Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Leave “The Hunger Games” Fully Satisfied

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

There has been a lot of speculation, expectation, and hype for the long-awaited The Hunger Games movie premiere.  Some critics have celebrated the film and others have been quick to point out the film’s flaws.  With all of the excitement it is almost impossible to leave The Hunger Games fully satisfied, but Hollywood gives it a valiant effort.

After several threats from my older sister, I finally read all three books of the Suzanne Collins’s trilogy, making sure to finish well ahead of the movie release.  I am glad I did, because it seems as though some of the critics have not read the books.  In this movie’s case, knowing the material ahead of time provides a richer experience.

Set in a dystopian, apocalyptic future where North America no longer is North America but instead Panem, a collection of districts ruled by the cruel hand of the dictatorial Capitol.  Every year the apathetic Capitol commands one girl and one boy from each district to compete in what is called the hunger games, a fight to the death where only one child will survive.  Katniss Everdeen sacrifices herself for her younger sister when Prim is selected as one of the competitors. What is striking about these novels is the author’s fearlessness and ambition, as she captures a wide foray of human themes, from betrayal to resilience with a heroine that is both vulnerable and fierce.  Humanity drives The Hunger Games, an anti-war novel, from start to finish.

That said, The Hunger Games is a big load to carry.  Subtlety seems to be director Gary Ross’s forte.  That is both a positive and negative for the film.  With a PG-13 rating and a tricky subject matter, being subtle is a good choice in the scenes of the games.  However, Ross’s filmmaking style detracted when it is flitting back and forth to different places and is literally shaky.  Ross seems to be going for grit, but The Hunger Games could actually use more punch.

Some parts of the film are too subdued.  Avid fans will be upset that some details are changed, including who gives Katniss the mockingjay pin.  The garish Capitol is not so garish in the film.  It is understandable that the designers of the film did not want to go too over-the-top with the costumes but Katniss is supposed to be “on fire” after all.  In addition, the special effects are also not impressive.

The Hunger Games has an outstanding cast.  Jennifer Lawrence is strong as the lead.  Lawrence has quite a lot to take on as such a beloved heroine.  She captures the fierceness (as she did in Winter’s Bone wonderfully) but perhaps is a bit too stoic.  Maybe Lawrence could have used a little more vulnerability to let us know what Katniss is thinking, as we are unable to look into her mind as we are in the first-person novel.  Woody Harrelson is excellent as Haymitch, Katniss’s mentor in the games, and Lenny Kravitz brings gravity to the film as Cinna, a supporter of Katniss.  Rue is beautifully played by the young Amandla Stenberg.  In fact, the reaping and the scenes with Rue are the most touching of the entire film.

Elizabeth Banks plays the funny, silly Effie perfectly and Stanley Tucci is also great as the amusing Caesar Flickerman.  Josh Hutcherson as Peeta and Liam Hemsworth as Gale (both in love with Katniss) are also very good.  A weak link unfortunately is Donald Sutherland as who should be the evil, snake-like President Snow.  Sutherland comes off neither sinister nor frightening.  He is not able to capture what Ralph Fiennes was able to when he played Voldemort in the Harry Potter films.

Overall, The Hunger Games is done well and tries to stay as true to the book as it can.  Hopefully, the second installment will be even better as the filmmakers learn what worked and what did not.  Perhaps with the second installment they can capture and stress more the urgency of the work’s main theme, that against all odds we must never lose sight of our humanity.

(The soundtrack that has been released is sadly and surprisingly not used in the film.  “Safe and Sound” could have worked well.  Here it is, Safe and Sound by Taylor Swift Feat. The Civil Wars.)

Pottermore: The Perfect Antidote To Your Post-Deathly-Hallows Blues

Friday, June 24th, 2011

For all those who are preparing for a mourning period after the credits roll on July 15th, while frantically re-reading and re-watching Harry Potters 1-6, fear not! The Potter franchise isn’t done yet (and now I’m having a hard time imagining a time when it ever will be done). Last week’s Internet freak-out over JK Rowling’s new, but simple, webpage was proof that the woman hasn’t finished with Harry yet.

Rowling’s anticipation-building marketing skills aside, this mysterious Pottermore website apparently promised to give Potter fans something. . .well, more. The big announcement, however, was not unveiled until yesterday morning when Joanne herself posted a video on the site and held a London press conference to give all the gory details.


Going Digital

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

When you're faced with a stack of newspapers and the sleek Kindle, is there really any need to figure out which is the better option?

I’m not a fan of digital textbooks. Before my hard copies come in the mail, I’ve been forced to pore over previews provided by Google Books. Besides the fact that the books have put me to sleep once or twice, the experience wasn’t otherwise enjoyable.  Having to stare at the tiny letters for over an hour isn’t my idea of fun. But if I wanted to stay caught up while waiting for my real textbooks, I had to persist. I did – but only grudgingly.

Yet, every quarter I think I find more offerings to download my books online. For the most part, it’s cheaper. And it’s also greener. There are no production costs and no paper used! While this may seem like a blessing I’m frightened by the downfall of the physical textbooks and regular books. I stare at a screen all day anyways; I prefer not have to stare at it while I’m enjoying light reading. Yet I could metaphorically hear the nail being hammered into the coffin when I got the news that Borders is filing for bankruptcy. Barnes and Noble is still strong since it’s riding the ebook wave with it’s eReader the Nook but there doesn’t seem to be demand for companies that just sell books in print.

Borders has always been a favorite store of mine. While Barnes and Noble seems almost formal with its bustling Starbucks carrying customers and forest green designs, Borders has always seemed more comfortable and relaxed. I’ll be sad to see its stores go. But in order to survive you have to compete. Without an e-reader out, Borders doesn’t really stand a chance.

Something that’s even more telling of the popularity of digital texts is the rapid growth in the tablet PC market. After Apple’s iPad launch last year, it seems like other computer companies are scrambling to catch up in the race for the best tablet. This year brings us the Apple iPad 2, Motorola XOOM, HP TouchPad, and more. More people than ever own tablet PC’s. A tablet PC isn’t the same as an eReader, but consumers purchasing more and more of these products it doesn’t make sense for the average person to own both devices. People are going to have to choose but either way, the ebook market wins.

Even public libraries have jumped on the digital bandwagon. It’s inevitable that sometime in the near future, people will be more reliant on ebooks than traditional hard copies. Even in the past few weeks, I’ve talked to students deliberating between buying a Kindle or suffering through carrying their books around. And considering Stanford’s efforts to be both green and up-to-date with current technological trends, it’s a wonder of how long it will take our student body to make the conversion. For print texts, with its popularity declining, the end may not be imminent but it’s definitely getting there.

O, and in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, if you’re a fan of e-readers here’s a few gift ideas and deals.

GRE: Remixed

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Last quarter my roommate mentioned taking the GRE general test to get it out of the way. She warned me that the test is changing and that rather than be a guinea pig for the new test, it might be a good idea to take it now. We’re both sophomores – I was barely thinking about majors let alone grad school. So I put it off. Until now.

I mean, I’m still not a sophomore taking a GRE. Honestly, I’m not really sure if I want to go to grad school at all (utterly shocking). But after wandering around the web I stumbled upon those changes she mentioned. They’re giving the test a complete overhaul. They’re changing a large portion of the test from antonyms and analogies to reading passages and vocabulary questions. They’re changing the scoring system. And it’s also an hour longer than current GRE tests.

I might not be taking this test but it seems like something people should be warned about. Even though they’re making all these “improvements” I would be a little intimidated to be part of the first round of graduate students being judged on an entirely different test. And while I know people don’t want to add anything else to their plates, considering that GRE scores are good for up to 5 years, it might be a better idea not to wait.

So the only upside at the moment to having to now contemplate taking this standardized test is that Kaplan is allowing owners of e-readers (Nook, Kindle, iPad, Sony eReader) to download 130 of their test prep books for free. Happy studying!

TUSGraph: Outsourced

Friday, January 7th, 2011

There’s some great stuff going on in the visual information world outside of my posts (hard to believe, right?). I thought I’d highlight some here.

First up is actually by a fellow Stanford student, Edward Segel. It’s a slick but simple recap of all of Pitchfork‘s album reviews from 2010, with a nice interface. If you’re like me and you hate reading words, then use this to skip the details of the Pitchfork reviews and go straight for the heart of the matter with the numerical album ratings. Well done, Edward. Pitchfork should be working harder to get a nice normal distribution.

This next one is all about color. Edgina simply posts a series of photos every day based on a color theme. The brilliant step was taken by dvdp when he noticed how awesome the time-mapped archive of all the images is. You wouldn’t be hurt by following either of those blogs.

Graphing Shakespeare is a sure way to work out both sides of your brain. These detailed script diagrams from Understanding Shakespeare are a visual and literary treat. Ditch the spark notes!.

Everyone loves it when their interests collide. Someone at Bill Sports Maps somehow found a way to nicely combine two of mine: geography and football..

A new take on people and perfection, this graphic is a great conversation starter. It’s very similar to the classic one: When you’re in college you get to pick two out of friends, school, and sleep.

Science nerds here at Stanford are constantly complaining about the scientific inaccuracies in movies, but it’s now nicely consolidated in a simple chart. Or maybe I just find this interesting after my roommate and I calculated that Iron Man would not be able to fly, even if we assumed his “hot pads” were hot enough to excite all the deuterium in the atmosphere enough to create a fusion reaction and propel him forward. Tony Stark must know something we don’t, but that’s not surprising.

Hope those will satisfy your graph cravings until the next TUSGraph. If not, stop by Sporcle!

Interview with Chris Rurik, Student Author and Creator of All of 100

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Chris Rurik, contributor and friend of TUSB and current Stanford senior, has been working for nearly two years on a daily blog called All of 100 along with friends Wyatt Roy ’11 and Lara Ortiz-Luis ’11. All of 100 has only one rule: you post exactly 100 words each day. Any format, any style, and any subject are fair game. Recently, they compiled their favorite posts and self-published a book, also called All of 100; the three will be hosting a release party for the book today (Monday 10/4) at French House at 8pm.

I sat down with Chris to talk about writing, the blog, and how the book came to be.

TUSB: What inspired you to make the book?
CR: The book came later; originally, one day I realized wanted to consider myself a writer yet I never really did anything about it. If I wanted to be a great basketball player, I’d shoot free throws everyday to become a good free throw shooter. So I decided I’d make an arbitrary rule to get myself writing every day and not worry about it too much. Something simple that wouldn’t be great literature. So I said, “Ok—100 words every day.” And I told [co-authors Wyatt Roy and Lara Ortiz-Luis], “Can I email what I write to you every day?” And they said, “Yeah sure…Wait, actually this is a cool idea—can we join?”

We created the blog so we could share with each other what we were writing each day. And then really interesting things started happening: since the only restriction is exactly 100 words it’s open to so much interpretation, and because you’re doing it every day you can try a new approach every day . So eventually we realized, “Wow–some of these are really awesome, we’d like to polish them and collect them.” And that’s where the idea for the book came. That started about last September; it’s been about a yearlong process getting it together.

TUSB: Have you edited the pieces at all?
CR: For all of the pieces in the book, we took what we originally wrote and edited them several times, both each other’s and our own.

Stanford for Dummies?

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Stanford for DummiesTo welcome the spring shopping season, the Stanford Bookstore has added a prominent display of “for Dummies” books near its right entrance. The decision to purchase these volumes and  feature them so conspicuously seems bizarre, given that Stanford possesses some of the nation’s brightest minds and has (supposedly) tried to cut wasteful spending. Particularly ludicrous is the inclusion of Twitter for Dummies…isn’t that the point of Twitter?

The odd assortment leads one to question how much faith the Bookstore managers have in students’ intellects. Perhaps this assumption of ignorance also explains the exorbitant prices they charge for textbooks. Alas, students are not as dumb as they think; many opt to buy their books on Amazon in lieu of getting ripped off.

Ex Libris: Beware library late fees for CDs and DVDs

Monday, January 11th, 2010

I went to return DVDs to Media and Microtext, and found I had a $12 fine. I thought I’d renewed them, but it turns out that, unlike books, DVDs cannot be renewed anytime. You must renew them ON THE DAY THAT THEY ARE DUE.
I was also surprised to find that DVDs are billed per disk, while books are billed per call number. So, one season of a TV show will be billed at $1.50 per disk, even though they’re all one call number. Since you’re allowed to rent out two call numbers at a time, if you rented two 7-disk TV seasons, and were either one day late in returning them, or screwed up the renewing process, expect to pay $1.50 x 14 = $21
So, learn from me and pay attention to those due dates, and be sure to renew DVDs on the day they are due.

Prolific Author Joyce Carol Oates Offers Writing Advice in Colloquium

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Following her reading last night, Joyce Carol Oates doled out writing (and life) advice as part of the more intimate colloquium this morning.
Oates began with, ended with, and repeatedly emphasized throughout a quote by Bernard Malamud: “Write your heart out.” She drew heavily upon her past experiences as a writer–one of the most prolific of the modern era–to provide advice and debunk common misconceptions held by young writers.
Joyce Carol Oates on writing, from the colloquium:
On happiness:
“Happy people are great to have around–everyone wants to marry a cheerful person–but you don’t want to be only happy. It’s just not very exciting.”


Buy Your Own Drinks: A Warning of the Mindset of Justification

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

This summer I read a book that shocked me. It made me realize that I, an intelligent female, had put myself in situations where I could have been date-raped. And before I read the book, I never even realized how close I could have been. Now perhaps I’m slightly naive- but honestly, until it happens to you or your friend, who isn’t?
I was lucky- I wasn’t one of the unfortunate women who said no and were ignored. But I want to share with everyone “The mindset of justification” that can lead some men into date-rape. Without remorse. Without regret. Without recognizing that they did anything wrong.
The following are sections of the book I read- How Dangerous Men Think. This is from the date rape chapter. (Note- the book was written in Australia, so some of the words are a bit foreign- like lift instead of elevator)
“I remember interviewing a young guy under arrest for the rape of a young woman he had met at a nightclub earlier in the evening. To my surprise he was quite happy to talk about the events of the evening, even to the point of admitting that he had had intercourse with the young woman in question when it was quite clear that she didn’t want him to. In an attempt to defend his actions he told me he had been invited back to the woman’s place, that he had been buying her drinks during the night and had even paid for the taxi. He added that they had already had sex once that evening and that about an hour later he wanted to do it again, but she wasn’t so keen. He told me she “wasn’t so keen” because she was yelling and screaming at him to stop and trying to push him off. I asked him what he did at this stage, to which he replied, that he held her down and had sex with her. When I asked if he could see the problem with that he said “mate, I’d been buying her drinks all night; I paid for the bloody taxi; we’d already done it once. Yeah she was saying “no”, come on mate, they all say “no” what’s the problem?” The “problem” was he had just admitted to committing sexual assault. The “problem” was he ended up going to prison for it. The “problem” was that he didn’t think he had done anything wrong”


Guest Post: Getting the Best Out of Orientation-and Then Some

Monday, August 25th, 2008

hey (soon-to-be) freshman, here’s a guest post by Anne Crossman, a Stanford-educated author with some tips about how to, uh, get the best out of orientation (and then some!) –darius
So, you’ve got your dorm assignment for the year…your summer reading well underway (!)…and you’ve most likely been hitting the Back to School sales pretty hard in the hopes of making your new home at Stanford a bit, well, homier. Ah yes, I remember the nauseous excitement well.
It was just a few years ago that I, too, had packed every crevice of my parents’ white minivan with what I thought I couldn’t live without for the year, pulling up to Stern Hall at 7:30am as my Twainie RA’s were getting set to unroll the red, uh, foil gift wrap. It took me by complete surprise when they welcomed me by name as if they had been waiting for me for the last four years; any qualms I had about moving away from home vanished.


Enhancing Evolution – Book preview and commentary

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

I was walking around at the Stanford Bookstore and I saw this book:
The book is called Enhancing Evolution – the Ethical Case for Making Better People. by John Harris. (Amazon, Princeton University Press ) and it looks like a very interesting book indeed.
The book covers Harris’s arguments for why we ought to promote technologies that would allow us enhance our bodies – most notably through altering our DNA. A lot of people have a general sense of repulsion to that idea, but Harris asks us to think about the other ways we enhance ourselves – glasses, coffee, drugs, surgeries, chemotherapy. We do so many unnatural things to our bodies in an attempt to make ourselves better. Harris argues it is our nature and sometimes our moral duty, to improve ourselves and help improve others.
I’m personally supportive of genetic enhancement because I think the greatest threat to humanity is 1) our own inability to make short-term sacrifices in pursuit of long-term goals – leading to failed diets and global warming. And 2) our propensity towards xenophobia and violence which divide us and cause so much suffering through wars and other conflicts. These are inclinations that are not caused by society as they are inclinations evolved into humans through the millions of years of living in small groups, facing immediate dangers from the world and from other groups.
I read a couple chapters in the bookstore and I think the writing is accessible and ethically sound. I’m writing an honors thesis on the ethics of patient selection in organ transplantation so I’m familiar with basic ethical theories, but you don’t even need to know that to enjoy and learn from this book. Check it out.

Timothy Ferriss, Author of The 4-Hour Work Week

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

Tim Ferriss is the author of “The Four Hour Work Week”

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Timothy Ferriss recommends you check email only once per week, don’t read the newspaper and don’t save for retirement. These are only a few of the taboo recommendations found in Tim’s book, “The 4-Hour Work Week.”

It would be easy to dismiss Tim’s advice as lunacy if it weren’t for his impressive list of achievements. Tim used his time-saving technique to learn six languages, become a National Chinese kickboxing champion, and a Guinness World Record holder in tango, all at 29. Tim now adds author of the #1 business book in America according to the Wall Street Journal to his long list of accomplishments.
Tim candidly discusses the contents of his book, his life philosophy and how he propelled his book to #1 using blog marketing. Tim’s ability to use technology to do more with less time and money is impressive and fresh.
– Nir

Book Review: The Black Swan

Saturday, July 14th, 2007

41TF4H15VEL._AA240_.jpgFirst, the title: it refers to the long-held Western belief that “All swans are white.” This was a belief given up in a second once Australia was discovered and a black swan sighted. What the experts had counted upon was untrue and it unsettled ornithology. That anecdote is the whole point of the book: you cannot predict anything with any great degree of accuracy.