Ebook review: Remember Big: A Novel by Kelly Wittmann

Golf is a game that puts people in two camps of lovers and haters, it seems. Mark Twain apparently said “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” Many years ago back in the old country golf was a game that I played from time to time and to be honest I enjoyed it tremendously. In my youth I bought individual clubs from second hand shops and ended up with a splendid mixed bag of irons and a couple of woods which I only reluctantly upgraded to a proper set in adulthood. It is amazing that I say I enjoyed it with all the frustrations that come along with it. Another splendid quote from Churchill “Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.” Somehow, the great man captures it perfectly. Those weapons impel that little ball in almost every conceivable direction than the one requested; hook, slice, top and repeat. How many hours have I spent searching for that small device in the ‘rough’. The rough is of course that almost unnavigable jungle like growth that exists for the pleasure of golfers everywhere who do not quite manage to find the whisper thin band of fairway. I got to play a round the other day for the first time in ages and really enjoyed the frustration and the exhilaration of that crazy game. So, when I saw a satirical fiction with golf as an essential back plot I had to roll with it; let us get into the swing of today’s par 5:

From the dust cover: “Thirty-three-year-old Charlie Matthias was born on the same day as Phil Mickelson, but his career in professional golf sure didn’t turn out the same way. Throw in some substance abuse and divorce issues, and he’s a wreck who’s pretty much given up on ever having a happy life.

A chance meeting with an old friend from high school, Erica Denner, lights a spark of hope in his heart, but he claims their very different family backgrounds and personalities are stumbling blocks. Only when he admits to the real stumbling blocks—his own pain and bitterness—will there be a chance for Charlie and Erica to find a lasting love together.”

My Ebook review: coming to terms with a life that is less than personally fulfilling, even though the rest of the world would chew off a leg to live such a life, the hero of this book makes an excellent study. There are many works written about how empty life can be even in the face of wealth, health and success but “Remember Big: A Novel” we examine how self destructive this emptiness can be. Charlie is a guy with everything except a proper backbone. He has been pushed about by his family for years and never really stood up for himself. He hated his career as a pro-golfer even though it gave him a tremendous living and a wife and the almost admiration of his narcissistic family, gave it up and we catch up with him on the way down. The danger in many such stories is that the character is so lacking in maturity that he (usually it is a he) is virtually impossible to empathize with and this is a tight boundary that Wittmann navigates pretty well. Charlie is not a likeable character in many ways and his destiny reflects well the character as written and his bitterness and insecurity combine with a strangely tight bond to an unhelpful family situation mean there will always be trouble one way or the other.
The backstory of the book, the career as a pro-golfer and references to that life are useful and interesting. Regardless that being a golfer sounds like it should be a magnificent life (from the outside) living out of hotels and endless playing of a game that one hates is bound to build up a stress on the system. On the other hand, having a job, any job, eventually involves a degree of dissatisfaction for the vast majority of people but we still need to do it. So Charlie is not a guy who is going to get sympathy but he does get a chance to reboot his life.
You will need to read it to find out of course but this is a well written book that moves a story along nicely with a good selection of well thought out characters and situations. For me, Wittmann executes this story well and the sense of realism was maintained throughout.


E book review If you want to friend me, meet me @ starbucks (Grandpa’s Guide) by Tic Rawghers

I found this E book under the humor section on Amazon and gave it a shot. That is always a nice way to find surprises and this was a pretty decent surprise. According to himself “Tic Rawghers, Grandpa Tic to the little kids, has been goaded into writing about things that his kids (and grandkids) think he’s funny about. He hopes you think so, too. But if you don’t, it won’t bother him none. He writes, now and then, from Florida, and hopes you enjoy the topics he covers. You can also request his thoughts on something on his blog.”

From the dust cover: “Grandpa Tic Rawghers’ Guide to the Non-Technical Life reveals the hold technology has on us, and gives suggestions on how we might break free. In this tongue-in-cheek diatribe, Tic rails against social media, smartphones and other gadgets as his kids and grandkids teach him how growing up today is different than yesterday. He shows them how sometimes this gets you into trouble, and why, sometimes, the old-fashioned way is still best.”

My review: I always enjoy reading about how progress is not really progress and the superiority of the ‘good old days’. Essentially this is the author’s message through much of this short piece. The language made me consider that this might be a spoof or a dictated work because it seems to more like the spoken word than prose. As the book progressed the language ended up giving Tic more authenticity as a bit of a grumpy old man who has had a life that has spanned some of the most amazing developments in human history.

The main message it an interesting step back and insightful inspection of whether all of the advances are in fact progress. What might we have lost with all the connectivity. Clearly, the advantages of technology go beyond making the print encyclopedia defunct.

There is a surprisingly useful guide at the end which is a clear reminder of how to stay human in our electronic world.

Saturday / Sunday Ramble – Peer Reviews

In another part of my life I occasionally write articles for publication in scientific journals. In reality these days I tend to be a co-author but that is just a technicality that demonstrates an enjoyable data collecting partnership somewhere close to the cutting edge. At least I am far enough away from the cutting edge that the risk to fingers is small.

Fingers is a segway to me playing the part of Frank Finger in “It’s Only A Play” by Terrance McNally (I hope I recall the name correctly). It is a fun play and at its heart the review of the prodigy director’s (Frank’s) latest Broadway offering.

Scientific journals have a process of peer review before publication. For those who have been lucky enough to avoid peer review, the process goes something like this: the authors write and submit a piece of work to a journal editor who then asks two or three people who know something about the subject of your piece to review and critique it. The fate of your publication is in their hands.

So Friday I had my Frank Finger moment as the second reviewer absolutely canned an article that we had written. Ouch! What a breakthrough. We all go through this and it is not the first time for me either. I have a decent collection of ones that made it through so I can spare myself psychological counselling. The first author is perhaps not so fortunate and I feel for him.

Was the criticism correct you may ask: no I answer. What good does my denial do: none whatsoever. Can we whine to the editor: sure we can and he/she will tell us what we already know: take it elsewhere it is fine work but not for this journal.

My biggest reaction was to consider the amount of human endeavour that is sunk into this circus. How many people spend how many years of their productive lives trying to get a simple message out there. In our case the message (the data in fact) will get out there, it will just take some more good old persistence.

So like Frank Finger: Its Only An Article, but it is also an effort that must be made.

So in a round about way I come to the point: good reviews are splendid and clearly the reviewer is a fine person; bad reviews are rubbish to receive and clearly the reviewer needs to …. but I suppose all feedback is a gift and we absorb what is useful, discard what is useless, pick ourselves up and carry on continuously improving!

Easter Saturday ramble

Tonight we go over to summertime and today we woke up with snow. Normally at Easter we have been out and about making the garden look nice and generally sweeping away the winter. This year we will have to be a bit more creative. I think we are all itching to get on with a new season. Driving just now I spied a group of March Hares mad at the delay. The birds are singing angrily and at least in my garden have not be bothered building new nests in the shed.
This is all very poetic and for us at least we can get by with decent winter gear, thick jackets, gloves, scarves and hats, but what is really getting to me is the greyness. What this seems to mean is continuous replacement of lightbulbs and therein the issue of today. Nowadays we can only buy energy efficient bulbs that apparently last forever and so the amazing hick in price is a long term saving. Except, no that is rubbish. I have lost count of the money we have spent trying out these oh so efficient bulbs. Either they give up long before their allotted 10000 hours or worse they flicker, make a high pitched squeal or take an evening to warm up and give sufficient light for a bat to read by! Grrr! Roll on the sunny days!

Why are trains later the colder it is?

English: Trains gone Cholsey Station without t...
Station without the train. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The snow arrived just in time to be late and just in time to catch most people out yesterday. Today the vista is white from horizon to horizon making my short train ride an illuminated one. It is not yet 6am and I am sat in the silent carriage on an empty train. I wonder if there would be objections to me talking. I will not in any case, there is nothing to say to myself and generally it is not appreciated making calls to folk at this time of day.

The train was late, again, getting to my station. When the weather is nice, the trains are on time. When the weather is bitter, the trains give us the opportunity to prolong the exposure. The thing about train stations that I have noticed is that they are almost always designed like massive wind tunnels. The ramjet effect of freezing air pummeling through the deserted station gives an eerie effect of openness whilst at the same time managing to slow down time. Seconds feel like minutes and minutes feel like hours and the track seems to elongate as the train approaches, approaches but does not ever quite make it until finally it is there. We have some very nice doors on our trains with very nice electric locking systems and a little step that comes out first and it is all so wonderfully slow that I find it hard to maintain my usual calm.

There should be a book written about commuting meditation, just as one can try walking meditation. The constant repetition of the same routines over the years must surely lead to some inner peace, but apparently I have not found the way yet!Bridge for walking meditation

Recycling and eyeing the coffee suspiciously

These days I need to be careful about leaving my coffee mug around and recycling it later on in the day. Our cat likes the same brand of instant coffee as I do. This has probably been the case for a long time and I do not want to contemplate that but anyhow, we noticed said cat drinking the remains of my coffee one day and were amazed. She is also fascinated with cigarette ash but since the last member of our family gave up she has been on forced withdrawal and probably this is why she is drowning her sorrows in my coffee mug. Strangely it is only one brand of instant and irritatingly, it is now this brand we buy. I am wary of letting the mug out of my sight. It is fair enough I suppose; I should drink less coffee and tidy up more often so probably this is good for me somehow!

Not my cat, but a cat drinking coffee!
Not my cat, but a cat drinking coffee!

Segway onto another recycling issue first noticed by me many years ago, namely the recycling of book content from one book into another. This was an issue I first noted with paper books in the personal development genre. At that time I was very interested in how some people managed to accelerate through life while others seemed to stagnate. This is not always by choice, although sometimes this is the result of personal preference. It turned out, not surprisingly, that I was not alone in this thought process and a multitude of books were available on the subject. I read broadly for a while, buying many books on the subject. It took a couple of months but it became clear that the subject was not so deep as the plethora of books proposed and the underlying theory or perhaps theories could be communicated in just a couple of pages and the rest was anecdote. Fair enough, that was absolutely fine. I like Occam’s razor and simple solutions are great for me. The issue that bugged me then and that I am ranting about now is the recycling of content by authors into several books. One author in particular, whose first book on the subject was very good, irritated me greatly because I went on to buy the other books that she had written in one batch only to find that they were all essentially repetitions of the same theory and also the same anecdotes.
Having read through a lot of EBooks for Kindle it is clear that a similar trend occurs. It occurs perhaps in various genres and I am questioning myself, is it me? Should this bother me at all? So long as I download an ebook during a free offer and do not have to spend time or money on it it should not make such a difference to me personally. The market will decide eventually, but it does add a layer of irritation over Ebook purchasing. My preference is to read something new, or the same old thing from a new angle, or with new anecdotes. Whatever it is it needs to be new. Otherwise I am back to sharing the mug with the cat. I cannot change the self-publishing behavior of ebook authors any more than I can stop the cat drinking my coffee when I am not looking, so the answer is the same. I wash up the mug, and read fewer eBooks on the subjects I know well. After all, an ebook I read at the start of the year which essentially slammed the 99 cent ebook and my response then was that the market will decide and authors who make an effort should be allowed to try and profit from this phenomenon of self-publishing. It would be great if I had learned my lesson earlier, cats like coffee and people like to take the easy route when possible!

Bureaucracy is the fifth horseman!

The apocalypse has already started. The fifth horseman sold his steed to some east European chaps who make lasagne and is not happily creating havoc from an office near you. Sweeping across the lives of anyone vaguely in a hurry or attempting to gain enjoyment, Bureaucracy smothers all. “I just need you to…”, “I just need to see…” It is the forced politeness embossed as a thin veneer over a deep passive aggressive core that infuriates. There are formalities to our live that we must adhere to, but dash it all can we not try to manage this in a better way. Must we be left fuming curses and spluttering contempt because the fifth horseman is playing his games? Oh to be in a world where we can shun this one!