Sunday, January 31, 2016

Music Interview: "The Mozart Effect" by Don Campbell

I have just finished reading a wonderful book called "The Mozart Effect" by Don Campbell about the healing and other positive effects of music.  The subtitle of this book is "Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit".  This book will change the way you understand and listen to music.  The author talks about the effects of music, starting by talking about how even from the beginning stages of life in the womb, the developing human being hears and is impacted by the sounds and music and voices it hears.  Children developing in the womb can hear and learn to recognize the singing or reading voice of the mother, and particular music can improve the intelligence and cognitive functions of the growing child.  I recommend this book for anyone with children, or expecting children.

The book describes the positive effects of many kinds of music, from cultures all around the world, but as the title suggests, the music with the most universal healing effect is that of Mozart.  Reading this book made me want to dive back into the music of Mozart, which I have always had a difficult time getting interested in.  I usually would gravitate more to the complex music of Beethoven or the highly mathematical and contrapuntal music of J.S. Bach.  I had a 170 CD set of all of Mozart's music which I never really could get myself to listen to, partly because I felt it sounded all the same throughout.  But lately I have been listening to the various CDs at home in my room and in my car on my CD player as I drive.  I can feel the relaxing and uplifting effects of listening to Mozart, and now he takes his place as my favorite musical composer.  His music seems to radiate simple joy, and this is what I need in my life now.  Just simple joy.  His music does something I can't find anywhere else.  But I think it enriches my appreciation for other music as well, and Don Campbell discusses a lot of the benefits and uses of other kinds of music as well.

I personally think this book should be read by everyone in the world.  You should especially read it if you are involved in fields such as education, child care, any sort of medical or healing profession, and many other areas.  Anyone can benefit from the insights in this book, and this is one of those books that I consider life changing and universally uplifting and inspiring.

There are also many other related books and CDs you can purchase with selections designed to produce the effects described in the book.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Stories in Focus: "Harry Potter" by J.K. Rowling

I just finished reading Book 7 of the "Harry Potter" series by British author J. K. Rowling.  Overall, I think I would describe the stories as tedious and long winded, but ultimately delightful and satisfying.  The series of very long child and young adult friendly novels is about the secret world of magic, wizards and witches, and the years they spend studying their magical craft and talents in the schools of wizardry and witchcraft, under the noses of the largely non-magical "Muggles", who are unaware of their existence for the most part.  Rowling's story is mostly set in the British magical school called Hogwart's.  It begins with title character Harry Potter being put under the beastly care of his vicious aunt and uncle in law, after his parents are murdered by the evil and power hungry sorceror Lord Voldemort, constantly referred to as He Who Must Not Be Named.  Potter is notified that he is a wizard and will be attending the school of Hogwart's, which is under the management of noble wizard Dumbledore.  Each of the novels describes the events of one year of time at the school, as various professors and fellow students are introduced and the progress of their education in the magical arts is elaborated.  As the books progress, their is unfolded a plot of very sinister plans of the attempted return of the evil Lord Voldemort, and his scheme to create a world of Pure blood wizards and witches and the subjugation, eradication, and extermination of all non magical Mudblood and Muggle humans.  The story essentially lays out a plot similar to the history of Eugenics, racial "cleansing", and other genocidal movements in the real life history of Earth.  It turns out that Harry Potter is the one destined to end the evil plans of Voldemort once and for all.  Helped by his friends, especially Ron and Muggle born Hermione, he seeks to understand the forces at work in this epic battle between the powers of evil and good, and figure out how to end the oppression that is taking grip over the world.

There are many characters, and they are believable and interesting.  I particularly like the character of Hermione, who although born of non magical human parents, is very talented in the magical arts and very astute.  She loves to study, learn, read, and gain knowledge, and plays a very important role in the story and her intelligence and wisdom are very necessary to the success of Potter and his friends and allies.

There is a great deal of mischief and elucidation of the various spells, jinxes, hexes, curses, and other magical objects and works that are available to the wizarding world.  There is humor and silliness in abundance throughout, even as the plot begins to thicken and the story becomes more and more dark and the situation becomes very dire and dangerous in the later volumes of the series.

The books are very long, some volumes extending to over 700 or even 800 pages, and, to be honest, at some points it is tedious and boring.  I would say that the plot starts to become more interesting around the end of Book 4 (Goblet of Fire) and the beginning of Book 5 (Order of the Phoenix), but there is a lot of development of various characters, magical spells and lore, and there is a lot of dawdling and elucidation of typical nonchalant casual events and dialogue.  I won't say it is unnecessary to the story.  I think it helps to change the pace of the story so that when it gets interesting, you are rapt with attention, and as I got into the later books, I really wanted to know what sort of twists and surprises were in store.  There are a lot of secrets to uncover, quests to conquer, and mysteries to solve, and by the end, the tapestry of all this mystery and adventuring is brought to what I consider a fairly satisfying conclusion and wrap up.

  When I began to read these stories, I only did so because they were extremely popular, especially amongst young children and adolescents, and I wanted to see what the big deal was.  For the first few books, I felt like I was wasting my time, but as I delved further into the series, lent to me by a long time friend of mine, I began to notice that the story was more compelling and the theme more epic than I could have expected.  Although I do not think the Potter series rises to the level of other fantasy stories written by British authors such as "Lord of the Rings" by Tolkien, and "Chronicles of Narnia" by C.S. Lewis, the Potter story was very intelligent and compelling.  It is not just a popular story.  It has been woven into the fabric of English literature and world culture, having been translated into many languages.  It is a good demonstration of the power of universal love and critique of the evils of Eugenics ideologies and the philosophy and theology of genocide and racism.  If you do decide to start reading, I hope you don't get bogged down in some of the sections where the action drags on.  It is worth it to slog through the slow parts and ultimately read it to its dramatic conclusion.

  At the time of this writing, I have only seen the first four films.  I might update this after watching the rest.  The only big criticism I have of the movies so far is that there can seem to be a tendency on the part of many of the actors, particularly the extras and minor characters, to overact their parts.  But it is ok I think.  The story, while serious in many ways, has its elements and threads of comedy and silliness, which probably anyone acting in would have the tendency to overdo.  I expect that the rest of the films are even better, and become more interesting as much as the books progress in their intrigue and ability to grab the attention of the reader.  Also, the films have great special effects and visual profundity and beauty and imagination-inspired.  The visual effects bring the text to life in a wonderful way.  And the sound and music is well composed.

If you decide to read the books or watch the films, and I recommend both, as a result of reading this review, I hope that by the end you do not regret having done so.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Stories in Focus: "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins

I recently watched the final movie installment of the "Hunger Games" trilogy, after having read all three books and watched the first three movies.  I think I read the first book, then watched the first movie, and then I read the second ("Catching Fire") and final ("Mockingjay") before watching the last three movies.  At the time, I believe that the books were free to borrow on Kindle to Amazon Prime members.

First off, I will say that I believe the books are much better, much more interesting, than the movie versions.  But also, I do not think these stories are very great.  They are somewhat mediocre, and I had the hope for something more that was not satisfied.  This is one of those works of fiction that I can't really seem to put into words what it was I didn't really like about it.  It is not horrible, but just leaves me feeling like I didn't get much out of it.  I thought it was worth reading, although I probably would've been better off not watching all the movies.  This is one of those books/movies that I watch simply because it is popular and I want to know what the big deal about it is.  At least I can say I gave it a shot and wasn't impressed.

But the story if of a dystopian future, where the citizens of Panem, are split into districts and are forced to send their children into an arena like competition where they have to kill each other off, to win the prize of food for their district.  It's a pretty gruesome concept, but I suspect that people like the books and films because they enjoy the gruesome violence instead of abhorring it.  It's cool to put a bunch of kids in an arena and have them kill each other off, and in different and exciting ways as well.  At least, that is the feeling I get out of it.  It reminds me of the game Mortal Kombat, where the best part of the game is to watch characters perform bloody vicious Fatalities where they rip off their limbs or cut them in half or crush their skulls or or set them on fire or whatnot.  Perhaps Hunger Games is criticizing violent competitions such as this, but I just have the suspicion that part of the fun and popularity of the series stems from the excitement of watching people killed in different ways.  I do hope that we never actually come to a point where games and competitions such as this are tolerated and enacted.  Let the Hunger Games serve as a warning to us and future generations such that we never actually enter an era where games such as the Hunger Games are thought to be fun or cool or entertaining.

Overall, it is worth reading.  It is less worth watching, except for the ability to have a visual presentation of the events. I think all the actors in the film versions do a good job, and the effects and everything can bring a little life to the story as it is translated from written novel to full blown motion picture.  Read it, watch it.  Let me know what you think of it, what it is about, and if you agree of disagree with some of my hypotheses about the usage of the violence in the story.  These kinds of stories are becoming very popular today, with franchises such as "Divergent", and "The Maze Runner" and I am sure there are more and will be more of these dystopian survival stories in the future.  Let me know if you are aware of any similar stories, especially if they are better than Hunger Games or other such stories.  I would love to read different takes on this kind of theme.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

"Writing about Writing": Book Review "Writer for Hire" by Kelly James-Enger

This is one of those ironic pieces of writing in which I will write about something written about writing.  Basically, I am writing a review of a book written about writing.  I am going to start reading more books, articles, etc. that are written about writing and the craft, the processes and practices, the industry of writing, and how to write better and how to share what we write better.

I received a copy of the book "Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success" by Kelly James-Enger from my brother as a Christmas gift.  I personally am not earning money as a freelance writer at the moment, but I know other people who do earn livings as freelance writers, and it is a form of employment that I am interested in pursuing in the future.  Not only have I become more interested in writing, and possibly earning some income by writing, but I also bought a copy of the book for one of my freelance writing friends, and I hope it helps him in his employment as a writer.

The book is written like a series of secrets and tips, to help with all the facets and issues relating to successfully writing, planning, finding, and getting paid for various writing jobs.  The author gives instruction on how to find writing work, how to approach clients and make proposals for pieces, how to manage time, set fees and pay agreements, determine rights to reprint and republish, and all kinds of other issues and details relating to making a successful career in freelance writing.  I have no personal experience with trying to make a career out of writing, but I think if I do in the future, I will use many of these tips, secrets, suggestions, guidelines, practices and processes that James-Enger shares in this book.  I will possibly look up and purchase some of her other books as well.

Overall, I think anyone considering or already engaged in the field of freelance writing will benefit from the information in this book.  At the very least, it gave me an idea of what the writing industry is like, and what it takes to make a decent living as a freelance author.  It has also piqued my interest in reading more books about the craft and subject of writing, and has engaged my desire to write more frequently and about more subjects.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Book Review: "Rediscover Jesus" by Matthew Kelly

I have just finished reading "Rediscover Jesus" by Matthew Kelly. There are three points that are striking me in the book. One was the question "Who do you say Jesus Is?" As I thought about this, I contrasted it to the question many evangelical Christians ask "Are you saved?" Asking someone if they are saved makes us the center of salvation. While asking "Who do you say Jesus is?" makes it about Jesus and our relationship to Him. Asking people if they are saved is off-putting. But the focus needs to be on one's relationship with Jesus, not just with salvation. It is Jesus who saves, and salvation has no meaning apart from spending eternity with Jesus.
The other part of the book that is challenging me is the one on forgiveness, especially of enemies. The author says you have to love Adolf Hitler, love Osama bin Laden, and pray for them. This is very bold. A lot of self proclaimed Christians who claim God forgives themselves do not forgive their enemies. And it is scary to say that Jesus forgives Hitler or bin Laden or Nero and that we should love, forgive, and pray for them. I remember when bin Laden was killed, Pope Benedict asked us to pray for the repose of his soul, and on Catholic radio Catholic leaders were complaining about him saying this.

There is a third point that is challenging me as well. It was about generosity, and giving to others. I don't know if I give enough. Since starting to work, I have been giving more monetary and material gifts. I donate to the parish and to some charities, and I like getting gifts for my family and friends, but I don't feel like I give enough. Or maybe there is something God wants me to share and give and I am unaware of it right now. I also like to make people laugh and cheer people up, and I consider that a sort of giving that I am good at.
I just wanted to make a few quick points about this book.  I recommend getting a copy or even getting more than one so you can share it with others.  This book will challenge the way you think about Jesus, and practicing its principles and ideas will help you to be a better person, a better Christian.  You can buy the book on Amazon, but I think you can get it cheaper at, as well as ordering it in bulk should you decide to get copies for others as well.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Psyched Book review: "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life" by Daniel Amen

This is the first of a regular column I intend to write called "Psyched".  The entries will deal with books and other media having to do with psychology, psychiatry, mental health and illness, neurology, and basically anything having to do with the mind and what makes it work healthy or fail to work.  I am considering going back to school to study Psychology, because I want to do something that contributes to the improving and well being of those who suffer from mental illness and those who care for them.  Let me know if there are any books or other media which you think I should read and possibly review here.  With that said, here is the first entry to my "Psyched" column.  

I want to recommend that anyone in the area of psychology, psychiatry, therapy, neurology or any other field dealing with the brain and mental health read the book "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life" by Dr. Daniel Amen.  I will just get straight to the point about why this book is a must read for anyone who may be diagnosed with a mental condition or seeking to improve the mental conditions of their lives.  Dr. Amen does not just focus on cataloging symptoms and attempting to make a diagnosis that fits the criteria compiled in a non brain connected guidebook such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  Dr. Amen makes use of brain scans called SPECT in identifying what kind of brain activity (or lack of it) is going on in patients who are referred to him.  Dr. Amen makes the connection between the brain and mental illnesses or disorders or behavior problems.  His use of brain scans, while not the only factor in diagnosing and treating various conditions, makes psychiatry into an actual physical science of the brain.  It is no longer subjective guessing game where the only evidence used to identify what is going wrong is through external behavior.  Dr. Amen can show a patient the difference between normal brain activity and the abnormal activity, or hyperactivity, of various parts of the brain involved in different kinds of mental and emotional and physical behavior and health.

The praise I give this book is simple.  If my experience with the psychiatric and mental health fields had involved brain scans such as Dr. Amen does, and connected the brain difficulties and mental symptoms I have to something physical in the brain, I would not have been so resistant to getting involved with psychiatrists, therapists, and psychiatric medication.  Today's psychiatrists claim that mental illness is a condition of the brain, but do not use any kind of scan or test or brain imaging to help identify what exactly is going wrong with the brain, what areas of the brain are overactive, or not active at all.  Psychiatrists should look into Dr. Amen's work, and try to incorporate brain scans into their diagnostic considerations and also in determining what treatments, and medications are best to promote optimal brain health for their patients.  I would not have been so resistant to taking medications if the criteria and methods used for determining my diagnoses and what regimen of treatments and medicine were based on brain science and actual evidence of what is wrong with my brain.  Today's psychiatrists don't do that.  They base everything on externals, such as behavior or symptoms, and do not actually look at what is actual going on, or not going on, in the brain.

If you work in the psychiatric or mental health field, read this book.  If you or someone you know has a mental illness, and especially are resistant to working with psychiatrists, therapists, or taking medication, read this book.  This is a book anyone concerned with having a healthy brain should read and recommend to the other people in their lives to read.  Get a copy, get 10  copies, and give them to your doctors, therapists, friends, family, church leaders, etc.  I can't recommend this book any more highly than I do.  I plan to read Dr. Daniel Amen's other books as well.  Hopefully, I will be able to write reviews for them as well.