Book Notes Digest #6
October 27th, 2019
It’s been a productive reading month for me, and I’m excited to share a couple of really great books. It’s a bit more fiction heavy than usual, but that seems like good change.
I just started Robert Caro’s, The Power Broker—at roughly 3.6 lbs of paper, it’s a monster. Needless to say, you might not be hearing from me again until next year. 😁
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1 - On Writing
Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page. I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.
Wash the car, maybe.
You know Stephen King, right? The horror guy. Clowns, Carrie, demonic pets. Well turns out the dude can really write.
Despite (or rather regardless of) dozens of movie covers that occupied my childhood nightmares, Stephen King is truly a master of his craft and his ~On Writing~ is a testament to that. Part memoir and part writing manual, it succeeds at both telling some great stories from his early life and career, and teaching one what they must do to move from being merely a competent writer to a great one.
I wish I wrote more (who doesn’t), but maybe this is the kick I need to get started.
“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”
2 - What Makes Sammy Run
“I’ve known Glicks before. My first producer out here was a Glick. And so was the agent I just got rid of…Of course, I will admit Sammy is an unusual model…With a hopped-up motor. But he’s put out by the same people.” (pg. 78)
Sammy Glick is the epitome of Hollywood sleaze. Someone so self-interested, with such little regard for his fellow man that he must be a caricature. And yet there’s something so honest that you can’t help but wonder if there really are Sammy’s running around Hollywood or Wall Street or through Silicon Valley.
This is a truly fun read—great storytelling, great dialog, and plenty to mentally chew on while you ponder what this world is coming to.
3 - Fat Chance
“Obesity is a biochemical alteration in the brain promoting leptin resistance with resultant weight gain and secondary changes in behavior to maintain energy balance. The apparent character defects of gluttony and sloth are not the cause of the problem; they are the result of the problem. The biochemistry drives the behavior, not vice versa.” (pg. 47)
I bought this book as a reaction to my chronic sweet-tooth—sort of a scare-yourself-straight tactic. It scared me, but I’m still working on the behavior changes.
Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist goes through the science of obesity in great detail, and clearly lays out how sugar is making us sick. Obesity is caused by many different factors and gluttony/laziness are not the driving force—obesity is a biochemical problem, one that involves hormones and specific things that we take into our body, epigenetics (changes in the areas around our genes that can cause them to be turned on or off), and environmental factors. Needless to say, it’s a complex problem with no easy answers.
In terms of practical advice, I noted learnings around the importance of breakfast, fiber intake, eating an early dinner, and of course reducing sugar intake. Will I take this advice to heart (and stomach)? I certainly hope so!
4 - The Old Man and the Sea
I’ve never read any Hemingway before. But a friend suggested I check him out (thanks Antonio!), so I dipped in a toe and thoroughly enjoyed The Old Man and the Sea.
Epic fishing, sharp descriptive prose, man vs. nature, age vs. youth, SHARKS!, and masterful storytelling all made this a great introduction. If you like Hemingway, let me know what I should check out next!
Also, the Scribner Classics edition has some truly epic illustrations.
5 - Captains Courageous
Captains Courageous initially caught my eye at a used bookstore, because it looked incredibly similar to another Jack London novel I read last year (The Sea Wolf). Both feature a well-to-do young man being rescued by a rough group of sea-farers (fishermen, and seal hunters respectively), being forced to serve on the ship, and becoming a strong man as a result. Since London described copying Kipling passages to improve his own writing, and expressed his admiration for Kipling, it certainly looked like heavy “inspiration”.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. While the rough plot is similar, the books are very different, in surprising ways. I’ve never read anything by Kipling before and he is an amazing writer. But the story was poorly structured and at times hardly believable. While it was entertaining, I think it shows how difficult storytelling can be, even to someone with arguably some of the best tools of the writing craft.