Best book about fatherhood I’ve read. Read it out loud – it’s poetry.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami – Moody, mysterious, foreboding.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy

The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey – Space opera at the highest level.

The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski – I was immediately sucked into the magic and political intrigue of this brutal fantasy world.

Spiritual

The Rule by St. Benedict – Some say the order of St Benedict is the oldest ongoing organization in the West (outside of the church). You can see why in this timeless classic of school for beginners.

The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr – Cut through the noise of the enneagram fad and learn how to utilize the ancient tool to grow as a person.

How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning, and Community by Judith Valente – The author is a workaholic journalist and broadcaster. Her background lets her clearly translate the wisdom of Benedict for the 21st century.


Best New (To Me) Band of 2018
Larkin Poe. The future of blues and Southern music. Ten years of performing has really paid off for the Lovell sisters. They’re complete pros in writing, playing, and performing, and a joy to watch. Even though I’m a lifelong guitar player, I kind of thought guitar was dead. Larkin Poe and Gary Clark Jr. convinced me otherwise this year.

Experiential Living + Best Books of 2018 (So Far)

For pretty much all of my life, I’ve been looking at my life as getting from Point A to Point B to Point yada yada, with the idea that it all adds up to one day going to heaven. Point Z, I guess, or Point Upper Case A. Or Point Exclamation Point.


After reading books by Murakami, watching shows like Legion, or the movie Last Days, something shifted. I started seeing life more like impressions and moods and experiences instead of A to B to C. It’s been an interesting way to live, this…I don’t know, artistic way more than a narrative way. It’s kind of a weird feeling as a writer, at least for my kind of writing, to move towards mood instead of plot, but I like it. I don’t know if it’s better (or worse). I think it’s just different and also equally valid. One big benefit I’ve noticed is that experiences with people are more meaningful because I’m not in a rush to do anything.

Have you ever thought about that? How do you think of your life? Is it more doing things on this narrative, storyline arc, or is it something else?

Here are my favorite books so far in 2018:
  1. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
  2. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  3. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  4. Hard-Boiled Wonderland & the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
  5. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
  6. Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe by Yumi Sakugawa
  7. A Climate for Change by Katharine Hayhoe
  8. Stiff by Mary Roach
  9. Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han
  10. SuperSons comic by Peter J. Tomasi

Honorable Mention:

The Injustice comic series by Tom Taylor

The Highly Sensitive Person by Dr. Elaine Aron



Be a Lake

On a whim, I recently picked up Yumi Sakugawa’s gem of a graphic novel called Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe. In it, Sakugawa provides readers with nine meditative exercises. She’s whimsically illustrated each idea and exercise in black and white.

My favorite little exercise asks readers to not only pay attention to the universe around us, but also the universe within us. We’re complicated people, and marvelously made (Psalm 139). It’s good for us to examine our inner world and figure out what we can learn. Sakugawa asks the readers to do it by acting as if our inner world is its own real planet on which we’re traveling. What can you learn from snowy mountain tops, or from cavernous depths? What’s that inner world saying?

I honestly didn’t know how to approach this little exercise. I just tried my hardest to think on it, but I fell asleep. However, as I was going about the next day, I was hit with a complete mental image of a dark, calm lake surrounded by greenery and a little mountain. I was also hit with this realization:

A lake just exists. Just by being there, it provides fun, restoration, inspiration, livelihood, sustenance, and mystery. All it has to do is be what God made it, and all of that happens. Be a lake.

What an awesome thought! That reminded me of this:

Why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.  And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? 

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.  (Matthew 6:28-33, NLT)

Favorite Books of 2017

I read more than 60 books in 2017, and it was a blast. Below are my favorites. These are books that I read in 2017, not ones that were published in 2017:


Batman: Earth One by Geoff JohnsJohns is one of my favorite comic writers because, like Kay above, he is big-hearted. This imagination of the Batman origin is gothic instead of grimdark. It’s all about doing the best with the hand you’re dealt. Great Batman, great comic.
Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. The titular story is a depressing one that most readers can relate to, at least to a certain degree – sometimes we love someone despite our best judgment, consequences be damned. Mad love. That mad love defines Harley Quinn and Joker, Joker and anarchy, Bruce Wayne and his cowl. This is a great collection from some of my favorite comics writers.

Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch.
This year I watched all of the original Twin Peaks television series. As a result, I became very interested in the man behind the project – David Lynch. In this very short meditation on creativity, Lynch offers glimpses into his creative process. The title comes from this: “If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper.”
No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay. This poetry collection is simultaneously accessible, beautiful, playful, and profound. It reminds me of a Mike Schur show (The Office, Parks & Rec, The Good Place) in that it’s smart, full of heart, bittersweet, and open to the world. Kay isn’t jaded or pretentious (even though she’s been a poetry celebrity since she was 14) – she waves her heart like a flag, rallying all of us to live more fully.
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. My dream blend of sci-fi: space battles, politics, religion, cosmologies to make you think about your own preconceptions, and heart. OMW centers around John Perry, an old man nearing the end of his life. In this, once you hit a ripe old age you can enlist in the space marines. You are legally dead once you enlist, and you never come back to Earth. You say your goodbyes and head on up into space, and no one on Earth quite knows what happens next. The title refers to the senior citizen enlistment, but also Scalzi’s meditations on the fight against death and disappointment and loneliness that we all inevitably face.
I both enjoy and recommend the following, although they didn’t get a five-star rating:
The Batman Adventures by Dini/Timm. Comic.
Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary. Coming of age YA.
The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey. Space opera.
Farewell My Lovely by Raymond Chandler. Masterful noir.

Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! Vol. 1: Hooked On A Feline by Kate Leth. Hilarious comic.

Thrilling Cities by Ian Fleming. Travel writing from James Bond creator.
Wolverine by Claremont/Miller. Meditative, gorgeous comic.

Zosima + Lynch + String Theory on Love

What do The Brothers KaramazovDavid Lynch, and string theory have in common? The idea that we’re all connected, and that how we feel and act literally reverberates and touches everyone and everything.

While it sounds hippy dippy, I think there’s a reason that most major world religions, philosophy, and science throughout history have touched on this idea of connectedness and interdependency. Maybe in 2017 we all need to remember how much we’re in this together.

Let your light that God gave you shine, because we all need it.