Author: Ian

The Flowers of Evil (Vol. 1-11), by Shuzo Oshimi (2012-2014)

Kasuga, a shy middle-schooler obsessed with Baudelaire, impulsively steals his crush’s gym clothes only to be spotted by the class outcast and labeled a pervert, but is he really a pervert, or just looking to form a normal relationship?  Powerful stories never fail to make you care about their characters, and Oshimi pulls this off incredibly—his explorations of courtship, friendship, surviving adolescence, and fitting in capture his characters at their most vulnerable.  The series’ driving question is whether Kasuga will cave in to the adult world like a shitbug or find his own path—whatever that might mean.

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The Perks of Being a Renaissance Man (or Woman)

Renaissance Man (ren-uh-sahns man), n, also called polymath (Greek: πολυμαθής, polymathēs, “having learned much”)

    1. a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. Such a person is known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems (Wikipedia)
    2. a person who has wide interests and is expert in several areas (Merriam-Webster)

I had a friend who was obsessed with the idea of the Renaissance Man (or Woman)—the ideal of gaining expertise in several different areas that you could then use to live a more well-rounded, versatile, and diverse life.  Meriwether Lewis, he insisted, was chosen to lead the Corps of Discovery Continue reading »

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse (1963)

No one understood social class like the 20th century British writers, and P.G. Wodehouse’s fiction feels more insightful than ever in the post-Occupy age.  Wodehouse wrote some 45 novels and stories about inept young millionaire Bertie Wooster, who’s constantly being bailed out of trouble by his astute butler Jeeves.  This book’s simple (albeit labyrinthine) plot consists mostly of comical misunderstandings, cowardly dives behind sofas, and threats that poor Bertie might actually have to get married, told through Wodehouse’s laugh-out-loud funny prose.  As such, the novel can be forgiven for its hackneyed setups, since the end result is pure fun.

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Book Recommendations for Creative People

So part of the reason I started my 99-word book review blog (besides giving me incentive to read more) was to share all the cool books that are out there and help people find new stuff to check out.  To summarize Aziz Ansari, the internet’s given us a ZILLION options for things to read, watch, listen to, visit, eat, and do, which can be overwhelming when you’re not sure where to start.

But if you’re reading this blog, odds are that you’ve got a creative mindset and you’re interested in trying to balance that with the rest of your responsibilities.  Here’s three books I’ve read over the past few years that you might find helpful for deciding what kind of creative life you want—they were definitely instrumental for me.
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The Big Book of Porn, by Seth Grahame-Smith (2005)

This coffee table book would have worked a lot better had it focused solely on a detailed guide to classic ‘70s and early ‘80s porn, since that section is filled with history, insights into the industry, and a ton of cool ‘70s movie posters.  The rest of the book, though, is eye-rollingly uneven, alternating between genuinely enlightening info and some seriously lame jokes.  The lowlight of these extras is an overly detailed discussion of fetish porn, while the highlight is a hilarious list of porn title spoofs (Genital Hospital, Hump Up the Volume, etc.) that had me in stitches.

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The Best American Essays 2013, edited by Cheryl Strayed

In general, I enjoy collections (short stories or essays) less than novels because the act of repeatedly beginning anew is less fulfilling than starting a single story and following it to the end. That said, 2013 was a good year for essays, and Strayed’s selections are astute. My favorite ones (about a tour through a Nazi storehouse, a highway serial killer cold case from the 1980s, and a new mother watching her neighbor’s infant through a crossed baby monitor signal) hit hard, with raw, succinct power. There are some losers here, but the good ones far outweigh the bad.

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What Time of Day Do You Work Best?

So this week’s topic might seem obvious, but it’s also so important that I can’t possibly let this blog go any longer without talking about it.  That’s because I’ve found that sorting creative time into the right place on your schedule can make all the difference between fist-clenching frustration and sweet sweet productivity.

Here’s a few things to consider when thinking about your ideal creative work schedule:
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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis (1950)

Do children’s classics still hold up when read by adults?  I never read the Narnia books when I was younger, but I did read The Screwtape Letters a few years ago and liked its sinister plot and epistolary storytelling.  Similarly, this book’s heavy Christian undertones fall just short of eye-rolling at times, though the themes of temptation, redemption, and righteousness enhance the plot so effectively that without them the book would have been forgotten as just another kid’s adventure.  A final plus is that the fantasy world feels real enough to immerse readers but not enough to overwhelm them.

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Simple Debt-Paying Advice for Creative People

The other day I was talking to some friends about finances (yeah, these are the kinds of conversations you start having after age 25…) and one of my friends whose debt was spread out over a lot of different loans started talking about his strategy:

FRIEND: So basically I’ve got these two student loans and I usually pay an extra hundred bucks on one of ‘em and an extra fifty on the other, and then I’m also trying to pay off my car so sometimes I pay some extra there, Continue reading »

Sputnik Sweetheart, by Haruki Murakami (2001)

An aloof college student falls in love with his best friend, a wannabe writer beatnik—the only catch is that she’s also in love with a businesswoman seventeen years older than her.  Sumire’s an outgoing, speaks-her-mind girl in classic Murakami fashion (she reminded me of Midori in Norwegian Wood) who gives life to much of the novel, which Murakami tells in short spurts between section breaks.  While a lot of Murakami’s subject matter feels familiar, the story’s compactness keeps it moving, with the ending evoking an uncertain stillness that makes the whole novel seem more whole.

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