Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How to Win at College- Cal Newport

I'm far from this book's target audience of first year college/university students given that I'm actually in my first year of my Master's but I've been feeling quite listless and unmotivated recently so I figured I'd give it a read. Having been through it all I found the majority of his advice quite obvious but he had some good points and some I have to disagree with. A lot of his advice is about starting projects early and setting schedules for yourself in advance so you never have to pull all-nighters to study or finish and important paper and I must say this advice is terribly obvious. Obvious, but very very difficult. I greatly admire students who can finish their projects in advance of due dates and have time for several revised copies as I have yet to accomplish this feat. And the majority of other students I know, both bachelor and masters level, haven't either. I'm fairly certain academics are generally perpetual procrastinators.

Some of his main points I agree with:
  • Befriend a professor- Absolutely crucial, believe me they're mostly awesome people. Before my third year few of my professors knew me and when I was considering applying for a study abroad opportunity I was at a loss regarding who to ask. During my third year I met the prof (Dr. Renee Ward) who is the main reason why I even contemplated grad school and helped me believe I actually could do it. Her and others in the Medieval Studies program (McKenzie, Waugh, Weldon, among others) changed my life. Professors are not untouchable geniuses who refuse to deign and talk with students. They're humans who have been in the same position you are and know what student life is like. Get to know them and get them on your side. 
  • Drop classes every year- In my first year I thought dropping a course meant it was too hard and was akin to failing. This is not true. If you're not passionate about a course, a topic, or the professor's teaching methods then it can seriously effect your motivation to excel in the class or do work period. Signing up for extra courses than required and dropping the ones that don't fully interest you is great advice.
  • Take hard courses early on- I wish wish wish I had done this. Having only intro courses in your first year had be incredibly boring. While it's crucial to know the fundamentals of a discipline general introductory courses can zap your energy and passion while upper level courses allow you to jump directly into the material that feeds that passion. 
  • Don't study in groups- in general I hate group work so I never did it voluntarily anyway but this tactic is remarkably unsuccessful. So much time is wasted while people talk about other things or can't decide on the division of labour, so so many problems, so don't do it. 
  • Others: Find an escape, eat alone twice a day, write outside of class, attend guest lectures...etc
Thoughts about others: I think his daily schedules in lieu of to-do lists are impractical and would end up spending more time to make. I couldn't have survived full-time school and 2 part-time jobs following his 'Never Nap' rule. The thought of dressing nicely for class makes me laugh. He also suggests never studying in your room but I choose it over the library or reading room most days because I like to listen to music and if I'm reading something particularly boring I pace and wander around my room with the book in order to keep awake and interested. I don't think I work-progress journal would work for me because I know I disappoint myself when I don't get work done I don't need to write it down, now if there was a certain level of public accountability then it might shame me into working.
One of my major problems with books like these is the implied time schedule. Basically the whole get up early and go to bed at 11 or 12, repeat. This kind of life does not work for me, never has and never will. One of the things the aforementioned Dr. Ward told me was to not force myself to fit into molds that I don't work for me. If work better at night therefore I should work at night. If necessary to take on a near nocturnal existence for a while then that's what I should do. I must say that lifestyle will be significantly more difficult in Norway as everything here closes early. The library closes around 8 or 9 and the reading room closes at midnight. You can stay in there as late as you want but you can't get back in if you leave and unfortunately the washrooms are outside the reading room. Things close even earlier on Saturdays and don't open on Sundays or it's only for a couple hours.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

1Q84-Haruki Murakami

I just finished reading this book and I'm not yet 100% sure what I think about it but wanted to write about it now anyway.
It's a fantasy/ romance novel that is focused around the characters of Aomame and Tengo who are wrapped up in a mysterious sort of alternate reality that has Little People and two moons in the sky.
I loved the beginning of this book, I have never read anything by Murakami before and I thought his prose was absolutely magical. There were times when I had to stop reading and ponder over every word in a sentence and just let it wrap around me while I thought of every facet of meaning. I stopped and wrote done numerous sections that I really liked. The translators deserve a big round of applause as I did not feel at any point that I was reading a translation which is very rare.
I've read that Murakami has always been interested in Western culture and that is quite evident throughout the novel as there are frequent references to the literature of Shakespeare, Proust, Carl Jung, and of course Orwell. The title and Aomame's name for the alternate world is, of course, based off of Orwell's 1984 but apart from a couple references to the book itself by a couple characters and connections between Big Brother and totalitarian religious organizations, he didn't really do much with the 1984 theme. I did like that it was set in that year as modern technology would have drastically changed a number of aspects of the novel. The connection to 1984 has made some people label this as a dystopian type novel but I think that's quite inaccurate though since it is one of the factors that lead me to read this rather large book I am glad of it.
I really enjoyed several segments in which Murakami was basically writing about writing and the process thereof. 
A number of the supporting characters were intriguing and I particularly liked Tamaru. 
Some things I didn't really like:
- almost everyone mentioned was described as having a face that shows little to no emotion.
- there are a number of rather disturbing descriptions of sexual situations
- I love fantasy and am usually able to suspend my disbelief but this book was got way too surreal and unrealistic at several points.
- Often quite repetitive as he writes the same event from different perspectives but almost no new information is presented. He also often describes quite mundane everyday actions that are very realistic but as they're part of everyone's life are rather boring to read about. i.e. aimlessly looking in the fridge when you've just thought about the contents and then describing that the contents were exactly as you thought before opening the door. That kind of thing.
 - The last 'book' of the story was quite repetitive and had lost almost all of the anxiety and worry for the characters that drove on earlier sections and I found the ending rather predictable. Though there is still mystery around what is going to happen to the characters in the future and whether the ending is the real ending to their story.

This also makes me curious and worry about whether Japan is as rife with domestic violence and random violence against women as this book made out or was the fact that almost everyone knew a woman who was killed or driven to suicide by the violence of men was a just a connecting factor? Their porn suggests that their may be some truth to it. Japan kinda scares me in that respect.

 I'd rate this book a 4 out of 5 and I'll probably read more Murakami in the future.

"Most people are not looking for provable truths. As you said, truth is often accompanied by intense pain, and almost no one is looking for painful truths. What people need is beautiful, comforting stories that make them feel as if their lives have some meaning. Which is where religion comes from"
 "When the time comes, though, they just quietly go off and disappear. I'm sure it means they've died, but I can never find their bodies. They don't leave any trace behind. It's as if they've been absorbed by the air. They're dainty little creatures that hardly exist at all. They've come out of nowhere, search quietly for a few, limited tings, and disappear into nothingness again, perhaps to some other world." -about butterflies


This is the first new book I've read this year after rereading the Lord of the Rings books so I'm already behind in my 50 book count for this year. Must read more!

Friday, February 10, 2012


One of my hopes in life is that I never tire of the sunset. If my life ever gets so hectic that I don't take the time to look up into the sky or if the sight of a sunset doesn't awe me with its beauty then I know I will need to drastically adjust my life.

Today's sunset:

From a couple days ago:


 I really do love sunsets. Each one is unique, every days apart. My 12th floor view helps in my appreciation of them so much more. It's also lovely that the sun sets over the Oslofjord.