Books

Lessons from The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Book Review:

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Overview

Pros

  • Poignant, heartfelt message
  • Simple, conversational writing
  • Likeable narrator
  • Unusual perspective on life from a dying man

Cons

  • Some advice is not that helpful or is out of touch with his diverse audience

Observations

  • Short, anecdotal chapters

Review

The Last Lecture was published in 2008 and is written by a professor from Carnegie Mellon named Randy Pausch with help from Jeffrey Zaslow. Carnegie Mellon is somewhat well-known for its last lectures, in which professors are expected to give a lecture as if it were there last, considering their own demise and what is most important to them. Most of those who gave such a speech were not truly dying.

That is not the case with Randy Pausch.

Randy was given a few months to live shortly before he gave his very literal last lecture. He died in 2008, which is the same year that this book was published. He had pancreatic cancer, which has the highest mortality rate of any cancer. He knew he would leave behind his three young children and his loving wife.

Despite this grim future, Randy’s last lecture is filled with with hope, optimism, and humor. He leaves a beautiful legacy to his children in the form of the recorded lecture as well as this published book. And he gives a little advice on living to those of us who are living our daily lives without our mortality hanging over us like the pendulum in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum.

He chose the topic of “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” for the primary focus of his lecture and the book.

He explains how he was able to really achieve most of his childhood dreams, including being an Imagineer at Disney and meeting William Shatner (who played Captain Kirk from Star Trek). Shatner even sent him a picture of Captain Kirk with the quote “I don’t believe in the no-win scenario” written on it after Shatner learned of Randy’s diagnosis.

Much of his advice is helpful, but not particularly remarkable. The better pieces of advice include tips for managing limited time and how to give a proper apology. If he could give only one piece of advice, he said it would be “tell the truth.”

Some advice seemed to not be as helpful or insightful because it failed to consider the audience. For example, the suggestion that one should always keep $200 in one’s pocket is a piece of advice many people from the wide audience of his book would find difficult or impossible.

Even though he admits he won the lottery of life when it came to family and his social situation, his continual emphasis on the importance of hard work to achieve your dreams falls a little flat at times. Sure, some of his achievements were the pure result of hard work, but many of them came from knowing the right person and having connections. For example, he was rejected for a position for professor at Carnegie Mellon, but then his friend pulled some strings to get him the opportunity to get the position anyway.

That being said, Randy was funny and endearing as a narrator, and I was swept up in the emotion of knowing he was going to die–in fact, at the time I read it this year, he had already been dead for more than ten years.

I would recommend this book for anyone who appreciates inspirational books and is interested in what wisdom a dying man would impart.

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Books

A Book About Writing Bad Guys that Has An Eye-catching Title

Book Review:

Bullies, Bastards and Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction by Jessica Page Morrell

Rating: 4 out of 10 stars

Overview

Pros

  • Uses numerous examples from literature, shows, and film to illustrate her points
  • Decent as a reference book
  • Helpful charts

Cons

  • The way the book handles mental illness is not good
  • The author seems sexist at times
  • For a writer teaching about writing, her wording is not the greatest
  • Typos

Observations

  • Spoils a ton of books, shows, and movies
  • Not particularly useful for anyone other than very amateur writers

Review

I really wanted to like this book, but the eye-catching title did not translate into the great resource for writing villains that I thought it would be. Morrell makes some decent points, but most of them are obvious. That is pretty surprising since she explained that she had spent a lot of time reading to prepare to write this book.

I would say one of her main focuses is summed up in this statement.

In fiction, you toss your main characters out on a limb, preferably a limb that dangles off a steep cliff over a raging torrent of sea below, and that sea has bottomless depths.”

Morrell

Yes, writers often need to make their characters suffer to develop and move the plot forward. But Morrell’s phrasing here and elsewhere is awkward. “Over a raging torrent of sea below”? If something is over something else, do you really need to also use the word “below”? I know that seems nitpicky, but this is a writer claiming to be able to teach other writers how to improve their writing.

I wouldn’t have rated this so low if this was not a repeat issue, and if there were not numerous other problems. I caught typos; for instance “glace” instead of “glance”. She names cockroaches in a list of dangerous predators.

Villains are motivated by either malice or lack of malice to achieve their ends.”

Morrell

What the heck Morell? What does the above statement even mean? It’s completely pointless. It says nothing about the motivations of villains.

She calls characters “story people” at least twice, which just sounds juvenile.

Also, she seems sexist at times. An anti-hero man may be scruffy and is definitely immoral. For a woman anti-hero: “perhaps her slip is showing and her lipstick is smeared, she sleeps with men she doesn’t know well, and she cannot fit into traditional women’s roles.” She goes on to say that anti-heroes are “are always failed heroes or deeply flawed”. So a man is deeply flawed if he is immoral, but a women just has to step out of stereotypical gender roles and expectations in order to be deeply flawed? Plus certain character types apparently can only be filled by men, such as the dark hero or rogue. There is no need for those categories to be gendered, but for Morrell they are. Finally, she often makes generalizations such as “women like a challenge” (when it comes to their love interests). For all these reasons, the book comes off as sexist.

Also, Morrell subverts her own definition of anti-hero later on by making it appear as if any hero who is not completely flawless is an anti-hero–even people who are just oddballs. Such a loose definition is of no use to serious writers.

Furthermore, Morrell’s writing assumes all characters to be straight and cis, which makes her book somewhat lacking, since it could easily have been at least somewhat inclusive.

Morrell has a whole chapter on sociopaths that is insensitive, calling them the “worst-case scenario” for their families in real-life and that they necessarily must make almost all immoral choices. She describes them as dangerous and insists that they are all predators, and that every time they talk they lie. People with mental illnesses are not invariably evil. My god, it’s like this book was written fifty years ago instead of in 2008.

And as for that eye-catching title? Morrell talks about bitches and bullies as character types, but never bastards. Why not stick “bad asses” in the title instead, since it has the same alliteration and impact? She talked about bad asses at length.

In short, this book had many great examples from books, movies, and shows, but that was the only thing that kept me reading to the final page. It is ironic that the best parts of Morrell’s book are the snippets she borrowed from other writers.

I would not recommend this book for anyone, honestly. Even a beginning writer could be led astray by Morrell’s writing mistakes.

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Books

Book Review: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Book Review:

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Overview

Pros

  • An earnest, straightforward look at the history of humankind
  • Wonder-inducing, fascinating book
  • Impactful choice of language
  • Thought-provoking
  • It was interesting to see areas where Harari focused his attention and points he reiterated
  • Helpful illustrations and images

Cons

  • I felt that it was drier and lost some momentum later in the book, but it was a small difference
  • The organization could have been better. All of the going back and forth between time periods was occasionally confusing.

Observations

  • Most Christians would not enjoy this book because it presents an alternative view of the origin of the human race when compared to the biblical account
  • Religious people more generally probably wouldn’t enjoy this book
  • Controversial but not in a bad way

Review

I read this book at the recommendation of my grandpa and uncle, and I have to say, I was not disappointed. Nonfiction is not typically my thing, but I did not mind so much that it was nonfiction because I was focused on the evocative and precise language Harari used.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, which I will shorten to Sapiens for the purpose of this article, was published in 2015 and quickly became an international bestseller.

Yuval Noah Harari, the author, is an Israeli professor, historian, and intellectual. He also wrote Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.

Harari has a way of writing that is provocative and artful. His sentences pack a punch, especially for those unused to seeing things from this untraditional point of view.

He points out that humans used to have minimal influence on the environment.

The most important thing to know about prehistoric humans is that they were insignificant animals with no more impact on their environment than gorillas, fireflies, or jellyfish.”

Harari

He upholds the theory of evolution and emphasizes that there used to be multiple species of human.

Homo Sapiens long preferred to view itself as set apart from animals, an orphan who has no family, no cousin, and—most importantly—no parents.”

Harari

The book includes helpful illustrations and images, such as a speculative reconstruction of what ancient humans looked like.

Harari also considers what is unique about humans such as large brains that require lots of energy, walking upright, children born prematurely and dependent for a long time compared to other species.

What’s nice is that Harari does not only consider his own preferred theory. For most concepts, he considers multiple theories. For example, Interbreeding Theory–that Sapiens bred with other forms of human until only one version of human remained vs Replacement Theory–we killed the other humans off or they died.

Harari definitely approaches this book from an atheistic standpoint, which is why it may be hard for Christian, or people of any religion honestly, to swallow.

There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.”

It is clear that Harari has a special place in his heart for animals because he repeatedly critically presents examples of brutality toward domesticated animals, such as humans killing them young and forcing them to live an unnatural lifestyle. Harsher examples such as cutting off parts of pig snouts in parts of the world to keep them completely dependent. He keeps coming back to this topic.

One of my favorite parts was when he was describing Australian megafauna. Some of those creatures grew to impressive sizes, to as much as 20 feet tall. I can’t imagine coming upon an animal that large as a human. It really made me stop and think about it. I wish some of those megafauna, such as the giant sloth, were still around today. The humans were the most likely cause of their extinction, just like we cause the extinction of many species still today.

In addition to the advancements of the past, Harari considers the science of today and what it is attempting to accomplish. One of these goals he calls Project Gilgamesh, after a legendary man who set out to find immortality. Science now seeks to stop death itself.

The last part of the book is partially devoted to what makes human happiness–it almost reads like a guide to happiness, which is odd but interesting.

Overall, this book was an enthralling read. I definitely think the book lost a bit of strength as it went on, but it still had impact. Would definitely recommend!

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Books

Navigating the Lives of Transgender and Nonbinary Individuals (Part One)

A Review of “Like A Boy But Not A Boy: Navigating Life, Mental Health, and Parenthood Outside the Gender Binary” A book on the nonbinary experience by Andrea Bennett (They/them)

By Finch Pierson (He/they)

Edited by P.A. Wilson and the Perusing Muse

Hello people. This is Finch again. Reviewing a book.

Like A Boy But Not A Boy: Navigating Life, Mental Health, and Parenthood Outside the Gender Binary was written by Andrea Bennett. I picked up this book among others on a trip to Seattle with some friends. I finally found an entire section of queer literature, something I was kept from as a child and young adult and something I had had so much trouble in finding resources – until now. As a transgender, bisexual individual, queer history and literature is very important to me. I am interested in learning more.

The book was published in in 2020 by Arsenal Pulp Press.

I will probably be writing this review chapter by chapter as each chapter is made up of a collection of essays. I also included a list of terms and the sources at the bottom of the article.

Introduction

Sets up the story well, explaining that the book is a collection of essays. It also goes into how the author wrote the book. They describe the process of writing while also working and parenting. The introduction is short and to the point, focusing on quickly setting up some background and context for the essays that follow and form the book.

Chapter One

“Tomboy”

 In the first chapter, or essay, Bennett describes scenes from their childhood and the importance of labels such as “Tomboy” (the namesake of the essay). Bennet describes the importance of labels by saying, “If I can’t describe who I am in this world—I am who I am, whether or not I can describe it—then I can’t seek out others like me” (Bennett pp. 15). This quote shows the importance that labelling can have for an individual in describing themselves and finding a community.

Bennett talks of the importance of labels such as Tomboy in helping young people to explain their identities, they express how it is important for people to speak in an affirmative way, such as ‘I am’ rather than “I’m not, I’m not, I’m not” (Bennett pp. 16). They delve into the discussion of whether or not some labels such as “Tomboy” should be abandoned for their strong connection and dependency on gender stereotypes, or whether these labels can still be used as many people may find that they identify strongly with them. They discuss how the term was useful to them growing up and that it may still be useful to other qenderqueer youths.

The term “Tomboy” is seen as a way of describing a space between masculinity or femininity that someone who is afab may use to help them in their journey of self-discovery. It is an older term that is slowly fading out of use as we begin to better understand gender and stereotypes.

“david”

This essay focuses on the life of a person named David. He is someone who doesn’t really take a label with regards to gender or sexuality. As the essay states “David doesn’t really care enough to pick a label. If he had to, he’d choose agender” (Bennett pp. 17). This idea of not necessarily needing or wanting a label in a way contrasts with the ideas expressed in “Tomboy” but also exists with it. Taking the two chapters together it can be understood that labels are important to some and should be preserved, yet they are not necessary to all. It is also interesting to note that a label is never forced on David, he is never assigned anything and his experience can be described simply using umbrella terms such as “queer”. David is described using he/him pronouns throughout the essay so that is what I will be using here.

David is someone who spent years slowly coming to terms with his identity and how that affected his relationship with his parents. He is someone who grew up in a time and place where homophobia was rampant and clearly present within his school. He is not completely devoid of some form of community, but his life leaves him feeling isolated. The essay overall seems to be a form of homage to David, something that strives to explain a person and their life. To give a reason behind their experiences and their pain. It is just a glimpse into his life, yet it shows so much and is written in a kind and almost loving way.

The essay gives life to David’s struggles and seemingly tries to put to words all that he has been feeling in his life. The essay ends on a happy note and seems to have the purpose of respecting the life of the individual without trying to fit them into a box of a label or stereotype, but just letting him exist as a human and telling his story with honesty and respect.

This essay explores how his parents treated him and tries to understand them. It gives an honest look at their past and present relationship without trying to force answers. It doesn’t give a reason for everything because it acknowledges it can’t. Overall, the essay expresses a message of the potential of healing and a chance at a better life and recovery from the past.

While reading this I realized that this is how I want someone to write my obituary or just tell the story of my life. Honestly, without trying to give answers that aren’t there or force labels on me that I haven’t given myself. I would just want the honesty of the good and the bad that has happened and has been done.

“john”

  This essay felt much shorter than the other two in this chapter, it follows the life of a nonbinary person named John (they/them). They grew up in a small town in Ontario with two brothers. The essay describes their life as they went from knowing nothing of queerness to finally being able to explore their identity.

This essay has a sadder tone, as it talks of John’s experiences with feeling uncomfortable coming out based on how they will be viewed and the judgement they receive from their siblings. John’s journey is of someone who took their time and gave themselves permission to explore and try to understand themselves.

 They often take the path of not explaining their identity and instead letting people come to their own realizations about them. They don’t really have face to face conversations about it, but instead let their identity be understood slowly by others. In some ways John indicates that they regret this and feel like they should sit down and speak with others about it.

This essay explores a different concept of queer identities. Showing a perspective where they do not necessarily need to be explained and a person can just exist. This essay explores how an individual can choose to be open about how they identify or not and how that choice is solely theirs. This essay explores both the pros and cons of avoiding speaking about one’s own identity and how that can affect them and the reasons a person might make that choice.

It also makes it clear that John may one day change their mind and have conversations about their identity with others and they are fine with that. They talk of potentially meeting an old friend in the future and how they would feel more comfortable telling the friend about their identity and see their reaction before meeting them in person.

I can understand this internal battle of whether or not I should tell someone. I’ve often had the internal battle of whether or not I should tell people how I identify and who I am, because I feared that these people, whom I cared about, would reject the real me. I have lost people since coming out and that leads me to sometimes hesitate before explaining to friends my gender and identity. I have come to the conclusion, personally, that I only want to continue friendships and relationships with people who fully love the real me, and not their idea of what they want or expect me to be. I also value openness in relationships with regards to my life. I always try to answer every question with honesty and invite people to ask any questions they might have about me. This is my personal choice though, and everyone should be free to make their own decisions with regard to disclosing their identity or sexual orientation and I appreciate that this essay seems to support that idea.  

Overall, this first chapter discusses the many ways people may choose to identify and the importance of having the freedom to choose (or not to choose) to identify oneself. This chapter explores how these choices may affect and individual and how they may or may not choose to disclose their identity to others. It recognizes the variety of experiences and how one may follow many different paths in life to come to understand themselves. There were many overarching themes, such as growing up without knowledge of the varieties of human experiences and with much knowledge of possible identities and how this affected each individual throughout their lives. This first chapter was written in an easy to understand way that also allowed for complex topics and ideas to be presented and explored. Needless to say, but clearly I’m gonna say it, this chapter has drawn me into the book and what it represents and what it will explore and do. I will not be able to read the next chapter until I sleep, but I will be thinking about what I have read until I do.

Overall thoughts on the first chapter

I am enjoying reading this book so far and hoping to finish and publish my review of the next chapter when I can. I broke the book review up like this because it would have been entirely too long a review otherwise and the collection of essays formatting made it easier to do it this way.

Thanks for reading if you got this far. Hopefully you’ll return for the next part when it comes out.

Reviewed by Finch Pierson (he/they)

Here is a link to purchase the book directly from the publisher.

ISBN 978-1-55152-821-2

Priced at $21.95 and $18.95 in the United States

I wish I could remember the name of the bookstore where I purchased this book. It was in Seattle. I will try to find it and add the name to my review of the next chapter as well as a description of the shop and my experience there.

Here is a link to Andrea Bennett’s personal website where you can find more information about them and their other works.

Full respect to the author, please support them by purchasing their book or other methods if you can, but no pressure. I highly recommend this book as it was an incredibly enjoyable read and helped me to process something of myself and my past as I was reading it.

As always, if you have any questions or comments please write them down below, or email me at finchpierson@gmail.com. I try to check my email semi-regularly, but if I miss your email feel free to resend it and I will do my best to reply in a timely manner.

My Twitter is @FinchPierson message me if you have any questions or wish to chat. I dunno.

Terms that you probably need to know

Agender: Being without a gender. A person who is agender is a person who does not have a gender. This identity is generally placed under the Transgender umbrella.

Homophobia: “The homophobia definition is the fear, hatred, discomfort with, or mistrust of people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual” (Planned Parenthood 1).

Homophobe: A person who is Homophobic.

Transphobia: “Transphobia is the fear, hatred, disbelief, or mistrust of people who are transgender, thought to be transgender, or whose gender expression doesn’t conform to traditional gender roles. Transphobia can prevent transgender and gender nonconforming people from living full lives free from harm” (Planned Parenthood 2).

Transphobe: Someone who is Transphobic. TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) fall under this category.

Nonbinary: A person who identifies as neither a man nor a woman.

Transgender: A person whose gender does not match their sex assigned at birth.

The Gender Binary: The social norm present in some cultures of seeing gender as either “man” or “woman. The idea of their being a binary at all is not present in all cultures, but creates ‘gender norms’ where it does exist.

Gender Norms: These vary by culture, but they are what is considered “normal” behavior for a person of a specific gender within their culture. These vary by culture, area, and time period. An example would be the “blue is for boys and pink is for girls” stereotype that appeared relatively recently (this is a reversal of how it was in the past when “blue was believed to symbolize femininity and pink was believed to be associated with masculinity).

Sources

Bennett, Andrea. “Like A Boy But Not A Boy: Navigating Life, Mental Health, and Parenthood Outside the Gender Binary” Arsenal Pulp Press, 2020.

1 “What is Homophobia?” Planned Parenthood. Accessed Jan. 11, 2022. What is homophobia? (plannedparenthood.org)

2 “What’s Transphobia?” Planned Parenthood. Accessed Jan. 11, 2022. What’s Transphobia? | Facts About Transphobic Discrimination (plannedparenthood.org)

used my personal life as a source. So that’s a thing, just thought I’d note that down because my college professors can’t decide if I can plagiarize myself for some reason. Comment down below if you think you can self-plagiarize, because I repeat myself constantly (I have a crappy memory) so I may be guilty of that.

Who knows.

Don’t come for me.

I will run.