We Have Always Lived in the Castle

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I figure there are two people in this world--those that get Wuthering Heights and those that don't. I say this because if you love Wuthering Heights, you'll probably love We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. Most people are familiar with Jackson's popular short story, "The Lottery". Individuals persecuted by a group of small minded individuals seem to be her forte, which is one of the themes of this 1962 book.

I bought this book on a $3 sale table at Chapters last year and read it during my Internet vacation. It was waaaay too long since I had read a book. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a contemporary gothic tale of mystery and suspense. Although the themes of anxiety, fear and agoraphobia were evident and I understood them well, I just found the events too repetitive and not very suspenseful. Maybe the Internet has shrunk my imagination ;-D

The main characters are the Blackwoods--teenage sister Mary Katherine, older sister Constance and Uncle Julian. Constance cooks and cares for her uncle and sister, so much so that food become another major theme. Uncle Julian constantly frets about his memory. Mary Katherine, or Merricat, is the narrator and practices little rituals to ward off evil. The family lives in a grand old house by themselves and only Mary Katherine ventures out to run errands in the nearby village. The villagers hold the family in contempt (or perceived contempt) due to a past family tragedy. This tragedy is hinted at in bits and pieces. For me, it was never satisfactorily revealed. The turning point in the story is when cousin Charles visits and his appearance threatens the status quo. Apparently the story is set in Vermont, but the overly dramatic language could easily make it a UK setting.

Anxiety, even though many people experience it, varies from person to person. My anxiety is not your anxiety. I feel that We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a deeply personal work--just one that I'm not able to access. The book was made into a 2019 movie, so perhaps if I watch it, that will make the story more accessible to me. The trailer gives minor spoilers, so don't watch it...it's probably assumed that most people know what a 50+ year old book is about.


The Talented Mr. Ripley

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I can't believe it's been 20 years since the movie version of The Talented Mr. Ripley came out. I watched it because of Matt Damon, naturally, but never got around to reading the book. This article does a thorough job of exploring the movie and book versions of the characters as well as examining the life of Patricia Highsmith.

birds, peaceful

The Passion Conversation

I realized I had some old reviews on a thumb drive and here's one from the business book library at work.

A big issue for small and big businesses alike is marketing and The Passion Conversation is a breezy course in word of mouth marketing. To be honest, it seems like most of the business books I have read and reviewed are breezy in some way - the books seem to serve some sort of marketing purpose for the company behind them - but they all have their gems that you are free to choose or reject.

Word of mouth marketing is a powerful and cheap tool that any individual or organization can use to market their services online or offline. You probably know people who are so enthusiastic about something that they can go on and on about it or that you go to when you need advice. These sorts of people have tipped the scale from being a consumer to an advocate and you will want to find or create them. The book uses a few examples to illustrate how that we when we love something or hate something, we share our experience with others. I was surprised to read that people share offline differently than when they share online - they have different reasons. Sharing offline is far more engaging because of tones and gestures. I remember the time my friend's enthusiasm for a cold laminator was so infectious that I almost bought one myself :-D When I had a bad customer service experience with Dream Payments, a now defunct mobile point of sale system, I told all my arty friends and littered the web with reviews :-D When I purchased the new Square reader from Staples, I even told the cashier about the lousy experience. "That's my free advice, anyway!" I said.

One can use The Passion Conversation with co-workers or any type of group where you are trying to reach consensus. After all, your co-workers are your internal customers. If you don’t love people, if you don't love what they do or what drives them, you won't get very far.

The book is rounded out with several before and after stories and how the company was able to grow or change. The company that wrote the book and facilitated the change is called Brains on Fire, which shouldn't be confused with the movie, Brain on Fire :-D
birds, peaceful

Death by Meeting

Death by Meeting is a surprisingly corny yet compelling book on how to run more effective meetings. It’s a business book couched in a terribly written narrative and yet I fell for one of the book’s premises - that an engaging story will keep readers hooked.

The TL;DR version of the book is basically - instead of having a long two hour weekly meeting, break it up into different meetings by type, such as a daily scrum, weekly tactical, monthly strategic and quarterly offsite meetings.

But, as you can imagine, doling out that piece of advice isn’t very profitable, so author Patrick Lencioni disguises it as the story of a fictional gaming software company that needs to shake up their meetings after they are acquired by a larger gaming software company. The villain of the story is one JT Harrison, who never says much but strikes fear into the heart of Casey, the founder of the smaller company. To the rescue is his good friend’s son Will. With Will’s guidance, the supporting cast of business unit managers change the corporate culture to impress JT Harrison and thwart any plans to fully absorb the company. If this sounds all incredibly dumb, it is. I read the short chapters (some are just two pages) right to the end, all to find out if Casey and Will can save the day. There’s a twist to the ending, which one might guess because...

Will’s educational and work background is in advertising, marketing and filmmaking. He happens to become employed at Casey’s company because he needs a break from school. Surprise! A maternity leave presents the perfect opportunity. Will uses his savvy to observe the terrible weekly meetings and institute change.

The corniness of this book made me roll my eyes so much that I thought they would fall out of my head! I used to work in web development and I don’t feel the portrayal of the software company to be very unrealistic. A company where everyone gets along so perfectly that they have to create conflict? Where they accept an outsider’s suggestions so easily? Haha, hahahaha! Truly, the fictional software company, Yip, is a figment of Hollywood imagination much like those perfectly beautiful homes in movies. But, I do have to give Patrick Leoncioni credit for creativity and trying to make a buck at it! The sticker on this book was $26.99 Canadian.

Oddly enough, the most offensive thing about the book is making light of Will's mental health issues - it seemed odd that it was included at all. For example, he goes off his medication and it's during that period that he can tell his boss that the company meetings suck, then he promises to go back on his medication. It really sounded like Will's criticism had to be justified somehow? I'm not really sure what the point of that was.

If you are looking for a practical book on leadership and organizational culture, this is not it. I imagine a fair number of readers would consider the book a complete waste of time for the little amount of information it contains.

x-posted to bookish
birds, peaceful

Fight Club

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I finished reading Fight Club recently for the first time. We saw the movie for the first time years ago and I was always amazed I never read the book or saw the movie when I was younger. They are such 90s artifacts and 20 year old me would have been all over them back in the day!

Some part of me can still relate to both, however. Since I left working at the public library all my jobs have been office jobs and they all came with their own sense of boredom, sitting too much and staring at a computer too much. Right now I identify with the nameless narrator's insomnia. Middle age insomnia is totally a thing and I wouldn't be surprised if I spawned my own Tyler Durden one of these days. The themes of loneliness and alienation are universal and somehow I found none of the violence shocking.

The book and movie compliment each other well - the movie ending is better, I think - so I couldn't say that one was better than the other. The movie gets some of the abstract stuff across and it's gritty textures coloured the book for me.
April 2021

2 book reviews: God's Ear by Rhoda Lerman & Sonora by Hannah Lillith Assadi


Lerman’s sense of humor has been compared to that of Philip Roth (who is three years her senior), but in God’s Ear the humor also employs the traditional Jewish irony and Eastern European Jewish folklore of Isaac Bashevis Singer, especially his short stories. Most of Lerman’s Hasidic folktales in God’s Ear are too long to quote, but the following paragraph gives a taste of her wit:

“Totte, you hear about the old Jew who walked into the SS recruiting office before the war? He comes in half-blind, crippled, palsied. He goes up to the Nazi recruiter and says, ‘I just came in to tell you, on me you shouldn’t count.’” -- from my review of God's Ear by Rhoda Lerman in New York Journal of Books

Throughout the book one can’t help admiring Assadi’s handsome prose, such as this excerpt from a page long paragraph:

“Sometimes I cannot locate any one night as if my life in New York were but a flood of nights. An eternal room of empty wine bottles, ashtrays overflowing, the maze of screeching trains, Laura at the window, Dylan and his parties, filled with fur and cocaine and moderate celebrity, and the cab rides home, the drunken swipes of credit cards with fifteen-dollar balances behind drivers whose faces I never remembered come morning, dinners with Laura alone, Thai food, not finishing our plates, ordering more to drink, someone at the piano, someone holding the guitar, strumming chords, singing songs, concerts in the beginning, neon flashing, rich acquaintances in Soho lofts, next stop Williamsburgh, living in the dark, living in the night, making it through the day only to afford the night.” -- from my review of Sonora by Hannah Lillith Assadi in New York Journal of Books