I love books, and I look getting them in the mail to review! The Shut Up and Shoot Freelance Video Guide: Any Budget. Any Camera. Any Time. by Anthony Q. Artis is a really awesome book to take you step by step through the process of shooting videos - from choosing your camera, understanding what pixels are, comparing memory cards and going over how to hold a camera, to how to shoot music videos or commercials, conduct an interview and make your own business plan.
This is a comprehensive guide to everything you ever wanted to know about filming videos. I could see myself going through this book step by step and going from a complete novice to someone who can actually shoot a pretty good film! And I also think that this book would be useful for the experienced videographer: there is always more that we can learn, no matter how experienced we are.
One of the things I enjoyed about this guide is how very user-friendly it is. It's fun to read it! It's a book that you can sit down with and flip through just because. The writing style is conversational and speaks on a one-on-one basis. There are also plenty of pictures, lots of colour, and helpful charts and diagrams.
Artis says that no matter what type of camera you have, your knowledge of how to use that camera can make all the difference. His four quick tips include:
- Shallow Depth of Field
- Multiple Camera Angles
- Great Lighting
- Keep it Moving
The author does a great job of breaking down concepts into manageable pieces and idea, making it easier to work with if you have a camera at hand and are trying to improve your skills. This guide makes me want to buy a video camera and start practicing my film-making skills, to be honest. I like it!
Have you read The Shut Up and Shoot Freelance Video Guide? Do you enjoy taking videos?
I read this book in less than a week. And for a week I kept asking myself the same question, over and over:
Why do people love this book so much?
I'll do my best to refrain from using profanity on the blog, but this book is going to give me *@$%ing nightmares. The content is disturbing and creepy and disgusting.
After all of the media attention the book received, and how much people have been raving about it, I was incredibly disappointed. I would have stopped reading the book after the first couple chapters because it was boring and I wasn't impressed with the writing style at all, but I heard so many good things about it that I decided to continue.
And then I couldn't stop. It was like when some major disaster happens in front of you and you just can't tear your eyes away.
With the pedophilia, the murder, the rape, the incest and the horrific violence, I don't honestly get what everyone sees in the story itself.* It's all rather sad and definitely gruesome.
Have you read this book? Did you enjoy it? Will someone please tell me what I'm missing about what makes this book so amazing? I'm thoroughly perplexed.
*Granted, I have to admit that I've never read much in the way of crime fiction. So maybe this is typical crime fiction and it's just not my thing? That is definitely a possibility. I suppose I should give it the benefit of the doubt in that case...
I recently received a Second Story Press review copy of Restitution: A family's fight for their heritage lost in the Holocaust by Kathy Kacer. What interested me the most about this book, upon first hearing about it, is that it is a true story of the Holocaust from the perspective of a Jewish Czechoslovakian family: they escaped from Czechoslovakia and immigrated to Canada, and then spent decades fighting to reclaim four magnificent pieces of artwork that they had once owned. It follows the story up until the present day and involves art smugglers and diplomats as collaborators to get the art across the border without the government noticing.
The story is told from a different perspective than most other tales of the Holocaust, and it was very educational to see the war through the eyes of a Czechoslovakian teenager as his mother sends money to a bank in Paris and forges a Catholic wedding certificate and baptisms. Pictures of each of these documents, as well as fake passports, letters of correspondence, and the artwork that the family works so hard to reclaim are scattered throughout the book as a constant reminder that the story truly took place.
There was one problem that I had with this book: Kacer has written it with the seeming intention of telling a couple of stories (that of young Karl and his escape from Czechoslovakia, as well as the story of the art smuggler), in addition to giving a very accurate description of historical events. That in itself is a wonderful endeavor, but it is also very difficult to succeed in doing. I felt that throughout much of the book, she successfully tells the story and intertwines it with historical details, but that there were other points when it seemed to jump around too much. Just as you become invested in the characters, suddenly it reads like a history book (albeit a very compelling history book). This habit unfortunately places some distance between the reader and the characters.
That being said, I would certainly recommend this book to others (and in fact I had already raved about it to a couple of people before I had even finished the book). It is difficult to put down and Kacer is an excellent writer. If you're in the least bit interested in history, art, legacy, and the struggle to maintain the self within times of political strife, you will be able to take much away from reading Restitution.
Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge and was not compensated in any other way; the opinions expressed here are entirely my own.
I just finished reading Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss this past weekend. It is wonderful. If you're reading this blog, you likely have some interest in rhetoric, editing, and communication, so from that I'm going to go along with the assumption that you also are interested in how you can improve your rhetoric, editing, and communication skills.
No matter how good we are at any of those three things, there is always room for improvement and always something new to learn. That is the beauty of rhetoric.
Lynne Truss makes me want to stand up and start parading down the street, handing out copies of her book to everyone I see. She makes me want to fly to Britain to hug her. Eats, Shoots and Leaves is the kind of book that I kept thinking over and over, "I could have written that. And that. And that!" as I read it.
Parts of it, lamenting the decline of literacy and the written word in today's society, made me laugh. Every page had new tips and tricks from which to learn new ways of handling grammar and punctuation. Every time you wonder if you should use a comma or a semi-colon, or where the exact position for an apostrophe should be, or how to properly word a sentence, you can flip through the pages of Eats, Shoots and Leaves to find the answer to your problem.
Please do yourself a favour and go out now to the bookstore or the library. Find this book. Read it cover to cover. Cherish it. It is wonderful.
What is one of your favourite grammar/editing books? Have you read Eats, Shoots and Leaves before? What did you think of it?
Roy reminded me in my last blog post (about enjoyable ways to increase vocabulary) that reading non-fiction is a wonderful way to improve our understanding of language. I entirely agree! But I also find that it's good to have some kind of literature to read on the side; whole other worlds to explore besides our own. Both fiction and non-fiction make me gloriously happy.
There is no way that I can possibly choose a favourite novel (or even ten favourite novels), but lately I have been reading some really great novels that I enjoyed and that I believe more people should read:
- A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh: Infamous for his novel Brideshead Revisited (which most people will probably recognize as the film rather than the book), Waugh is a literary genius. His writing style reminds me of Graham Greene; this may be partly because both authors have the same kind of selfish, depressing characters that they delight in writing about. A Handful of Dust follows the story of an upper-class couple living in England and their doings within their social circles. The wife finds herself a deadbeat young man to have an affair with, and what follows is a series of remarkable and most unfortunate events for a number of people. It ends on a disturbing note which is completely unexpected; the story itself is a very real account of how people operate in society and the writing is beautiful to read.
- The Ladies of Grace Adieu and other stories by Susanna Clarke: I first became enamored with Clarke when I read her novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. One of the things that I love about her writing is that it is entirely different from any kind of modern writing. She has a completely unique style and a way with descriptions that make what could be lengthy, boring passages seem entirely necessary and fascinating. This book is more of a collection of short stories than a novel, but each story is interesting to read as Clarke combines fairy tales with history.
- The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley: Kearsley's novel intrigued me because a) it is about a writer, and b) parts of it take place during the same time period as Diana Gabaldon's historical fiction series (which I also adore). The Winter Sea is a fairly easy read, but that doesn't detract from the quality of the storyline: it is well-crafted with an intriguing look at how a writer creates her story. It follows the parallel lives of a woman in the modern times and a woman living during the uprising in Scotland, flipping back and forth between times.
- The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon: A book written from Aristotle's point of view as he instructs the child version of Alexander the Great, this novel combines philosophy with historical fiction. The voice of the narrator is astute at reading people, and the images in the book are presented in a frank and honest manner - the descriptions of the characters, and the way that the characters think, may seem a little extreme until you start to recognize that society across the ages has always had people who think and act in these extreme fashions.
- Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence: This novel was written in 1928, but it is surprisingly still easy to read and very accessible to readers today. It is not "just" a love story - in fact, I would hesitate to call it as such, although I am only about halfway finished reading the novel - but it rather is an accurate depiction of the rifts between personalities and social classes. Lawrence examines the basic components of respect and proper social conduct, and turns them over to demonstrate the ridiculousness in much that we say, do, and think. His style is engaging and his story pulls you in the more you read.
What novels have you been reading lately?
Penguin Group sent me this book to review as a member of the Blogger Book Network. Although it was originally published in 1991, it was released again this year with a new introduction by BBC correspondent Fergal Keane.
Aung San Suu Kyi has lived a remarkable life as a political leader fighting for democracy in Burma. She has been relentless in her struggle for freedom and human rights, even though her values and beliefs have caused her to be imprisoned for nearly a third of her lifetime.
Letters from Burma is a collection of short, 3-5 page chapters depicting daily Burmese life within an explanation of politics and discussions on human rights. Suu Kyi writes poetically about drinking tea, Burmese hospitality, and the artistry of ceramic bowls, contrasting these miniature narratives beautifully with other chapters stating factual information about Burmese political history. She effectively uses analogies of everyday life to relate details of the importance of democracy and human rights.
Because each chapter is so short, it allows for the reader to read a chapter or two at a time and then set the book down to muse over each carefully-chosen word and phrase that Suu Kyi has used. Even a reader with no background knowledge of the issues in Burma will be able to understand the situation; Suu Kyi gives plenty of information on the political struggles in her home country without overwhelming the reader with too many facts and figures.
The narrative writing style contributes to the pleasure of reading Letters from Burma. Some of the politics can become a little confusing, but Aung San Suu Kyi revisits the issues that the Burmese people and the political leaders have had to face so that the reader can have a well-rounded understanding.
Suu Kyi captures the reader's emotion with her honesty of self. One chapter entitled "Young Birds Outside of Cages", which deals with the hardships of political figures being separated from their family and children, is enough to send shivers down the spine as it focuses on the traumatic effects on young children.
Anecdotes fill the pages, drawing out the reality of the situation. It also makes the reader realize just how far removed we are from the sort of life that Suu Kyi describes:
"...our young people these days, although they are rich and have never known what it is like not to have enough to eat, do not look up toward the heavens, nor do they care whether there are clouds or whether there is a sun behind them." (37).
Throughout this poetic account of history, politics, national pride, and humanity is an underlying strength which reminds the reader to always fight for freedom, to never give up, and to appreciate even the smallest of everyday things that we take for granted. Aung San Suu Kyi proves herself as an exquisite writer in addition to being an international hero.
In the Media: Book Review of “The Compassionate Carnivore” by Catherine Friend (and an explanation of how a health writer writes)
I own what I believe to be a fairly well-rounded collection of health books. They vary from diet and nutrition, to cookbooks, to scientific studies, to fitness, to mental health and body image, to observations on human health throughout history.
What fascinates me about my collection of several dozen books is that they all share something else in common besides their subject of "health": the authors all have just the right mix of styles to convey their information in a way that the reader can understand it and change their lifestyles from reading, but also that the reader can enjoy the book.
Today I began to read The Compassionate Carnivore (or, how to keep animals happy, save old Macdonald's farm, reduce your hoofprint, and still eat meat) by Catherine Friend. Within the first few pages I was already hooked in:
Until Melissa and I started our farm, I'd lived in the city, where I happily wore clean clothes, kept a tidy house, paid no attention to the changing seasons, and was content to completely ignore the fact that my meat used to be an animal's muscles.
The quickest way to turn vegetarian (or vegan) is to start thinking about what your meat actually is. When I became a strict vegan as a health challenge for an entire month last fall, that was how I dealt with cravings for eggs. I stopped craving eggs very quickly once I really thought about what eggs "are" (don't think for too long or you won't be able to make a poached egg for a while). Friend's description of "meat as animal's muscles" captures this well without making the consumer feel guilty, which is central to her style.
This book is not a declaration of war against farmers, since I am one. It's not a plea for everyone to become a vegetarian, since I will never be one.
A key aspect of health writing seems to be a modest amount of humorous self-deprecation. Too little, and the readers will think you're a tiresomely pompous, self-righteous robot with no understanding of human emotion. Too much, and the readers will think you have the self-esteem of a thirteen-year-old who has just discovered that a) she has spots all over her face, b) boys aren't gross after all, and c) she won't be worthy unless she's on a diet and loses at least 20 pounds, according to the magazines at the grocery store.
It's a fine balance between sharing human insecurities and demonstrating personal strength in being the best that we can be, but Friend accommodates for both of these admirably.
This will not be one of those cheerful self-help books that makes change sound so ridiculously easy- "Become a Compassionate Carnivore in Just Ten Days!"- that you feel like a total loser when you're not able to pull it off. At the other extreme, it's not intended to be one of those books about factory farming that's so depressing that you can't get out of bed for a week.
As any writer knows, the only way they're going to sell their book is by writing something that's original and new (but still relatable enough that people will want to read it). There are many books out there about eating organic, local, and mostly plant-based foods, but to my knowledge there aren't that many books out there that focus on how you can eat healthy (for yourself, the animals, the economy, and the environment) as an avowed meat-eater.
Friend raises awareness and encourages readers by using rhetoric to relate to her readers. She identifies with our own overworked, overwhelming lives and shows us that even though we can't save everyone and everything in the world, we can still do our bit by making realistic changes.
...and that is how a health writer writes.
All of the above quotes can be found on pages 6-7. The book just keeps getting better from there.
Penguin Group sent me this book to review some time ago; now that we are in the middle of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, I figured this would be prime time to discuss Red Snow. As a lawyer specializing in cases involving the criminally insane, author Michael Slade sets his murder mystery novel at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are the heroes of the story, with the James Bond/Indiana Jones-style villain intent on destroying the world. Beautiful women play a prominent role in this typically "modern" murder mystery, in which the female characters are supposedly strong (they are either involved in police work or they work alongside the villain), yet they still require a certain amount of care and protection from the men. The female villains are mere sidekicks, and the "good" women depend on the other police officers to do the real grunt work.
Slade's writing style is simplistic; he makes use of basic creative writing techniques with flat characters and stereotypical plot design. Cliches are abundant in this crime novel, complete with a "tittering buxom trio" and an evil villain with a penchant for shriveled heads.
Although the writing itself is mediocre at best, presumably there are grounds for the realistic aspects of the murder cases within Red Snow, considering that Slade himself has work on more than a hundred murder cases during his time as a lawyer. But with a villain hell-bent on revenge, mutilation, and world destruction, as well as a body discovered covered in gold and a number of athletes who get their heads mercilessly chopped off, the book appears to be more of a child's imagination run amok rather than anything that could remotely be compared to an actual murder trial.
Despite the fact that the storyline is tediously predictive and that the writing is blase, Slade certainly knows how to keep his reader captivated by the sheer magnitude of disturbing scenes. Not even the main characters are safe from being killed off in gruesome fashion. It is for this reason that I wouldn't recommend reading the book before going to sleep- chapter after chapter ends on the note of someone being brutally killed. Not, perhaps, the best genre to choose, especially when set at the infamous international event of the Olympics.
One of my classes this term is Revolutions in Communication. Essentially it is a course about the history of communication, beginning with oral societies. Oral societies relied on stories to convey lessons, and an important part of these societies were the telling of fairy tales.
The book that we are reading is Folk & Fairy Tales, fourth edition, edited by Martin Hallett and Barbara Karasek. It is a beautiful 411-page compilation of fairy tales from all over the world. They are divided into sections: first, we have a section each devoted to the tales of Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. The sections following these three classic tales are Growing Up (is hard to do), The Enchanted Bride (Groom), Brain over Brawn (The Trickster), Villains, A Less Than Perfect World, Juxtapositions, Illustration, and Criticism. These sections include variations of the stories of The Brave Little Tailor, Beauty and the Beast, The Three Little Pigs, and Rumplestiltskin among many others.
This is an excellent book for those interested in learning more about the evolution of fairy tales and the way in which different authors have written their own versions for each story. Some of the most well-known recorders of fairy tales are Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Charles Perrault, and Hans Christian Andersen, but there are many others besides featured in this book. Perrault has a habit of tacking an explicit moral onto the end of each of his fairy tales for the reader's benefit, and it is his style which I have found to be particularly appealing: his stories would interest children, but they are also written in such a way that adults will appreciate the subtleties that children will not understand.
This book includes some beautiful coloured photographs of favourite fairy tales and closely examines prominent motifs featured in major fairy tales. It is lovely to see some of the better-known versions alongside the lesser-known ones, and to consider these fairy tales in a different light than our usual Disney understanding of them.
Interpretations of Fairy Tales
In our class we have been dissecting these fairy tales according to a few major theorists so that we can consider a few different ways in which we might interpret the fairy tales. This allows us to also look at the stories from angles which we might not have thought of prior to the class. For example, we looked closely at Freud's interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood and Sleeping Beauty. I'll spare you the details lest you never think of these fairy tales in the same light again, but essentially he believed that these fairy tales are all about the psychological transition of becoming a sexual being. The red hood, the long sleep, even the number of fairies included are all, in Freud's point of view, innuendos for sexuality.
Although Freud's interpretation seems rather extreme, his understanding of the message of fairy tales is important because it teaches us that there is much more to just about anything than we originally may think. We view the world with what knowledge we already have, so if we can broaden our minds by learning about other interpretations of the world, we can benefit by expanding our understanding. And increasing our awareness is always useful to our livelihood and wellbeing.
Reference books and dictionaries are precious to any rhetorician, and they extend far beyond the ordinary (but delightful) Oxford English Dictionary or a thesaurus. There are countless ways that we can play around with language and have fun with it. The Scholastic Dictionary of Synonyms, Antonyms, Homonyms is one way to expand your vocabulary and polish your writing skills.
Synonyms are words that have the same meaning. For example, the words bombast, bluster, and pomposity all share the same meaning. Antonyms are opposites: haughty is an antonym of gracious. Homonyms are words which share the same pronunciation but have different meanings, so that although reign means "to rule", rain refers to water and a rein is a bridle.
This reference guide is divided into two parts. As a way to build vocabulary, Part One lists hundreds of words in alphabetical order with the synonyms and antonyms following each word. Part Two lists a number of commonly used homonyms to eliminate misunderstandings and confusion.
There is a short page-long explanation at the beginning of the book explaining how to use the reference, warning that "no two words are exactly alike or always interchangeable. Each synonym and antonym suggests a different shade of meaning". This is a common mistake that we make especially when we are learning new languages. We might tell someone that we appreciate them, but we would not say that we acknowledge, recognize, or estimate them in the same context, even though all three of those words are synonyms of appreciate. Whenever I am involved in editing work, I notice that people frequently misuse words in this way. One of the joys of writing is in choosing words to convey our exact intended meaning. Opening up a thesaurus and picking a word at random will likely only contribute to a poorly written piece.
I really like the way this book is laid out. It is quite small and therefore easily portable. It focuses on common words in the English language, offering ideas for new ways to express ourselves when we get hung up on using the same word over and over. The second section is perfect for those words that we stumble upon- I've noticed that principal and principle seem to always get mixed up when people are using them (and just for the record, the correct use of them is thus: as long as you stick to society's principles, it's unlikely you'll be sent to the principal's office). I will be referring to this little dictionary time and again for fresh ideas and to double-check that I have employed the correct spelling for tricky homonyms.