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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Catch Up

Been super busy lately, between changes in my job situation, trying to keep my other blog running, working on various projects, etc. Have been reading, but not updating. This is an attempt to catch up. I may miss a few things in my attempts.

Once and Future King, by T.H. White

One of the definitive re-tellings of the Arthurian myth. Extremely well-written. Extremely engaged. Frequently depressing. Glad I read it, finally.

Education of a Bodybuilder, by Arnold Schwartzanegger

Self-aggrandizing autobiography of the beginning of the Governators career. Interesting insights into the man's psychology and training. Quick, easy, read. More comprehensive review here.

Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder, by Sam Fussell

Rich Oxford kid rebels against intellectual parents by pursuing career as bodybuilder. Interesting look into the bodybuilding sub-culture, marred by a sense that the author has never really bought into the culture as much as he claims to have. More comprehensive review here.

A Companion to Wolves, by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette

Faux Nordo-Germanic fantasy novel about super-intelligent wolves and the men who are bonded to them. The initial premise is interesting, and the writing is solid, but the plot ends up relying on a couple of odd deus ex machina, and includes one of the most annoying, non-Nordic cliches of all fantasy literature. There's also way to much sex for my tastes, particularly since it doesn't really add much to the story. Decent, but I have no urge to seek out the rest of the series.

Bloody Crown of Conan (Audio CD), by Robert E. Howard

Reviewed the book here. Audio version is well-done...audio quality is solid, voice acting is good. Have another one that I need to listen too...but so far, Tantor Media seems to do good work.

I think that covers it. Hopefully, I'll be a bit more on top of things moving forward.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Championship Weightlifting, Beyond Muscle Power

Championship Weightlifting, Beyond Muscle Power, The Mental Side of Lifting
by Tommy Kono



I confess that, even after reading this book, I know very little of Tommy Kono. Beforehand, I knew even less, but my father (who bought me this book as a birthday present), tells me that Kono was one of the heroes of his youth, and an inspiration for his forays in weightlifting. While still haven’t learned much more about Kono’s history, I learned a LOT from Championship Weightlifting.


Championship Weightlifting seems to be intended as a companion or follow up piece to Kono’s other book, Weightlifting, Olympic Style (which I have not read). My understanding is that Weightlifting, Olympic Style, covers the mechanics of Olympic Weightlifting in great detail. Championship Weightlifting is not about specific mechanics so much as it is about a proper mindset and attitude.


Fortunately, much of Kono’s advice, while specific to weightlifting, is really applicable to anyone who wants to do spectacularly well at a particular activity. And make no mistake—this book assumes that you want to be, well, a champion. While Kono does not disdain the “hobbyist” weightlifter, he does make it quite clear that there is a difference between being a hobbyist and champion, and that if you want to be the latter, you must think and train accordingly. Kono’s instructions and ideas for maintaining a proper mindset and focus about weightlifting are easily transferable to other activities, and I suspect I’ll be recommending this book for those ideas alone.


But there is a lot of other interesting goodness here too. Kono’s advice on programming and training I found interesting. In a nutshell, Kono vehemently decries the “Eastern European” style of training, arguing that competitive lifters should be training in short, focused sessions, three or four times a week. What should they train? The competitive lifts (snatch, clean & jerk), plus the press (which was a competition lift during Kono’s competitive career) and some squats. That’s it. Do your lifts, do THEM RIGHT, and go home.

I highlighted do them right because that was one of the other things that stood out to me about this book. Despite being a book about a sport that the author describes as being about “putting as much weight as possible over your head” (not an exact quote), Kono is adamant about the need for proper technique over strength. You could take out the weightlifting terminology and replace it with martial arts terminology, and Kono’s writing would read like that of so many martial arts instructors. Focus on technique, form, and precision, not power. Power will come.


The book also includes some excellent discussion of Kono’s coaching philosophies and methods, some technical pointers regarding the lifts, and the “ego section”, which summarizes Kono’s incredible list of accomplishments as a competitor and coach.


There is a wealth of useful information for anyone in this book. Certainly, competitive lifters will get the greatest benefit from it, but even the humble hobbyist can gain something. If you are an athlete, or coach athletes, or just want to improve your mindset…get this book.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Borders Is Going Under

I first heard about this at Locus, but it is probably all over the news at this point.

Part of me feels kinda sad; I used to work for Waldenbooks, a Borders subsidiary back in the day, and liked a lot of the people I worked with, even if I didn't love the retail life.

OTOH, the few people I know who stuck with company long-term got shafted before the end. So...I dunno.

It is a sign of the changing times, at any rate.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Fighting Man of Japan: The Training and Exercises of the Samura

The Fighting Man of Japan: The Training and Exercises of the Samurai by F. J. Norman

My father passed this one along to me. It is a very short work, published in 1905 by an English military officer who was sent to teach the Japanese about modern warfare. Along the way, he was exposed to, and studied, several Japanese martial arts, most notably some form of Kenjutsu (he consistently refers to it as fencing).

If I had a complaint about this book, it is only that its very short. Norman really just gives a cursory overview of what I'm sure was a more in-depth understanding of the Japanese martial culture and tradition at the time. It's clear that he has a great deal of respect for the Japanese warrior traditions, though he avoids succumbing to the modern assumption that they are somehow innately superior to European methods. His discussion on that particular subject generally boils down to "it depends".

One thing that I found interesting was Norman emphasizes on several occasions that the Japanese systems, in contrast to the European methods of the time, place LESS emphasis on form and precision, and a greater emphasis on effectiveness and free play. I'll have to dig out actual quotes when I get home, but its a striking reversal of the stereotypes of both methodologies, from a guy who was actually there.

This is a good, quick, read for anyone interested in Japanese or European military history or martial arts. Check it out.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bloodlust: On the Roots of Violence from Cain and Abel to the Present

If nothing else, my reading this book is an interesting demonstration of the power of the Internet and the Kindle Dx. I stumbled across an interview with the author back in May, downloaded a sample of the book onto my Kindle, thought it was was interesting, and ended up buying and reading it. I don't think I would have done any of those things without the Kindle. Certainly not as quickly. Chalk one up for the bloodless nerds and their technology.

The book itself is interesting, though it veered into directions I was not quite expecting. The basic thrust of Jacoby's argument is that, contrary to what most modern scholars and pundits would have us believe, the most extreme violence occurs to between people with strong similarities, rather than strong differences. To help demonstrate his point, he draws on examples ranging from historical events, to modern civil conflicts, to mythical tales of fratricidal brothers (including the titualr Cain and Abel), and Freudian psychology.

As I said, it is an enjoyable book, but its focus is a bit more broad ranging than I expected, or honestly, wanted, when I picked it up. That is more my fault than Jacoby's, but still worth noting. While Jacoby mentions the fact that we are in far greater danger from a family member than from the random stranger in the dark, he spends virtually no time taking about the realities of familial crime or violence on a smaller scale. I understand why he moves away from it, because his focus is a larger historical perspective, but I was hoping for more on that particular subject. Again, that may be my fault for not reading the reviews and descriptions more carefully, but I reserve the right to be a little disappointed anyway.

As a broader historical work, Jacoby has some interesting insights. I think his rejection of the entire "Clash of Civilizations" notion is worth thinking about, as are some of his perspectives on antisemitism in Germany leading up to the Second World War. I do wonder if he isn't cherry picking examples just to suit his theories, particularly in regard to the treatment of siblings and twins in mythology, but the book is at least thought provoking.

This book is as much about history and politics as it is about psychology. If that interests you, or if you're interested in a different persepctive on the whole "Clash of Civilization" notion, this is worth the read. If you are looking for some insights into interpersonal violence, there isn't a lot here...the concepts are just too broad to apply to specifics.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

NPR Wants To Know...

Best Sci-fi/fantasy books ever?

I haven't voted yet. Honestly, besides Lord of the Rings, I don't quite know what else I'm going to put on it. This requires thought.