37signals are getting really real while doing less, which is more, which is actually less

    5 March 2006, mid-afternoon

A review of Getting Real by 37signals

37signals are a design firm turned web application studio that get on my nerves more often than not. (Saying they get on my nerves is infact an understatement.) Despite the more aggravating posts on their web site they remain to this day a good source for insight on modern web development and web design practices. I like reading about the entire software development process. This is one reason I enjoyed Joel on Software so much. Last week 37signals put out a book compiling their manifesto on web application development entitled Getting Real. If you read the 37signals blog Signal vs. Noise you will have heard the term countless times. (It can be grating to hear over and over again.) Still, a few days after the eBook came out I bought it. I’m not entirely sure why. I think the $19 price tag, just shy of $20, and the fact they make it very convenient to buy, were two contributing factors. I enjoyed the book. I am by no stretch a rabid 37signals fan-boy; I sincerely liked it.

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Giovanni's Room

   21 February 2006, early evening

I’m reading Giovani’s Room now, which was written back in 1956. The book is about a man trying to come to terms with his homosexuality—at least this is what I think it is about after reading the first few chapters of the book. The book is quite good so far.

‘Love him,’ said Jacques, with vehemence, ‘love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else under heaver really matters? And how long, at the best, can it last? since you are both ben and still have everywhere to go? Only five minutes, I assure you, only five minutes, and most of that, hellas! in the dark. And if you think of them as dirty, then they will be dirty—they will be dirty because you will be giving nothing, you will be despising your flesh and his. But you can make your time together anything but dirty, you can give each other something which will make both of you better—forever—if you will not be ashamed, if you will only not play it safe.’ He paused, watching me, and then looked down to his cognac. ‘You play it safe long enough,’ he said, in a different tone, ‘and you’ll end up trapped in your own dirty body, forever and forever and forever—like me.’

I wonder how many homosexuals still feel a strong compulsion to hide (or deny) their sexual orientation. I think one of the things that made Brokeback Mountain so depressing was the internal conflict of Heath Ledger’s character.

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Go Tell it on the Mountain

   17 February 2006, early morning

I just finished reading Go Tell it on the Mountain., which I bought a few weeks back. I had forgotten how complex the story is, and how open-ended things are left by the end. The book is excellent. Baldwin essentially tells the stories of 4 characters: the lead, John; his mother, Elizabeth; his father, Gabriel, and his aunt, Florence. The story is rich and always twisting. Each character’s past is revealed to us piece-by-piece as the story progresses. It’s really good. I recomend you read this book. (I wonder if the book would have more meaning for me if I was Christian. Have any of the Christian’s here read it? The book is all about the Lord bringing people low, and then raising them back up—seemingly. I feel like reading the Bible.)

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Go Tell it on the Mountain

    2 February 2006, late morning

I was in the Indigo on Bay St. a couple days ago, killing some time while waiting for some photographs to get developed. I like shopping; the problem with shopping at Indigo is that almost all their books are cheaper online. Krishna can confirm this, as I called him 3 or 4 times while in the store asking him for the prices of the books online. Ultimately I left with a copy of The Tipping Point which was discounted both online and offline. Before leaving, I noticed a small stand with a strange mix of books. It took me a couple seconds to clue in that the authors were all black, and the stand had been set up in celebration of black history month. I picked up the copy of Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin) they had put out; it was a crappy paperback, with newsprint paper and an ugly cover.

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Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters

   23 September 2005, late at night

Cover of my copy of Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters

If you asked me what my favourite movie or song was I probably couldn’t tell you. There isn’t any one movie or song that I can single out as being my absolute favourite of all time. When it comes to books on the other hand I can. My favourite book, the story I think everyone should read, is Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, by J. D. Salinger.

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters takes place one hot afternoon in New York city. The story is all about a wedding, and in particular the absent groom who happens to be the narrator’s brother. It’s a simple story, much like all of Salinger’s others, but all the little details make it truly a joy to read. I was shocked to read it was received poorly when it came out in the 50s. It isn’t quite a love story, but it is very much about love. The ending is classic.

Salinger is most famous for writing Catcher in the Rye. I read that novel first during the early years of high school. In my last year, I ended up doing a ISU on Salinger (after picking and giving up on Charles Dickens). I ended up reading all his other stories published as novels: Nine Stories, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour, An Introduction, and Franny and Zooey. I’ve never felt more angry at someone I don’t know when I discovered that the four books I’ve mentioned are the sum total of the man’s published works. You can track down some of his other short stories printed in old magazines if you work hard enough—Tiffany found them in the Waterloo library for example. Nowadays you can also find them online, which is quite nice. Sometime in the late 60s Salinger stopped publishing. Sonuvabitch.

I reread Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters a few days back, which is why it is on my mind. I just finished reading Franny again, and am almost done with Zooey. If you are looking for some good books to read, I can’t recommend these stories enough.

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The World is Flat

   16 August 2005, mid-morning

Will you join in the battle to build the Great Society, to prove that our material progress is only the foundation on which we will build a richer life of mind and spirit?

There are those timid souls that say this battle cannot be won; that we are condemned to a soulless wealth. I do not agree. We have the power to shape the civilization that we want. But we need your will and your labor and your hearts, if we are to build that kind of society.

Those who came to this land sought to build more than just a new country. They sought a new world. So I have come here today to your campus to say that you can make their vision our reality. So let us from this moment begin our work so that in the future men will look back and say: It was then, after a long and weary way, that man turned the exploits of his genius to the full enrichment of his life.

—Lyndon B. Johnson, Great Society Speech

I wonder if America can recapture the ideals it once had, or if it has become so arrogant and confident in itself and its stature that it can’t see any of its flaws. (Actually, I don’t wonder these things at all, I have an opinion I’m sure those who read this site are well aware of.)

I’ve been reading The World is Flat, which I am enjoying immensely. The book’s premise is that technology has made the world flat—that is to say people from any part of the globe can collaborate with one another easily and cheaply. We can see this today with the growth of labour markets in the developing world. Anything that can be turned in to a stream of digital data can be worked on from anywhere in the world. And the reality is that this work is going to be sent to those places that can do it the best, and for the best price.

This is good for those of us in countries currently outsourcing work because it should free up our labour pools to do exciting new things. Well, that’s the idea anyway, things are never that simple. A society must provide a way for its citizens to improve their training and education. More than that though, citizens have to be willing to adapt and improve themselves. It isn’t enough to be average anymore, because there is a world full of above average people ready and willing to do your job. There was a time when we in the west were insulated from the East, but that time is coming to an end.

So, back to my original point. I think the end of the American empire is near. Friedman, author of The World is Flat, is fearful of the fate of America and tries to suggest ways in which America can turn itself around. His ideas are all interesting and valid, but I don’t see them being implemented. America doesn’t have a Lyndon B. Johnson or a John F. Kennedy who is willing to marshal the collective energy of the country and put that energy towards improving the society as a whole. And, as far as I can tell, many American’s themselves do not want to do such work.

Of course, America has all the guns, so we’ll have to see what happens.

Comment [7] |  

Richard Stevens

   11 August 2005, late morning

Richard Stevens was the author of several classic textbooks on computer networks and programming; he wrote the TCP/IP Illustrated series, in addition to Unix Network Programming Book and Advanced Programming in the UNIX Environment. Steven’s passed away in 1999, but his web site is still online today. I’ve been reading it the past few days while trying to find information on dealing with UDP packet loss. His conversational, friendly, style of writing obscures the fact that he has been dead for 6 years now; it’s a little strange. There is a lot of interesting stuff on the site. He has links to obscure Usenet posts, interesting because they provide context to papers I have read or subjects I have seen in textbooks. For example, the paper Congestion Avoidance and Control by Van Jacobson is mentioned as a work in progress in the following two email messages: Re: interpacket arrival variance and mean and Re: Your congestion scheme. Interested in implementing software timers in C? You may want to check out Implementing Software Timers by Don Libes. Steven’s site is definitely worth reading through if you are in a particularly geeky mood.

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The Death and Life of Great American Cities

   10 August 2005, early morning

Shima and I are now the proud owners of The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. Jacob’s now lives in Toronto—respect. I don’t know much about planning, so reading the introduction to the book was enlightening. It sounds like Jacobs really dug in to the established planning academia. I wonder if her ideas are in use some 30 years later.

So far I have learned that one of the earliest modern planning movements was the Garden City movement, fronted by Sir Ebenezer Howard in his book Garden Cities of To-Morrow. The idea was to basically move people out of the cities into sparsely populated baby cities with big green belts. Two cities were built using this model: Letchworth and Welwyn. I spent my childhood in Welwyn Garden City, whose name now has much more meaning for me.

So far the book has struck me as well written and well thought out.

There is a quality even meaner than outright ugliness or disorder, and this meaner quality is the dishonest mask of pretended order, achieved by ignoring or suppressing the real order that is struggling to exist and to be served.

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V for Vendetta is a Comic

    3 August 2005, evening time

Dave lent my V for Vendetta, a graphic novel that will soon be turned in to a major motion picture. Alan Moore has had some bad luck with adaptations of his books, and has disavowed himself from all further adaptations of his work, but this new film looks like it will be quite good. The comic is amazing. The story is set in a totalitarian British state. V is the protagonist, a man dressed up like Guy Fawkes, who is attempting to bring down the government. I would say the comic is an excellent introduction to fascism. This is definitely a graphic novel worth reading, probably considered a classic by people who read more comics than myself.

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Lipstick Jihad

   29 July 2005, late evening

How could this great-grandfather be so horrible, I asked my mother, as to cruelly make maman bozorg a co-wife? Why was it allowed at all?

Maman explained that in the Koran, it says that a man can take more than one wife on the condition that he treats all of them exactly equal. Their quarters must be furnished with equal elegance or simplicity; he must spend an equal number of nights with each. But what about love? I asked. How can he love them equally in his heart. He can’t, she said. The heart doesn’t work that way. And that’s why men should never, ever, have more than one wife. Because the heart is not docile, can’t follow literal instructions, can’t be cordoned off like a garden—this grove for the first wife, this for the second. Sooner or later, emotions blossom or wither in places they shouldn’t, and the pretense of heart boundaries collapses.

I’m pretty sure Azadeh Moaveni is actually talking about the conflict between her American and Iranian identities in this passage, and the difficultly she has reconciling her love/hate relationship with both. Lipstick Jihad was much better than I ever thought it would be. Though Moaveni is writing about her experience as a member of the Iranian diaspora, the book should appeal to anyone interested in the immigrant experience in general. I can’t recommend the book enough.

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Freakonomics

   14 July 2005, late at night

Freakonomics is a very light read; you can probably read the whole book in a couple days. That said, the materiel is very interesting. The book presents the economics research of Steven Levitt in a very accessible manner. I didn’t think economics could be so damn interesting. My favorite chapter in the book is on the crack game. Levitt asks the question: if selling crack is so great, why do so many crack dealers live with their mom? Turns out selling crack isn’t that great—who’d a thunk it! I don’t know if it’s a worthwhile book to own; I bought the book on a whim while at chapters. That said, it is definitely worth reading. The subjects covered by the book are bizarre to say the least.

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The Social Contract

    2 June 2005, late morning

There are in all ages men born to be in bondage to the opinions of the society in which they live. There are not a few, who to-day play the free-thinker and the philosopher, who would, if they had lived in the time of the League, have been no more than fanatics. No author, who has a mind to outlive his own age, should write for such readers.

That is some sound advice from Jean-Jacque Rousseau. Sometimes I feel there is an independent thought alarm monitoring the web sites I read. Everyone seems to say the same things and do the same things and read the same things. Am I guilty of this? Perhaps. I’m quite certain I haven’t read anything remarkable or interesting in quite some time.

I am trying to improve my collection of texts on politics, and to this end I bought the The Social Contract and Discourses by Rousseau. I’ve wanted to read The Social Contract for ages. The Everyman’s Library edition is particularly nice. I’ll need to find a better copies of On Liberty and The Communist Manifesto next.

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Toronto Comics Art Festival 2005

   29 May 2005, late afternoon

Dave and I met for lunch today, and then made our way over to the Toronto Comics Art Festival. There were a bunch of artists Dave wanted to see, and since I like comic books so I thought I’d tag along. Two tents were set up to house the artists. One was a tent for artists that do comics for Children, the other was for everyone else. Andy Lee was outside painting a picture of Optimus Prime when Dave and I arrived. His shirt wasn’t as black as the last time I saw him, but it was getting there.

The first tent wasn’t that busy. Besides the children’s comic artists, there were also the guys and girls that do the Flight anthologies sitting at one table, and Kid Koala and Louisa Scabas, who did Nufonia Must Fall together, sitting at another. I almost bought Nufonia Must Fall a few years back when I saw it at Chapters. I bought the comic today at Dave’s suggestion. The comic comes with its own ambient soundtrack that is quite good, albeit short. After Dave chatted with a few of the artists from the Flight anthologies, we made our way over to the second tent.

The second tent was packed full of people. There was table after table of comics and art for sale. Everything looked impressive, so it was hard to force myself not to blow all my money on new comics. I’m not really hip to the comic book scene, so I didn’t recognize anything or anyone—that is until I saw a book with a stick man on the cover. It turns out Sam Brown from Exploding Dog was at the show. His site is amazing. I told him as much. He came off as a very humble guy. I picked up his comic Amazing Rain. Apparently Sam Brown used to live next to Richard Stevens, the artist behind Diesel Sweeties. Stevens, who was sitting right next to Sam Brown, was also a very nice guy. I snapped a photo of the pair, before Dave and I headed out.

On our way out, Andy Lee was painting someone a picture of one of the covers from the Marvels series.

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Brian Michael Bendis looks like a Petty Criminal and Other Observations at the Toronto Comicon 2005.

    1 May 2005, mid-afternoon

David Mack

Two years ago I went with Dave to a big comic book convention in Toronto. I had started reading Daredevil—I’m not sure why—and wanted to get the rest of the trade paperbacks I was missing. At the convention I got to speak to Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack. I asked David Mack to sign my copy of Wake Up, which he illustrated and Bendis wrote.

While signing, David Mack asked me if I had read any of his other comics. I hadn’t. He promptly went on to explain the details of his Kabuki series. He spoke at length on Kabuki, and how each volume in the series had a unique art style that suited the story. He was quite passionate about it all, so I felt a bit obligated to buy something. I bought Circle of Blood, the first trade paper back in the series.

It was good—really good. (When I’ve read the whole series I’ll definitely sit down and write about it.) Unfortunately, getting the rest of the series proved a little bit difficult. Most comic book shops I visited either didn’t carry it, or were missing books. I decided I would buy the rest of the series next time I saw him.

Dave, Howard and I went to the 2005 Toronto Comicon yesterday afternoon. There were several writers and illustrators we were all fans of at the show, including David Mack. We got there after lunch and started wandering around. This convention was much smaller than the one Dave and I went to two years ago. This may be in part due to the fact this convention wasn’t also part of an Anime and Sci-Fi convention. All the big name artist and writers were at the back of the convention centre, all sitting behind a long row of desks.

There was a huge line-up to see Bendis. He now seems to be writing every single title Marvel puts out. As such, he is a popular fellow. Sitting next to him was David Mack, and thankfully, the line to see him was much shorter.

“I bought Circle of Blood last time I was here, and I thought it was great,” I told him.

“Thanks. I’m glad you liked it,” he replied.

“Can I get the rest of the series?”

He paused for a second, and then said, “Yeah sure.”

We struggled with trying to figure out how much the comics were worth in Canadian money. I handed him a wad of cash, and left with the rest of the Kabuki series and a print of one of the characters he created for the Daredevil series, Echo.

Independents

There were lots of independent artists and writers at the show. Howard was harassing one artist about how he had seen his artwork in a Batman comic before. The artist was quite sure he hadn’t been featured in a Batman comic. He actually knew which artist Howard was thinking about. Howard, nevertheless, bugged him a bit more about how he had seen his work somewhere.

At the last comic convention Dave and I went to, we saw a black dude in a pimp outfit tearing up an original XForce something or another comic. He was ranting about how the industry was lame and generally causing a scene. His name is Mathew Mohammed, and he writes The Black Bastard. The comic, as one might guess, is about a black dude who is a bastard. We saw him again at this convention. I bought the first issue since the dude was from Scarborough. It’s not the most sophisticated of comics, but it has its moments.

Howard and I bought greeting cards from one artist. His cards were all pretty interesting. The one I liked the best was his rendition of Captain America, done up so he looked like a soldier from WWII. He had a Galactus card. I don’t know who you could send that too.

Andy Lee

While Dave lined up to speak to Bendis, I watched Andy Lee paint. He was sitting two spots down from Bendis. He was covered in paint. I can’t say I’ve ever seen anyone paint the way Lee does. Someone would ask him to paint something, and his body wouldn’t stop moving for the next 10 minutes. It was really amazing watching him work. I stood there for a good while watching him paint. I would snap the occasional photograph while he worked; I hope they turn out.

I asked him to paint me a picture of Daredevil. The first thing he did was dip his fingers in the water he used to clean his brushes, and rub that water on the middle of the page. He then got to work with the brushes, moving them here and there in no conceivable pattern. He works so fast. Slowly you start to see what he is seeing, and the image takes on a shape you can understand.

“Do the comics you do also look like this?” I asked. I was so impressed with his work, but I couldn’t imagine a comic book with art work like his.

“Yes,” he replied, “That’s why I don’t get many jobs.”

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The Baroque Cycle

    5 April 2005, lunch time

It’s a strange feeling not coming to work with one of Neal Stephenson’s books in my bag. I’ve been reading the books from The Baroque Cycle for the past few months now, a little bit each day on my ride to and from work. I had a very low opinion of the series after starting on Quicksilver. After reading The Confusion and System of the World, my opinion of the series as a whole has basically reversed. The series is really good. It’s very hard to get in to, but by the time you finish System of the World I think you’ll find yourself attached to the characters and the story.

The series is not without its faults. I’ve already expressed my annoyance at the language. Another complaint I have is the way characters appear and disappear from the story. Eliza all but disappears from the story by the time we get to System of the World, even though she is a central character in the first two books. Hooke, another important character in the book, isn’t mentioned at all during The Confusion and then by the time we get to System of the World we are informed he is dead. This happens a lot. Characters who are seemingly important sort of fade in to the background, their exit almost unnoticed till their name pops into the story once more.

The Confusion and System of the World both have an entertaining plot. The Confusion jumps back and forth between the adventures of Jack Shaftoe, and the adventures of Eliza. Eliza’s story is definitely the weaker of the two, but is not without its intrigue. The Confusion is interesting because the story takes place over so many years. The time that passes in-between chapters is usually months or years. It’s strange to read. System of the World on the other hand moves at a totally different pace. Between two chapters we may find that 10 minutes have passed, or a couple days. Because of this, the story seems a lot more frantic, and fast paced.

Stephenson is known for his lame job at endings, but in the The Baroque Cycle he has done an admirable job at concluding the books properly. Quicksilver has a strange ending, and almost no story, but in some ways it can be seen as a prologue for the other two books. The Confusion and System of the World both have plots that reach their natural conclusion. You aren’t left unsatisfied by the ending of either book.

So it was good in the end. I’m surprised—pleasantly surprised.

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Marvel 1602

   18 January 2005, late evening

Just before finishing Quicksilver, I read one of the most interesting Marvel comics I’ve read in quite some time, Marvel 1602. Neil Gaiman came back from a hiatus from the comic industry to write this 8 part series for Marvel that re-imagines the Marvel universe in the 1600s. You’ll recognize several superheroes right off the bat; some characters you’ll probably puzzle over till their identities are revealed in stunning plot twists. The story is more then just a silly what-if comic. The plot has more to it then the novelty of its setting. The story is superb. I really enjoyed it. There are plenty of twists and turns, and the conclusion is quite good. There will definitely be a sequel, as the ending is so open ended.

I was talking to my cousin about how I can afford to buy comics now at 24, when really it would have been nice to be able to buy them when I was 14.

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And So It Is Done

   17 January 2005, late at night

I have finished reading that beast of a book Quicksilver. It has been a battle from the start, but I have prevailed. I started reading the book last Christmas, during my holidays, though I did not get very far. This past summer, I began reading the book again. I stopped reading before the summer ended. Finally, this fall, on the subway rides two and from work, I managed to find the time to get through the book. I started fresh, from the very beginning. I think that was a good idea. I enjoyed the book a lot more the second time through.

Quicksilver is divided into three books. The first, titled Quicksilver follows Daniel Waterhouse’s journey back from the New World to England. On this journey we are presented with the early years of his life through his life as flashbacks of sorts. The second book, The King of Vagabonds, is a much more entertaining novel. In it, we are introduced to two more important characters in the story, Eliza and Jack Shaftoe. This book ends in a very Emperor Strikes Back sort of way, with everyone down on their luck. The third book, Odalisque , by far the most interesting book contained in Quicksilver, brings all the characters together. The book ends on a most bizarre note; it wasn’t an unexpected ending, but it is bizarre nevertheless.

Taken as a whole, I would have to say I enjoyed the book. It actually was an interesting and entertaining read. The story doesn’t really pick up till half way through The King of Vagabonds, but once the story gets going it is actually fairly interesting. There are lots of twists and turns that will keep you entertained. Mezan has told me The Confusion is a much better book, so I look forward to reading it. There is a lot left unresolved by the end of Quicksilver; it will be interesting to see where the story goes.

So I am done Quicksilver. It feels weird to be finished. I’ve been bitching about the book for the better part of a year. I’m looking forward to starting The Confusion. That said, Neal Stephenson, you are son of a bitch. Please work harder not to piss of your readers.

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Joel on Software: The Book

   17 December 2004, mid-morning

I bought Joel on Software: And on Diverse and Occasionally Related Matters That Will Prove of Interest to Software Developers, Designers, and Managers, and to Those Who, Whether by Good Fortune or Ill Luck, Work with Them in Some Capacity, a few weeks ago. I would have to say with a title like that I had some high expectations. Joel on Software is a popular website on software development, and this book is a collection of the more interesting essays posted by Joel on his site. Having the essays in a book was very convenient. I would read the book on the subway in the morning. More so, some of the longer essays were much easier to read in a book then they were on a computer screen. I had read a few of the essays before, but for the most part this was all new material to me. Here are a few of the essays I thought were quite interesting: Back to Basics, Big Macs vs. The Naked Chef, In Defence of the Not-Invented-Here Syndrome, Strategy Letter I: Ben and Jerry’s vs. Amazon and How Microsoft Lost the API War. The book was a very enjoyable read. I would recommend it to any computer scientists out there. I feel like starting a company now that I’ve read it. My only beef with the book would be that it is a bit too Windows-centric. However, Joel is far from a Windows zealot, so his focus on Windows isn’t obnoxious.

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Amazon is a Minute Man.

    5 November 2004, mid-morning

I ordered Design Patterns from Amazon earlier in the week—Tuesday to be exact. I got an email at 7:30 PM last night telling me my order had shipped. I make it a point to check the extra-lame free shipping option whenever I order over 39 bucks worth of stuff so I don’t get billed for shipping. My order was slated to arrive some time next week, between the 10th to the 14th of November. Since I am working I shipped to my office, which I imagine is quite close to the shipping centre Amazon uses in Toronto. I’m guessing it is close because my book arrived today, at 10:30 AM. That’s some serious service, apparently facilitated by: Amazon, Canada Post, and some convenient geography. I don’t think FedEx could have got the book here faster.

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The Five People You Meet in Heaven

   24 October 2004, early evening

I bought a copy of The Five People You Meet in Heaven at Chapters last weekend, using the same metric I have used to buy many a book before it: I grab one that is 30% off and near the front of the store. So far, this has served me well.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven was quite good. The story begins with the death of Eddie, the maintenance worker at Ruby Pier ammusement park. The book follows his voyage through the beginnings of his afterlife. Though he feels his life is unexceptional, through the course of the book we see how his life is not without purpose and meaning.

I think the concept of heaven presented in the book is interesting. Heaven is a place where you are given time to reflect upon and understand your life. The author suggests that upon entering heaven we are introduced in succession to 5 people who each will teach us a lesson about our lives. The author suggests, and I would agree with him, that are lives are all intertwined in ways we may never fully comprehend.

I thought the end of the book was a bit weak, but on the whole it was a great read. The book is definetly worth checking out.

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Super Flat Times

   10 October 2004, the wee hours

Rishi bought me two books for my birthday, Gun Monkeys and Super Flat Times. Super Flat Times is twisted science fiction. The book is a collection of short stories, which are supposed to be the last memories of people who were executed by being buried alive in a giant concrete mass grave. The book is at times funny, but in a very dark sort of way. The future the book presents is a straight up dystopia. Orwell would have been proud. I found the stories a bit hard to get through. Some are very hard to read and comprehend. I’ll probably have to go through the book another time and read it more carefully. Strand-out short stories in the Super Flat Times in my opinion are: The Sound Gun, The Father Helmet, Crutches Used as Weapons, Behaviour Pilot, Instructions (This is one is hilarious) and the Life Jacket. This is definitely an interesting book, worth checking out.

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Gun Monkeys

   21 September 2004, early afternoon

I just finished reading Gun Monkeys a book Rishi bought me for my birthday. The book is pure pulp. I found it quite enjoyable to read, a very light and exciting adventure in the life of a professional hit man. The book reads and feels very much like a movie. Compared to everything else I read, this didn’t leave me feeling empty and depressed. If you are looking for something action-packed to read, check this out.

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A Complicated Kindness

    7 September 2004, evening time

I really enjoyed A Complicated Kindness. The book is a very bleak look at the life of a teenage Mennonite girl living in a small Mennonite village. To say the book is depressing would be a bit of an understatement. As you read the book you slowly see the heroine Nomi Nickel unravel before you. By the end you are almost begging for things to turn around for her. I don’t want to give away the ending, or anything else about the book, so I will say no more about it. I really do recommend you read it. I picked it up by chance at the Edmonton airport last week, and I am very glad that I did. If you love Catcher in the Rye you most definitely will enjoy this book.

I have 3 more books I plan to read, before getting back to Quicksilver. Damn that book!

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Persepolis

    6 September 2004, the wee hours

Picture from Amazon.

Persepolis is a graphic novel by an Iranian illustrator, Marjane Satrapi. I bought the first volume some time last summer. I saw it in Chapters and thought it looked quite interesting. The book is a great autobiography. Marjane recounts her life in Iran in a very frank and honest manner. You get to see a glimpse of what it was like for a child growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution. I don’t know if I would have bought the book before going out with Shima, but since I’ve started dating her I feel a desire to learn more about where she is from. Regardless of whether you have a Persian girlfriend or not, the graphic novel is excellent.

Picture from Amazon.

I was eagerly waiting her follow up to the book. Persepolis ends with Marjane leaving for Austria to study in order to flee Iran’s war with Iraq. The second novel is just as compelling as the first. About half the novel discusses the four years of her life she spent in Vienna, and the difficulty she faced living in a society so different from that which she was used to. The second half of the book examines her difficulty coming back to the country she had fled 4 years prior. Marjane is rebellious and modern, a thoroughly atypical Persian heroine. The book is enjoyable to read because it presents a side of Iran you will never see watching western television, and a view I imagine the zealots in power in Iran would not like people to see. I recommend both graphic novels.

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

   26 August 2004, late at night

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was 30% off at Chapters which is why I bought it. This was a good call on my part; the book is quite good. The book is narrated to us by Christopher Boone, an autistic child. The book begins with the murder of a dog in his neighbourhood. He tells the reader that he intends to narrate the mystery of who killed this dog. The book is only in the most loosest sense about a autistic kid trying to figure out who killed a dog. The story is bizarre and unique. I don’t think you will find another book with such a strange protagonist. Because of the narrators autism, he has trouble dealing with people, and understanding what they are asking of him. He hits people when he shouldn’t, which gets him into trouble. He acts crazy but all his neuroses are at some level to him quite logical. The book is told in a very honest and frank fashion, sort of funny and sort of sad at the same time. The book is definitely worth checking out.

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