Category Archives: Books

Be Safe I Love You By Cara Hoffman – A Review

besafeiloveyouA while back I reviewed Cara Hoffman’s first novel, ‘So Much Pretty’. The raw intimacy that Hoffman achieved in that novel was so memorable that I kept my eye out for her next work. Her new novel, ‘Be Safe, I Love You’ shows that Cara Hoffman continues to be one of the most original voices writing novels today.

‘Be Safe, I Love You’ tells the story of a soldier returning to the small hometown of Watertown, New York after being in Iraq. Unfortunately the soldier brought some of the war back as well. This is not a new story. In fact, we’ve seen it many times. Two things set this story apart from others. One is that Cara Hoffman has a gift for creating characters that don’t feel invented. The other is that the protagonist of this particular war story is a woman.

This combination results in a novel that at times feels more like a war memoir than a novel. Lauren Clay is one of the most fully realized characters I’ve ever read. By the end of the novel you feel like you know her.

Lauren joined the military because her family had shattered and she needed to provide for her family. Her mother had abandoned the family and her father was left a husk of a man, leaving Lauren to take care of her preteen brother. The relationship she has with her little brother is similar to that of survivors of a catastrophe. It’s clear as the story goes unfolds that Lauren’s war started long before she ever put on a uniform.

It takes some time for the reader and those around Lauren to realize the extent of Lauren’s damage. There is a lit-fuse quality to the entire book. We feel as though it could all go tragically wrong in an instant. Poignantly this is exactly the same feeling Lauren herself has despite being thousands of miles from a war zone.

As I said, the story of the scarred veteran returning home is not new. And even with the welcomed addition of the soldier being female, many of the tropes of the soldier home from war remain. This is one of the points of the novel. The soldiers may change by the wounds never really do.

What sets this apart from your standard war novel isn’t that Lauren Clay is a woman. It’s Cara Hoffman’s effortlessly intimate writing. There’s an immediate closeness to the people and events in ‘Be Safe I Love You’ that isn’t common in these kinds of books. Hoffman’s characters have quiet moments that feel more authentic than the non-stop action or drama you might get from other novels.

Be Safe I Love You manages to be exactly what you want in a second novel. It’s nothing like the first but every bit as powerful and enjoyable to read. I look forward to her third novel.

–          Jack Cameron

The Return of Ruin Your Life

FrontCoverSeven years ago I published Ruin Your Life. I called it my ‘self-destruct book’. What had started as a series of articles on a long defunct website had become a guidebook to doing all the wrong things the right way. My mother bought ten copies and handed it out to friends. My father read it and the following week, politely asked that I remove his copy from his home. My friends bought copies. Four separate friends who I’d never known to own books told me it wasn’t only the first book they’d ever owned, it was the first book they’d ever finished. People bought copies and gave them as gifts. My employer at the time chose to buy a copy for every employee of the company. Most enjoyed it, some quietly placed copies on my desk. At one point I even met with a producer about optioning Ruin Your Life for a movie.

Ruin Your Life is a book that it seems is either loved or reviled. I’ve heard from people who just open to random chapters and read when they’re bored. I’ve also heard from people who think I’m a terrible human being for writing any of it.

A few years ago I let the paperback edition of Ruin Your Life go out of print. I felt that it had run its course and that as long as the digital copy was still available those who hadn’t had the chance to purchase it could still enjoy it.

And then I got a call from an old friend. He was starting up a new publishing endeavor and wanted to know if I wanted to bring back Ruin Your Life to include in his catalog. This coincided with a handful of others asking if I had any spare paperback copies available. (I don’t.) Still, I wasn’t sure it was a good idea.

I thought about whether or not I wanted to add some new chapters or something, but the truth is I didn’t have anything more to say on that particular topic. Ruin Your Life has chapters about lying, cheating, buying drugs, talking to cops, having affairs, and driving like a maniac among other things. The chapters missing from the book are chapters that simply weren’t good enough to include them.

I buy a lot of DVDs and I’m not a fan of when studios double-dip and come out with some new edition that has all this extra stuff. I already spent the money the first time around. The changes I’ve made to Ruin Your Life are mostly cosmetic ones. If you already have a paperback copy of Ruin Your Life, I’ll be the first to tell you that there’s no reason to buy this new edition.

That said, if you don’t have a paperback copy or you do but want to give one to a friend. You should let me know right now. I’m publishing an new edition of Ruin Your Life and for you viewers of my website, I’ll sign copies and send them to you myself at less than you can buy the paperback when it’s available on Amazon.com.

So if you’re looking for a signed copy of the new paperback edition of Ruin Your Life click the button below.

buynow

For more excerpts, memes, and other related fun, go to the official Ruin Your Life Facebook Page: http://facebook.com/ruinyourlifebook

–          Jack Cameron

The Beginning

There’s something to be said about doing things on your own terms. For a long while creative people have had to deal with record companies, movie studios, and publishers in order to get their art to the masses. There are certain advantages to going that route. If you’re lucky and talented enough to get in good with the Powers That Be, there’s quite a bit more money involved. The odds of more people seeing your work increase dramatically. These are all good things, but there are two big problems with that system.

The first problem is that you don’t only have to be talented, you have to be lucky. Your work needs to be put in front of the right person at the right time. Sometimes this happens. Sometimes it doesn’t. The second problem is that you lose control of your work. Studios have been known to buy scripts with no intention of ever making the movie. Sure, it’s nice to get a paycheck, but most writers I know would rather see their work produced.

The good news is that modern technology makes the old system an option and not a requirement. As I write this, I have a friend who is producing an album with another guy on the other side of the country. They’re both using Macs with a few inexpensive accessories. Last year some friends of mine used Kickstarter to finance their movie. Their budget? Four hundred thousand dollars. That’s almost half a million dollars with no studio involvement. Sure, that’s not a lot compared to the budget of a MichaelBay movie but you’d be surprised how much you can get when you’re not having to deal with studios. More to the point, there’s no bosses telling them that they need to throw on a happy ending or make sure that there’s a sex scene. They can tell the story they want to tell.

This is why my next book is going to be entirely self-published. It’s not because I don’t like the system. It’s because I want to have complete creative control.

And that’s where the ‘bad news’ comes in. It’s a lot of work. Yes, it’s possible to just throw together a manuscript and have it published and tossed up on Amazon.com. Thousands of people do it every year and it’s largely what’s responsible for making the word ‘self-published’ seem disreputable. But the truth is there is no reason you can’t make a book every bit as professional as anything the big six publishers put out. That’s my goal.

My plan is to have my novel available for purchase by my birthday, December 5th. It’s not going to be easy. The key to doing anything well is realizing when you can’t do something and hiring someone who can. In order to do this right, I’m going to need to set things up for more than just this book. I’ll need to start my own publishing company. As I go through this process, I’ll write about it here, along with anything else I feel like writing about.

Welcome to 2013. It’s going to be a good year.

– Jack Cameron

The Longest Way Home by Andrew McCarthy

About a year and a half ago I read Rob Lowe’s autobiography, Stories I Only Tell My Friends. I enjoyed it and wrote up a review on this site. About two months ago, I got an email from a publishing company asking if I would be interested in reading Andrew McCarthy’s new book, The Longest Way Home. Being a big fan of free stuff, I gladly accepted the offer of a complimentary copy. A part of me is hoping I can continue this trend and maybe get books by the rest of the people who populated my favorite movies in the 1980s.

Here’s what I knew about Andrew McCarthy before I read the book: He’d been in a few movies I really liked and I honestly couldn’t remember anything he’d done that I didn’t enjoy. He was part of what was called ‘The Brat Pack’ back in the day, though I also knew they didn’t actually hang around each other much and that it was largely a media-created thing. That was about all I knew.

Unlike Rob Lowe’s book, The Longest Way home is not the origin of a famous guy and his famous friends because it turns out that when Andrew McCarthy isn’t acting or directing, he’s writing travel articles for publications like National Geographic. So while the book is deeply personal, it’s also a travel journal.

When watching McCarthy in a movie, I usually instantly identify with his character. He’s tends to play these aloof caring people who don’t quite fit in. That’s easy for me to relate to. Strangely though he seems to have those qualities in his writing as well, I found identifying with him in his book much more difficult.

This isn’t the fault of the writing. It just turns out that I personally don’t have a lot in common with Andrew McCarthy. When the book begins, we find that he’s planning on getting married to his long-time girlfriend, D. He is so excited about this that he instantly plans a series of solo trips all over the world before the wedding. Some people want to run to the ends of the Earth rather than get married. Andrew McCarthy does just that.

Early on we discover that while McCarthy has a deep love for his fiancé and his children, more than anything, he wants to be alone. This is a man who would have no problem living alone in a shed on the side of a mountain for the next fifty years. During his journeys, he talks about the family he grew up in and in so many ways it seems that he was practically brought up to be a loner. There is love in his family but it is always distant.

His trips rarely involve places you’d think to go. He goes to Patagonia, the Amazon, the Osa, and Baltimore among others. Each trip involves him meeting interesting people and exploring these locations with a curiosity and sensitivity that is easy to feel when reading it. And as he travels, he continues to work through his personal demons that are keeping him from fully committing to his fiancé.

While the path he takes to becoming the person he needs to be in order to marry his fiancé is predictable, it’s the personal nature of the story that keeps it from being uninteresting. And it doesn’t hurt that most of the time, he’s writing about some of the most interesting places on earth.

It should also be noted that McCarthy writes at least as well as he acts. The talent is clear. His descriptions of his surroundings coupled with his reactions to them give the reader a real feel for the journeys he undertakes.

The Longest Way Home isn’t a famous person’s autobiography. It’s a book about a world traveler becoming someone who can be fully committed to the woman he loves. The fact that he’s also a famous actor doesn’t really enter into it beyond the fact that he likely wouldn’t be able to afford such trips without the money his first career has gained him.

If you’re looking for some sort of famous person tell-all, this isn’t it and really I think that’s a good thing. Word is that McCarthy is now working on a novel and he’ll be starring in a Hallmark Christmas movie this December. Andrew McCarthy may enjoy solitude, but I’m glad he shares his journeys with us.

– Jack Cameron

Some Thoughts on Free Will Part 2

Sam Harris’ book, Free Will argues that free will is an illusion. If he’s right, this has some interesting consequences, many of which I’m still thinking about, but I’d like to share some of the results this line of thinking has caused.

If everyone’s free will is an illusion and all of our actions and thoughts are the results of genetics, circumstances, and chance, then certain things stop making sense. Regret, for example, becomes silly. If free will is an illusion, then every choice you made was in fact the only choice you could have made given who you are. You could not have possibly done anything else because to do so would require a change in your genetics, experience, or chance. So there is nothing to regret. Ever. You can still feel bad for things you’ve done that you feel bad about, but really you could not have done anything differently and still be you.

This thought alone could save some people years of misery. How many times have you thought ‘If only I’d done that instead…’?   If we accept Harris’ argument, then we could never have done anything other than what we did. Of course we can still learn from our mistakes and misdeeds, but we can stop beating ourselves up over the fact that we made this mistakes in the first place.

The next thing I noticed was that one of the central motivations in my life was quite suddenly irrelevant. In a world without free will, how can you possibly justify vengeance? It would be like that scene in the Life Aquatic when Bill Murray says he’s going to kill the shark that killed his partner to get revenge. If there’s no free will, then a person who has wronged you has just as much responsibility as a shark. Of course this doesn’t mean that we should let everyone in prison go free and that they are absolved of all guilt. Much like the shark, there are people who are genuinely dangerous and need to be locked up. Outside circumstances like laws and sentencing still change the behavior of people even if there’s no free will. But things like the death penalty and getting revenge quickly become pointless, like hunting down the tornado that destroyed your house.

Perhaps the biggest change that this line of thinking creates is that it effectively eliminates hate. I’ll do a little paraphrasing and use an example like something in Harris’ book. Let’s say that a good friend of yours was murdered by a man who had a brain tumor in his frontal lobe that caused him to act out violently. The brain tumor doesn’t negate the tragedy of your friend’s death, but it’s difficult to hate the man who did it. If the man who killed your friend had surgery that removed the tumor, he would no doubt feel enormous remorse and never think to do anything like that again. You’d likely pity him. In a world where free will is an illusion, all murders become the result of genetics, circumstance, and chance. It’s hard to hate someone when but for those three things, you could be that someone. Again, I think it’s important to point out that though such lines of thought eliminate hate, it doesn’t negate the danger that a murderer or any other violent sort may represent.

The most interesting thing to me about all of this is that while it may make things like regret, vengeance, and hate irrelevant, it doesn’t do the same to positive thoughts and emotions. If we understand that free will is an illusion, then we start understanding people as more like weather patterns. Some are very nice. Some can be outright deadly. And this understanding gives us more empathy towards others, even towards the worst in our society.

So accepting that free will is an illusion eliminates some of humanity’s worst traits and preserves some of its best. And it does all of this without a ‘God’ or a set of belief systems that can’t be proven and don’t relate to our daily experience. It becomes a way of looking at life that gives you sympathy and understanding while not making you naïve. It creates a framework that, if anything makes me feel as though you’re more a part of the universe than apart from the universe.

I’ve read Sam Harris’ Free Will three times now. I expect I’ll read it some more and have more thoughts on this. When I do, I’ll post them here. In the meantime, I’d advise you check out Free Will. He does a much better job of explaining his argument than I’ve done here and it’s one of the most enlightening books I’ve ever read.

–          Jack Cameron

Book Review: The End of Faith By Sam Harris

I discovered Sam Harris when I found a link to an excellent article he wrote about violence and self-defense. It was well written and incredibly practical. However, the thing that got me most was that it actually gave me a new idea about violence:

“This is the core principle of self-defense: Do whatever you can to avoid a physical confrontation, but the moment avoidance fails, attack explosively for the purposes of escape—not to mete out justice, or to teach a bully a lesson, or to apprehend a criminal. Your goal is to get away with minimum trauma (to you), while harming your attacker in any way that seems necessary to ensure your escape.”

This was a new concept to me. It wasn’t that I didn’t agree with it. It was that I’d never really thought of it like that before. I read a few more of his posts on his site and then decided I would read one of his books. When I get interested in an author, I like to start with his first book whenever I can. So I got The End of Faith.

The End of Faith is about faith, religion, and the incredible dangers posed in the modern world by people who believe things with no evidence. As an atheist, I was a bit concerned that I’d read the book and my only reward would be that I’d have a few more points to make when I debate someone about the existence or non-existence of God. Surprisingly Sam Harris’ book is much more than that.

One thing that struck me about Harris’ writing is that he isn’t nice. He doesn’t try to bend the reader to his way of thinking. He hacks at the weakest points of some of the longest held beliefs in history. And he’s exceptional at it. He attacks blind faith with reason, practicality, and logic.

I’m sure it’s no surprised that in this first part, I was in complete agreement with him. I also thought how this first part of the book was so brutal that many Believers probably wouldn’t read further. This is unfortunate on many levels. Sam Harris is clearly a well educated smart man and he has something important to say here. I’d like to think that anyone, regardless of their faith would be interested in what a man like him has to say about religion and faith. Ultimately, if you read it and think he’s wrong, nothing has been done to your faith. If you read it and think he’s right, then your beliefs will have changed. Either way, it’s not damaging.

After clearly explaining why religion and blind faith don’t make a lot of sense in the modern world, Harris starts talking about the consequences of religion in the modern world. He touches on everything from missionaries not passing out contraception to suicide bombers whose actions are celebrated by the faithful. The picture he paints of the horrible things that happen because of what different people think happens after we die is startling.

This isn’t a new problem. Harris goes into detail about how history is full of atrocities and tragedies that are the result of religion. He acknowledges that religion has also contributed a great many good things to our society but not one of them would have been impossible without religion. Unlike things such as the Spanish Inquisition which required faith to happen.

With technology continuing to shrink our world and weapons of mass destruction being easier and easier to produce, the existence of groups of people who believe in things that cannot be proven and want to kill people who do not believe those things make religion and faith one of the most obvious dangers to our civilization. Harris goes into details on why this is true and what we should do about it. It’s here that he almost loses me. While I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, I can find no fault in his logic. In many ways, I think that perhaps I just don’t want to agree.

After pointing out the fallacy of faith and the dangers of religion, Harris takes some time to talk about ethics. He does a reasonable job of pointing out that ethics do not need to be grounded in religion and that we don’t need a God or an old book to tell us what is right or wrong. I agree with this, but his thoughts on torture disturb me:

“Whenever we consent to drop bombs, we do so with the knowledge that some number of children will be blinded, disemboweled, paralyzed, orphaned, and killed by them. It is curious that while the torture of Osama bin Laden himself could be expected to provoke convulsions of conscience among our leaders, the unintended (thought perfectly foreseeable, and therefore accepted) slaughter of children does not.”

Personally, when it comes to torture, I’m against it in all cases. If for no other reason than it rarely produces good results. Torture to me is a failure of the interrogator. Then again, I’m not the biggest fan of bombs either. However, as he points out, regardless of the outcome of the torture, from a purely ethical standpoint, he has a good point.

Finally, Harris talks about spirituality. This was the last thing I expected on a book basically dedicated to the absurdity and horrendous consequences of religion. His thoughts here are lucid. He argues that in many cases religion gets in the way of spirituality and our objective study of it. I entirely agree with him. The most spiritual moments of my life had nothing to do with Jesus or church.

Often books like this will not have sources. They’ll read like manifestos. Harris’ book does not suffer from this. Almost a third of the entire book is full of notes about his sources and references. Clearly, he did his research.

The End of Faith is a book I’d love to share with my father and with any Believer I know. It’s challenging. It’s thought provoking. And it’s accessible. There’s not much more I ask for in a non-fiction book. I’m looking forward to reading more Sam Harris soon.

– Jack Cameron

I’m With The Brand Part 5: The Masters of Personal Branding

Tim Ferriss, Personal Branding at its best.

We’ve talked about the concept of Personal Branding, finding your Personal Brand, developing your Personal Brand, and the things to avoid when it comes to Personal Branding. In this post, I’ll point you in the directions of Personal Branding experts. Some of these guys were working on Personal Branding before anyone had a name for it.

Dan Shawbel wrote what some consider the Bible of Personal Branding, Me 2.0. It’s a fast read full of good information. Dan has created a business around Personal Branding. His success speaks for itself.

William Arruda is another professional Personal Branding guru. His book, Career Distinction focuses on how Personal Branding can improve your career and your career prospects.

Timothy Ferriss is another master of Personal Branding. He doesn’t advertise himself as such. Instead, he’s known as a best-selling author, champion kick-boxer, fitness guru, and chef.  Yeah, he gets around. And yet, he still manages to maintain a consistent high quality Personal Brand. He does this by being a source of good information and a champion of unknown experts. Tim Ferriss spends just as much time talking up people he looks up to as he does talking about himself. His first book, The 4-Hour Work Week changed the way I look at work. His second book, The 4-Hour Body changed the way I look at fitness. His next book The 4-Hour Chef will doubtlessly change the way I look at cooking. (Notice how he brands his book with the ‘4-Hour’ thing? That’s not an accident.)  What do these have to do with Personal Branding? The information in Tim’s books aren’t specifically geared towards Personal Branding. This is true, but using many of the ideas and techniques in his book, you’ll find that you increase your Personal Brand.

As Personal Branding gets more mainstream, there will inevitably be more books and articles about it (like this one). The most important thing to remember is that you are creating your personal brand whether you’re doing it purposely or not. You’re doing it by having a Facebook page. You’re doing it with Twitter and FourSquare. You might as well take control of it.

–          Jack Cameron