Saturday, December 28, 2013

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling

In the final book of the series, Harry leaves school with Ron and Hermione to chase down He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named based on vague instructions from Dumbledore to search for objects in which Voldemort has hidden pieces of his soul. Frustrated with the lack of honesty and clarity in Dumbledore’s instructions, Harry becomes disheartened as he realizes that Dumbledore was not infallible. As the search party stalls in the fight against Voldemort, they stumble upon the Deathly Hallows, a collection of enchanted objects that, when combined, make the possessor master of death. In a race against both enemies and time, Harry struggles to figure out whether Dumbledore meant for him to destroy Voldemort in a systematic search for hidden objects, or to overpower him by collecting Hallows. In reckless and daring acts of defiance, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and a significant number of their friends and allies, pull together in the final stand against Voldemort, balancing everything they know with everything they can guess at to defeat the most powerful Dark wizard of all time.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” is the ultimate culmination of the Harry Potter series in every sense. Not only does it revisit every important instance, character, and setting in all of the books, it also uncovers and unites all the relationships, alliances, and themes presented in the series. The entire book almost serves as a climax for the series because every turn of the page presents new and startling information, calling into question everything that was previously known or assumed about the wizarding world. Rowling’s plot twists emphasize the need for trust and teamwork due to the inability of an individual to grasp the overall picture. Voldemort stands as the recluse among his followers, unwilling to trust and unable to love in his pursuit of power, while Harry, despite sharing characteristics with Voldemort, represents the struggle to overcome individual wants in favor of collective needs. Throughout the series, Rowling shows how to learn and grow through relationships, push limits, and overcome unbelievable hardships in order to overcome public and private enemies.

I cannot say it enough that Harry Potter is the most amazing book series ever written. Not only has Rowling thoroughly researched and planned every aspect the series, but she also writes with the imagination and passion required to create and bring to life all the details of the wizarding world of Harry Potter. There are some inconsistencies throughout the series (the thestrals were not present at the end of the fourth book, but suddenly appeared at the beginning of the fifth), but the series overall is imaginative, cohesive, and constantly evolving as Harry grows up, learns, and meets new people and challenges. Each rereading uncovers new interpretations and understandings. The Harry Potter books cannot be individually separated from the series; they must be read together. This series is indisputably fabulous. READ THEM.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Runners on Running: The Best Nonfiction of Distance Running

Runners on Running: The Best Nonfiction of Distance Running – Edited by Rich Elliott

Addressing everything about running except technique, this anthology looks at the whole experience of what it means to run and be a runner. Split into sections such as “spirit,” “race,” or “heart,” this anthology is a collection of pieces written by and about runners about preparing, racing, recovering, and enduring. Some pieces talk about records, whether that means reliving the exhilaration or the first sub-four minute mile or reaching past personal limits. Some recreate definitive races in the history of running that propelled the sport into national attention or set records that stood unchallenged for decades. Others reflect on the experience of running, vividly recalling all the aches, pains, and injuries as well as the clarity, calm, and focus. Across the diversity of writings, the whole book is united by the undeniable universality of running.

“Runners on Running” beautifully captures the inherent paradox of distance running. Running is and always will be a solo pursuit, but the triumphs and travails of the runner are inextricably connected to personal and community relationships. Several of the articles focus on one runner or one race, resulting in narrow and specific subject matter, but due to the common experience of running, the story of the individual still applies in the broader context. Elliott also carefully selects articles to cover the history and breadth of running as a sport. One article focuses on a runner who became a political prisoner, one begins its story in the early decades of the 1900s, and another tells the story of a woman who ran the Boston Marathon when women were not allowed to participate. The pieces included in the anthology offer so much depth and detail about running that it is impossible to read the collection and not feel moved, either by an interest in the sport or a motivation to run.

This book starts off with a strong hook by focusing on the “spirit” of running, which was one of the more universal sections in the book. Reading these stories perfectly echoed how I feel when I run. Then the collection shifts toward more of a focus on individual runners, races, or records of some sort. While these stories are captivating, they are also intimidating. In the introduction to the anthology, Elliott talks about his inclusion criteria for the articles he selected for the anthology, and he admitted that he has a strong sense of competition, which shines through so strongly in the pieces that it is almost like looking at the sun. I felt just barely vindicated with one marathon under my belt. This book might need a disclaimer that it is only for serious and long-distance runners. Despite the competitive attitude, this was a fantastic book to read because it gave me so much more information on the sport. If you enjoy running, you should definitely read this book. If you aren’t currently a runner, at least read the first section.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Bone Bearer

The Bone Bearer – Lani Wendt Young

The third book of the telesa trilogy culminates in an even less normal life than the one Leila was already struggling with. After her adventures in Tonga, Leila finds herself possessed by Pele, the original fire goddess. Pele was spurned by the telesa after stealing the gifts of other women in the sisterhood, and ultimately gathered too much power to be contained in one body and suffered for centuries as a tormented spirit. Now Leila finds herself “hosting” Pele, and neither she nor her friends are happy about that. Unrecognizable in every way but appearance, Pele behaves in ways that drive Leila crazy, infuriate her boyfriend Daniel, and confuse her rag-tag band of telesa friends. While Leila’s friends are concerned about Pele’s behavior, they are not the only ones to notice the change. Telesa covenants from around the Pacific have gathered in Samoa to try to band together in an effort to finally deal with Pele. Between Leila, Pele, her friends, and the telesa traditions, the stakes are high and tensions higher as different parties work with and against the greatest threat the telesa have faced in a millennium.

“The Bone Bearer” by Lani Wendt Young is a continuation of the telesa trilogy in every way. It expands the mythology of telesa by deepening the understanding of the Samoan legend and incorporating traditions from Fiji and Hawaii. As in her other books, Young’s descriptions of restaurants, locations, and places are as relevant as ever because they all exist in Samoa. Her attention to detail gives legitimacy to a reality that is so often passed over in pop culture because Samoa is so small it hardly registers anywhere outside its borders. However, as in her other books, Young’s writing hastily recreates pop culture and mixes it with cultural traditions, which can be a successful combination, but not always. Aside from numerous grammatical and spelling errors, she writes with heavy overtones of Harry Potter and Twilight, with notes of Hunger Games, Fifty Shades, and various other pop references thrown in. Although this adds to the relevance of her writing, she seems almost unapologetic in recreating a pop culture and trying to combine it with traditional culture. The story, the writing, and everything about the telesa series seem hasty and rushed rather than thought-out and planned.

“The Bone Bearer” seems like a mash-up of every other young adult trend. As I was reading the book, I found myself predicting what would happen based on patterns in other young adult novels, and was unsurprised when my predictions came true. I also found myself correcting her grammar and rewording her sentences as I was reading, which distracts from the plot. This book also seemed dominated by anger, so that themes of love and optimism would have been lost had they not been blatantly stated at the climax. Despite the difficulties of reading the telesa novels, I absolutely love them because they are set in Samoa and based in Samoan culture and legends. Now that I am somewhat removed from Samoan life, I appreciate these books even more because I appreciate the culture so much more. These novels are not great, but if you have any ties to small islands in the Pacific ocean, they are worth reading.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Non-Violent Communication

Non-Violent Communication – Marshall Rosenberg

Non-violent communication is a method of communication that enriches life for all parties engaged in discussion. The four basic steps of non-violent communication are to make non-judgmental observations (thoughts), recognize how those thoughts create an emotional reaction (feelings), identify what needs are not being met because of this emotional reaction (needs), and ask for what will fulfill those needs (request). Basically, non-violent communication is empathic communication that clarifies and strengthens relationships. Non-violent communication can be used in the thoughts we have about ourselves, in personal relationships, and any kind of social or work group setting. Whenever conflict, unease, or tension arises in a conversation, non-violent communication helps connect to the underlying and often unexpressed needs contributing to miscommunication.

Rosenberg clearly outlines the principles and applications of non-violent communication in his book. Having practiced clinical psychology for years, his background as a therapist adds both to his authority on the subject and the relevance of the content. He draws on his own personal practice and life for examples, as well as offering examples from people attending workshops to learn about non-violent communication. He outlines the non-violent communication process in a clear and logical manner, starting with the most basic pieces before putting it together in a process, and offering examples throughout. Even though empathic communication can sometimes get obscured in heady theories of therapy, Rosenberg makes it accessible and relevant for everyone by showing how daily interactions and personal relationships can be improved with non-violent communication.

By the end of the book, it’s almost impossible to find any area of disagreement with Rosenberg. He provides compelling examples, addresses potential areas of difference, and writes with sincerity throughout the entire book. Rather than lecturing about how to improve communication, he seems to be offering his book as a resource for who might be interested (which is everyone, as he explains). Hi book is a perfect example of non-violent communication in action. The only thing that frustrated me about reading the book was that many times I couldn’t anticipate the non-violent responses in all the example conversations. He makes the process seem so easy, but more often than not, I found myself constructing different sentences than those offered as examples. However, he emphasizes that non-violent communication takes practice, mostly because it’s not the way our culture is taught to interact with each other. Whether or not you think you’d ever use non-violent communication, I highly recommend this book because chances are it will benefit you at some point in the future.