A Review of People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

As I mentioned in this post last summer, my first experience with Geraldine Brooks was her nonfiction The Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women. Brooks used her years of experience reporting from the middle east to write a great book that provides a lot of background on Islamic women to those of us far from familiar with their beliefs and lives.

After reading Year of  Wonders last summer (which I realize I’ve never reviewed), I fell in love with Brooks’ fiction work and couldn’t wait to read another one of her books. People of the Book was next up on my list.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

People of the Book
By Geraldine Brooks

Review

People of the Book begins with, Hannah, an ancient book restoration expert in 1996, traveling to Sarajevo to inspect the Sarajevo Haggadah, an important Jewish book that hadn’t surfaced since prior to WWII. As  Hannah inspects the book, she discovers clues that eventually transport us back in time, following the book to its creation.

We follow the book back in time and witness the various atrocities Jews have endured over the years. We learn how the book’s owners survived or lost their lives. Throughout the book, Brooks emphasizes humanity among the atrocities from those who saved the book to those who saved the owners of the book.

Rating

Writing 5 out of 5 stars

Brooks’ writing was clear and transported me along the journey of discovering the book’s origin.

Character Development  4 out of 5 stars

As we travel back, we get to know a lot of fairly well developed characters

Plot Structure 5 out of 5 stars

The organization of the book works really well to move the plot forward.

Storytelling 5 out of 5 stars

Using the real life discovery of the Sarajevo Haggadah, Brooks tells a deep and intriguing story.

Total 4.75 out of 5 stars

Have you read People of the Book? What did you think?

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Creativity, Creativity & Creativity: A Review of The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

At the beginning of January I decided to choose two words to help guide my year. Why two? Mostly because I couldn’t decide on just one. But since January, I hadn’t really thought much about either word. Until I started reading

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp | Book Review by The 1000th Voice

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use it For Life
By Twyla Tharp

What are my words? Creativity and Intentional. Creativity is something I need (and well pretty much everyone needs) in their professional and personal lives. By continuing to hone my creativity, I’ll reap great rewards in my personal and professional lives. Intentional is a bit more abstract. I just want to take more time to focus on being intentional with my actions.

Review

Creativity as a habit is a foreign concept to the common portrayal of creatives in TV shows, movies and more. Generally we see a creative person who’s wild and unpredictable. But Tharp presents a different view, one in which the creative person is driven by habit, following an established daily routine and approaching projects in a similar way. This approach was new to me. I’ve often thought that I need to set up a daily routine, so that I can squeeze in time to write and pursue other creative endeavors. I’ve never considered that it would help make me more creative.

No one starts a creative endeavor without a certain amount of fear; the key is to learn how to keep free-floating fears from paralyzing you before you’ve begun. (page 22)

Throughout the book, Tharp presents a lot of great ways to help maximize creativity. For example, to get out of a creative rut, Tharp recommends challenging assumptions by identifying the concept that isn’t working, write down your assumptions about it, challenge those assumptions and act on the challenge.

When creativity has become your habit; when you’ve learned to manage time, resources, expectations, and the demands of others; when you understand the value and place of validation, continuity and purity of purpose–then you’re on the way to an artist’s ultimate goal: the achievement of mastery. (page 240)

Rating

Writing 4 out of 5 stars

Tharp’s writing was strong.

Storytelling 5 out of 5 stars

Tharp doesn’t just tell people how to be creative. She shows them by sharing stories about her own creative pursuits–the ups and the downs, successes and failures.

Cultural Impact 4 out of 5 stars

Tharp’s book is commonly mentioned when talking about creatives doing their thing. There’s a reason for that. She has a long history of successful creative pursuits.

TOTAL 4.33 out of 5 stars

Have you read Tharp’s book? What did you think? What’s your favorite book about creativity?

Book Review: Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter | Book Review by The 1000th Voice

Beautiful Ruins
By Jess Walter

So, I picked up this book to read for a book club that I wasn’t actually able to attend, but that’s OK, because this book was amazing. I read at least half of the book before realizing I’d read a Jess Walter book before. Every Knee Shall Bow was also a good book, but as a nonfiction book about an overly religious family who were targeted by the FBI, it’s vastly different.

Rating

Don’t let the chick-lit like cover of this book fool you. This is a serious, modern literary work. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

Life is a blatant act of imagination. (page 13)

Not that there’s anything wrong with some nice fluffy chick lit, but this book provides a nice, layered story line that kept me interested from page one.

We live in a world of banal miracles. (page 30)

Without even knowing it, this book continued a recent trend for me (one that I’ve really enjoyed). This story features multiple narrators in different times. Different times here isn’t the key. I LOVE multiple narrators. I don’t know if it’s the varied perspective or some other aspect, but this just works for me.

Review

Writing 5 out of 5 stars

Walters writing is detailed and strong.

Character Development 4 out of 5 stars

While I love a varied perspective, it does require jumping around and missing some of the development of characters.

Plot Structure 5 out of 5 stars

Again, I love a good varied perspective story that advances the plot in its own asynchronous way.

Storytelling 4.5 out of 5 stars

It’s a lovely, fascinating story that really kept my attention.

Total  4.625 out of 5 stars

Have you read Beautiful Ruins? Did you enjoy it

Audiobook Review: Pharmakon

Audiobook Review: Pharmakon by Dirk Wittenborn | The 1000th Voice Blog

Pharmakon
By Dirk Wittenborn

A couple years ago my brothers, sister in law, husband and I came across a going-out-of-business sale at the oddest book store. None of us, self-proclaimed book lovers, had ever heard of any of the books. Nick handed me this audiobook. It sounded weird, but at less than a buck, I took a chance. I’m very glad I did.

Told over the span of 50 years, this multigenerational story uses multiple points of view to tell a complicated sometimes absurd story.

The book starts briefly narrated by Zach. We don’t know much about him and we learn just a little about his father. This is just a teaser before moving into the third person limited narration mainly focused on patriach Will Friedrich.

One of the fascinating aspects of this book was how little Friedrich, a pioneering neuropharmacologist and trained psychiatrist, knew nothing about actual people especially his family. The story mainly centers around each member of the family and some friends eventually figuring out of acknowledging that fact.

Voice Talent

This audiobook was skillfully read by Mark Deakins and Lincoln Hoppe. They were both able to really embody the feel of the book during their particular parts.

Rating

Writing 4 out of 5 stars

The writing in this story was tight and intriguing.

Storytelling 4 out of 5 stars

The pacing and set up of the story kept me interested in finding out what happens next.

Total 4 out of 5 stars

Have you ever read or listened to Pharmakon? Have you ever found a diamond in the rough in an odd bookstore?

Audiobook Review: The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls | Audiobook Review | The 1000th Voice Blog

The Glass Castle
By Jeannette Walls
Read By Julia Gibson

I wanted to sit on this book for a while, to ruminate on it, to let the words and stories really steep in my mind. But I decided that wasn’t a very good idea because I at once loved and hated this book. The more I ruminate and gather my thoughts on this book, the more my thoughts will go down the rabbit hole of mental illness and alcoholism that so exemplified Walls’ childhood.

Review

Walls’ writing and storytelling are phenomenal. Her childhood, though, was atrocious. The combination of the two made for an audiobook that I hated to stop listening to but sometimes needed a break from. You see, Walls’ parents were terrible. Her mother snooty despite the lack of food on the table, acceptable clothing on her children and lack of roof over their head. She was selfish, but most of all she was weak. She was too weak to take the kids and leave her no-good, alcoholic husband. She was too weak to stand up to her own issues of selfishness and immaturity. Too weak to keep a job. And let’s not even get into her sympathy for her daughter’s molester.

But as much as I disliked her mother, I definitely hated her father. I hated him for not holding down a job, for not providing for his children, for being a worthless drunk.

The Wisdom of Rex Walls | The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls | The 1000th Voice BlogIn general, not bad advice, but it was said while
teaching Jeannette to swim. Rex’s method?

Throwing her into the center of a deep, dirty pond.

I could go on and on about all the reasons I hate Walls’ parents but I’d rather use this space to point out all the great things about this book.

First and foremost, what I loved about this book was Walls’ ability to tell the story, to paint the picture of her childhood. I found the stories she told–both good and bad–to be very engaging, lively, and easily understood. Her clear, forthright writing really moved the story along. She doesn’t spend time dwelling on the bad parts other than to share what happened.

I loved how the book started and ended with fire, particularly the turbulent area at the tip of the flame. In both instances, the fire symbolizes a rampage that was coming, and specifically Rex Walls. If he’d only been contained, if he hadn’t been allowed to burn free, maybe Jeannette’s life would have been better. Althought the fire at the end was more refined, the flame of the candle burning on the reunited family’s Thanksgiving dinner table, I think it symbolized more turbulence to come in Jeannette’s life, not by something she’s done, but by the return of her sister.

Author Jeannette Walls | Audiobook Review: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls | The 1000th Voice Blog

Via

A final high point that I want to metion is that Walls seems to be a remarkable specimen. She doesn’t seem to pity herself or at least didn’t by the time she wrote the book. She’s the shining example of someone who picks herself up by the bootstraps and really becomes somebody. She’s resilient, she’s intelligent, she’s hardworking, she’s inspiring. And, despite negative comments about her looks in the book, she’s beautiful and has great hair!

Voice Talent

Julia_Gibson-5953

Via

This book was superbly read by Julia Gibson. Gibson excellently portrayed Walls’ mother’s snobbery. Her pacing and diction were excellent. My one complaint was the voice she used for Walls’ sister Laurie. She made Laurie sound very flat and dumb, neither of which I think describe Laurie based on what Walls actually wrote about her.

Rating

Writing 5 out of 5 stars

In The New York Times review, Francine Prose refers to Walls’ writing style as appealingly unadorned. Her writing isn’t overwrought; it isn’t overly emotional or overly sentimental. I found her writing style very inspiring.

Storytelling 5 out of 5 stars

I generally try not to give anything five stars. As the highest rating, it’s generally hard to reach, but I really believe it’s warranted with this book. Her ability to lay out her unappealing childhood in an appealing way is practically unheard of.

Cultural/Personal Impact 4 out of 5 stars

According to the ever reliable Wikipedia, The Glass Castle spent 261 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, and it’s been optioned for film by Paramount. (Word is Jennifer Lawrence will star in it. I find this interesting because the book begins when she is three and ends when she’s in her 30s.) This book had a big impact on me. As I mentioned the writing was inspiring, but the story will really stick with me.

Total 4.67 out of 5 stars

Have you read or listened to The Glass Castle? What are your thoughts? Did you, too, hate Walls’ parents?

To read more of my thoughts, follow me on Twitter. For more book reviews, books I’ve read and books I want to read, find me on Goodreads. Don’t forget to check out my Pinterest to see all the craft and home decor projects I’ll probably never do and some cool book and social media pins. And of course, If you like what I have to say, like or follow my blog through e-mail. Sign up is on the right!

Book Discussion: The Accidental Creative

Book Discussion: The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry | The 1000th Voice BlogThe Accidental Creative:
How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice
By Todd Henry

When I mentioned in three It’s Monday! What I’m Reading! posts that I was (slowly) reading a book about being accidentally creative, several commenters echoed my own thoughts when they said they would benefit from learning how to be creative at a moment’s notice. Todd Henry knew that, and wrote a good book to help everyone be as brilliant as possible. The book provides a lot of ideas and suggestions to maximize creativity. While I wish there could be a magic formula (a pinch of this and a dash of that), being creative takes effort. Some people can just ooze creativity (or an odd brand of weirdness), but for others it seems to be more of a struggle.

Henry’s approach to being spontaneously creative can be separated into three categories: Preparing for Creativity, Harnessing Creativity and Recognizing Threats to Your Creativity.

Preparing for Creativity

The most prominent way in which someone can learn to become accidentally creative is to prepare for brilliant moments of insight. This basic premise is born out of the idea that, “If you want to deliver the right idea at the right moment, you must begin the process far upstream from when you need that idea.” (p 9) Henry recommends that everyday includes quality stimuli. In my post on finding inspiration, I shared a similar concept. I try to regularly read websites, magazines and blogs that inspire and/or inform me. I may not always take away something that I believe is important from each article or post, but over time, I’ve come to realize that the information and ideas I’ve stored away (in the back of my mind, in my notebooks or on Pinterest) has come forward to benefit me when I’m trying to think of solutions or articulate ideas. This is really the Minute Maid of ideas to promote your creativity.

The Minute Maid of Recs | Put Good In, Get Good Out | Book Review of The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry | The 1000th Voice BlogVia

The second way to prepare for creativity is to be purposeful about what you do and how you approach the creative process. Henry recommends planning out your life by considering the projects, plans and goals you have by focusing on the coming day, week, month, quarter and year. “Whole-life planning recognizes that your creative process is the result of the merging of all your experiences and passions.” (p 96) I think the idea of clustering, or intelligent adjacency, is also a way to be purposeful about your work. Basically, clustering is doing similar tasks next to each other without interruptions. Like most efficiency experts, Henry recommends limiting phone calls and e-mails to specific times of the day. The benefits of clustering include limiting focus shifts, experiencing unexpected breakthroughs and improving flow. 

Take Notes! | Book Review of The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry | The 1000th Voice BlogFinally, Henry recommends note taking. Obviously, I’m a big fan of taking notes. I’m never quite sure what I’ll remember later or what will be important later. Throughout history, thought leaders, movers and shakers have taken voracious notes. In fact, John Adams, who was an especially prolific note taker, took many notes in his book. “[John] Adams was not taking notes the way that many of us have been taught…Rather, he was recording his own thoughts and reactions to the claims of the author. He treated books as a conversation rather than a monologue.” (p 112)

Harnessing Creativity

How do you harness those insights and all that creativity you’re supposed to glean from notes and the like? Henry recommends establishing a rhythm to your work that manages “the pressures and expectations you face each day.” (p 122) Henry continues that, “When you begin to treat idea generation as a rhythmic practice, you begin to experience growth in your ability to generate ideas when you need them.” (p 125)

Recognizing Threats to Your Creativity

Now that you’ve spent all of that time preparing for and harnessing your creativity, you need to learn to recognize threats to that creativity.

While it’s not a magic formula, Henry did share a formula to achieving creative brilliance:

Math Formula for Creativity | Book Review of The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry | The 1000th Voice BlogTo maintain a certain level of work, you must remember to stay healthy. Do what you need to do to stay healthy–exercise, eat healthy, etc. Use routines to maintain your prolific nature.

Henry believes there are three assassins to the creative process: dissonance, fear and expectation escalation.

Dissonance is a disagreement or incongruity. The human mind craves resolution of unresolved things and patterns. One of the main functions of creative thought is the resolution of this dissonance; however, if out of control, it can be a threat to your creativity.

People fear plenty of things: success, failure, cats, dogs. As Henry states, “A lifetime of mediocrity is a high price to pay for safety. Paranoia undoes greatness.” (p47)

Finally, expectation escalation is a threat. Once you’ve done something great, the expectations continue to rise. Sometimes that escalation can lead to the inability to be creative.

Rating

Writing 4 out of 5 stars
The writing in this book was strong. Henry clearly made his points and backed them up with knowledge gained as a consultant.

Topic Knowledge 4 out of 5 stars
As I mentioned, Henry is a creativity consultant, so he does have a lot of knowledge on this topic, including an understanding of how to teach people to be creative.

Research 3.5 out of 5 stars
This book didn’t really require formal research because of Henry’s vast knowledge on the topic.

Cultural/Personal Impact 3.5 out of 5 stars
I didn’t read a lot of new information, so the personal impact is a bit limited for me. Affirming my understanding, though, does count for something for me and validates the time I spend reading a LOT of books and articles online. If this doesn’t validate your blog/Twitter/Digg/Stumple Upon/Whatever content habit you have, then I don’t know what will.

Organization/Presentation of Information 5 out of 5 stars
The information is presented in an organized, easy-to-follow fashion. I hate when a nonfiction book jumps around and doesn’t present the information is a logical way. Flashbacks and flashforwards are for fiction; they have NO place in nonfiction. (I have to emphasize this because I don’t think some people understand.)

Total 4 out of 5 stars

Overall, I found this book helpful, but mostly as an affirmation of what I already believed about being creative. 

What do you think about the suggestions Henry made? Do you have a content reading habit like mine? 

To read more of my thoughts, follow me on Twitter. For more book reviews, books I’ve read and books I want to read, find me on Goodreads. Don’t forget to check out my Pinterest to see all the craft and home decor projects I’ll probably never do and some cool book and social media pins. And of course, If you like what I have to say, like or follow my blog through e-mail. Sign up is on the right!

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacany by J.K. Rowling | A book review at The 1000th VoiceThe Casual Vacancy
By J.K. Rowling

In the absence of an Irish author, I decided to review a British author because there’s nothing quite like honoring one country’s heritage like honoring their oppressor for hundreds of years. I kid. Moving on…

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling | A book review at The 1000th VoiceAs a Harry Potter fan and literary fiction snob (OK, I do read and enjoy some genre books–Harry Potter and more), I knew I had to read The Casual Vacancy even though it was being panned by many critics. I don’t know how many warnings Rowling and her team had to give to the media that this wasn’t Harry Potter for adults, but apparently there weren’t enough because plenty of reviews hinted at a certain amount of confusion at the lack of robes and wands. This is very funny to me because the notoriously private Rowling did a ton of press before the book was published; people should have known what to expect, and if they didn’t believe her, it’s on them.
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling | A book review by The 1000th Voice

Review

I suppose I can understand why some people don’t enjoy large literary fiction tomes, but, really, everyone should love this book. The Casual Vacancy is an intriguing character study of the prominent and notorious citizens of a small but proud British village. (Is it redundant to describe a British village as small and proud?) Rowling thrusts her readers into the lives of Pagford’s citizens, including the so-called First Citizen down to the widely-regarded lowest citizen.
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling | A review by The 1000th Voice

I will admit that as I approached page 100 I was still confused by who the characters were, how they related to each other, and, most importantly, who hated whom. After contemplating the usefulness of a pictorial guide to Pagford’s alliances (my version would be lovely with hand drawn images of how I pictured the characters, solid lines and dotted lines in varying shades of red and blue to indicate dislike and like, but I can’t draw), I realized that the confusion about who the people are and who they dislike can be likened to the confusion a new small-town citizen would feel if they were learning about their new surroundings by bits and pieces through gossip, which, let’s face it, is how it always happens.
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling | A book review by The 1000th Voice

With just one seemingly simple sentence, Rowling is able to cut right to the core of her characters and reveal who they truly are, warts and all. And, let me tell you, there were truly plenty of warts in this small town. “Christians” who were more concerned about appearing to be Christians than by acting like Christians, pretensions, addictions, they’re all here in some form.
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling | A book review by The 1000th Voice

Through the story she tells, it’s obvious that Rowling understands small towns, but, more than that, she understands people and she understands their motives. Small towns just allow people’s best and worst characteristics to be more obvious to others, so the setting helped Rowling tell the story.

Rating

Writing 4.5 out of 5 stars
There were some points in the book where I didn’t think the writing was as strong as it could be, where transitions maybe didn’t occur in the best spots, but overall, Rowling’s writing was solid. As I said earlier, she really can get to the core of someone’s motivations with just a few words. That takes well-developed skill.

Storytelling 5 out of 5 stars
While some people will, of course, disagree with my rating of storytelling, I stand behind it. There is a story here; the narrative does build to something. It just may not be what everyone wants, and it doesn’t have the big climax that genre readers are accustomed to.

Character Development 5 out of 5 stars
My high rating for character development really ties into the high rating I gave for writing. This is, after all, a character study, so the strong writing, naturally, resulted in strong character development.

Plot Structure 4 out of 5 stars
There is absolutely a plot here, but it isn’t really strong, and it flips from between the different character’s perspectives of current events and then a flashback pops up. It really works to tell the story, but it does seem confusing.

Cultural Impact 3 out of 5 stars
There’s no doubt that this won’t have the cultural impact that Harry Potter did. No book probably ever will, but, being by the same author, I believe it will have a lasting impact. After all, the story has already been optioned by the BBC for a miniseries.

Total 4.3 out of 5 stars

Have you read The Casual Vacancy? What did you think?