Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, 4/5
This is a bittersweet little story, written with the refined yet melodramatic style (and casual racism) that characterizes a lot of literature from the early 1900s. Like most people, I was already familiar with the characters and story line, but I recognized very little of pop culture Tarzan in this original tale.
The edition is noteworthy because it is printed in landscape format, supposedly making it easier to read in bed. I really enjoyed the novelty, but didn’t think it was any easier to read lying down than a normal book.
Why I read it: A lovely birthday gift from one of my brothers and his family.
Film Directing Shot by Shot: Visualizing from Concept to Screen by Steven D. Katz, 4/5
This book offers a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of the film director’s craft, laying out the many tools, visualisation strategies, camera angles, movements and stagings that are available to the person intent on transferring a story from script to film. The book format is obviously not ideal for the topic and it is up to the reader to imagine how a shot might flow between the still images that are provided, but the author is a clear communicator and most of the concepts are not difficult to understand.
Why I read it: I came across it while browsing through books at the thrift store and thought it looked interesting.
Fire in the Hole and Other Stories by Elmore Leonard, 4/5
I enjoyed Leonard’s punchy, no-nonsense writing style (distinctly American, somehow) and entertaining tales full of cool-as-ice characters, though much of it was more R-rated than I’m comfortable with.
Why I read it: I really liked the TV series Justified and wanted to check out the short story that inspired it.
The New Toughness Training for Sports: Mental, Emotional, and Physical Conditioning from One of the World’s Premier Sports Psychologists by James E. Loehr, ED.D., 4/5
For the casual participant in competitive sports, this book is the literary equivalent of that annoying person who gives you really hard, practical advice when maybe all you wanted was some encouragement and affirmation (I don’t actually know anyone like that, so That Person is probably me). While I was put off by all the self-assessment, soul-searching, diary-keeping, essay-writing, plans, logs and mantras Loehr recommends, they do seem like a plausible way to at least take your mind off negative emotions, clarify your commitment to your sport and get focused.
Defining “toughness” as “the ability to consistently perform toward the upper range of your talent and skill regardless of competitive circumstances” (5), Loehr explores the concepts of Real Self vs Performer Self and how your mental and emotional habits affect your Ideal Performance State. One of the most interesting ideas in this book is wave-making–achieving growth through alternating phases of stress and recovery (mental, emotional and physical). This is something I’d already figured out on some level, but never seen put into words. Also, Loehr’s clarification of just how much stress is healthy was very helpful. I’ve long thought that the whole “no pain no gain” mentality is a bit simplistic and possibly dangerous for people with over-achieving personalities; yes, you should push yourself, but going too far just to make a point is a bad long-term strategy. Loehr distinguishes between discomfort and pain, identifying the first as stress that toughens and the second as a symptom of overtraining.
My first impression of this book was not good, but as I dip into it again to write this review, I start to suspect that it might reward a slower, more thoughtful reading than the first one I gave it. It contains a lot of information, but all very concisely communicated, which can give the impression of shallowness during a quick reading. If it wasn’t overdue at the library, I’d read it again, but perhaps I will buy a copy instead.
Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing by Elmore Leonard, 4/5
It’s a bit backwards that a short essay about writing is my first introduction to this author, however Leonard’s fascinating goal to “remain invisible” in his writing and the many similarities between his philosophies and those of screenwriter William Goldman, make me very eager to read more by him.
Why I read it: I very much enjoyed the TV show Justified, which was based on some of Leonard’s short stories. The show’s dialogue was especially good, so I am curious how much of that is a reflection of the source material (judging from this essay, I’m guessing a lot). Also, in researching Leonard, I found that his novels have been the inspiration for many movies, such as Mr. Majestyk, 3:10 to Yuma and Jackie Brown, which makes him even more interesting.
Wrestling Tough: Dominate Mentally on the Matt by Mike Chapman, 4/5
Filled with true stories of hard work, heart and the historic wins and losses of legendary wrestlers, this book helps put the small scrapes and bruises from my once-a-week wrestling class into perspective. Chapman provides an inspiring introduction to the wrestling greats and an in-depth exploration of the mental characteristics they seem to share with each other (and accomplished athletes in all sports). Probably the most useful thing I learned from this book is how important the mental game is–even someone who has put in the hard work to develop a talent can lose to a less talented person who wants it more. It’s not just about the physical moves, it’s about commitment, focus and knowing what you want.
While the book has a lot to offer, it frustratingly spends much more time describing winning qualities than explaining how to actually acquire them. Also, there is a logical weakness to the author’s approach–just because you can find examples of winners who have a certain attribute doesn’t mean that there aren’t winners who lack that attribute, or even losers who have it in buckets. In order to be truly compelling, I feel the book would have to focus not just on the characteristics of successful athletes, but how they differ from their less successful fellows.
Why I read it: Stephan Kesting mentioned it on grapplearts.com as one of his favorite sports psychology books, which put it on my radar. Trying to get in a good mental space for an upcoming BJJ tournament moved it up on my list.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, 4/5
This classic psychological thriller, with its unsettling, gothic atmosphere and ambiguously motivated characters, proves that “slow-burner” and “page-turner” are not mutually exclusive terms. Du Maurier knows how to reveal just enough to keep her readers hooked without letting them quite know what is going on. Ultimately, the characters seem a bit thin and the plot somewhat unsubstantial and uneven, but it’s the kind of book that will keep you up at night (reading, that is).
Why I read it: my mom watched the film versions, then got the book out of the library and enjoyed it.