Friday, June 29, 2012

The House I Loved

I like a book that presents a challenge to the reader, a challenge to understand the protagonist, the scheme and the story. This book is a super easy read. You can still read it and know what the story is about even if you are multi-tasking.

"[wikipedia] Haussmann's renovation of Paris commissioned by Napoleon III and led by Saine prefect Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann between 1853 - 1870 comprised of modernizing all aspects of life in the city and the surroundings, sewers, water works, public parks, building facades, and etc. Haussmann's vision of Paris was widely criticized during his time. He restructured Paris from a city of irregular, narrow, and medieval alleys to wide avenues and more open spaces. His restructuring of Paris gave the city its present form; its long, straight, wide boulevards with their caf├ęs and shops determined a new type of urban scenario and have had a profound influence on the everyday lives of Parisians. In order to give Paris its present shape many houses, shops, and even churches had to be destroyed to make way for the boulevards and open spaces. [wikipedia]"

Rose Bazalet's receives a letter from Prefect's office informing her of imminent destruction of her house to make way for the St-Germain Boulevard. Her very short, 4/5 pages==one chapter, quest to save her house falls flat and she resorts to writing her memories to her beloved husband who has died years ago. Unfortunately, except for maybe one, there are NOT many events in her life that would keep the reader anxious to read on. There are interesting characters: Rose's exotic mother, the ragpicker: Gilbert, and the flower girl Alexandrin but they all stay in safe and confined chapters of the book and never get to play a role in shaping the story.
There are very abrupt, unstructured and not well researched references to Paris during that historic time but just not enough to make it memorable in the readers mind.

I saw this book in the top ten National Bestsellers list and given that I absolutely LOVED de Rosnay's past book, Sarah's Key, I dashed to read it. It is far from what I expected.
By the way today the St-Germain-de-Pres is one of the most beautiful parts, as seen by Parisians and visitors alike, of the city. So, I can't even identify with the protagonist's motive to save her house.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Moonwalking With Einstein

Have we reached the end of remembering? Looks like with all the memory applications and tools available, remembering stuff is beginning to feel like a thing of the past. We barely need to memorize anything anymore; information that we would have had otherwise remembered is indexed and available on-line. To retrieve we need to type keywords. Sometimes we don't need to spend much time to think the right keywords because the auto-fill function of the search engine suggests those to us, and nine out of ten the suggested words are and work better than the ones we would have spent ~10-15 minutes thinking up!
As we rely more on such techniques we loose the ability to think and remember. Pretty much everyone I talked to, while reading this book, was not happy with his or her memory. One person called her memory, ephemeral! :)
Some think this is due to information overload. That we have too much to remember, so we have to learn how to be selective and remember the important things.
I really don't care how much overloaded my brain is, I just want it to keep vital information safely and make it available to me when I need it. I jump out of my chair numerous times on a daily basis searching my bag frantically to ensure that I still have my bus pass, or my house key is where I "think" I have last seen it, or my cell phone is still around. I am lost without the contact list stored on my phone.
Does this book help? Moonwalking with Einstein, by Joshua Foer, the title is certainly confusing and I would be very interested to know what does moon walking with Einstein have to do with the science of memory.) is an interesting read. Mr. Foer's curiosity of memory athletes prompts him to take on the challenge to become one. In this book he shares his story of going from having an average memory to an exceptional one that awards him the title of the US Memory Champion. He interviews those who have made a name and fortune training people mind mapping and mental literacy, e.g. Tony Buzan. He meets with the man who can't forget and a man who can't remember and out of each discussion a couple of chapters filled with fun and informative facts about the evolution of science of memory comes about.
When I turned the last page, did I feel I have now learned techniques that help me to remember better? Yes! Simple and probably one that you, who have not read this book yet, may know already. And that is our brain remembers when in full cognitive consciousness, the techniques such as: memory palace, one the author talks about and uses to win the title of US Championship, is just one way of forcing the brain into the state of full cognitive consciousness.
Happy Reading!