Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination
It is unlikely that someone would find themselves unable to identify J. K. Rowling’s accomplishments in the wide genre of fiction, but Very Good Lives dips into Rowling’s own life—failures and successes—as she helps see off Harvard University’s 2008 graduating class. Rowling’s speech is perforated with stunningly heartfelt advice and words of wisdom. Vividly honest about her own experiences, Rowling speaks to fears of failure and grounds you in reality. She addresses two themes throughout the speech: the benefits of failure and the importance of imagination.
Perhaps it’s my love of Harry Potter or my idolization of J. K. Rowling—maybe it’s just the fact that I have aspirations much like her pre-Harry Potter success—but in any case, Rowling’s commencement address is an incredible 70 pages of hope and encouragement. I quickly gave up on highlighting passages, because I realized that the entirety of the text would have been yellow. Because it so clearly and concisely addresses common doubts of young adults—and likely every other age of adults that find uncertainty creeping through the shadows and into their lives—this book is sure to find its way into the hands of every stressing college senior and I know I will find comfort in its pages time after time.
J.K. Rowling, Joel Holland, Illustrator
April 14th 2015
Little, Brown and Company
It’s Not About the Funeral: What You Need to Know Before You Go
Chris R. Bentley’s exposé on the funeral and cemetery business; It’s Not About the Funeral gives one an insider’s account of the death industry from a former funeral home owner, funeral director, and that dreaded of all professions, the pre-need salesman. His book is quite thorough yet concise, a mere 158 pages, covering topics from pre-need to at-need arrangements, to the actual funeral service itself. There is a look at merchandise one needs to consider such as caskets, the monument or tombstone, the grave liners. Can one really use a rental casket? This question is answered and more. (Hint: Only in application to a cremation. See the end of Chapter III.) Alternative methods of burial are discussed such as at sea or for the flower child, one that is totally green. No stone is left unturned.
He does not write in the style of, say, Elisabeth Kübler- Ross, who is much more sensitive in tone. But then he makes no pretences to such accolades. Having worked in the funeral/cemetery industry, and having studied thanatology, I understand the author’s concerns, yet his style is a little lacking. His incessant references to the “hammering” one will encounter from the sharks that the big box corporations hire as salespeople will no doubt leave one reluctant to even enter those doors, especially if they don’t have to. But the point is well taken. After all, this book presents one with a ‘behind the scenes’ look and all the harsh realities that accompany it.
The stand-out chapters actually walk a family through the process, answering such questions as the need to embalm, “don’t embalm for the wrong reasons, namely because your salesperson wants you to.” This take-you-by-the-hand approach is comforting knowing what to expect whether it’s for the funeral service and burial, or the pre-arrangements. Take this knowledge and use it to your advantage and you’ll gain the most out of this book.
Be Your Own Hero
What is keeping me from making this decision [to move into a senior living community]? What will I gain by making a change? How do I define independence? What are you currently doing to stay engaged with friends, family, or peers? What assets or additional resources do I have that will contribute to my ability to cover my monthly costs of living? These are just a few of the several questions addressed in Be Your Own Hero. Owens debut guidebook is a powerful and preparatory tool for seniors and adult child caretakers in making well-thought-out decisions about senior living options before a crisis or emergency strikes.
Senior living expert Catherine L. Owens approaches this highly sensitive topic about transitioning to senior living options through a set of eight proactive concepts. Owen opens each concept with a thought-provoking quote that gently segues into a commonly accepted paradigm and then weighs that perception against the reality of the situation. For instance, in her first concept that deals with “making a decision,” Owen presents the accepted thought process by most seniors: “I will know when the time is right.” The reality is that “uncertainty and emotions may keep you from making a wise decision.” Now that she has just cut to the chase on stumbling-block issues, Owen adds a personal touch to her narrative by using second person point of view to back up her reality statement, and then closes the section with a set of first-person questions for further reflection and discussion.
Aside of “uncertainty and emotions,” Owen ties that first concept to the second as she covers the motivating factors essential for making the move to senior environs. Of course, another concept to contemplate is defining independence. From there, Owens moves into understanding who the key influencers in this stage of the aging game are, and, in many cases, that position falls onto the adult child. Another aspect very few seniors consider is the concept of engaged living and the need for social interaction. Of course, high on the charts is cost. Owens includes worksheets to create a real picture of what the present cost of living looks like before doing a side-by-side comparison with various senior living options and services. In describing these options/services, Owens breaks it down even further by listing their benefits, disadvantages, average costs, and additional expenses. Owens also includes tips when checking out places/services and a slew of pertinent questions to raise — all a part of the process in making that final informed senior living decision.
Having witnessed first-hand the step-by-step procedure that my recently deceased mother-in-law had to go through when she went into assisted living, I wholeheartedly concur with the valuable information Owens relays in her resourceful book. Kudos to Owens for accomplishing her goal: “My sincere desire is that this book will offer some guidance, direction, and peace of mind as you contemplate and navigate the difficult decision of senior living services for yourself or a loved one.”
A Manual on Exposure in Photography
Ceriel van Arneman’s A Manual on Exposure in Photography comprehensively studies the mechanisms and applications of reflex and compact cameras through numerous images and detailed descriptions. Utilizing colorful photographs that showcase a variety of effects, Arneman explicitly states how photographers achieve different techniques. Moreover, he explains how to resolve numerous mishaps that may complicate a photographer’s shot. The quick resolutions that Arneman suggests will not only save time and money but also produce a much stronger image. His recommendations and tips provide useful points for all photographers across specifications and skill sets. For instance, Arneman’s recommendation to utilize a one-legged tripod for added stability, without added bulk or mass, will greatly benefit landscape photographers that may need to transport photography equipment across elevations without unnecessary heavy gear. Elsewhere, Arneman explains how different flash umbrellas will impact a photograph. Those interested in portraiture will find this section particularly interesting as it covers flash umbrellas ability to eliminate shadows as well as which umbrellas to utilize with which skin tones. In addition to describing how to use various photography accessories, Arneman also provides illustrative and textual references to show readers how to create several photography accessories from materials found around the home. The knowledge and material shared in A Manual on Exposure in Photography provides invaluable tidbits that would easily cost an individual hundreds of dollars in a photography course. In 100 pages, Ceriel van Arneman not only instructs readers on camera features and use but also on the homemade accessories that will elevate an amateur shot to a breathtaking, successful photograph anyone would be proud to hang on their wall. Ceriel van Arneman’s work A Manual on Exposure in Photography unequivocally earns 4 stars for a thorough education on the opportunities available in the field of photography. A Manual on Exposure in Photography will have every reader feeling confident and qualified to capture incredible scenes within their own surroundings in no time.
The Conversation That Matters Most
Let us begin our review by noting that this author’s purpose in writing this book is to study the experiences of people in life. Comedians, like talk show hosts, political and national news anchors, we are told, all rely on various forms of conversation to provide information and enjoyment as a means to connect people. As a specialist in social networking, I would certainly concur that conversation enables one to connect to people in various endeavors and segments of society. Many medical clinical trials deal with the mind and emotional balance and would agree that the latter is important in this regard.
The author focuses on the learning that happens from casual conversations, both how others learn from us, and what we project and learn from others. Education and intelligence may be less important to some people than the learning they do through these conversations with those around them, and internally with themselves. Common sense may be as potentially important to one’s mental development and growth as native intelligence and formal education.
Common sense encompasses many of the following: the ability to evaluate a situation, ability to take lessons from one’s environment, and the ability to make a simple judgment, such as getting married, changing jobs or meeting a new friend. One must, according to this researcher, be alert to what’s happening in surroundings, such as an accident in the street or new neighbors moving into a neighborhood. Alternatively, two types of knowledge — education and experience — must be blended together. Intelligence is a big predictor whether one acquires knowledge from study or experience. The author notes that common sense involves reasoning, abstract thinking and understanding new material and profiting from past experience.
In one of the most brilliant aspects of the book, namely on being employed, I concur with the author that career choices for monetary gain are important in one’s pursuit of a vocation. What skills one possesses, how dependable and reliable one is, and the ability to work with others are the essentials for the labor force. If he performs well, the employer will continue to invest in the employee. If he is a neglectful employee, it hinders the relationship with current and future “investors.”
While participating in a Dale Carnegie course it was found, that various types of intelligence foster intelligent conversation. Instant communication enables one to see expressions and or to be able to recognize emotions. Paul Ekman of the University of California in outstanding research, has studied the whole field of non-verbal behavior and its effect on emotion. It is important, as the author so well enumerates, to remove toxins from our lives and allow us to move past the hurt of life’s hardships.
This is a wonderful beginning for a first-time writer who has shown that life’s conversations with its goals, ethics, and beliefs, are important. Further research in this area might involve a book or books dealing with the psychology of lifestyles or counseling which would interest a major publisher.
A Challenge of Common Knowledge
Do you know your Roman numerals, or the number of legs an insect has versus an arachnid? What about freezing and boiling points in Celsius AND Fahrenheit? Or which state borders four of the five Great Lakes?
A worthwhile trivia book—particularly an age-specific trivia book—is much harder to compile than you might think. It must be targeted enough to avoid feeling like a mishmash of topics, eclectic enough to maintain interest, accessible enough not to discourage your audience, and challenging enough to be worth their time. That’s quite the needle to thread.
A Challenge of Common Knowledge comes closer to that lofty ideal than most, particularly for a book aimed at fourth grade through sixth grade. Encompassing history, math, language, animals, geography, science, weights and measures, vocabulary, and more, this collection of four hundred and one questions represents a benchmark all students at this age level should be able to pass.
That being said, I was a little surprised by a wider range of difficulty than strictly necessary; questions ricochet all over the spectrum from “things every child should know” (what sport is played at the Super Bowl?) to “Wow, I couldn’t answer that question” (who invented the gas mask?). Some of the questions also seemed out of place. There were ones about SpongeBob SquarePants and Snoopy, but none about literature or readings I would expect that age group to be familiar with. And overall, I do wonder about the order in which the questions are presented. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest they be divvied up by category, because one of the best parts of the book is that you never know what field or subject you’ll battle next. But when Question #42 asks which is the largest ocean, and then Question #46 asks what the largest bodies of water are called, you can’t help but wonder why the order of those questions wasn’t swapped. (Some repetition also creeps into the book; fraction vs. part of a whole, for instance, is explored twice.)
To an older reader, some of the answers might come off as a bit simplistic. After all, thunder is said to be the sound of lightning, rather than the sound of rapidly expanding air during a lightning strike, and a group of whales is referred to as a herd without mentioning it can also be called a pod, a gam, or a school. But remember that these questions are intended for a fourth-to-sixth-grade knowledge and comprehension level, so simplifications and exclusions like these are to be expected.
Nonetheless, A Challenge of Common Knowledge succeeds where many trivia books fail. Instead of filling its pages with random factoids and minutiae, it comes off as the perfect end-of-year review or beginning-of-the-year primer for the age group. Pierce set a fairly ambitious goal for herself, and hit the mark more often than not.