Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull

Subtitle: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Published: 2014

Genre: nonfiction, business

Length: 314 pages of text, 340 pages total

Font: Sabon

Interest: The Modern Mrs. Darcy recommended the book in her Summer Reading Guide. While I’d seen it reviewed a number of places, this post prompted me to put it on my list. Besides, the book is all about Pixar, and we love Pixar at our house.

Summary: Catmull has attempted to explain the specific actions he and the other leaders at Pixar to maintain a corporate culture of creativity. He’s worked at many different levels within business and believes that to maintain creativity and success you must actively review what’s working, what’s not, and search for problems before they become so big they’ll ruin you.

Final thoughts: While I know Catmull intended the book as a kind of how-to book for creativity in business, I read it mostly for the Pixar anecdotes. They were good stories and covered everything from Toy Story to Inside Out, as well as some of their failures. I found the whole book fascinating, even if I don’t work in a business environment where I can implement many of the suggestions. I did find it interesting that Catmull recommended a scientific method approach, in the sense that failure is a data point, not a catastrophe. Figure what failed, take it into account, and try again. No big deal, right? It becomes a bigger deal when you’re dealing with millions of dollars, but even so Pixar plans to fail.

Title comes from: Catmull has tried number methods to develop a corporate culture (the Inc.) of creativity.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 79/100 in my 100 Book Challenge

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Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Published: 2012

Genre: YA historical fiction

Length: 339 pages

Setting: England and France, WWII

Font: Goudy Old Style

Interest: I’ve seen it reviewed and lauded a number of places. I first saw it in a Simple Homeschool post on YA historical fiction.

Summary: Julie (aka Verity) has been captured by the Germans soon after flying into France on a secret mission for Britain. She’s then tasked with writing down all she knew about the British War Effort to five to the Germans. She tells the story of herself (in the third person) and Maddie. Maddie worked herself into becoming a pilot during the war, against all odds. The second half of the story is told by Maddie, who was also stuck in France (the plane she was piloting to bring Julie to France crash-landed) trying to find Julie. Julie’s translator sneaks Maddie Julie’s written confession. Turns out, all the intelligence (but not the relationship with Maddie) was made up. Maddie’s part of a plan to rescue Julie and blow up the German headquarters in the nearby town. While they are able to blow up the building, with information hidden in Julie’s confession, they are unable to rescue Julie. Eventually, Maddie makes her way back to England.

Final thoughts: This book matched my expectations. I totally felt for Julie – tortured and forced to spill her secrets. (We never see the torture, which is one of the few concessions to the YA audience I noticed.) Then, in the second half, we find out all the secrets were made up! I was completely shocked! I thought Julie was broken, but she was playing the victim and still trying to get information out to the Resistance. So many of her actions and words seemed innocent but turned out to convey information to the Resistance. The saddest part of the book was when Maddie shot Julie to prevent Julie being sent to a Nazi “research” facility. I thought for sure it was another trick on Julie’s part, but no – she was really dead. Overall, an excellent book and the twist of the second half had me going back over the first half to see the events in the new light.

Title comes from: The code name of Julie (the main character and narrator of the first half) was Verity.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 78/100 in my 100 Book Challenge

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What I Will Be Reading #15

The other day, as I was looking for a good book for our next WWI American History Club meeting (never did find one, even if I did choose When Christmas Comes Again), I lamented the lack of good WWI books. I’ve read a lot about WWII, but very little about WWI. While I was hoping to get some suggestions for kids books about WWI, my friends instead filled my reading list with books for me to read about WWI. Here’s what I’ve added to my list because of that thread (titles only because there are so many):

Fall of Giants: Book One of the Century Trilogy by Ken Follett. Looks like if I like that one, I’ll have two more to read. I’ve read Follett and enjoyed him in the past, so I’m not worried about quality.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque has been on my radar for a while, but I’m putting officially on the list now.

Finally, a nonfiction book to close out the reading list: The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman. It even won a Pulitzer (for nonfiction, but I still count it for my reading challenge).

Anything else I should add to my reading list?

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Thirteen Generations by James Bambury

Published: August 2012 in AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review that is still available to read at the website

Genre: Science fiction

Length: 4 pages

Setting: a researcher’s lab, any time in the future

Interest: It is included in the 2014 annual Campbellian Anthology that was available back in January.

Summary: A researcher is trying to teach an organism (probably a protozoa) to run a maze and respond to light with recognized movement. Each generation passes on its knowledge to the following generation so the maze is faster and speech is more recognizable. The organism’s life is shortened as well, until the 12th generation individual barely has time to eat before laying an egg and dying. The 13th generation seems to slow down a bit, though.

Final thoughts: Eh, nothing too exciting. An interesting biological principle – what information can get passed on from generation to generation? There is some evidence that experience can get passed on. The idea that your life is sped up as you are born with more starting knowledge is also interesting, but I was confused about the 13th generation. Did it regress? Was it slower again? It seemed to have less verbal ability. I needed just a bit more story, I guess, to be completely satisfied.

Reading challenges fulfilled: none since this was a short story

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Weekly Wrap-Up: Hindu Deities

We started a new topic with the start of the month. Every year, we cover the mythology of a different culture. In the three years that Mr. Curiosity has been homeschooled, we’ve done Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology. This year, we’re moving a little farther east and are studying Hindu deities. One of the reasons I chose Hindu mythology was because my mother-in-law brought us The Little Book of Hindu Deities by Sanjay Patel after visiting India. We’re using this as our spine book because it provides one page descriptions of most of the big Hindu gods and goddesses, including some of the different incarnations. There’s not a lot of detail, and the pictures are definitely prettied up, but it’s a good place to start. As a bonus, there’s a phonetic spelling of each of the names, since they’re not said the way I assume.

There’s not a lot of books on the Hindu gods and goddesses in our local library system, but I was able to find a couple of options. Our first story we read was a picture book: Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth by Emily Haynes and Sanjay Patel. This was a retelling of story of Ganesha, with beautiful illustrations that really provide the color and style of Indian culture. It also provided the key elements of Ganesha’s story – the elephant head, his mighty steed (a mouse), and one of the great sacred Hindu texts.

For more stories about Ganesha and his interactions with many of the other Hindu deities, try The Broken Tusk as retold by Uma Krishnaswami. They are short stories, but again provide the flavor of the Hindu pantheon. Even Miss Adventure enjoyed reading the stories, even if there’s only a couple of black and white illustrations in the book.

If you’re interested in other weekly wrap-ups, check out Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers’ post.


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Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Published: 1999

Genre: middle grade historical fiction

Length: 243 pages

Setting: Michigan during the Great Depression

Interest: This book was recommended somewhere as a good read-aloud book.

Summary: Bud is an orphan during the Depression. He runs away from an abusive foster home in Flint and heads to Grand Rapids to find Herman E. Calloway, who he believes is his father. Calloway is a big band player and Bud fits right in with his band. Turns out Calloway is his grandfather.

Final thoughts: This did turn out to be an enjoyable read-aloud. It certainly provided an interesting story on something that our family doesn’t experience – being poor and black. Bud had to make his way on his own, during the Depression and a black kid. You got sucked into his story of how to survive as a kid, longing for a family that loves him. He found it in Calloway’s band.

Awards won: Newbery Medal in 2000

Title comes from: It’s how Bud always introduced himself.

Reading challenges fulfilled: none since this was a review of a book read in a previous year

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When Christmas Comes Again by Beth Seidel Levine

Subtitle: The World War I Diary of Simone Spencer, New York City to the Western Front 1917 (Dear America Series)

Published: 2002

Genre: middle grade historical fiction

Length: 166 pages

Setting: NYC and France, 1917

Font: Centaur MT

Interest: I chose it as our second WWI book for American History Club. It’s part of the Dear America series, which are set up as a diary of a young person going through an important part of American history.

Summary: Simone has just graduated from high school. While she led a bit of a pampered life, being part of the upper class, she feels the need to contribute to the war effort. Volunteering at the YWCA doesn’t feel like enough. Nursing the wounded back to health isn’t her cup of tea. Finally, she’s able to work as a switchboard operator, translating between the French and American armies. As the fighting gets fiercer and more men are wounded, the “hello girls” are moved closer to the front. While she’s in France, Simone find her brother and falls in love with one of his friends.

Final thoughts: While the book sheds some light on an unknown aspect of WWI (the Hello Girls) where women were allowed to participate in the war effort, I wasn’t very impressed with the rest of the book. It seemed very thin on plot and details compared to many of the other books we’ve read for American History Club. The main character seemed quite shallow, with very little to say in her diary. I was definitely limited in appropriate books on WWI for the boys. There’s not a lot of middle-grade literature on WWI, and finding something the library system had two of was even harder.

Title comes from: When Simone’s brother joined the Army, they sent off with the sentiment that they’d see him “When Christmas came again.”

Reading challenges fulfilled: 77/100 in my 100 Book Challenge

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