Book Review: Less

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Arthur Less is an interesting character, so accustomed to being a young man that he’s not sure quite what to make of turning 50.

There are worse ways to avoid an awkward situation than taking a world tour that is mostly paid for and offers the opportunity to get some writing done while taking in the sites.

As a writer, I’m always a sucker for books about writers. Not sure how someone supports themselves on a couple of mid-list novels, but that’s what makes it fiction, right?

I was confused by the narrator who seemed to make their presence known with no rhyme or reason. It reminded me of Peter Falk’s character in The Princess Bride. You’re merrily enmeshed in the story when someone decides its time to remind you that you’re reading a book.

All is soon revealed though. I do recommend this book for anyone interested in a quick read, relationships, world travel or the writing life.

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Writers on Film

What’s your favorite movie about writers or writing?

I’m watching End of the Tour about David Foster Wallace. I’m going to have to finally read Infinite Jest aren’t I? I’m on pace to exceed my 52 books in 2018 reading goal, so this seems like as good a time as any to tackle it.

One of my all time favorites is Midnight in Paris. It’s visually beautiful. I’ve had a lifelong love of Woody Allen movies (although now I know him to be a monster). I’m also obsessed with 1920s American expatriates in Paris.

A sort of campy and fun favorite, which I feel like no one has seen is My Alibi. It’s about a mystery writer with an extraordinarily vivid imagination and the enigmatic woman he meets. It stars Tom Selleck and Paulina Porizkova. If you can find it, watch it.

Pensive Pelican Reads: July/August

My July and August reads included six non-fiction and six fiction books. Three of them were re-reads, ten were hard copies and two were Kindle versions.

If I had to choose just one to recommend, I would suggest Bad Blood. The topic was fascinating, it was well-researched and paced as well as fiction. It was of particular interest to me because I’m fascinated with white collar crime and this story had completely slipped beneath my radar.

Here are the books I read in July and August 2018, working backward from the most recently finished.:

The Perfect Day Formula: How to Own the Day and Control Your Life

Not a ton of new ground here, but I don’t mind that. Reminders never hurt. A couple of stand out ideas include making a set of rules for yourself (e.g. I never have more than two drinks, I write 500 words every day) and making a not-to-do list, which is an interesting concept. Very quick read. Worth picking up.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

What can I say? This is at least my third reading and I watched the movie this weekend is well. The world J.K. Rowling has created is amazing. The friendship between Harry, Ron and Hermione continues to deepen. We learn more about Harry’s abilities and strengths. Ginny’s character begins to develop and as always the plot progresses at a breakneck speed.

Fitter Faster: The Smart Way to Get in Shape in Just Minutes a Day

Not really anything I hadn’t read before. Quick and easy read though and could be a good addition to the bookshelf of someone trying to ease into fitness.

Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House

Not particularly well written, organized or edited, but worth a look. A bit self-serving, confirms what most of us suspect, but it’s a quick read.

Full review here.

The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage

The 5 second rule offers practical advice for overcoming procrastination, anxiety and fear. Properly applied, it can give you a kick in the pants to be your authentic self or to prevent introverts from turning into hermits.

Full Review here.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

It’s kind of amazing that people at the level of Board members George Schultz, Henry Kissinger and James Mattis failed to perform the baseline level of due diligence the average person would when purchasing a used car.

The President Is Missing

It wasn’t bad. Lagged in a few places, a few loose ends weren’t wrapped up, but they were minor ones and I didn’t guess the ending, which is important to me in a thriller.

A is for Alibi

This is a re-read for me. I love the entire series, but this read was to examine plotting, exposition and character development for my own writing education. It really is a master class in series mystery writing.

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World

As always, Lewis is able to take complicated topics and make them understandable to lay people. This one is a bit of a slog, but worth working through, particularly for Americans who may believe that the 2008 American financial collapse, triggered by subprime mortgages, occurred in a vacuum.

Before The Fall

At its core, this is a story about entitlement. Entitlement based on gender, on social standing, on wealth and the consequences of standing between an individual and what they believe they are entitled to. Heartbreaking and frustrating in parts, the characters are well-developed for the most part and the plot is well-paced. It’s a real page-turner. I tore through this in no time.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

What better form of escapism than diving back into a series where good ultimately triumphs over evil despite seemingly unsurmountable obstacles.

In this, the first book of the series, we meet the orphaned Harry Potter and are by his side as his world is turned upside down.

This is one of my favorite’s in the series because we witness Harry being lifted from the misery than is his life with the Dursleys who treat him horridly despite his being their own flesh and blood.

There is also a degree of innocence to the book that launches a series that will grow increasingly darker and more complex.

The Button War

Interesting allegory of the futility of war. The story is told from the viewpoint of children, so their impressions are filtered by their youth and the trickle of information that their parents share.

If you’ve read any of these books or want to recommend a book, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. All the books are linked to Amazon.

My Top 12 Writing Resources

This is a picture of a fraction of my books on writing, but it really does represent a good cross-section of my collection. I think they’re a little something for everyone here. Some of them are older, but I linked them to the closest matches I could find.

In no particular order:

  1. Writers Digest Crime Reference
  2. Writing Down the Bones
  3. On Writing
  4. 10,000 Baby Names
  5. Walking on Alligators
  6. The Playwrights Handbook
  7. The Copywriter’s Handbook 
  8. Bird by Bird
  9. Starting from Scratch
  10. How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author
  11. Writing in an Age of Silence
  12. Save the Cat

Share your favorites in the comments if you like. I’d love to hear what other writers rely on.

Book Review: Unhinged

Unhinged by Omarosa Manigault Newman

I wasn’t terribly familiar with Omarosa. I was aware she had been on The Apprentice, but I had never seen the show, so this was my introduction.

She came off pretty well in the account, as is the case in most self-written books, but she did have an insider’s view after knowing him for 15 years.

What came through most was her alarm at his dramatic mental deterioration since The Apprentice. She thought that he was sharp minded then, but when she was part of the WhiteHouse staff, he seemed incapable of grasping simple concepts.

Even when carefully briefed, he went off script, not just because he needed to make every event about him, but because he simply couldn’t retain information.

Other points:

Kellyanne Conway (Who Omarosa dubbed “Swamp Creature.”) switched to the Trump team seamlessly after opposing him vociferously, like a vacuum cleaner salesperson who had begun shilling for another brand.

Reince Prebis laid down the law early in “Trumpworld” that no matter what the president said, the White House would back him up. This is what lead to Sean Spicer’s assertion that theirs was the largest inaugural crowd ever, when it was a mere fraction of the size of his predecessors.

Trump wanted to be sworn in on The Art of the Deal, a highly fictionalized ghostwritten book about his business tactics in the 70s.

Don Jr constantly seeks his father’s approval, usually in vein.

Melania finds her husband as distasteful as most Americans do.

He reads at maybe an eighth grade level and has no attention span.

General Kelly’s arrival at the White House seemed to further destabilize him. He isolated him from those he trusted most, either unthinkingly or by design.

Not sure if a tape of him saying the “n” word will make any difference. He has a decades long history of racism which hasn’t hurt him. Also the tape in which he bragged about sexual assault didn’t keep him from winning the election.

Lots more tidbits in the book.

Not particularly well written, organized or edited, but worth a look. A bit self-serving, confirms what most of us suspect, but it’s a quick read.

Book Review: The 5 Second Rule

The Five Second Rule by Mel Robbins5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins

I expected this book to be gimmicky or like a blog post that had gone on far too long. I was pleasantly surprised. I picked 5 Second Rule after seeing Amy Landino interview Mel Robbins.

The 5 second rule offers practical advice for overcoming procrastination, anxiety and fear. Properly applied, it can give you a kick in the pants to be your authentic self or to prevent introverts from turning into hermits.

My personal experience: I woke up before my alarm and wanted to put the 5 second rule into action, so 5,4,3,2,1 … I opened my eyes. Turned out it was only 12:41, so I had several more hours to sleep. But the spirit was willing.

Definitely worth an open-minded read. It has the potential to be life-changing.

Book Review: The Trespasser

The Trespasser by Tana French

One of the things I enjoy most about about Tana French’s books are the unpredictable twists and turns. For fans of mystery or thrillers there is a delicate balance between figuring out the puzzle and being baffled by it. French seems to have the perfect knack for leading you down one path then pulling the rug out from under you.

The weather is like an additional character here. The dampness, the bone-chilling cold. She seeds the clouds with paranoia. You don’t know who’s on Detective Conway’s side and who’s not.

You’re inside her head one moment and trying to pull back in another. Is she imagining things? Is she overreacting? Is someone trying to throw her off the trail? Who?

Must reads for fans of suspense, Ireland and strong female protagonists.