What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 by Tina Seelig

What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World tells you to follow your passion from Stanford or wherever into a career where you will work hard, work smart, think different, connect, innovate, and disrupt while proactively overcoming internal and external obstacles to your creativity and cheerfully treating each failure as a step towards success.

It’s every graduation-day, carpe-diem, Silicon Valley start-up cliche ever, and more cherry-picked inspiring anecdotes than two decades of Sunday sermons.

Change the world or go home! Heaven help you if you’re an introvert, or cautious and meticulous rather than bold and decisive, or if you have the slightest fondness for rules, hierarchies, or specific, well-defined goals. You’ll have to buy someone else’s crash course on making (or just finding) your place in the world. Like maybe Susan Cain’s.

Speaking of rules… Tina Seelig’s title breaks one. It should say “What I Wish I Had Known When I Was 20″. I thought maybe the error was the result of a decision made by the publisher for the sake of brevity; many people probably wouldn’t notice the error, but might be turned off by the clunkiness of a past perfect verb. However, the author (a Stanford University professor) uses the same phrasing at least twice in the acknowledgments, so I have to assume the wording is hers.

I can accept that the author’s specialty isn’t the nit-picky details of writing but some big-picture entrepreneurial stuff. Still, the publisher should have had a sensible copyeditor involved somewhere along the way. I’d like to think any copyeditor would have noticed. A good copyeditor would also have fixed the handful of typos I noticed. It’s a really short book. There shouldn’t be any.

Ah, well. Clearly I’m missing the point.

When and Why I Read What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20

… how to use past perfect verbs.

Genre: non-fiction (self-improvement, entrepreneurship)
Date started / date finished:  29-Jun-17 to 30-Jun-17
Length: 190 pages
ISBN: 9780032047410
Originally published in: 2009
Amazon link: What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20

Reading Magic by Mem Fox

Reading Magic promotes the idea of teaching literacy from the top down rather than from the bottom up. The author believes parents and teachers should start with stories, then sentences, then words, then letters; that children who can sound out words in a book but who don’t understand them aren’t reading, but that children who tell a story using the pictures on the pages to make their own meaning are.

Although I don’t think Mem Fox is all wrong, I think she’s misguided.

I definitely believe parents should read to their children, and that amazing, wonderful, terrific things can and do happen when reading is part of the family routine. “Read to your kids” is a message that deserves to be shouted from the mountaintops, and to be listened to and enacted.

However, while it may be the case that literate, supportive families can immerse children in books to such an extent that some bookwardly inclined children learn to read effortlessly and joyfully—accidentally, even!—at age 3 or 4, that is not a helpful one-size-fits-all solution to the general problem of literacy instruction, and in particular, encouraging children to interact happily with texts until they get the hang of reading is not a practical strategy that teachers can implement in their classrooms. Teachers really are better off with “letter A makes a as in ‘apple’, letter T makes t as in ‘table’, and when you put A and T together, you get ‘at’.”

The tone of the book is self-congratulatory and anecdotal; there’s no science or statistics here, so I don’t feel there’s much reason I should believe what Mem Fox has to say, even if it sounded intuitively correct, which it doesn’t; in fact it contradicts my experience as a reading teacher.

For more on what I liked and disliked about the book and why, see below.

Continue reading Reading Magic by Mem Fox

Genome by Matt Ridley

Previously, I read Matt Ridley’s book The Rational Optimist. This book, Genome, is no less sanguine about science, humans, and the future. Fascinating stuff, even if the completion of the mapping of the human genome is old news now. The scientific mysteries of 1999 are by no means all solved.

See below for what stood out and a list of related books as well as when and why I read this one.

Continue reading Genome by Matt Ridley

Roots by Alex Haley

Roots is (supposedly) a combination of memoir, genealogy, and historical fiction focusing on the enslaved African ancestor of black American author Alex Haley. While acknowledging the significance of this unprecedented, popular, and culturally important work, I must say I think it fails as a work of fiction.

I expected the book to be more like other historical epics I’ve read. Such works contain seeds of truth and the fruits of long hours of research, but are ultimately stories crafted to entertain, so they have a classic, recognizable rising-falling structure, or many such structures strung together or nested one inside the other.

While reading Roots, I kept trying to sniff out plot points, only slowly realizing that Roots is just a straightforward book chronicling people’s lives. People’s lives don’t have plots, unless you graft them on after the fact, and that’s not what Haley chose to do. You could say he “fictionalized” the story of Kunta Kinte and his descendants, but the detail that he added was documentary rather than dramatic in style. From a structural standpoint, Haley’s massive work is little more than an 888-page list of who begat whom.

Sadly, if the accusations against Haley are true, the work also fails as non-fiction; the story may very well be less factual than he claimed.

See below for a summary, what stood out, and my thoughts on the authenticity of the novel.

Continue reading Roots by Alex Haley

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017)

The title here in Singapore (as in many places) is: Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge.

In North America, it’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

Possible reasons for the shorter title are that it’s:

  • easier to say
  • available for trademark
  • less idiomatic, thus easier to translate
  • more sensitive towards deaths in the news

(My money’s on the explanation involving trademark.)

I re-watched the movie because my husband wanted to go see it. I still like the bank robbery scene best; he liked the scene with the guillotine best.

Some of the dialog was heavy-handed. Several lines like, “We’ve got to find the trident!” reminded me of a particularly badly written scene in fantasy television series The Legend of the Seeker. The heroes burst into an obviously empty clearing and quite unnecessarily say, “They’re gone!” and “They took the horses, too!” Yes, yes, I can see that, thanks.

“Look! The trident of Poseidon!” Yes, yes, I can see that. Enough already!

Accumulative Man Hours

This is a sign at the entrance to a construction site on West Coast Road at Clementi Woods Park.

I’m happy that there have not been any accidents. I know that because the number of accidents is zero, and also because the number of hours and the number of accident-free hours are the same.

What they call the number of hours, however, is hilarious. See below for why I think so.

Continue reading Accumulative Man Hours

Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman captured the attention and approbation of hordes of moviegoers interested in seeing a heroic female fantasy character. It wasn’t personally meaningful to me the way that it seems to have been to a lot of people. I think the movie was pretty and entertaining but that, like many others that don’t have a well-crafted core story, it could have been thematically stronger.

Keep reading for more on the movie’s many possible themes and some questions I had (possibly because I’m not familiar with the source material) and things I liked, along with a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Wonder Woman (2017)

The Snow Queen (1985)

This version of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale isn’t exactly authentic, but it’s closer to the original than Disney’s Frozen—not that authenticity is necessarily what I’d want a film version of an Andersen tale to aim for, given how didactic and depressing the stories can be.

I remember seeing this short live-action production when I was little. The sets all look more than just a bit fakey-fakey now, but they were real enough to a kid with an imagination, and the snow queen’s ice palace still gives me a palpable sense of cold. Her glittering makeup makes her look dangerous, beautiful, and otherworldly.

See below for a plot summary.

Continue reading The Snow Queen (1985)