Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Book Thoughts: Among the Missing

Among the Missing (Ballantine Reader's Circle) Among the Missing by Dan Chaon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is a collection of short stories, probably about ten or so, and each story is worthy. I am always amazed every time I read a book of short stories the depth and development of the characters. Possibly because there is not so much onus on pushing a story forward, but rather in finding meaning in smaller, daily, mundane activities, these stories tend to allow for greater depth to the characters than many novels. The other thing I really enjoy about short stories, and about Chaon's collection here, is the variety of human emotion and relationships that are traversed in his stories, and the multitude of reflection they can cause. I found each story impelled me to stop upon conclusion and just think about it, the characters, the issues they face, and so on; and I truly enjoy books that do that, so I thought that Chaon's collection here is very good.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Book Thoughts: The Unnamed

The Unnamed

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The book was compelling, an interesting study not only in the nature of human relationships, but the impact of hope, despair, and tragedy on those relationships. While the book is an easy read, at times it gets a bogged down at the end, with too many descriptions of places that don't seem to move the book forward very well. In the end, what I think a reader takes from the book is how tragic and genuinely heartbreaking the story is. Can't help but feel down and a bit depressed when thinking of the story and the fate of the characters.

At times, the writing and the story reminded me of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road." While not nearly as intense as that novel, it carries the same tragic depressed tone throughout, one of hopelessness, despair, the vanishing of hope. Worth a read, but know that it will be a tad depressing.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Weekly Update

There was some positives and negatives this past week on the exercise and weightloss front. On the negative, I only got on the treadmill for five days instead of six like I aim for; but realistically, that's only a slight negative. In addition, in the latter part of the week I finally gave in to my sweet tooth and grabbed a small shake on Friday afternoon. Trying not to worry about that too much, as those things will happen; and generally, I feel like if I continue to consistently work out and keep being conscientious about what and how much I am eating, a few hiccups or treats every now and again won't be a big deal.

In part because of these feelings though, I decided to aim high for my Saturday morning and complete a 5K walk, or 3.106... miles. I knew that I would be walking for the majority of it, with a couple minutes of jogging sprinkled in, and I figured it would take me a little over an hour based on my pace for 45 minutes during my regular routine. Sure enough, in 63 minutes I completed the walk on the treadmill. Physically, I could tell it was a bit more demanding while doing it, and my knees hurt a little more than usual yesterday and today, but besides that, it seems like my body handled it pretty well. It may be something I try again from time to time just to see how things progress. The other 4 days this week were my usual 45 minutes and over 2 miles, usually somewhere between 2.1 and 2.2 miles.

At times, when I realize that I have done this for going on 10 weeks, I get a bit down and frustrated that I haven't seen more results. In honesty, despite some improvements in my stamina when I actually do the walking, and feeling a bit more energized throughout the day, it has been hard to notice any real results from the work. I understand its entirely possible that I have much progress and haven't seen it, part of the nature of being as overweight as I am. That being said, even though it has only been 10 weeks (only when compared to how long this will take me, but it sure feels like forever right now), it would nice to being to point to something more concrete than some feelings to measure any progress.

But that's just the way it is right now. It remains a matter of continuing the work and pushing forward.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Book Thoughts: The Third Secret

The Third Secret: A Novel of Suspense The Third Secret: A Novel of Suspense by Steve Berry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Enjoyable, quick read. The plot focuses around the third secret of the Marian apparition at Fatima. The book presupposes that there was more to the secret than what was released by the Vatican and Pope John Paul II in 2000. As the story develops, the qualities of faith and devotion as well ambition and greed for power are displayed by the characters, mostly Catholic cardinals and priests, which creates an interesting juxtaposition of good and evil. If one is so inclined, I think the story would make one think more intensely about Fatima and various traditions with the Catholic faith....not necessarily in either a good or bad manner towards either, but just think about them. For me, any work of fiction that gives you some pause to think and reflect about something, whatever the light, has value. So I enjoyed this book beyond just the story.

As to what it makes me think regarding these topics (and not to go into too much specifics as it would give certain things away), it impresses on my mind that when it comes to matters of faith, it always remains, solely, a matter of faith. What I mean is that regardless of how much pursuit we give to clarifying spiritual matters intellectual, to de-construct them in efforts to wrap or finite minds around it, that pursuit only takes us so far. Inherent in our finite minds is a specified limitation, and after that limitation, comes faith, one way or the other (faith in no god is still a "faith"). And what strikes me from the novel and the characters it depicts, is that assuming others, based on public displays of faith for God or in no god, or the lack thereof, says little about what doubt or conviction, in either direction, lays in the unspoken part of that person.

I often assume conviction in others; I witness their displays and assume that they feel something that I never really have, and not sure if I will. Its often not something I dwell on too much; I have faith that all serve different purposes, and mine is not to be a "feeling" sort, or even based in compassion, as opposed to a almost pure intellectual approach. The book reminds me that I should not assume that others, despite what their public displays or discussions in large groups might hint at, may and probably do experience doubt from time to time, perhaps to the extent that I do. Intellectually, I view doubt and faith as always attached, almost like one cannot exist without the other. Or maybe better put, to doubt is not to be without faith, and to have faith is not to be without doubt. This has often been my approach. The book, through my reflection, suggests to me that I should perhaps apply the same scrutiny I give to religious and spiritual matters, to people's display of the same, and come to the conclusion that things are not always what they seem at first glance.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Rambling Long Post on Social Networking (I think)

Lately, I’ve been somewhat antsy when it comes to writing, feeling the need for more expression, but clueless as to what I would ever express. Part, just part, of it stems, I think, from the changing function of blogging. When I started my first blog, just about 7 (7!!) years ago, blogs seemed mainly for social purposes. Not networking in the twitter or facebook sense, but for sharing your life and thoughts with friends and family who knew of the blog. But as twitter and facebook came around, those services required much less work and much more networking, thus antiquating this original purpose of a blog. Sure, many blogs are still that (its what I mainly blog about), but my blog, because it is personal, feeds into facebook. I get more feedback from people reading it there than I ever do on the original site.

Blogs seemed to evolve, to become more serious, more commercial. Because of these circumstances, maintaining a personal blog that remains primarily personal, seems outdated. Why do that, when you can reach more people easier using facebook (or any other social networking site). Why devote to writing blog posts when you can continually update the web, and presumably your followers, about your life, 140 characters at a time.

Blogs seemed to be the first step towards what, I would term, the de-personalization of relationships. More and more of our contact with people is digital. This could be viewed as a blessing, allowing friends and family that are far apart geographically to remain close. Granted, phone calls could do that. But blogs, twitter, facebook, and the like make the maintaining of the relationship so much more efficient. But when efficiency becomes the sole goal, something’s lost.

Efficiency, in part, has led to twitter and facebook increasing in popularity, while personal blogs, personal email, phone calls, and actual contact are too time consuming to be worked into the day. This is not to begrudge social networking sites. I use them frequently, and find them incredibly helpful for staying in touch with my family and friends. But I think, if we only have that, two things occur.
First, we eventually realize we are missing something. The contact is superficial, its not real; for lack of better wording, it fails to sustain the need for communal interaction we so often desire. Obviously, the use of these sites create a digital community that is larger, and much larger, than our physical community could ever be. But with that growth in quantity, there is a dilution in quality. Reading about what someone else did is not the same as talking to them about it, let alone experiencing it with them.

Second, we devalue our relationships. Everything becomes subject to sacrifice at the altar of efficiency. Truthfully, many things within relationships are not “efficient.” Its not particular efficient to spend time discussing feelings; its not efficient to share ones past experiences; its not efficient to talk openly about one’s dreams and goals. Much of this, if all we are concerned about is the most efficient use of our time, becomes useless. There’s no reason to invest our time into such matters when we can consider ourselves a friend by clicking “like” to a status update.

However, if these sites are used to supplement the relationships within our physical community, the possibility of the enhancement of those relationships exist. The physical contact and conversation is now enhanced by the knowledge gained through the digital community. If the efficiency inherent in these sites is used not to create more time for ourselves, but to develop more knowledge and investment in our relationships, very positive things can happen.

I think the crux of the problem still lies in that we all want to be considered good friends, but at times, in the middle of long work weeks, with various personal and familial obligations, it feels impossible to invest time in something outside of that. After all, we all need some time to decompress ourselves. And these sites allow us to keep that time for ourselves, keep that feeling that we are a “good” friend, without having to invest substantial amounts of precious time.

But part of me doesn’t think that it requires substantial amounts of time, as opposed to a conscientious effort. We all have are time constraints, and using twitter or facebook or blogs or whatever to sustain relationships over time is helpful. In some respects, doing so is realistic and necessary. But, I think we (I know I do) often forget that these sites should not just be repositories of information of the lives of our friends and family; they are forums, means that allow us to communicate. Sometimes I wonder if we forget that dialogue and discussion can be achieved through these tools, maybe not to the extent provided in physical interaction, but interaction nonetheless.

In a rambling, roundabout manner, the social networking sites still require our investment, of both time and energy, to be truly effective, as well as efficient. If we don’t invest, our relationships through these sites will be just as shallow as many presuppose, and they will provide no real or significant enhancement to our relationships with friends and family.

Its important to remember that regardless of the methods, the basics and core tenets of relationships stay the same; communication, hard work, effort, time. Thus, sites like facebook and twitter, despite their ingenuity and assumed efficiency, still require the same work and effort in our relationships to be truly effective. If not, it only becomes one more obstacle in the way of relationships, rather than a beneficial tool.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Book Thoughts: The Whole Truth

The Whole Truth

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I haven't picked up a Baldacci book in awhile, having read most of his stuff for awhile and this particularly book always being checked out from the library. It was billed as his first international thriller book, as his other works deal solely with the U.S., primarily around political-government thrillers/conspiracy theories. Compared to the recent books I've read by Khoury or Steve Berry that are international in the scope of their mystery and action, this book took a little longer to get into, a little longer for the story to hit its stride. But it was worth it, I think, in the end, as it allowed for more character development. I always think character development is so important for a really good book; it allows you to feel, with a measured intensity, what the characters are supposedly feeling. It draws you into the book's world better, and thus allows for a better escape from this world. As the book is still based on action and mystery, there's not a ton of time spent on developing the personality and emotions of the characters. But enough is spent that you can tell the difference in this book as compared to others in the genre. Because of that, I think it makes the book a better read.