Category Archives: Joe

Books Reviewed by Joe Martino

Joe

Joe’s #14 and 15-Shield of Thunder and Fall of Kings: Troy Triology books 2 and 3

I am fascinated with a good story. I love it when I encounter one. I especially appreciate the books that have characters that I come to view as something akin to friends. When I finished the last book of this trilogy, I was actually sad. I felt a sense of loss that the story had come to an end.

The characters are deep. They are believable. The choices they make feel real, painful, and alive. The pace of the story is nearly perfect. I bought the first book of this series based on a recommendation unsure of what I would find when I cracked the cover. The complication of life is found on each page, with each character. Our choices move us to make other choices. It is often not the intended consequences of our actions that move us but the unintended consequences. The results that we didn’t think about, or that we were not able to consider. Heroes and rarely as glorious as we perceive them and most villains are not nearly as banal as we would like to make them—although they are occasionally every bit as evil as we imagine.

In short, life is a lot of soupy gray, with some clear black and white thrown in.

I found this series to be phenomenal. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good story. It is a classic retelling of the story of Troy, but more than that, it is a retelling of real life.

5 Stars

Joe

Joe’s #13-The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing To Our Brain

I love to read. Apart from blogging here about books, I also blog a few other places about what I read. The problem is of course, having money to read. Books are not cheap and I am not saying that they should be, I’m just pointing out that occasionally, a book reader has to make choices.  There are books I only buy when they are on sale, at a used book store or other such reduced price venue. Occasionally, I want to read a book that I simply cannot justify buying. More accurately, I want to use my book money on other books and I’m not sure if I want to dip into my emergency book fund money to purchase this book. So, I go to Barnes & Nobles and I read the book there. I start out just skimming chapters. Kind of reading it piece meal. Then I read some online reviews of the book. If by this point, I’m still not sure I want to buy the book but I am sure I want to continue reading it, I will continue my Barnes & Noble approach over a period of time.

This is what I did with the book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. I had two separate people recommend it in real life (one liked it, one hated it) and I have read reviews of it on a few other book review blogs.
The short of it is that I am not a fan of Mr. Carr’s book. As a therapist, I believe that the foundation of his argument is built on either debatable science or science that contradicts his point.

He talks about “the Flynn effect,” which is the name given for the fact that our raw IQ scores have constantly been going up.  Later, the same scientist who made this discovery realized that simply because those scores are going up doesn’t mean that we are actually smarter or that our brains are better, they are simply different.  He then goes on to  lay out his case that short snippets of internet surfing make our brain “dumber” not just different. Well, why is one only different, not better or worse, while the other is not just different but worse?  It makes no sense. It is an incongruous argument at best.

Much of the research that he quotes is not peer-reviewed as he would like to make the reader think it is. Yes, I looked up more than one article. Even the ones that are peer-reviewed don’t seem to support his hypotheses all that much. The book is full of anecdotal evidence, not research. That’s OK, if this book is going to be pitched as his idea and not some sort of science book. His arguments ring hallow and tired when you realize that they are the same sort of arguments used against TV, radio, and even music itself throughout various stages of history.

The last thing that he did that drove me nuts was his use of subjective statements given as though they were objective. For instance, his chapter on Google is supposed to be the money chapter of the whole book (proponents all seemed to mention this chapter as being worth the price of admission on its own) but I found so many distraction subjective statements that it made reading intolerable.  For instance he says, “

By freeing us from the struggle of decoding text, that form that writing came to take on a page of paper, parchment or paper enabled us to become deep readers, to turn our attention, and our brain power, to the interpretation of meaning. With writing on the screen, we’re still able to decode text quickly—we read, if anything better than ever—but we’re no longer guided toward a deep,  personally constructed understanding of the text’s connotations. Instead we’re hurried off toward another bit of related information, and the another, and another. The strip-mining of  ‘relevant content’ replaces the slow excavation of meaning. (I don’t have the page number because I took a picture of the text on my blackberry)

Do you see what’s missing in this highly subjective statement? It’s missing any grounding at all in a cited source or research.  This entire book is based upon an article that the author wrote because he came to the conclusion that he could no longer read deeply because he had trained his mind to read news snippets and blasts, chasing each new link. He came to this conclusion on his own. I wonder, did Mr. Carr stop reading books during this time because he decided to allocate his time differently? Did he age? Could that have had an impact on his ability to “read deeply?” Did he go through a medical issue? Did he have a troubling life event occur?

In fact, the entire premise of the book is based on a rather subjective term; namely the term, “deeply.” What does that mean? When did Mr. Carr’s ability to read “deeply” begin  to slide?  There are numerous other potential answers to the cause of this loss that may have nothing to do with the internet at all. Perhaps, it was something as simple as he just needed to start reading “deeply” again.

This book will not make it to my shelf as it seems to be a rather agenda driven book that lacks real substance beyond the author’s unqualified opinion. In the end, Mr. Carr didn’t really convince me at all that he knows what the internet is doing to our brain or if I should be concerned about it all.

I’d give it 2 out of 5 stars.

Joe

Joe’s #12-Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow (Book 1) by David Gemmell

This is one of the finest books I have ever had the pleasure to read.  Indeed, I loved the entire series.  For people who are hung up on the story as it has been passed down this book will not suffice, but for anyone who is interested in a vast, and sweeping story that sucks the reader in from word one this is the book.

The characters are deep and you can feel what they are feelings. They are complicated and live in the grey messiness that is our world between the black and the white that we would like for it to be.

The story is well crafted and the plot is compelling.  Gemmell shows you what is happening to the point where you feel as if you are standing on the ship with the characters. When they are crying, you are feeling their pain. You can see the sun reflecting off the golden rooftops of Troy. The heroes are normal, flawed people. They make good choices and bad choices.

This book is well worth your time and money. Be warned, you will want to buy the rest of the trilogy immediately.

Joe

Joe’s #11: The Year of Living Like Jesus by Ed Dobson

I bought this book for my wife. I wasn’t sure if I would read it or not. I’m glad that I did. Ed Dobson is on the short list of preachers who’s sermon’s I’ll listen to over and over again.  When he talks, or writes I want to listen.

This book has taken some serious criticism, from people who don’t like the style to the more vapid, aggressive fundamentalist. Of course, the criticisms are also leveled at the author
He’s criticized for being in an airport, for praying the rosary, and for listening to an iPod. He’s called a heretic and a cretin. Spawn of Satan was probably thrown out somewhere I’m sure.  He voted for Obama!

God forbid a man trying to live like Jesus wrestles with his conscience and votes accordingly. It’s not important if I agree with Ed that voting for Obama is what Jesus would do.  What matters is that it is evident in this book that Ed loves God and wants to serve Him. Ed wants to continue to love Jesus in the midst of a disease that would have caused most of us to shrivel up like a prune left on the dashboard of a locked car in the middle of August. Most of us would have quit and died.

Not Ed. He delved deeper into his faith. He pushed himself to explore what he believes and how it impacts his life.

This book is full of fantastic applications that Ed either learned or was reminded of through his journey over the course of this year. In one chapter Ed reminds the reader “Whenever I think that what I am doing qualifies me to be in a closer relationship with God, I am arrogant.”

In a world that seems to be divided along the very lines of who qualifies to be in a closer relationship with God, Ed has the guts to put it out there for everyone to see how he wrestles with his own relationship with God. I don’t really know Ed. He preachers at our church now and again and we had a stretch where he preached regularly. I wish that I did. I have the feeling that he’d be a fun guy to have a beer with and ponder the Scriptures with. I’m sure that I wouldn’t agree with him on everything but I’m also pretty sure that would be all right with him.
I’m sick of the battle between, “The way it always was, is the way it must be” and “What if we’ve gotten it wrong for the last 2,000 years.”  What makes Ed’s book and teachings to poignant is his ability to value our heritage and to look at with a fresh perspective.
Buy this book, read it, you’ll enjoy it.

5 Stars

Joe

Joe’s #10: Smashed by Koren Zailckas

I fell into possession of this book quite by accident.  A colleague was leaving her position at the Mental Hospital where I work and it was one of two books that she owned. She told me I could have them.

I read this in piece meal fashion. It’s a fascinating read, not just for the content but for the messages that the author sends. For instance, she takes a lot of criticism for seeming to blame men throughout the book. I think this criticism is justified. She seems to act as if drinking is only a female problem and all men are predators who use this truth to pounce on the poor drunken sods of women.

She comes across as extremely angry. It’s hard to understand what she is so angry about though. Is it her idyllic childhood? Is it her doting parents? Is her fortune to be born to a well to do family?  She never really explores that aspect of her drunkenness. She is more than willing to help you understand how the rest of society directed her to drinking though.
She even ruined what I thought was a beautiful rant against the word, “whatever.” You know how that word gets thrown around when someone is forced to see the cognitive dissonance their living inside with? I was actually shaking my head in agreement, then she ruined it buy claiming it for womankind as if men don’t say it.
Throughout the book, one could almost get the idea that the only reason poor miss Zailckas drank was because society pushed her that way.

There is also some very poignant statements in this book.  In one chapter she states, “A rare truth falls over me like the glare from streetlights. I know that as long as I keep drinking, I will drive back everyone who is good-natured. Only people who are as drunk and as damaged as I am will stay.”

It is moments of refreshing honesty such as this one that make this book one that sticks with the reader. She is strait up and she writes with a style that is very engaging, almost as if she is a friend whispering to you sordid details of her life. This is the genius and the greatest failure of the book, because as a friend that might be whispering the short-comings of her life, the author seems to fail to see her own responsibility in the situation.

She can turn a simile like a skilled pitcher dropping a curveball on a 3-2 count with the bases loaded. If this book is any indication she is truly a skilled artist and I will look for more books from her.

4.5 stars

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