Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life

Always Look on the Bright Side of LifeAlways Look On The Bright Side Of Life: A Sortabiography by Eric Idle was an interesting insight for me since I grew up on the tail end of Monty Python’s popularity. This isn’t a Monty Python book, but it is an autobiography of Eric Idle, who was a key member and creator of Monty Python so of course it is a subject covered throughout a majority of the chapters. I knew very little about Eric Idle prior to listening to this book (as read by Eric Idle himself which makes it all the better), and I am glad that I am now a little more (or less) cultured.

Eric Idle had a seemingly fantastic life with many ups and downs and screw-ups and successes, but overall I think he would agree that he has had a great life overall. One of the most surprising bits I learned from this book was Eric’s friendship with George Harrison of The Beatles. I never knew that the movie Life of Brian was financed entirely by George because he wanted to see the movie and no one was willing to produce the movie made.

This book was released in 2018 and covers many events of the past several years up to its release. Eric knew so many people in Hollywood who have unfortunately passed away recently including Robin Williams and Carrie Fisher who were two icons I dearly admired. He seemed to know everybody, and everybody knew him.

I think the Python I knew most about prior to this book was John Cleese and that was only because I had seen him in many movies and shows and knew more about his career than the other Pythons. I like John and Eric’s portrayal of him made me like him all the more. Of course, I like Eric all the more as well.

I’m glad I read this book. It has been so long since I have seen a Monty Python movie that I don’t remember much at all about them, and I have never seen their show. I intend to mend these lapses, though I have reservations about how well they will stand the test of time. I’m sure some if not many will, but we will see.

Should the shows and movies not quite tickle my fancy, I at least enjoyed this book which provides a great insight into the group that influenced much of the world. More specifically, it is a look inside the life of the man who made most of it possible.

Happy Reading.

Every Tool’s A Hammer

Every Tool's A HammerEvery Tool’s A Hammer: Life Is What You Make It by Adam Savage is a biographically centered love letter to making. More generally, creating. Though he focuses mainly on crafting things like movie props, cosplay armor, and mechanisms used in commercials or movies, much of what he discusses can be applied to any craft. To put it simply, seeing his enthusiasm for making will inspire you to create whatever it is you may be waiting to make.

This book came out just last year (2019) and my interest primarily comes from the fact that I watched Adam on Mythbusters when I was growing up. By growing up, I mean while I was in high school. I loved the show because they were testing a lot of movie myths and pretty much confirming or denying the plausibility of what we thought we knew or were led to believe. I’ve always loved movies and around that time I was really into the sciences and wanted to know more about how things worked. The show was fun, nerdy, entertaining, and informative. Everything I was looking for and now I really want to go back and rewatch some episodes.

I listened to the audiobook as read by Adam Savage himself. It is mixture of autobiography and craft similar to Stephen King’s book On Writing except about building instead of writing. It was interesting to get more information about Adam as well as several behind-the-scenes stories about his time on Mythbusters or working on Star Wars while working at Industrial Light & Magic. We get to see how his career developed and evolved and we get to learn about how seemingly wondrous things were made simply out of passion and basic materials.

This book is not only about making or building, it is also about Adam’s journey to self-understanding. Through his years, he learned vital lessons about the craft but also about his own behavior and preferences when working on his craft and with his team or colleagues. He discusses his failures and successes. One early failure proved a vital lesson to him that I think everyone needs to be reminded of from time to time; it is okay to ask for help. On the other end, he delves into things he learned from mentors that helped him influence and manage his own team.

This is, of course, also a book that is great for anyone interested in making their own stuff. Be it a replica of a favorite movie prop or designing a cosplay outfit. He talks about different key components to any maker’s space and use of tools or materials. You can definitely learn a lot, as I did, about making. I have always toyed with the idea of making props for myself but have never followed through. I’m sure I will eventually because that desire is always there.

Again, Adam’s story and information is a great resource for all makers, but also for all creators. His passion is inspirational. His stories are reminders that you don’t necessarily need to know what you are doing to begin a project. Everyone has their own methods, and sometimes knowing your method can make it easier to plan the project to fit your needs. Never lose your spark of creativity. If you can, try to make sure you always have fun along the way.

Happy Reading.

12 Memoirs & Biographies

This time I’m listing memoirs and biographies I’ve read these past several years that I enjoyed. Several of them are about authors or actors I like, but some are simply ones I found or heard about and eventually read.

This Boy’s Life & In Pharoah’s Army

This Boy's LifeThese first two are by Tobias Wolff. The first recounts his unexpected childhood while the latter covers much of his time serving during the Vietnam War. I’m a big fan of Tobias Wolff and enjoy all of his fiction, but his memoirs are equally intriguing and entertaining. This Boy’s Life was actually adapted into film and won the Ambassador Book Award.

The Princess Diarist

The Princess DiaristThis memoir by Carrie Fisher covers her time during the filming of the first Star Wars movie and her eventual launch into stardom as the iconic Princess Leia. It includes a section that reprints her original diary entries from her time during filming including her affair with Harrison Ford. What I found most interesting was Carrie’s admission that she did not plan to enter the field of acting, and then her discussion of what it was like interacting with fans who only saw her as Princess Leia. She had to almost live a double life from the time of these events through the end of her life. I know she has several other memoirs and I plan to check them out sometime.

Robin

Robin WilliamsDave Itzkoff’s biography of Robin Williams was released in 2018 and is a great, detailed account of his adult life. Most of the book events discussed are supplemented by accounts from Robin’s friends and family. The book covers his early years briefly, goes into how he became an iconic comedian and actor. It then ends briefly after his death to tell an all-encompassing account that gives us a holistic view into who he was and what he faced. I learned a lot about about him and I am glad I did.

 

Amazing Fantastic Incredible

Stan LeeAmazing Fantastic Incredible is a graphic novel memoir of comic icon Stan Lee. This account is beautifully illustrated and shows a great history of the comic industry. It gives us an overview of Stan’s life (including his real name) but don’t look for any in-depth details of his life here. A full biography would be better if you want to know more about the man. However, this does give a great insight to the man who was behind many of the hugely popular characters in the Marvel Universe, and it is in his own words and his own style.

J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography

J.R.R. Tolkien BiographyThis biography of J.R.R. Tolkien by Humphrey Carpenter is, as far as I am aware, the best biography of the man behind The Lord of the Rings. I at least think it is the only authorized biography. Carpenter actually met Tolkien and had access to many materials and resources surrounding the author’s life prior to his passing in 1973. I, of course, greatly enjoy Tolkien’s works and enjoyed learning more about the man himself. If you read this and want a little more, I suggest watching the recent biopic titled Tolkien starring Nicholas Hoult. It only covers a brief part of his childhood and ends shortly after his time in the war, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

What if Our World is Their Heaven? The Final Conversations of Philip K. Dick

What If Our World Is Their Heaven?This “book” is unique as I’m not sure it would be considered memoir or biography. It is a transcription of the last interview with Philip K. Dick. I randomly came across this book in a used book store and picked it up as I am a fan of PKD’s works. The interview covers a lot of areas, including the unfinished book PKD was working on at the time and his excitement at seeing early footage of the film Blade Runner which is an adaptation of his book Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep? Unfortunately, PKD died of a stroke months after this interview. I haven’t read a full biography of PKD, but I will likely do so in the future. However, I think this interview proves to be a great insight into who he was.

Educated

EducatedThe most recent memoir I’ve read is Educated by Tara Westover and it is captivating. This book details Tara’s childhood through her eventual pursuit of a college education. She grew up without access to school but was always a highly curious child. Her father did not believe in education as he believed it indoctrinated people. He didn’t believe in modern medicine either. Both stem from his religious and personal beliefs. The events of Tara’s life are both shocking and, from an outside view, infuriating at times, but I think this book is important because it highlights more than the importance of knowledge. It highlights the importance of family and doing what is best for yourself.

Tesla: Man Out of Time

Tesla Man Out of TimeMargaret Cheney may be the best biographer of Nikola Tesla. She has written a few, but this one is a great resource if you are wanting to know more about the man who rivaled Edison and became an important figure in the development of electricity. Yes, he is also the person the Tesla Company is named after, but Nikola Tesla never had a company all of his own. I’m glad to see that he has not been lost to history since he is an important contributor to much of the technology we have today, and he continues to inspire and influence research into new technology.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

As You WishIf you are a fan of The Princess Bride, you will greatly enjoy this memoir by lead actor Cary Elwes. He recounts his time on the set and the making of the film and tells many stories that only make the fellow actors and the film even more lovable. Especially Andre the Giant. I recommend checking out the audiobook version because Cary narrates it himself and it includes snippets from fellow actors and production crew who give their accounts of events as well. This book adds to the film and will make you likely make you want to rewatch it while you read.

Man’s Search for Meaning

Man's Search for MeaningVictor Frankl’s memoir/psychological novel is small but powerful. This insight into Victor’s time inside a concentration camp during World War II not only gives us a glimpse into history and some of the worst things humans have done to each other, it analyzes the human psyche during such harsh conditions. However, I believe this little book is an insight into the human condition and provides a bit of hope through all the sadness. The first part is the memoir of his time during the war while the second goes into his own psychological theories.

A Moveable Feast

Ernest Hemingway’s book telling of his times in Paris during the 1920’s was fun and insightful. I think it is a great glimpse into a bygone world as we are now almost exactly 100 years removed from the time it took place. I’ll admit my favorite part includes F. Scott Fitzgerald and a broken-down car, but this book gives a look into the life of the iconic author and the world he knew.A Moveable Feast

5 Books About Writing

I am a writer and therefore will every so often pick up a book about the craft. Below is a list of books about writing that I have read over the past several years that I found informative, inspiring, and insightful. I could give entire lectures about writing and all the different things I’ve learned through a formal education and my own individual studies, but I’ll save that for the classroom. For now, I hope you consider these books if you are a writer, if you like interesting things, or if you simply like any of these authors in particular as most of the books listed include biographical content. This is not surprising because writing is a very personal thing and everyone has their own approach and methods, which is why I picked up bits and pieces from most of these books to build upon my own habits.

About WritingThe newest book on the list is About Writing: A Field Guide For Aspiring Authors by Gareth L. Powell. This little pocket book is filled with insights about everything from beginning the writing process to how to build a following and market your published book. It has a bunch of useful tips about social media, outlining a novel, tips for attending conferences or conventions, and overall how to be a present-day author. Gareth is a powerhouse of positive energy and I highly suggest you follow him on Twitter for daily inspiration. I also recommend keeping this book on hand to pick up from time to time and review whatever part of the writing journey you are currently on. One thing I’ve taken into my own practice is Gareth’s suggestion about how to outline a novel. I may end up tweaking it a bit to better suit my needs, but it is proving immensely useful so far.

On WritingThe second book is the first book on the craft of writing I ever read and the first book I had read by this author. The book in question is one of the most popular: On Writing by Stephen King. I picked this one up shortly after finishing my undergraduate degree and felt the need to keep educating myself on the craft. Admittedly, it has been a minute since I’ve read this book, but I do remember a lot from it. First, this book is split basically into two parts. One half is focused on King himself giving some background to his journey as a writer and the other half is about the craft. Both are incredibly interesting and worth your time. One thing I have always kept with me from this book is King’s habit of always having a book on hand no matter where you are. I’m not sure why this particular thought stuck with me, but he was right that you should always keep a book on hand because you can get reading in with all the “in between” time we have in life. Waiting in line for coffee? Read a few pages. At the doctor? Read some more. Nowadays you can do this with your pocket computer if you prefer an ebook and have the willpower to stay off social media. Physical books don’t have distracting apps. I think I may need to give it another read soon since I have grown a lot as a writer and a person since I last read it.

Elements of StyleNext is another “classic” on the craft and another small, pocket-sized book. The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. This is a craft book specific to the actual grammar and syntax and overall use of language and it is useful for writing in general and not just creative writing. It is a great book that can help you bolster your writing and form good habits, but like all the others, it isn’t a rule book. It may be the closest thing to one, but writing is again personal and you have your own style. This is simply one of the better resources to help you stay away from rookie mistakes and improve your prose. I think King mentions this book in his own and had some comments about Strunk and White’s thoughts about adverbs.

Zen and the Art of WritingThis next book I happened to discover while perusing the shelves of my local library. Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. This book was such a fun find. I was surprised to find so many great essays about writing that were simply inspirational. I plan to get a copy of my own to have on hand because you can pick this book up and read any essay and get that spark to start a story or continue whatever you are working on. He has such a great way of reminding you what a joy and privilege it is to write. Any self-doubt will disappear as you read. He definitely puts the zest and gusto into his thoughts about the craft. Bradbury wrote one thousand words every day since he was a kid. I’m hoping I can build a habit like his, to write every day so I am always progressing toward my goal of finishing a novel or short story. I’m still working on this though. I don’t need a thousand words. For now, any amount will do. I just need to build the good habit.

ReflectionsReflections: On the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones is another collection of essays. This collection contains a large amount of biographical content about Diana and several essays repeat the same small tidbits about her life as they were written over the course of her career. She led a very interesting life and had some strange things happen to her. You’d almost think she were truly a witch. A good-natured one though. Did you know she had C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as professors? It does contain a lot of practical advice about writing, the market, agents, editors, and publishers. However, a lot of what she is describing is from a few decades ago and much has changed since then. I’ve no doubt some of the changes were due to her influence. Many things haven’t changed much at all unfortunately. The literary landscape may have changed since the writing of the essays, but she has plenty of relevant information in this book, especially about writing for younger audiences.

I have many more books on the craft I still want to read and many more I’m sure I will discover in the future. The next on my list I already have lined up and plan to start soon. Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin. I also want to read Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood. If you have a book about the craft of writing that you like, let me know with a comment. I’d love to find more. Perhaps I’ll write another list about another set of books on writing. For now, I’m going to get back to work by sticking with Rule #1 from Neil Gaiman’s 8 rules for writing which is simply: Write.

8 Rules of Writing_Neil Gaiman

Amazing Fantastic Incredible

Stan LeeToday I am recommending Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir by Stan Lee and Peter David and Colleen Doran. This memoir is a brief overview of Stan Lee’s life and his work in comics. I say brief because it touches on key moments without delving into anything beyond the surface. The book is actually a graphic novel which adds a nice touch considering the topic of the memoir. The pages are beautifully illustrated and the setting of Stan on stage delving into his story really makes you feel like you could be in an audience experiencing it alongside other fans.

When I said this was a brief memoir, I meant two things: you can read it easily in one sitting (due to the graphic novel format), and you only get the basic information without too much detail (probably also due to the format). It’s great if you don’t know much about Stan Lee (real name Stanley Lieber), but if you are looking for an in-depth look into his life, I suggest waiting for a full-on biography that will surely come out within the next few years. There are other biographies already out there if you don’t want to wait.

This book/graphic novel is a great introduction to Stan and how he came to be the icon he was. It also provides a great “history of comics” and other details about how certain characters were created and interesting tidbits about certain processes and other influential people who were in the field. If all you’re looking for is a little more information about the man himself since maybe you only know him by his many cameo’s in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), then this is the one for you. I’m certain several events mentioned in this memoir are shaded with a little bias. This is both a good and bad thing. The good being there is no negative views of any events mentioned though I’m sure there were some interesting discussions regarding business deals. This I view as good because it makes the memoir openly available to kids. The bad I think would be the overall removal of any negative experiences. Something that is far from real life. The few mentioned are quickly passed over.

Since the MCU has been blown into epic proportions that have reached millions of people worldwide and brought superheroes once again into mainstream pop-culture, I wanted to learn more about the iconic man who spent his life laying the groundwork for this incredible adventure.

Overall, I enjoyed this memoir because it has a lot of information and I learned several things, but I will probably be looking forward to an in-depth biography when I want to know more about Stan Lee.

Happy Reading.