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Original Essays | September 30, 2014

Benjamin Parzybok: IMG A Brief History of Video Games Played by Mayors, Presidents, and Emperors

Brandon Bartlett, the fictional mayor of Portland in my novel Sherwood Nation, is addicted to playing video games. In a city he's all but lost... Continue »
  1. $11.20 Sale Trade Paper add to wish list

    Sherwood Nation

    Benjamin Parzybok 9781618730862


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Ryan DeJonghe has commented on (97) products.

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood
Stone Mattress: Nine Tales

Ryan DeJonghe, September 17, 2014

What did I just step into? Hole-e-cow. Here’s a confession: STONE MATTRESS is my first Margaret Atwood reading experience. Allow me to pick my jaw off the floor and stop my tail wagging as I move on with this review. I’ll need your help at the end.

I’ve read a bunch of short story collections this year and this is the best one I’ve read so far. This includes prize-winning authors and award-nominated collections. Several stories here are joined by theme or characters, but all are delicious and unique. Again, as my first foray into the world of Atwood, I’m impressed.

What grips me is her style of writing--consistent throughout all nine stories. She builds emotion, writes with intelligence, portrays the human condition, and dazzles with her wit. And then she pokes in a twist, or two. Or three. I don’t think I’ve been this consistently entertained by any other collection of stories. Usually one or two stand alone, but Atwood nails it throughout.

For instance, I have an indelible image of a cold man shivering as he tries to start his car. As a reader, I am lead by Atwood to feel sorry for this man. She delivers a few male-oriented puns and jokes to help us commiserate with him in his frozen and unfortunate position. A paragraph break later, we see him as a miserable piece of scum. We stand applauding the cheer-worthy woman, thanks to Atwood’s reversal of circumstance, narration, and tone. But that story is only half complete…

What I have witnessed here is a master of the language and a writer exceling at her craft. I apologize if this seems gushing, but it is well deserved. Poetic and stylish, her stories are woven into near-perfection.

And here is where I need your help: as I have skipped the last part of her latest trilogy for fear of being lost, where should my next Margaret Atwood book begin?

I must also thank Nan A. Talese for sharing this wonderful book with me to review.
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The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life by Chris Guillebeau
The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life

Ryan DeJonghe, September 17, 2014

This book is not about happiness. Throughout, the author writes about loneliness, failure, despair, and the “post-quest funk”. If you are seeking a book about happiness, I have some recommendations for you below. Instead, this book is about the quest. It is about channeling your inner Don Quixote and dreaming your impossible dream--and then going for it! This book is a guide: about picking your quest, planning your quest, and achieving your quest.

Are you ready? Author Chris Guillebeau says you are.

Quests come in all shapes and sizes. THE HAPPINESS OF PURSUIT gives you plenty of examples. You can decide knit or crochet 10,000 hats like Robyn Devine, or you can produce the world’s largest symphony performance like Gary Thorpe, or you can run marathons in 99 countries like John “Mad Dog” Wallace. The quest is up to you. It’s yours. Here are the categories that Guillebeau presents:


Guillebeau provides ways to discover your ideal quest, how to fund and prepare for it, how to keep a positive mindset during the lonely periods, and what to do if things don’t exactly tie-up. All of this kept reminding me of this quote from Steve Jobs:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something--your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Guillebeau has an inviting writing style that you’ll connect with. He talks and relates to everything from Shakespeare to video games. Judging by the other stellar reviews, Guillebeau has already made that connection hundreds of times.

Overall, if you need motivation, guidance, or support for your quest, THE HAPPINESS OF PURSUIT should be your go-to guide. And you are welcome for getting “To Dream the Impossible Dream” stuck in your head.

As for those books about happiness, I recommend these:

10% HAPPIER by Dan Harris
THE POWER OF NOW by Eckhart Tolle (my favorite of the bunch)

Thank you Harmony for sending this book to me for review.
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The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
The Bone Clocks

Ryan DeJonghe, September 11, 2014

“Our most lusted-after gong, the Brittan Prize, has--scandalously--eluded his grasp so far, but many believe that 2015 could finally be his year.” Alas, as the nearly-prophetic David Mitchell transcribes, this year, just shy of 2015, is not his year, either. Mere days ago that prize eluded him once more.

The week has been bitter-sweet, though. Three days into sales and Mitchell’s THE BONE CLOCKS has been seizing top rankings from New York’s finest newspaper. Rightfully so, performing better than his self-created reflective characters. Congrats, Sir Mitchell.

I’m sour mostly because in both CLOUD ATLAS and now in THE BONE CLOCKS the character authors are my favorite. They seem to connect me with near- intimacy to the genius author’s mind. Yes, pieces of Mitchell lie scattered about: a stammer mention, a reference to Tom Hanks, but the most provocative and drawing are the inmost thoughts of the penmen. Take for instance:

“A writer flirts with schizophrenia, nurtures synesthesia, and embraces obsessive-compulsive disorder. Your art feeds on you, your soul, and, yes, to a degree, your sanity. Writing novels worth reading will bugger up your mind, jeopardize your relationships, and distend your life. You have been warned.”

Sigh. Perhaps his craftsmanship is too great for the prize. The first chapter of CLOUD ATLAS could not be read without an accompanying dictionary; each layer of time withdrew a complexity of articulation. The opening of THE BONE CLOCKS drops us into a teenage mind during the era of Cyndi Lauper. Judging by the ease of reading and the warmth of character, I would dare say the craft of writing was no less of a task--rather far more difficult--making effort seem without.

That’s okay, because I still enjoyed this book immensely. It played my emotions, it toyed with my thoughts, and it danced in my heart. What else does a good book need?

I conclude with another self-prophesizing quote from THE BONE CLOCKS, “He was doing quite well until the last sentence, but if you bare your arse to a vengeful unicorn, the number of possible outcomes dwindles to one.” That outcome for me resulted in deep appreciation. Wonderful.

Thank you Random House for sending this to me for review.
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Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven

Ryan DeJonghe, September 9, 2014

Last night was a beautiful night. The moon was full and reflecting gorgeously over the water. A ship was waiting off the coast with its lights on, probably waiting to pull into New York today. As I took in the scene, I was reminded Emily St. John Mandel’s novel STATION ELEVEN. In it, a character was sitting on a similar beach, yet in a country across the world and at a different time. Yet that beauty was shared. And throughout this novel, even at the worst and most tragic of times, beauty remains.

There are leaves holding several places in my copy of this book. I read most of this in the woods sitting by a campfire last week. The leaves mark places of the book I enjoyed��"there are many. The leaves remind me of the rustic future Emily paints. There are no more airplanes, no more refrigerators, no more of our daily conveniences: the things that we so easily take for granted and let slip through our daily lives unnoticed. Poignant would be a great word to describe the effectiveness of this novel’s writing.

The characters are shown in various time periods: the fondness of yesteryear, the reality of today, and the glimpse of future, both cursed and hopeful. Connections are shared throughout, showing how one act precipitates another. There is a sense of tightness though the chapters are often broken in their order.

As with other great authors, but unique in her own voice, Emily St. John Mandel brings out the enriched, realness of each character and emotion. What stood out brilliantly in my mind are the simple things of life--the things from which produce happiness and satisfaction. Poetic would be another excellent word to describe STATION ELEVEN. It is not spare like McCarthy, but neither does it flounce in excessive verbiage.

In the end, my message is this: this book is about beauty, everyday beauty. Cherish it, embrace it, be it. Thanks to Emily St. John Mandel, we can see it.

Thanks to A.A. Knopf for sending this to me for review.
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Bend Your Brain: 151 Puzzles, Tips, and Tricks to Blow (and Grow) Your Mind by Lindsay Gaskins
Bend Your Brain: 151 Puzzles, Tips, and Tricks to Blow (and Grow) Your Mind

Ryan DeJonghe, September 8, 2014

I’ve been trying the puzzles in BEND YOUR BRAIN the last few days, and my brain hurts. That’s a good thing! Thanks to the variety of included puzzles, I can feel myself thinking differently. Sounds weird, but it’s true. In my recently reviewed books like THE ORGANIZED MIND or HOW WE LEARN, I know to pick up associations and patterns and to minimize distractions: this book helps me do that. Doing these puzzles over the weekend has helped my work performance today.

Variety is king. A lot of these types of puzzles I’ve seen before: mazes, Sudoku, and crosswords, etc. Then they change the method (and madness) on several of these: random letters instead of numbers in Sudoku, mazes covering front-and-back pages, and several hundred dot-to-dots. Then!--they add puzzles I’ve never seen before such as linking words through various shapes, strategizing the placement of battleships, and making compound words from pictures.

There are various levels of intensity, but some of the “mind blowing” puzzles may seem easier than the “warming up” puzzles. Depends on the person, I suppose.

All that is not without its faults. Sometimes I can’t tell what something is by its black & white picture (is that a piece of gum or sandpaper?). They ask me to identify a corporate logo I’ve never seen before. The dot-to-dots run down into the crease of the book. They ask me to recall the date the original TWILIGHT book was released (really?!?). They ask me to know the year the Starz movie channel was founded (again, really?!?). And they want me to identify celebrities by the photos of their mouths (fill-in-the-blank nonetheless).

Overall the good outweighs the bad or frustrating. I like this book so much that I want more! There are a lot of challenging and fun puzzles that I’ll continue to look forward to completing.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for sending this book to me for review.
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