25 August 2016

BOOK REPORT: A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking



Imagine there’s this ant. Tiny little ant.

No, an ant isn’t small enough. Imagine something smaller. An egyptian mite. Super tiny. Have you seen those things? They’re right at the edge of my visual range. Like pixels but in real life.

Imagine this teenie-tiny little mite weighs so much that his bulk makes him sink right into the earth. And then all the earth’s matter starts to collapse inward on top of him into the hole he’s creating.

And imagine this mite radiates energy, so much energy that he’s white hot, like he’d melt your face off. Or he’s as hot as a nuclear explosion that happened three feet away from you. Or as hot as the sun, which is a whole collection of nuclear bombs in one.

Now imagine this mite is so dense that when light particles attempted to bounce off his red exoskeleton (which is what photons do to just about everything) the light gets sucked in by so much gravity that it never comes back out, turning this guy perceptibly invisible. Sayonara light.

These mites do exist. There’s one at the center of our galaxy. (It’s called a black hole, even though it’s white hot.) Only I under-exaggerated all of his characteristics. He’s actually much heavier, much, much hotter, and much, much, much smaller.

That’s a lot of mite packed into such a small space.


* * *


I wrote that bit above, but it’s based on principles I learned from A Brief History of Time (or re-learned, since this isn’t my first Hawking rodeo). Incidentally, I read A Briefer History of Time directly after, not realizing that it’s basically a second edition of the original book, with a few things updated here and there. But this book is heavy enough that two readings back-to-back is actually a good way to do it. If you only read one, I recommend the Briefer version. 

Hawking was born exactly 300 years to the day after the death of Galileo. That’s one fun fact, which Hawking sprinkles throughout his cosmic narrative—like his being late for free plane ride because of rain. His personal voice makes the science a lot more fun. (And my master’s thesis, Look Your Reader in the Eye, which has a fantastic title, is about that very topic.)

Just three more tidbits and I’ll leave you be.

First, did you know that the substance of our universe is mostly matter and energy that’s completely transparent and unobservable? It’s called dark matter and dark energy. Check this out:



16 August 2016

BOOK REPORT: The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute



TL;DR: The Anatomy of Peace is about getting your mindset right toward yourself and other people. It's about a problem that we all have, a central problem, which is actually very hard to recognize and resolve. But I consider it the Holy Grail, the greatest quest we can chase as mortals.

I read The Anatomy of Peace every summer to celebrate my birthday. I've done this for the last 7 years or so. And I always invite my friends to join me. It's kind of a rare thing, but occasionally I have a friend who accept the invitation, which I consider the summit of birthday gifts.

I hope the fact that I read it yearly says something to you, because I don't have time to do it justice today. This is at the top of my top-ten non-fiction books. It inspired Chapter 73 in ECKSDOT. (where Nate confronts Rudge). It also inspired a lot of themes in SONG OF LOCKE, like how the sylves and elves see or don't see each other.

Here's a five minute video that will give you an idea of its concepts.


And next year, I'll invite you to read it with me :-) 

09 August 2016

BOOK REPORT: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow


TL;DR: I read this because I’m hooked on the musical. An excellent biography about the ten-dollar founding father and the building of America. Made me realize our nation is a miracle.






If you love the Hamilton musical, read this:

I couldn’t help but underline words that I heard in the play. It was like playing HAMILTON BINGO. (There are a lot more than these, but I won’t bore you here.)

“Hamilton carried a heavy dread of [OH!] anarchy and disorder that always struggled with his no less active love of liberty.”

“He... soon made his first friend: a fashionable tailor with the splendid name of Hercules Mulligan [UP IN IT; LOVIN’ IT].”

“President Cooper also looked askance [HE’S PENNILESS] at the political protests mounted nearby.”

“Thus, Hamilton’s mission was [THE SITUATION IS] fraught with a multitude of perils.”

“Though he did not endorse Gates [OUTRAGE] outright, Adams fretted that idolatry of Washington might end in military rule.”

“Tens of thousands of onlookers gaped in amazement as the shattered British troops marched out of Yorktown and, to the tune of an old English ballad, “The World Turned Upside Down,” moved between parallel rows of handsomely outfitted French soldiers and battered, ragged American troops.”

“Hamilton inhabited two diametrically opposed [FOES] worlds.”

“Adams’s wrath against Hamilton was understandable, but he immediately stooped to personal insults and called Hamilton a ‘Creole bastard.’ ”

Burr is said to have remarked, “Had I read Sterne more and Voltaire less, I should have known the world was wide enough for Hamilton and me.”

Penned by Hamilton: “Adieu best of wives and best of women. Embrace all my darling children for me. Ever yours, A H”



If you love the founding fathers, read this:


A passage where Chernow describes Washington’s heroism:

America’s idolatry of George Washington may have truly begun at the battle of Monmouth. One of America’s most accomplished horsemen, Washington at first rode a white charger, given to him by William Livingston, now governor of New Jersey, in honor of his recrossing of the Delaware. This beautiful horse dropped dead from the heat, and Washington instantly switched to a chestnut mare. By sheer force of will, he stopped the retreating soldiers, rallied them, then reversed them. “Stand fast, my boys, and receive your enemy,” he shouted. “The southern troops are advancing to support you.” Washington’s steady presence had a sedative effect on the flying men.



Two bold quotes from Jefferson:

“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing… and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”



Hamilton’s words on government debt:

“[I] ardently [wish] to see it incorporated as a fundamental maxim in the system of public credit of the United States that the creation of debt should always be accompanied with the means of extinguishment.”

“[Progressive accumulation of debt] is perhaps the NATURAL DISEASE of all Governments. And it is not easy to conceive anything more likely than this to lead to great and convulsive revolutions of Empire.”

“To attach full confidence to an institution of this nature, it appears to be an essential ingredient in its structure that [a federal bank] shall be under a private not a public direction, under the guidance of individual interest, not of public policy.” In short, he was a libertarian, ha ha.

Fisher Ames added an insight on well-meaning people who don’t understand economics: “A gentleman may therefore propose the worst of measures with the best intentions.”



Chernow’s words on our two-party government:

“The Federalists saw themselves as saving America from anarchy, while Republicans believed they were rescuing America from counterrevolution.”

“Where Hamilton looked at the world through a dark filter and had a better sense of human limitations, Jefferson viewed the world through a rose-colored prism and had a better sense of human potentialities. Both Hamilton and Jefferson believed in democracy, but Hamilton tended to be more suspicious of the governed and Jefferson of the governors.”

I find myself clinging to both of these perspectives.



On Hamilton’s Christian faith:

“For Hamilton, religion formed the basis of all law and morality, and he thought the world would be a hellish place without it… [In his later years,] he experienced a resurgence of his youthful fervor, prayed daily, and scribbled many notes in the margin of the family Bible.” — Chernow

Hamilton believed in a happy afterlife for the virtuous that would offer “far more substantial bliss than can ever be found in this checkered, this ever varying, scene!”

“I have examined carefully the evidence of the Christian religion,” Hamilton told one friend, “and if I was sitting as a juror upon its authenticity, I should rather abruptly give my verdict in its favor.” To Eliza, he said, “I have studied [Christianity] and I can prove its truth as clearly as any proposition ever submitted to the mind of man.”


02 August 2016

BOOK REPORT: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (Part 2)


ADDITIONS


There was just so much I loved about Les Miserables. That first book report was the essentials.

Below are some side characters and tangents I wanted to comment on. Also, I’ve condensed and then quoted some really long passages that I just thought were amazing. So give these a read if you don’t have time to read the whole novel. And give these a re-read if you’ve already read the book. (That’s sort of why I’m posting them here, so I can refresh my own memory down the road.)

Now for part 2 of my Les Miserables book report:





THE NARRATOR


I love the narrator’s voice. He’s almost a character in his own right.

He says things like, “I’ve forgotten the name,” which makes him into a real person. Or things like, “He did not see them again, and throughout the remainder of this sad history, neither shall we.” It’s as if we’re hearing the story from our grandfather while sitting around the hearth.

He’s humorous as well, with descriptions that add both character and humor: “Madame Victurnien was fifty-six years old and wore a mask of old age over her mask of ugliness.” Or “...Her husband, a knave of some calibre, a ruffian, educated almost to the extent of grammar...”

And often the narrator waxes eloquent while pontificating on a point:

“The power of a glance has been so much abused in love stories, that it has come to be disbelieved in. Few people dare now to say that two beings have fallen in love because they have looked at each other. Yet it is in this way that love begins, and in this way only. The rest is only the rest, and comes afterwards. Nothing is more real than these great shocks which two souls give each other in exchanging this spark.


THE INSPIRATION?


The narrator said one phrase, which I loved, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether it had inspired the daemons in Phil Pullman’s His Dark Materials:

“It is our conviction that if souls were visible to the eye we should distinctly see this strange fact that each individual of the human species corresponds to some one of the species of the animal creation; and we should clearly recognise the truth, hardly perceived by thinkers, that, from the oyster to the eagle, from the swine to the tiger, all animals are in man, and that each of them is in a man; sometimes even, several of them at a time. Animals are nothing but the forms of our virtues and vices wandering before our eyes, the visible phantoms of our souls. God shows them to us to make us reflect.”





GAVROCHE


To me, Gavroche is one of the lost boys, straight out of Peter Pan. And one of the most endearing features of his character is that he carries a pistol with a broken hammer—just like a kid pretending to be a grown up.

“Little folks are good for something then! That is very lucky! I will go! Meantime, trust the little folks, distrust the big.” — Gavroche


THE WEDDING SPEECH


I loved this speech by Monsieur Gillenormand at the wedding feast. I think you will too:

“Listen to me; I am going to give you a piece of advice: Adore one another…
“The philosopher’s say, ‘Moderate your joys.’ I say, ‘Give them the rein. Be enamoured like devils. Be rabid…
“Can you love each other too much? Can you please each other too much?
“Can you enchant each other too much, charm each other too much? Can you be too much alive? Can you be too happy?...
“Live boldly for one another, my-love one another, make us die with rage that we cannot do as much, idolatrise each other...
“So act that, when you are with each other, there shall be nothing wanting, and that Cosette may be the sun to Marius, and that Marius may be the universe to Cosette. Cosette, let your fine weather be the smile of your husband: Marius! let your rain be the tears of your wife. And may it never rain in your household. You have filched the good number in the lottery, a love-match; you have the highest prize, take good care of it, put it under lock and key, don’t squander it, worship each other, and snap your fingers at the rest.
“Be a religion to each other. Every one has his own way of worshipping God. Zounds! the best way to worship God is to love your wife. I love you! that is my catechism. Whoever loves is orthodox.”


ON WEDDING NIGHTS


This is a passage from the narrator at the close of the wedding festivities:

“There was tumult, then silence. The bride and groom disappeared.
“A little after midnight the Gillenormand house became a temple. Here we stop.
“Upon the threshold of wedding-nights stands an angel smiling, his finger on his lip. The soul enters into contemplation before this sanctuary, in which is held the celebration of love. There must be gleams of light above those houses. The joy which they contain must escape in light through the stones of the walls, and shine dimly into the darkness. It is impossible that this sacred festival of destiny should not send a celestial radiation to the infinite.
“Love is the sublime crucible in which is consummated the fusion of man and woman; the one being, the triple being, the final being, the human trinity springs from it.
“This birth of two souls into one must be an emotion for space. The lover is priest; the rapt maiden is affrighted. Something of this joy goes to God. Where there is really marriage, that is where there is love, the ideal is mingled with it. A nuptial bed makes a halo in the darkness. Were it given to the eye of flesh to perceive the fearful and enchanting sights of the superior life, it is probable that we should see the forms of night, the winged strangers, the blue travellers of the invisible, bending, a throng of shadowy heads, over the luminous house, pleased, blessing, showing to one another the sweetly startled maiden bride, and wearing the reflection of the human felicity upon their divine countenances.
“If, at that supreme hour, the wedded pair, bewildered with pleasure, and believing themselves alone, were to listen, they would hear in their chamber a rustling of confused wings.
“Perfect happiness implies the solidarity of the angels.
“That little obscure alcove has for its ceiling the whole heavens. When two mouths, made sacred by love, draw near each other to create, it is impossible that above that ineffable kiss there should not be a thrill in the immense mystery of the stars.
“These are the true felicities. No joy beyond these joys.
“Love is the only ecstasy, everything else weeps.
“To love or to have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life. To love is a consummation.”






THE SACRIFICE OF ENJOLRAS


Enjolras is a man of ideals and heart—a caring youth, willing to make nearly any sacrifice to bring forth a greater good. At one point, the rebels must take a sniper shot at a cannon gunner, and this heart-wrenching dialog ensues:

“He is at most twenty-five years old; he might be your brother.”
“He is,” said Enjolras.
“Yes,” said Combeferre, “and mine also. Well, don’t let us kill him.”
“Let me alone. We must do what we must.” And a tear rolled slowly down Enjolras’ marble cheek. At the same time he pressed the trigger of his carbine.
The flash leaped forth. The artillery-man turned twice round, his arms stretched out before him, and his head raised as if to drink the air, then he fell over on his side upon the gun, and lay there motionless. His back could be seen, from the centre of which a stream of blood gushed upwards. The ball had entered his breast and passed through his body. He was dead.






WHAT HORIZON IS VISIBLE FROM THE TOP OF THE BARRICADE (i.e., THE SPEECH OF ENJOLRAS)


And, last, here’s a large chunk of the battle speech given by Enjolras:

The situation of all, in this hour of death and in this inexorable place, found its resultant and summit in the supreme melancholy of Enjolras.
Enjolras had within himself the plenitude of revolution; he was incomplete notwithstanding, as much as the absolute can be...
He was standing on the paving-stone steps, his elbow upon the muzzle of his carbine. He was thinking; he started, as at the passing of a gust; places where death is have such tripodal effects. There came from his eyes, full of the interior sight, a kind of stifled fire. Suddenly he raised his head, his fair hair waved backwards like that of the angel upon his sombre car of stars, it was the mane of a startled lion flaming with a halo, and Enjolras exclaimed:
“Citizens, do you picture to yourselves the future? The streets of the cities flooded with light... to all, labour, for all, law, over all, peace, no more bloodshed, no more war… a dawn of truth, corresponding with the dawn of the day...
“Listen to me, then, Feuilly, valiant working-man, man of the people, man of the peoples, I venerate thee...
“Thou art going to die here; that is, to triumph...
“Citizens, whatever may happen to-day, through our defeat as well as through our victory, we are going to effect a revolution. Just as conflagrations light up the whole city, revolutions light up the whole human race...
“From the political point of view, there is but one single principle: the sovereignty of man over himself. This sovereignty of myself over myself is called Liberty...
“If liberty is the summit, equality is the base...
“Equality, citizens, is not all vegetation on a level, a society of big spears of grass and little oaks; a neighbourhood of jealousies emasculating each other; it is, civilly, all aptitudes having equal opportunity; politically, all votes having equal weight; religiously, all consciences having equal rights...
“We might almost say: there will be no events more. Men will be happy. The human race will fulfil its law as the terrestrial globe fulfils its; harmony will be re-established between the soul and the star; the soul will gravitate about the truth like the star about the light…
“Yes, instruction! Light! Light! all comes from light, and all returns to it...
“Friends, the hour in which we live, and in which I speak to you, is a gloomy hour, but of such is the terrible price of the future. A revolution is a toll-gate. Oh! the human race shall be delivered, uplifted, and consoled! We affirm it on this barricade. Whence shall arise the shout of love, if it be not from the summit of sacrifice?
“Here day embraces night, and says: I will die with thee and thou shalt be born again with me...
“This agony and this immortality are to mingle and compose our death. Brothers, he who dies here dies in the radiance of the future, and we are entering a grave illuminated by the dawn.”
Enjolras broke off rather than ceased, his lips moved noiselessly, as if he were continuing to speak to himself, and they looked at him with attention, endeavouring still to hear. There was no applause; but they whispered for a long time. Speech being breath, the rustling of intellects resembles the rustling of leaves.




26 July 2016

BOOK REPORT: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo




Long time no see! It’s because this book took me so long to read.

TL;DR: Man, this is such a story! Sometimes I think it must not have come from a mortal but some higher place.


INTRO


You’ll find Les Miserables on lists of the longest novels ever. In fact, it’s the longest book I’ve ever read, at 655,478 words. That’s five SONG OF LOCKEs! Five! Insane! I’ve had readers complain that Locke was too long! If you combine all the books and essays I’ve published, it’s still not as long as Les Miserables!

Like many of you, I’ve been meaning to read this forever, but it seemed like such a chore. When I was a kid, I could never read long books. And even still… But now audio helps a bit. (This one I “read” partly in audio and partly in the ebook.)

I read the Wilbour translation. He uses the words like janitress (a female janitor), which seems a precise translation. I love this. We Americans are unfortunately abandoning our gender-based nouns. Incidentally, I like to use words like photographress and paintress too.

You’ll hear people complaining about the chapters where Hugo goes on and on about the sewers or Waterloo, and that’s a fair critique. As I started, the first seven chapters were about the Bishop’s house—his chairs, his locks on the doors, the paintings on his wall, and I was like, “Oh, no.” With so little plot and so much exposition, I had a tough time focusing. But they were short chapters (which is how I like to write too), and so I felt like I was progressing quickly. Around chapter 10 came a brief subplot about a dying atheist, and I finally felt engaged with the narrative. After that it was all downhill. Except for the sewers. And Waterloo.

Mostly I love this book because it’s about seeing people as people, seeing the good in people through the anguish and strife, and loving them for their humanity, and then making sacrifices in order to honor that love. 

This phrase in particular summed it up for me:

“If there is anything more poignant than a body agonising for want of bread, it is a soul which is dying of hunger for light.”

In this case, I think light is more than knowledge (which is the typical metaphor). I think he’s talking about warmth and love. It is one of many lines that really struck me.

For the rest of my book report, I’d like to focus on characters, mostly with quotes, but with a few commentaries of my own as well. Here goes.



THE BISHOP


First we meet the Bishop.

When I watched the Liam Neeson and Hugh Jackman movies, I came to the conclusion that the Bishop had told a noble lie in order to save Valjean from prison. As great as that act would be, it turns out the Bishop’s heart was so pure he had already gifted the silver, and, in fact, all that he had, to Valjean:

“You need not tell me who you are. This is not my house; it is the house of Christ. It does not ask any comer whether he has a name, but whether he has an affliction. You are suffering; you are hungry and thirsty; be welcome. And do not thank me; do not tell me that I take you into my house. This is the home of no man, except him who needs an asylum. I tell you, who are a traveler, that you are more at home here than I; whatever is here is yours.” — Bishop Myriel, a.k.a. Monseigneur Bienvenu






JEAN VALJEAN


I have a brother who has the name Jean, and what a character to share a name with!

It’s through Valjean’s trials that we see a distinctly Christian narrative. For example, the narrator says God attends the moment when Valjean makes his choice between being a demon in paradise or an angel in hell:

“Alas! what he wanted to keep out of doors had entered; what he wanted to render blind was looking upon him. His conscience. His conscience—that is to say, God.”

Valjean is a man who, in the end, is “transfigured into Christ.”

As he tries to get to the courthouse to incriminate himself and save an innocent, he is tormented both physically and spiritually every step along the way. Even though he’s unsure he wants to go through with it, he presses on, because “his highest duty was not towards himself.” And I find these dilemmas interesting—because all he has to do is stand still, do nothing, and the tide will turn in his favor. But, he feels it will be to the detriment of his soul. So he sticks to his motto:

“The highest justice is conscience.” — Jean Valjean


JAVIER


Javier is truly a villain. Ironically, I struggled to see his humanity.

He wasn’t just short sighted by nature, but kept his mind closed on purpose, stubbornly ignorant of the suffering of others, which was spotlighted so overwhelmingly at Fantine’s deathbed. In that moment, “Jean Valjean put his hand on that of Javert which held him, and opened it as he would have opened the hand of a child; then he said: ‘You have killed this woman.’ ”

Javier felt that his lack of pity was justified by his rightness with the law, and so he remained blind to the higher justice that Valjean could see:

“Without suspecting it, Javert, in his fear-inspiring happiness, was pitiable, like every ignorant man who wins a triumph. Nothing could be more painful and terrible than this face, which revealed what we may call all the evil of good.”

He does the “right thing” for the wrong reason. Which is why I love the contrast of the nun who lies (a “wrong thing”) for the right reason:

“She lied. Two lies in succession, one upon another, without hesitation, quickly, as if she were an adept in it. ‘Your pardon!’ said Javert, and he withdrew, bowing reverently. Oh, holy maiden! for many years thou hast been no more in this world; thou hast joined the sisters, the virgins, and thy brethren, the angels, in glory; may this falsehood be remembered to thee in Paradise.”




FANTINE


Fantine’s story is so painful. Really. My soul ached as I read it.

My tribute to her is brief, and hopefully thus more poignant:

“God is kind.” — Fantine, at the end


MARIUS


I love Marius. I love his passionate perspectives—on life, on rebellion, and even on debt:

“Marius had never given up for a single day. He had undergone everything, in the shape of privation; he had done everything, except get into debt. He gave himself this credit, that he had never owed a sou to anybody. For him a debt was the beginning of slavery. He felt even that a creditor is worse than a master; for a master owns only your person, a creditor owns your dignity and can belabour that. Rather than borrow, he did not eat.”

But mostly I love the way he sees Cosette:

“Sometimes, beautiful as was Cosette, Marius closed his eyes before her. With closed eyes is the best way of looking at the soul.” — Les Miserables 


31 May 2016

New book for sale: I'M JERRY SEINFELD by J Washburn



I have an announcement to make: My latest book is out!




It's called I'M JERRY SEINFELD: AN ESSAY ON COMEDY. Here's the synopsis: 

Don’t read this book if you’re fat. Or if you hate reading. Or if you hate Jerry Seinfeld. Or me. Or fat people. Or nudity. And definitely don’t read it if you liked my other books. Or if you’ve had enough funny business. Or if you’d rather have a 99-cent hamburger. Did I mention fat? Come on, George, you’re such a cheapskate.

It's not really like anything else I've written. That makes me scared to share it with the world, but, hey, that's what I do. My beta readers gave amazing feedback. Now it's less offensive with more consistent flow. It's about making your life better through comedy, and reading it might give you a lasting insight or two.


Thanks for being a reader! Looking forward to reading your reviews.


-- J




10 May 2016

Book Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel



TD;DR: It’s an episodic adventure, like Howard Pyle’s Robin Hood, with a playful hero and his merry band engaged in a daring game.

THOUGHTS

The book is written by the Baronness Orczy, and she makes Lady Blakeney a protagonist, which I’d never noticed in the movie. We get to see her thoughts, worries, and awe (though not tons of choosing or acting). Interestingly, she tests her Percy to see if he will love her in exchange for his honor, and he doesn’t do it.

The book ends feeling like only a short episode was concluded and not the overall story. Which is true, as apparently there’s a sequel which covers the rest of the movie. Not sure when I’ll get to reading it.

QUOTES

These two quotes are about the elegance of womanhood, and reminded me of some of the Goddess passages in SONG OF LOCKE. I also felt justified that a woman would write the same sort of things:


  • “She stood there before them, in all the unconscious insolence of beauty, and stretched out her dainty hand to them, as if she would, by that one act, bridge over the conflict and bloodshed of the past decade.”
  • “The commands of a beautiful woman are binding on all mankind, even on Cabinet Ministers.”


FOR SPORT

Since this quote is a conversation, I thought it needed its own heading. I love this concept of daring sport. Bully, just bully! (Though I can’t help but believe he was hiding some nobles oblige in his answer.)
“Ah, monsieur,” sighed the Comtesse, “it all sounds like a romance, and I cannot understand it all.”
“Why should you try, Madame?”
“But, tell me, why should your leader—why should you all—spend your money and risk your lives—for it is your lives you risk, Messieurs, when you set foot in France—and all for us French men and women, who are nothing to you?”
“Sport, Madame la Comtesse, sport,” asserted Lord Antony, with his jovial, loud and pleasant voice; “we are a nation of sportsmen, you know, and just now it is the fashion to pull the hare from between the teeth of the hound.”
“Ah, no, no, not sport only, Monsieur... you have a more noble motive, I am sure for the good work you do.”
“Faith, Madame, I would like you to find it then... as for me, I vow, I love the game, for this is the finest sport I have yet encountered... hair-breath escapes... the devil’s own risks! —Tally ho!—and away we go!”

THE MOVIE

As a fictionist, I have to praise the movie too. The writers took a cool concept and shaped it into a short, well-balanced plot arc, actually combining two of the books. They also add some aspects, like the potential for romance between Chauvelin and Lady Blakeney, which actually increases the drama. Often when I dislike a movie, it’s the scriptwriters who are to blame; in this case they did a fantastic job. I like how they made it a tad more serious and down to business.



Thanks for being part of J’s Reading Club!

If you want to read along, here’s what coming next:

  • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
  • Happiness by Matthieu Riccard



03 May 2016

Book Review: The Neverending Story by Michael Ende




TL;DR: The Neverending Story is an incredible tribute to storytelling and to mythos—a fanciful, heroic tale full of sehnsucht.

Impressions

Right from the start, The Neverending Story is quick moving, which I appreciate. Yet even though its pacing is quick, the first scene gives a distinct notion of what Bastion and the old man are like as characters. That impressed me. The book continues in this style, and the rest of the story is told from a very high level, always treating scenes briefly, and never getting into visceral details (the direct opposite of my style of writing). This aspect reminded me of The Silmarillion, where sometimes a single sentence feels like a whole legend. And, by the way, I love the word neverending!

The first two-fifths were great, and I enjoyed the rapid, brief episodes. Then SPOILER ALERT when Bastion enters Fantastica, it began to feel even more whimsical, where all his wishes just happened, which meant no stakes and no drama. This eventually evens out in the end, but it was a tad tedious through the middle, and I found myself wishing for more depth and less breadth. But overall I liked it. And the story within a story is a great concept. 

Favorite quotes


  • “Only search and inquire, never judge.” — Michael Ende, The Neverending Story
  • “The world is full of things you don’t see.” — Michael Ende, The Neverending Story
  • “What you don’t wish for will always be beyond your reach.” — Michael Ende, The Neverending Story


The mythos

A few parts unexpectedly reminded me of SONG OF LOCKE. The will-of-the-wisp at the beginning is like Picke. A lake vanishes too. The Childlike Empress was my favorite—so cool, and what a name! The narrator says she never gives orders, only asks, which reminded me of the Goddess, somehow.

Fantastica is similar to Neverland, a concept I love. It’s an enchanted land without borders and with no measurable distances. This is whimsical in a way opposite to Brandon Sanderson. I love Sanderson’s style and how his rules are like science—with periodic tables for magic and such. But the rule in Fantastica is that you can’t know it all—can’t comprehend it all. And that’s really cool too.

In the end SPOILER ALERT Bastion has to forget himself to be able to love and to therefore drink from the waters of life and escape Fantastica. It’s a pretty epic story in the end. As a writer, I feel like it can inspire a thousand other stories. It’s chock full of pixie dust.

As a weird side note, I was surprised to discover that my birthday makes me a “moonchild” (anyone born in the Cancer horoscope, which was the first time I saw this as a good thing). A moonchild, they say, believes in integrity, love, and unity; he also feels more than other people. This was just a fun personal connection I made. I won’t spoil how this connects to the book, but if you’re a moonchild, read The Neverending Story!


(P.S. Btw, haven’t seen the movie since I was a tiny kid and don’t really remember it… but I know the description in the book is not quite like the giant-white-dog puppet.)


26 April 2016

SONG OF LOCKE Official Soundtrack (OST)



I listen to dozens of soundtracks as I’m writing. 

I’m not a huge gamer, but many of these are from videogame soundtracks. I often like them more than movie soundtracks because they’re not written for specific scenes—they’re more stand-alone. That makes them feel smoother to me—fewer jagged edges.

I’ve hand-picked these tracks for the SONG OF LOCKE Soundtrack. And if you imagine yourself back in Elfland while you listen, you’re really going to feel the music. I promise. But whether or not you’re thinking about Picke and Locke, these melodies are seriously inspiring. They’ll make you want to go on an adventure.

Now here’s something cool you may not have noticed: The chapters in SONG OF LOCKE were named as if they were tracks from a movie score. Yep. Go back and look at the table of contents. Also, most of the tracks I’ve selected here match specific chapters. But I’ll let you decide which goes with which. (Email me your thoughts!)

Without further ado, here it is.

The SONG OF LOCKE Official Soundtrack
(a YouTube playlist)




19 April 2016

Book Review: Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard



TL;DR: No me gusta. Muy tonto.



Why’d I read this book? 

Three reasons:

First, I’m slightly curious about Scientology, and the author is the guy who founded Battlefield Earth (I make fun of him in I’M JERRY SEINFELD).

Second, I saw a YouTube video in which Mitt Romney said he was reading and enjoying it.

And third, I’m working on a space fantasy (titled STARCHILD), so I’d like to immerse myself further in the genre.

First impressions

The first scene intrigued me. I initially thought I was going to love it. Then both primary characters started acting hyper naïve, which bothered me. For example, the Cyclo knows what a horse is, and yet he can’t figure out that a horse and rider are two separate creatures. So dumb.

The dumb doesn’t stop there. It weaves itself into the plot as well. Let me explain. The antagonist, in the second half, is simply a pair of Intergalactic loan sharks. Like aliens who literally look like sharks who are calling in an intergalactic loan that Earth supposedly owes. Uhh.

Basically, Battlefield Earth has a plot like The Hitchhiker’s Guide, only without the comedy. Isn’t that funny? I’ve even wondered whether I read the wrong book—since my take is so far from what the review on the cover says. Oh well.

To be fair, I imagine I’m annoyed and uninterested in this like I’d be toward Out of the Silent Planet if I weren’t previously a friend of C. S. Lewis. And, yes, we are friends. Brothers. He’s the messy brother though.

What I did like

The audiobook narrator was awesome. I especially liked his voice for Lord Faljapan. Reminded me of Dick Van Dyke.

I also liked the size difference between the orcs (Cyclos) and humans—with humans being only as tall as the other’s belt. It’s just some cool, interesting, scary physicality.

Also, there’s a quick bit about gaining instant knowledge through a beam of sunlight. That was a pretty cool concept (though not original—kind of Matrixey).

In defense of the bad guys

Turl is the name of the Cyclo bad guy. (I did the audio, so I’m not sure I’m spelling these right.) But he isn’t that bad of a bad guy. He’s not bad enough, I mean, which means he does his antagonistic job poorly. He’s SPOILER ALERT stealing from thieves—quite ironic but not so horrible—so he can get out of a miserable environment. He’s also super dumb, which makes him not threatening and easier to have sympathy for. Wait, do I hear someone shouting, “But he doesn’t respect the humans as a race!”? Okay, that is true. But the humans don’t respect his race either.

ANOTHER SPOILER: In the end, the moral of the story seems to be genocide: The characters basically come to the conclusion that “since there are Nazis in Germany, we should kill every single German.” (Only replace German with Cyclo.) It’s super strange if you ask me. The Cyclos aren’t that bad, yet the victory is to exterminate them completely.

There you have it. Probably steer clear of this book. And sorry to anyone I offended. Sometimes opinions do that.


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Thanks for being part of J’s Reading Group!

If you want to read along, here’s what’s coming next:

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emma Orczy
Happiness by Mathieu Ricard



12 April 2016

Book Review: Shogun by James Clavell



TL;DR: I yield to karma and all its beauty! 

Warning!

Right out of the gate, I want to warn my pious readers: Shogun is a rated-R book. So in spite of the favorable review I’m about to give, I imagine most of you wouldn’t appreciate the occasional dismemberment or the frank talk of sex. But if you’re good at skipping ahead, maybe you can still read it.

The hook

Shogun is the story of an Englishman, named Blackthorne (what a cool name!), who shipwrecks on the shores of Japan, stranded far from his home. Facing trial after trial, he proves his bravery to the locals and is soon accepted among them. It’s a fascinating look at a very foreign culture. And it makes you realize how many of the fundamental truths you cling to might simply be because of your own upbringing and socialization. What’s more, it made me love the Japanese culture and long to be more immersed in it.

This was a really long book, but instead of wishing it would get over, I kept wishing it were longer. I’m serious. Because I wanted to stay in Japan a little longer.

Why did I read this book?

I read this book because it’s one of my hero Tim Ferriss’s favorites. And I can see why. It’s basically a Tim Ferriss fantasy: language learning, pirates, katanas, sex, meditation, food, and general manliness.

A cool thing

It’s funny—the Samurai are a tough-as-nails lot, willing to die at any moment in the name of honor. Yet they’re shocked that Blackthorn, the barbarian brute, will eat meat (because they’re mostly all Buddhist). And it’s cool when he finally returns to his crew in the end and now sees they’re the heathens after all.

Awesome quotes

“And if you succeed or fail, what does it matter? The try [attempt] will live forever!” — Yabu

“It is over until it begins again. Karma, neh?” — Mariko

Yoshi Toranaga: “There are no ‘mitigating circumstances’ when it comes to rebellion against a sovereign lord.” Blackthorne: “Unless you win.”

“That’s karma. I can do nothing about karma and I’ve been living near death all my life, so nothing’s new. I yield to karma in all its beauty. [That’s my favorite part!] I accept karma in all its majesty. I trust karma to get me through...” — Blackthorne


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Thanks for being part of J’s Reading Group!

If you want to read along, here’s what’s coming next:




26 March 2016

Book Review: The Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner



The Ring of the Nibelungen is an opera written by the German composer Richard Wagner (say that W with a V sound!). I read an English translation of the opera’s text. I also listened to a bit of the opera, which I haven’t developed a taste for, but I got an album called Wagner Without Words (say those with a V sound too!), and I absolutely love it!

WHY I READ THE RING

C.S. Lewis said this book inspired him (in Surprised by Joy), that it filled him sehnsucht, with that longing for far-off places and forlorn hopes:
“I can lay my hand on the very moment [I first tasted sehnsucht]... though I cannot date it. Someone must have left [the book] in the schoolroom… My eye fell upon [it]... carelessly, expecting nothing. A moment later, as the poet says, ‘The sky had turned round.’ What I had read was the words ‘Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods.’ What I had seen was one of Arthur Rackham’s illustrations... 
“I had never heard of Wagner, nor of Siegfried, [yet]... pure ‘Northernness’ engulfed me: a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of Northern summer, remoteness, severity... I knew that I had met this before, long, long ago…, that Siegfried… belonged to the same world as Balder and the sunward-sailing cranes. And with that plunge back into my own past there arose at once, almost like heartbreak, the memory of [sehnsucht] itself, the knowledge that I had once had what I had now lacked... that I was returning at last from exile and desert lands to my own country... [These emotions and memories] flowed together into a single, unendurable sense of desire and loss… which, as I now stared round that dusty schoolroom like a man recovering from unconsciousness, had already vanished, had eluded me at the very moment when I could first say ‘It is.’ And at once I knew... that to ‘have it again’ was the supreme and only important object of desire.”
Interestingly, this saga also heavily inspired Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. There are many parallels, including murder over a magic ring, a dragon that guards a treasure hoard, a magic artifact that makes you invisible, a broken sword that must be reforged for the heir, and several others. It includes a prelude and three sequels. It even has a similar title!



OVERVIEW

I bought an ebook with Rackham's illustrations, and the translation was a little juvenile, but the plot was still great. The Ring is divided into four parts:

  • Prelude: The Rhinegold
  • Act I: The Valkyrie
  • Act II: Siegfried
  • Act III: The Twilight of the Gods

The Nibelungs, a “race of men,” live underground, in the depths of the earth, in their home called Nibelheim. They are the children of darkness, and Alberich is their Lord. He controls them with the power of a magic Ring, and commands them to collect a hoard of treasure for him, a treasure which could win him the world.

The Giants live on the face of the earth, in their home called Riesenheim. Fasolt and Fafner are their masters. They envy the power of the Nibelungs.

The race of Gods live above the earth, in the clouds, in their home called Valhalla. They are the lords of light, and Wotan (Odin) is their ruler. His spear, with which he controls the workings of the world, was cut from the original ash tree, and will never wither or die. It is the source of his power. His treaties are carved in its shaft, as a symbol of Heavenly Trust. The Nibelungs bow to him; he commands the Giants too. For all eternity, they must all obey the Lord of the Spear!

The heroic Wälsungs are the race dearest to Wotan’s heart, his beloved children, yet put down and cruelly oppressed by him. Siegmund and Sieglinde are the children of Wälse—twins, no less!

Lastly, the Norns are the fates, who serve not Wotan but Erda, and must do her bidding for the doom of the world (basically they’re the Weird Sisters from Shakespeare’s Macbeth).



SOME SPOILERS

Don’t proceed if you’re already convinced to read.

I highlighted nearly the entire book, ha ha. It’s full of the mythical and epic. For example, one of my favorite parts is when the dragon’s blood spurts onto Siegfried’s hand, burning him, so he sucks on it, and upon tasting the blood he gains the ability to understand the songs of birds!

The book begins when the despicable Alberich, a dwarf, steals a hoard of gold from the Rhine Maidens. With the stolen treasure, he forges a magical ring, a powerful amulet which can make the bearer ultimately powerful, but on one condition: he must forswear love forever. Alberich does this, descending into hatred. He also forges the Tornhelm, which allows him to disappear.

One of my favorite moments is when the naive Siegfried encounters the fallen angel Brunhilde and has his own moment of sehnsucht: “How am I going to get this… this woman... to wake up, so I can get a look at her eyes? And were she to look at me, am I strong enough to face her gaze? Heavens, I can hardly stand! My hands are shaking! All for this thing that I want, which I don’t know how to describe!”



04 March 2016

J Washburn featured on NerdFundr Podcast! (And LOCKE spoilers)



I was a guest on the NerdFundr Podcast this week. In the episode, I talk about what inspired me to become a writer. I also admit some secret information about SONG OF LOCKE.

Check it out here (I'm the first 20 minutes):

http://nerdfundr.com/podcast/episode-2/


20 February 2016

Rackham's THE VALKYRIE Painting Retouched

I’ve been reading Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelungen, which was a major source of inspiration for Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings

C. S. Lewis owned a copy illustrated by Arthur Rackham, and he said that book inspired the longing he referred to as seinsucht, that out-of-reach “northernness” that initiated his search for God. 

I just finished the second part, called THE VALKYRIE (which, by the way, subtly inspired my own novel, SONG OF LOCKE). The ending is so epic and tragic. It kills me! But I don’t want to spoil it. Either ask me in person or just read it! 

Below stands Rackham’s painting of that final scene, which I’ve posted in its original form, along with a version I retouched in Photoshop, because that’s what I do. 



I’m a little way into the third part, called SIEGFRIED. The final part is called THE TWILIGHT OF THE GODS. 


11 February 2016

What's Happening at Google I/O 2016: Predictions and Wishes




1. Smart features and material design for Google Calendar web


This is LONG overdue, and I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t launch it this year. The Android app is beautiful, and I’m eager for the web app to catch up. Also, Google acquired Timeful, an iOS app, about a year ago. It was smart enough to look at your schedule and suggest times to squeeze in your habits and to-do items. It's going to be awesome to have these features integrated into Google Calendar. I’m 95% sure this will happen at Google I/O 2016. In fact, I expect it to be kind of a headline item.

2. Cast from the Google Drive app


This is for movies mostly. It’d be nice to rip your old DVDs, store them in Drive, and cast them whenever you feel like it. It’d also be nice to share Docs and Sheets in the board room. I’m 52% sure this will happen at Google I/O 2016.

3. Audiobooks (and podcasts) for Google Play Music


We know podcasts are on the way, and I’m stoked about it. And while I’m at it, I’ve decided to hope that Google adds integration for audiobooks while they’re at it. An audiobook and a podcast are essentially the same—they need to save your place and let you adjust playback speed. For audiobooks, Google would just need to include two things: First, let you upload your own mp3 audiobooks to the cloud and group the files as a single book. Second, the Play store would need to let publishers start selling audio through that platform. I’m 100% sure that at least 50% of this will happen at Google I/O 2016.

4. New features for Google Play Books


First, the Play Books app should stop looking old and ugly. It’s gone on for far too long. Next, Play Books needs to add a few catch-up features so it’s on par with the Kindle app, like tracking your reading speed and predicting how long it’ll take you to finish a book. Also, Play Books needs a decent search feature. (Right now the search bar only searches the store and not your own library!) But I’ve got my fingers crossed for even bigger things. I want Play Books to become the iTunes of ebooks. Let me organize my library, change titles and authors and cover art if I want, and, most importantly, genres! And let me make playlists, e.g., “my top ten fiction” or “books to read next”. (Playlists should also let you add books you haven’t purchased yet—this would be good for the users and for the Play Store.) I’m 12% sure that this will happen at Google I/O 2016.

5. Chromecast becoming bigger than WiiU


The new Chromecast’s biggest feature, in my mind, is low latency. That means your phone can communicate with your TV very, very quickly. This doesn’t matter when you’re clicking play on a movie, but it DOES matter if you’re timing a jump in a platformer. Low latency turns a $35 Chromecast into a powerful gaming console, a console that could quickly and easily become cooler than Nintendo’s WiiU. Phones are universal—it’s like everyone’s carrying a game controller in their pocket. Which means Chromecast gaming is poised to be HUGE. All we need is some decent games on it. At the last Google I/O, they showcased a group of people playing Angry Birds GO through Chromecast, but that game never launched this feature publicly. I’m 89% sure that we’ll be getting some sweet new Chromecast-enabled games on the Play Store at Google I/O 2016.

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Runners up:


6. Something cool happens to Blogger. I’m like 100% sure this will NOT happen at Google I/O 2016.

7. Android will merge the Apps button with the Home button. (I.e., when you’re on the home screen, tap home again to see your apps. Well, a UX designer can hope, can’t he? I just hate having that static, unmovable icon in the middle. It’s one of the last, lingering pieces of the original, ugly OS design.) I’m like 100% sure this will NOT happen at Google I/O 2016.

8. Chrome for desktop gets the SHARE ICON that’s so useful in Android. I can’t tell you how often I’ve wished for that. I’m like 4% sure this will happen at Google I/O 2016.

9. Photos lets you tag faces. I’m like 100% sure this WILL happen at Google I/O 2016. And I'm excited.

10. Google Drive now gives you, I dunno, 100 GB for free. Or 1 TB would be nice. I’m like 80% sure this WON’T happen at Google I/O 2016. Here's hoping.



Thanks for reading.

Let's hear your wishes in the comments!