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  • Writer's pictureGabriel Rhenals

Blog Post #136: Book Report, Part 3!

Updated: Jun 10

Presenting the latest set of entries of my reading journey (est. April 2020) along with a brief review prepared for each book at the time of completion (see Part 1 here and Part 2 here):

30. The Frying Pan by David Bush

I'd held off reading my former UCF classmate David Bush's first self-published novel until I could find time to read it in one sitting. At 17 chapters spread more-or-less equidistantly over 48 pages, I finally managed it in two. While survival fiction is perhaps my least favorite genre, whether in film or any other medium, this brisk read effectively challenged my admitted prejudice. One sequence in particular, introduced about 4/5ths into the story, was chiefly responsible for upending my stubborn disinclination. In a striking Jules Verne-esque touch, Bush powerfully invokes the collective anxiety over our species-induced environmental ruin like I've scarcely experienced in art before. Up to this point in the taut novel, its relentlessly deft and vivid writing achieves all the credibility and trust an author must build up to pull off such a feat. In less capable hands, this kind of caper would come off as a preachy and trite view-winging exercise. Not the case here. In sum, I cannot commend my past colleague enough for a gripping read and I eagerly look forward to diving into his two other titles of self-published fiction in due time! Bravo!

29. Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez

"If you're doing it because you love it you can succeed because you'll work harder than anyone else around you, take on challenges no one else would dare take, and come up with methods no one else would discover, especially when their prime drive is fame and fortune... Work hard and be scary..." -Robert Rodriguez

Applicable to far more than filmmaking, this book was pure ambrosia and an appropriate follow-up to my preceding Tarantino read. I'm so glad I finally read it from start to finish. Also, I appreciated seeing Miami film scene's Nat Chediak get a shout-out!

28. Cinema Speculation by Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino's first nonfiction book is a rollicking, impassioned love letter to American cinema of the 1970s! Laced with surprising candor and profanity as published film theory/criticism books go, there is also no shortage of historical contextualizing, intrepid theorizing and argumentative soundness to famed writer-director's broad and diverse musings on the period's films and filmmakers.

I'd like to throw some attention on the book's final chapter which is presented to the reader through a brilliant literary sleight of hand. The chapter introduces us to an elder Black man named Floyd with whom Tarantino enjoyed a short-lived friendship when he was a teenager and who inspired the young Quentin to try his hand at screenwriting. This poignant tribute to an otherwise forgotten man made for a spellbinding conclusion to a book much about the impact of '70s cinema on a young man who wouldn't let pen and paper sit for too long.

I highly recommend this book to my fellow cinephiles! Is it even a question?

27. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

A thoroughly scientific, yet meditative account of our species' unprecedented triumphs and unwitting entrapments throughout our known history. Incredible and essential reading for those interested in living up to the basic promise of our bestowed taxonomic classification.

26. The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

I initially purchased my copy of Joseph Campbell's seminal work during my senior year of high school; not as part of any formal educational curriculum but on account of my personal interest in the book due to its reputation as a kind of Rosetta Stone for storytelling. As a fledgling short filmmaker at the time, I was intrigued by the encouraging word-of-mouth from certain luminaries in my anticipatory field.

In finally deciding to read the book straight through 18 years later, I did not interpret its multitudinous offerings as a sort of master key to aid my fiction writing as so many hungry writers have done before me. Rather, I simply surrendered to the enchanting beauty and majesty of the oldest stories our species has a record of. In vividly describing some of the most foundational myths and rituals of both the Oriental and Occidental tradition, the book is a breathtaking work of psychological archeology and absolutely worthy of its high regard among scholars and storytellers alike.

I must admit, however, that the boon of the ancient world presented here renders our modern but comparatively atomistic society rather primitive and lacking in the wisdom and vision of our forebearers; revealing our increasingly evident vulnerability to the ever-looming, cancerous forces of greed, ignorance, immorality and corruption. Above all, this remarkable survey of the past reminds us that the human story never changes. There are no pioneers. While some may stubbornly believe that their lived experiences can contend with the accrued lessons begot over thousands of generations, such embarrassing folly is sadly foretold by the mystics of a forgotten age.

In short, I think we should spend more time looking back.

25. Scribbles on the World and Me: A Collection of Poetry by Christopher Sanchez

For my 2nd feature film State v. Unknown I needed to cast a high school-aged actor for several scenes. So, I reached out to Arthur & Polly Mays Conservatory of the Arts where I'd substitute taught a few years ago. The school was most gracious and helped me spread the word about my casting search. Some time later, a young man named Christopher Sanchez reached out to me; not an actor but interested in participating all the same. Finding him more than suitable for the part, I hired him and we greatly enjoyed our brief collaboration on my webcam-based film production. But beyond satisfying the demands of his particular role, I also discovered that Christopher was an aspiring writer with a substantial portfolio of work. I was quite intrigued!

Several months ago, Christopher self-published his first book via Amazon. The book, a collection of 37 poems, is rife with musings and imagery of a restless but congealing mind. Christopher valiantly wrestles with a myriad of youthful quandaries and contradictions while every so often expressing fragments of truth hewn from the quarry of the turbulence that is maturation into adulthood. It is a striking glimpse at the peculiar imaginings and rhetorical invention of a young man who has rushed out of the literacy starting gate with astonishing speed and gusto!

The remarkable ease by which young people can now offer their writing to the market is a promising development. With the ability to begin building and promoting a body of work early on in their careers while earning some meaningful pocket money in the same breath, young wordsmiths like Christopher Sanchez are all the freer to start on their path of creative productivity and fulfillment without any hampering by traditional gatekeepers. Indeed, the times they are a-changin'!

24. Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths by Bernard Evslin

Recommended to me by my mentor and former English teacher Michael Hill, this book is either a well-written primer or refresher on the classic Greek myths.

Although I'm as secular as they come, I must admit that in our race's heraldry and crowning of scientific thought we may have unwittingly robbed ourselves of something vital to our collective moral, emotional and intellectual development. That is, the countenance of a rich inner world of metaphorical images and figures by which to more fully understand ourselves, others and the many questions of existence abound...

Damn shame.

23. Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph by T.E. Lawrence

"There are no lessons for the world,

no disclosures to shock peoples.

It is filled with trivial things,

partly that no one mistake for

history the bones from which some day

a man may make history."

-T.E. Lawrence

When I was 15 years old, I felt an unusual craving for an epic adventure story set in the desert. David Lean's 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia of which I was only vaguely aware of at the time felt like it would fit the bill. So, I acquired a DVD copy of the film to slake my hunger for heroic daring-do amid the beguiling backdrop of a vast and remote arid landscape. From my first viewing I immediately fell passionately in love with the film, enchanted by the scope of its world and the intimately dramatic portrait of the central, enigmatic figure; not to mention Maurice Jarre's incredible musical score! I never expected how far or deep my love for the film would lead me as a filmmaker and as a person.

21 years later, I decided to read the book upon which the film was mostly based. Spanning nearly 700 pages and 122 chapters, the memoir was written by "Lawrence of Arabia" himself, T.E. Lawrence, a British-serving officer during WWI. It is a richly detailed geographic, geopolitical, tactical, ethnographic and personal account of his two years' worth of Middle East exploits among the Arabs fighting against the German-allied Turkish army in the First World War. Lawrence was a well-educated man whose fierce courage enabled his highly active and effective role as leader of an irregular army of natives against their common enemy.

After reading this book, I was astounded by the prescience of an Arab guerrilla movement engaging in asymmetrical warfare against a far more conventional opponent and winning... hard. The swift Arab force is described by Lawrence as an "invulnerable, intangible... vapour." I also found Lawrence's demonstrated intellect, emotional intelligence, introspection, cultural sensitivity, creativity, discipline, resourcefulness and resilience in leadership staggeringly impressive. The latter observation proves that any worthwhile experience, particularly those that most test such distinctly human traits, beg for preservation in the interest of posterity; as an example for all time!

22. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Dr. Ed Catmull

My greatest challenge as a filmmaker is to not repeat my successes. If I land on a certain subject matter or particular stylistic approach that I or an audience has found appealing, that's a clarion call that I must soon decamp for newer, greener pastures. However, this is far easier said than done. And unfortunately, I've seen many filmmakers and artists falter in their fledgling careers by failing to stay fresh, vibrant and motivated with new ideas.

Here Dr. Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar and author of this book, highlights this challenge and many others which face any creative enterprise. With remarkable and refreshing candor, Dr. Catmull is relentless in his diagnosis of problems at Pixar and pursuit of lasting solutions to keep his filmmaker-led company (and later Walt Disney Animation Studios) innovating, excelling and succeeding without compromising their core values. We learn that despite Pixar's meteoric rise and streak of box office grand slams, its workplace culture and managerial strategy were undergoing constant testing and evolution. The book is a stunning exposé with more garnered wisdom and sagacity than I could ever reasonably summarize.

I recommend this book to all of my fellow creatives.

21. The Sociology of a Miami Girl by Kelsey Milian Lopez

The Sociology of a Miami Girl is the first book by musician and scholar, Kelsey Milian Lopez. I first met Kelsey in the spring of 2016 at Florida International University in a Communication Arts course we were both enrolled in. Learning that I was a member of FIU's Toastmasters club, she expressed interest in learning more about the public speaking and leadership development organization and possibly attending one of its meetings. I summarily entertained her curiosity about Toastmasters and was at once struck by her disarming intelligence and personability. She had made a strong impression on me all those years ago so it came as no surprise when I learned that she'd recently written and released her very own book!

In this self-published collection of thirty-one poems, Kelsey recounts a rich mélange of experiences through the prism of her multifarious cultural identity. As Kelsey confidently tackles such resonant themes as family, maturation, romance and social responsibility among many others, she renders all of these subjects in archetypal Miami evocations along with remarkable introspection, lucidity and sensitivity. With regard to Kelsey's background, she is the daughter of Latinx immigrants with Mexican, Guatemalan, Aztec, Zapotec, K'iche Maya, French, German, Spanish and Japanese roots. Throughout the work, Kelsey often invokes the spirit and traditions of her indigenous ancestors which she often finds in conflict with her contemporary milieu. I found this recurring motif a courageous acknowledgement of a slighted people and a traumatic past which are too often overlooked. Moreover, I greatly relished the distinctive identity each of the thirty-one poems had to offer as well as the delightfully amorphous and playful language throughout.

Overall, I loved reading The Sociology of a Miami Girl and I highly recommend it! As its cover art suggests, Kelsey Milian Lopez invites you to look into a mirror and ascend a staircase with her. You may see unexpected parts of yourself reflected and a higher level of personal understanding reached. Go with her!

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