Book Review: Console Wars by Blake J. Harris

Title: Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation
Author: Blake J. Harris
Publisher: It Books
Hardcover: 576 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

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Following the success of The Accidental Billionaires and Moneyball comes Console Wars—a mesmerizing, behind-the-scenes business thriller that chronicles how Sega, a small, scrappy gaming company led by an unlikely visionary and a team of rebels, took on the juggernaut Nintendo and revolutionized the video game industry.

In 1990, Nintendo had a virtual monopoly on the video game industry. Sega, on the other hand, was just a faltering arcade company with big aspirations and even bigger personalities. But that would all change with the arrival of Tom Kalinske, a man who knew nothing about videogames and everything about fighting uphill battles. His unconventional tactics, combined with the blood, sweat and bold ideas of his renegade employees, transformed Sega and eventually led to a ruthless David-and-Goliath showdown with rival Nintendo.

The battle was vicious, relentless, and highly profitable, eventually sparking a global corporate war that would be fought on several fronts: from living rooms and schoolyards to boardrooms and Congress. It was a once-in-a-lifetime, no-holds-barred conflict that pitted brother against brother, kid against adult, Sonic against Mario, and the US against Japan.

Based on over two hundred interviews with former Sega and Nintendo employees, Console Wars is the underdog tale of how Kalinske miraculously turned an industry punchline into a market leader. It’s the story of how a humble family man, with an extraordinary imagination and a gift for turning problems into competitive advantages, inspired a team of underdogs to slay a giant and, as a result, birth a $60 billion dollar industry.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I came across this book a while ago and, growing up in a hardcore Nintendo family, I was interested in learning the history behind Sega and Nintendo, especially since I was a kid in the 90s and while I don’t quite remember how Sega became a thing, I remember it being novel to me when one of my friends said they had a Genesis rather than an SNES. It’s been sitting on my to-read list for quite a while and my interest in it was renewed when my husband (who’s way more knowledgeable about video games than even I am, and that’s saying something) decided to read it as one of his summer reads. After not too much cajoling by him, I finally picked it up to read it.

Console Wars is interesting, because while it mostly follows Kalisnke, who was the CEO who got Sega to become a household name, it’s not told in any sort of biography or memoir format and mostly heavily focuses on marketing, the partnerships between the different gaming companies, and the games/systems themselves. So, if you’re not interested in the history of video games or how feats of marketing can completely change a company, this book is very much not for you. I studied marketing at university, so reading the different techniques the companies used to get ahead was fascinating. Also, like I said, I come from a hardcore Nintendo family and grew up playing the NES and SNES (if I remember correctly, actually, my family purchased every single system Nintendo came out with), so it was fun to see things from the “competitor’s” side and also read about how Nintendo responded to what was happening.

Overall, this gives a fairly comprehensive look at how Sega and Nintendo originated and also touches on the history of some well-known video gaming companies like Electronic Arts and Namco. I love that the human element is included and we get to learn about who the people are that drove video game innovation, even while so many were saying that it was bound to die. It was a slow read for me, but I very much enjoyed the steady pacing and the sheer volume of information that this book contained.

Book Review: My Bridges of Hope by Livia Bitton-Jackson

Title: My Bridges of Hope
Author: Livia Bitton-Jackson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Paperback: 378 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

In 1945, after surviving a harrowing year in Auschwitz, fourteen-year-old Elli returns, along with her mother and brother, to the family home, now part of Slovakia, where they try to find a way to rebuild their shattered lives.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I went into this book not really knowing what to expect — I’m not sure how it ended up on my family’s shelves, but I noticed it one day and added it to my to-read list for the future. Now, I have no idea where my copy of this book is, but luckily, the library had a copy. This is a memoir about a teenage girl’s coming of age after she survives the Holocaust and struggles to make a life for herself and make sense of the world after what she suffered, and after the turmoil that her country is put in post-World War II. It’s written in a very easy-to-read manner, so I can see this being a great introduction to older children and middle-graders as to what different people had to deal with during this time. It’s also a pretty quick read and told in short segments, so it would be easy to include in a Holocaust curriculum, at least in part.

This is apparently book 2 in a series, and I love that it follows the aftermath of the Holocaust, which I don’t think is talked about quite as much — or at least, my teachers never focused on it as much as the Holocaust itself. I’ve never read much about what happened to Slovakia after the war, so I enjoyed this book for giving me that perspective and teaching me more about all the different countries and people who were affected by the Holocaust, and how the surrender of Germany didn’t lead to immediately fixing anti-Semitism. Livia tells her story with painstaking honesty, and it hurt to see how roughly Jewish people were treated even after the war, and how hard it was for them to reunite with family members who had already emigrated to the United States or other countries. For some, it was even impossible.

Overall, I recommend this for someone who’s looking to learn more about this time period and what people had to deal with. In a way, it was heartening to read, because the community came together for each other and all supported one other so that they could make a better life for themselves. It’s still horrifying that any people were ever treated the way Jewish people were treated during this time, but reading about someone overcoming that hate and being an integral part in building up her community was heartwarming.

Book Review: A Spy Called James by Anne F. Rockwell

a spy called james
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Title: A Spy Called James: The True Story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War Double Agent
Author: Anne F. Rockwell
Illustrator: Floyd Cooper
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Hardcover: 32 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Told for the first time in picture book form is the true story of James Armistead Lafayette, a slave who spied for George Washington’s army during the American Revolution, and whose personal fight for freedom began with America’s liberation.

* I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.*

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I very much appreciate this book for existing in the first place — it’s a wonderful idea to introduce children to stories like these at a young age, especially stories like James’s are hardly ever told in schools. At least, they weren’t very often told in my schools when I was younger, but I hope that’s changing. As the description says, James Lafayette was a spy for George Washington’s Army during the American Revolution, and had to fight to obtain the rights that were given to other former slaves who served in the army because “spies” were not generally covered under the agreement that was made between slaves and the newly formed American government.

The story itself is simply told in a language that children will understand, but covers all the details. And I love the illustrations. They’re soft water-color type illustrations with a lot of blended colors and soft lines. It’s very child-friendly and I know I enjoyed looking at the pictures, so I think they might, too.

I could see this being in a classroom for children to enjoy during free reading time, or even have it being read aloud to children as part of a history lesson. And, of course, it’s a nice addition to the home library, especially for a history-lover.

Book Review: The Art of Rivalry by Sebastian Smee

Art of Rivalry
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Title: The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art
Author: Sebastian Smee
Publisher: Random House
Hardcover: 416 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Pulitzer Prize–winning art critic Sebastian Smee tells the fascinating story of four pairs of artists—Manet and Degas, Picasso and Matisse, Pollock and de Kooning, and Freud and Bacon—whose fraught, competitive friendships spurred them to new creative heights.

Rivalry is at the heart of some of the most famous and fruitful relationships in history. The Art of Rivalry follows eight celebrated artists, each linked to a counterpart by friendship, admiration, envy, and ambition. All eight are household names today. But to achieve what they did, each needed the influence of a contemporary—one who was equally ambitious but possessed sharply contrasting strengths and weaknesses.

Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas were close associates whose personal bond frayed after Degas painted a portrait of Manet and his wife. Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso swapped paintings, ideas, and influences as they jostled for the support of collectors like Leo and Gertrude Stein and vied for the leadership of a new avant-garde.

Jackson Pollock’s uninhibited style of “action painting” triggered a breakthrough in the work of his older rival, Willem de Kooning. After Pollock’s sudden death in a car crash, de Kooning took over his mantle and became romantically involved with his late friend’s mistress. Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon met in the early 1950s, when Bacon was being hailed as Britain’s most exciting new painter and Freud was working in relative obscurity. Their “intense but asymmetrical” friendship came to a head when Freud painted a celebrated portrait of Bacon that was later stolen.

Each of these relationships culminated in an early flashpoint, a rupture in a budding intimacy that was both a betrayal and a trigger for great innovation. Writing with the same exuberant wit and psychological insight that earned him a Pulitzer Prize for art criticism, Sebastian Smee explores the way that coming into one’s own as an artist—finding one’s voice—almost always involves willfully breaking away from some intimate’s expectations of who you are or ought to be.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

One of my favorite things to learn about is how art is made — I mean art in a broad sense, in terms of writing, painting, filmmaking, etc. I find it incredibly satisfying to learn about the lives of those who’ve created amazing pieces of work, and learn how their circumstances influenced those works. So, when I saw that this was available on NetGalley, of course I requested it.

Sebastian Smee does a wonderful job in going through the pairs of artists and giving brief summaries of their lives and how they were affected by each other. I love that this gives a brief glimpse into each of the artist’s works, so that we can see these constructions were not created out of a vacuum, but within the life of an actual person. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that, so it’s nice to learn something about each artist.

The writing itself is incredibly understandable and I felt that the stories were fast-paced but well fleshed out. I was engrossed almost the whole way through and never felt like I was missing any information about the artists, but the story didn’t feel drawn-out. The perfect balance. 🙂

What would have made this book a five was if we were given a brief description of the time period and how art was currently viewed in the culture before delving into the artists’ lives and how they were changing it. We get a lot of detail on what the artists do, but not necessarily why that was groundbreaking for their time — the only reason I was able to almost keep up was due to my vague memories of an art history class I once took. I think knowing the context of the time period would have been incredibly helpful for understanding the different artists and appreciating their new approaches to art.

My favorite section was definitely the Matisse and Picasso chapter, but I also think that those are the two artists I know the most about, so there might have been a bit of a bias when it came to that. I also think it was the least dysfunctional relationship that Smee explores (at least, it seemed that way to me), so that also might have been a factor.

If you’re interested in how art is created, or learning more about the lives of some famous artists, then I definitely recommend you pick this up. I greatly enjoyed it.

Book Review: My Father and Atticus Finch by Joseph Madison Beck

 

My Father and Atticus Finch.jpg
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Title: My Father and Atticus Finch
Author: Joseph Madison Beck
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Hardcover: 240 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

As a child, Joseph Beck heard the stories—when other lawyers came up with excuses, his father courageously defended a black man charged with raping a white woman.

Now a lawyer himself, Beck reconstructs his father’s role in State of Alabama vs. Charles White, Alias, a trial that was much publicized when Harper Lee was twelve years old.

On the day of Foster Beck’s client’s arrest, the leading local newspaper reported, under a page-one headline, that “a wandering negro fortune teller giving the name Charles White” had “volunteered a detailed confession of the attack” of a local white girl. However, Foster Beck concluded that the confession was coerced. The same article claimed that “the negro accomplished his dastardly purpose,” but as in To Kill a Mockingbird, there was evidence at the trial to the contrary. Throughout the proceedings, the defendant had to be escorted from the courthouse to a distant prison “for safekeeping,” and the courthouse itself was surrounded by a detachment of sixteen Alabama highway patrolmen.

The saga captivated the community with its dramatic testimonies and emotional outcome. It would take an immense toll on those involved, including Foster Beck, who worried that his reputation had cast a shadow over his lively, intelligent, and supportive fiancé, Bertha, who had her own social battles to fight.

This riveting memoir, steeped in time and place, seeks to understand how race relations, class, and the memory of southern defeat in the Civil War produced such a haunting distortion of justice, and how it may figure into our literary imagination.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I was incredibly excited when I saw this book, since it combines a couple of my favorite things: To Kill a Mockingbird and non-fiction.  I teach To Kill a Mockingbird every year, and I am constantly looking for companion pieces to go along with it.  I was really hopeful last year when Go Set a Watchman came out that it would finally be the ideal book for this purpose.  While I have a lot of thoughts about Go Set a Watchman (most of which boil down to it would be an excellent book if it did not use the same characters as Mockingbird), suffice it to say it was not quite what I was looking for in terms of a pairing.

This brings me to my thoughts on My Father and Atticus Finch.  I think this book is outstanding in terms of giving an example of a historical case similar to the Tom Robinson trial in To Kill a Mockingbird.  I often have a very hard time trying to get students prepared for the novel, especially teaching in the 21st century in a northern state.  What I most often do is talk about the Scottsboro Boys trial.  This helps to give students some background information; however, there are a lot of things that are not similar (multiple defendants, the Northern lawyer, the fact that it took place earlier and set precedents for the Tom Robinson trial, etc.).  While I do not think that this book would wholesale replace it, I do think that portions of it could be used very effectively for pre-reading and that students who have an interest in the trial and in history would benefit enormously from reading this book.

I also think that the book does a nice job laying out the idea that Atticus Finch is not based on his father even though there are a lot of similarities (and only tries to push the idea he might have been at the end).  It reads as a very interesting and important story in its own right independent of its connection to Harper Lee’s works.  That being said, one of the most interesting things to me in the book outside of the trial was the discussion of the author’s father and his grandfather.  Perhaps because I enjoy overanalyzing things, I found the differences on white-black race relations fascinating and felt like it almost broke down as his father was like Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird and his grandfather had more of an opinion like Atticus in Go Set a Watchman in terms of his paternal approach.  As such, I think that along with being something that adds to the experience of To Kill a Mockingbird this book also made me retroactively enjoy Go Set a Watchman more.

The only criticism I have of the book is that it can at times get a little slow and bogged down in family history (this is entirely fair as the book is ostensibly about his father).  I found myself as I got further into the meat of the book getting a little annoyed with the chapters that dealt with the minutia of the family or the town as opposed to things directly related to culture or the trial itself.  This is a minute complaint however and the book overall was a page turner the whole way through (in large part due to the very narrative approach taken by Beck).

In conclusion, I think this book is a must read for people who love To Kill a Mockingbird or have an interest in history.  I plan on having at least one copy in my classroom library to recommend/lend out to students.

Book Review: The Erotic Poems by Ovid, tranlsated by Peter Green

Erotic PoemsTitle: The Erotic Poems
Author: Ovid
Translator: Peter Green
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Paperback: 464 pages
Source: Own
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

This collection of Ovid’s poems deals with the whole spectrum of sexual desire, ranging from deeply emotional declarations of eternal devotion to flippant arguments for promiscuity. In the “Amores”, Ovid addresses himself in a series of elegies to Corinna, his beautiful, elusive mistress. The intimate and vulnerable nature of the poet revealed in these early poems vanishes in the notorious Art of Love, in which he provides a knowing and witty guide to sexual conquest – a work whose alleged obscenity led to Ovid’s banishment from Rome in AD 8. This volume also includes the “Cures for Love”, with instructions on how to terminate a love affair, and “On Facial Treatment for Ladies”, an incomplete poem on the art of cosmetics.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I started reading this collection a long, long time ago back in the days of college, but other things came up and since I wasn’t assigned to read the whole thing for college, I didn’t end up finishing it. Finally, it came up on my reading list, so finally, I got around to reading the whole thing.

A few things struck me while reading this. I admit, I was biased to look for it, because the whole point as to why excerpts from it were assigned in college is that a lot of what Ovid talks about is still so relevant to today’s world. Even while the same laws aren’t in place, similar concepts remain constant. For example, a lot of his writing tries to assure the reader that he is not giving them advice for committing adultery or having a liaison with a highborn woman — while we are a bit more free with our views, or are at least jaded enough to accept that adultery happens, if someone were to publish a book with advice for how to successfully commit adultery, they would be heavily criticized in our society (especially America). So, while we don’t really have laws against it here, it’s still taboo, which is an interesting thing to talk about.

Another thing I loved about this particular version is the translation. Green is a hero. He is so good at translating not only just the words but the flavor of them in English that we can understand. Pop culture phrasing and literary devices are used with skill what he feels is Ovid’s attitude, which I found to be wonderful. This version is one of the most readable translations I’ve read of this particular collection because of that, and I immensely appreciated it.

I understand that some might find this collection a tough read, with the formal language and numerous mythological allusions, but even with my rudimentary understanding of mythology, I was able to grasp the basic allusions and still enjoy his language and storytelling. If you’re into classics, for sure read this one. It’s an interesting look at Roman culture during Ovid’s time, and Green does a fantastic job in giving an easily readable translation and enough background history for the reader to understand the context in which it was written. I admit that it won’t be for everyone, but I enjoyed it.

Audiobook Review: The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial by Peter Goodchild

The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial.jpgTitle: The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial
Author: Peter Goodchild
Publisher: LA Theatre Works
Running Time: 1 h 55 min
Source: Audiobook Sync
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

The Scopes Trial, over the right to teach evolution in public schools, reaffirmed the importance of intellectual freedom as codified in the Bill of Rights. The trial, in a small-town Tennessee courtroom in 1925, set the stage for ongoing debates over the separation of Church and State in a democratic society – debates that continue to this day.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Edward Asner, Bill Brochtrup, Kyle Colerider-Krugh, Matthew Patrick Davis, John de Lancie, James Gleason, Harry Groener, Jerry Hardin, Geoffrey Lower, Marnie Mosiman and Kenneth Alan Williams.

The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial is part of L.A. Theatre Works’ Relativity Series featuring science-themed plays. Major funding for the Relativity Series is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to enhance public understanding of science and technology in the modern world.

©2006 L.A. Theatre Works (P)2006 L.A. Theatre Works

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

I’m not really sure how I feel about this play, to be quite honest. It’s an interesting subject, and full cast audios are the best, especially when they’re by LA Theatre Works and the actors are actually performing. However, simply based on the fact that it’s supposed to represent a historical event, I just didn’t like that I wasn’t sure which parts were dramatized and which were truly taken from the court records, especially when it came to dialogue. There were some parts that I feel like might have been added simply for entertainment/humor value, but if they weren’t, then that would have interested me in a completely different way, but I was never sure if any/all of it was true or made up.

Besides that, it’s an interesting case that’s worth further study and thought. Since Andrew’s a teacher, and I studied education for my Master’s, the way law and social norms influence how and what we teach is incredibly interesting to me, so that helped a lot for pulling me into the story in general. This case also foreshadows a lot of the textbook wars we have present-day, so it’s fascinating to hear some of these first arguments for/against teaching evolution/religion. Very cool.

However, I think it’d be better to actually see the play or read the book. It was hard for me to keep all the characters straight, and within the trial, I think it’s important to know who is speaking and who is making what argument (even though after a while, you can figure it out). Admittedly, I’m not the best when it comes to remembering details when I’m only getting information through audio, so if audio is your strong suit, then it might not be a problem for you.

Overall, however, I think it was a good dramatization of the trial and it presented a lot of interesting factors that (like the description says) we’re still debating today, especially within education. I just think that I would have much preferred to read this than to listen to it, even with the full cast.