Category Archives: Books

To People Who Don’t Read

A lot of young people like to make the excuse that they “don’t read.”

Word?

Reading books and writing are among brain-stimulating activities shown to slow down cognitive decline in old age, with people who participated in more mentally stimulating activities over their lifetimes having a slower rate of decline in memory and other mental capacities.

Translation: How do you not read? It’s literally the other way to communicate.

“No, no, I don’t read for fun.”

That’s like saying I’m bad at math because I don’t spend my evenings graphing parabolas.  Like mathematicians are at home begging, “Mom, after dinner can I recite the quadratic formula? I love the way that everything divides by 2a!”

Even so, if you know that not reading is the reason you’re awful, then doesn’t it make sense to start now?

Here’s the thing; there’s some guff on the internet that says something about how “you don’t even use what you learn in school, anyway” or something like that.  That’s complete malarkey – a successful person will figure out how to use most of what they learn in high school to some degree.  But even if you accept that flawed premise, here’s a stone cold truth: Reading and writing are NOT on the list of things you won’t need.

I tell this story to everyone who tells me they won’t need reading and writing skills.  In my first job at a bowling alley, I worked with a coworker/supervisor (I’m not telling which because that’s too specific for creepy internet stalkers) who wanted to advertise a special deal: Pepperoni pizza for $1.00 a slice.  He had the bright idea of making this special appear on the score screens of all 32 lanes in large letters that would march across the screen.

“Peperroni Piza, $1.OO per slise – munday thru thirsday!!!”

Not only is every word except “per” and “thru,” (an acceptable abbreviation) misspelled, but he even had a typo on the part with “$1.00,” because he used O’s instead of zeroes.  Yes – dude misspelled a number.  I was mortified and had to fix it immediately, and of course, anyone who saw it was probably similarly mortified.

I’m not stopping the story here, though, as a cautionary tale where all listeners go “Well, I’m not THAT bad!”

The reason I tell that story is to deliver a message: If you write without capitalizing, it’s exactly as noticeable as this situation.  If you can’t write three sentences without showing why you didn’t get a diploma, it will look exactly the same as if you had written that pizza sign.  If you can’t read in the work world, it will be noticed and seen in exactly the same way as I, and now you, look at this guy.  There is no way to reveal a lack of reading and writing skill that isn’t embarrassing, except in school.

In my head, I feel like even youths caught up in gang activity might even be like “I’m gonna trust you to have my back?  I’m gonna trust you with a gun?  You didn’t even pass English 1, man.”  After all, if you can’t sit still long enough to learn how to read with people paid to help you, how are you going to fend for your life in this world?

I’m not saying people not good at these things have no value; I’m saying that there’s no way to hide it or ignore it.  It’s not like a scar you can conceal.  In most cases, within minutes of knowing you and hearing you talk, reading your texts, or viewing your Snapchat, employers, friends, enemies, and everyone else will know whether you would sell “piza” or “pizza.”

Here’s the kicker: Even people with similarly bad or worse spelling and grammar can tell when someone can’t write.

“I never read when I was young, Mr. Phan, so it’s too late for me.”

A lot of people seem to think that if you don’t start reading at a young age, then you’ll never become good at it. And I see why they might think that.

According to studies done by the University of Oxford, “Young brains do tend to be able to absorb new information better than old ones, although not necessarily to integrate it as well with what has been learned previously.”

That’s why little kids can’t take over the world. Little kids can learn faster, but older people use what they learn better.

That’s why I’m better at arguing than you are.

However, learning how to read at an earlier age doesn’t mean a rooster’s crow.

“Being taught to read at an early age (such as five years old) does not ultimately result in better reading skills, and if it replaces more developmentally appropriate activities, then it may cause other harms.”

Studies conducted in 2015 indicate that

“there is no evidence to support a widespread belief in the United States that children must read in prekindergarten or kindergarten to become strong readers and achieve academic success.”

You can start NOW!  So what if it’s harder for your mind to absorb?  You’re also older – perhaps more mature now, and better able to suck it up and do the work.  It’s never too late to improve your reading skill.  Gorillas are doing sign language, man!

“Mr. Phan, I don’t have any books!”

Get a library card, homey!  Plus, I’ve got some more tips and tricks for you:

1: Borrow books from people.

The reason you want to do this is because, for many people, reading isn’t attractive because it’s a solitary activity, and we like to be social. If you borrow a book from someone, you instantly have someone else who also read the book, so you can talk about that one epic scene where the warrior slapped the king in the face. For bonus points, ask teachers! They’ll probably let you borrow some stuff!  You also will make more friends who also read, a really important thing that can help if you need to be surrounded by a positive atmosphere.

2. Read your interests.

Don’t be afraid to re-tread some of your old interests. See a movie recently? Read the book. Reading a book of a story you already know lets you not stress out about understanding the plot and instead can let you focus on other things – like the differences between the two.  Find the sequels.  Find other books by authors of books you already read.

3. Watch all of your movies with subtitles.

Even if you think you’re ignoring them, your brain will actually do a lot of work without you knowing. Also when you don’t hear something, you’ll instinctively look at the subtitles before bothering anybody with questions. Lastly, hearing the words being used will help expand your vocabulary and also help you recognize difficult words. That’s right, you can watch Terminator 2 and still increase your reading level.  Arnold definitely taught some people how to say “cybernetic organism.”  Netflix offers captions for almost everything.  This is great for rewatching movies that you’ve already seen.

4. Pronounce long words.

Sound that stuff out! I can’t stand it when someone’s reading in my class and they get to a word longer than two syllables and stop dead.  Everyone in my class now knows what I want them to do: Be brave. Sound it out, say it the best you can. If you say it wrong, say it wrong forever until someone teaches you the right way. You gotta keep a growth mindset. You’re not going to learn how letters work in the awful, complicated world of English unless you’re wrong first.

This will also help you if you learned to read by sight (memorizing words) vs phonetically (sounding them out.)  Reading by sight with memorized words leads to students being stopped in their tracks at even the most rudimentary words.  It’s like teaching someone to skate and then expecting them to be able to dance – and then finding out they never learned to walk.  Sound out the words.  Do that old-fashioned thing in Sesame Street where they combine two signs into one word.

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5. Google stuff.

Google is a verb here, but it works as an adjective too.  Ask Google what stuff means.  Most devices will allow you to do this in seconds.  “Okay Google, define equilibrium.”  It’s over.  There was a time when if you had questions about something you read, it meant consulting this:

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This is a real photo from the place in which I grew up.

Those days are gone.  In seconds you’ll know that equilibrium means “a state in which opposing forces or influences are balanced,” AND is also an underrated action movie with Christian Bale and Sean Bean about a dystopian world that destroys books and drugs people into happy submission.  How can encyclopedias compete?  The only possible answer is: by looking so wonderfully photogenic.

It’s never too late to learn to read skillfully… until you embarrass yourself.  Blogs are a great start.  So I suppose, while you’re increasing your reading level, enjoy your stay, and feel free to click around!

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Daredevil Season 2: Upstaged – Review (Spoilers)

First of all, I want to say that yes, I am a Daredevil fan.  I am familiar with “the lore” as Sam Winchester would say.  Secondly, I watched the original movie with Ben Affleck, and I thought it was awful.  Thirdly, I then saw the director’s cut of the movie, and thought it was wonderful.  And fourthly I want to say that I did watch the first season, and for the most part, I thought it was great.  With the second season comes more to love… and then more to not love.

We’re going deep into this one, folks.  If you’re the audience that can’t take spoilers, get out now.  This is for people who have either already seen it, or for people who watch things for the experience, not for the surprise.

Matt Murdock – Shaking, But Not Stirring

murdockCharlie Cox returns as Matt Murdock, and some things became quickly apparent.

One immediate problem was that Matt’s got nothing new.  Charlie Cox is struggling to show off in this series but there’s nothing he can do; he’s blind, so facial expressions don’t really make sense.  You can’t look into his eyes.  I don’t envy the acting challenge.  Ironically, it’s when his face is covered that you see him come alive.  The physicality of his role as Daredevil is extremely demanding.  The “life” his character shows when in combat is not just the product of his choreography, you can see which fight scenes were filmed on off days and which weren’t.

The character of Matt is harder to identify with as the people around him start asking for things that he can’t give.  It’s not like Batman or Spider-Man, where you feel like the people would back off if they knew of his secret pasttime.  No, in this case his partner Foggy knows everything, and is asking for things that anybody in the position of business partner and best friend would ask for; namely reliability and the ability to count on him in times of need.  As Matt begins neglecting his day life and going out more as the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, it’s hard to agree with his logic.  I began to miss the lawyer scenes.

You’ve Got a Friend in Me

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You’re a good man, Foggy Nelson.

Here is where as a character Matt becomes seriously upstaged.  Foggy Nelson is once again played by a cast-out-of-nowhere Elden Henson, who kills it in his role by being likeable, mouthy, yet unashamedly straightforward, decent, and honest.  In the old Ben Affleck movie, Foggy was a comical afterthought.  Here he is a true character.  He struggles to keep Nelson & Murdock afloat and tries his best to understand Matt’s other commitments.  He is also deeply hurt at Matt’s insistence on keeping him excluded from his activities and for never telling him about the darker part of his life, and this shows during the times when he has to tend to Matt’s injuries – from getting him hospital care to one point simply reaching out to wipe some blood from Matt’s head as they walked together in the street.  Matt takes this guy for granted, and it becomes hard to understand why as a viewer when he’s so obviously an asset, being both a fellow lawyer and a good friend.

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Deborah Ann Woll returns as Karen Page, this time with her character being a very obvious reason to explore the Punisher’s past.  Unfortunately, these parts tend to drag, as some things that are very easy to guess seem to take forever for her to figure out.  She is also the only one in many of her scenes to not know who Matt is, which becomes tiresome, especially when she and Matt begin to tentatively date.  In the end, she gets mad at him – pretty understandably, because after days of no-showing she finds him at home with Elektra in his bed… not a lot of explanations she can possibly think of in her head.  In fact, it sort of looks like Stick is her pimp in that scene.  I’ll talk about her later though, because I can’t hold back from this next guy.

Upstaging the Hero

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That’s right – it’s the Punisher.  As promised.  He is completely intact as a character, though I don’t think this version smokes.  Jon Bernthal steals the show in every scene he’s in.  In the beginning he’s believed to actually be a disgruntled army – only later is the threat revealed to be one man.  The trauma not of being at war… but being at peace and then losing his family – and then being forced to relive that trauma again and again due to his brain condition is one that makes it easy to sympathize with this murderer.  His dialogue is so unabashedly fascinating that when he’s out of the picture for a while the series slows to an unbearable crawl.  An awful crawl.  Almost a turn-off-the-TV crawl.  Then…

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Kingpin is baaack!  Oh, welcome back, man!  I was so grateful to see this guy because up until then I was ready to quit the series.  Man, was this guy scary last season.  Calm and cool… then ANGER EXPLOSION!  His scenes with Punisher are some of the most riveting.  The series picks itself back up again here, even though I’m going to talk about the things that hurt the series next, it’s worth it to give Vincent D’Onofrio his dues as the one who saved Season 2 for me.  Especially since the things that hurt Season 2 for me were quite unforgivable.

Awful Things That Make Me Worried About Season 3

Failed Femme Fatale

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Elektra looks like she’s constantly trying to seduce the director into not firing her.

Elektra is in this season, and she’s boring as anything.  She likes Matt, and she likes killing.  She’s sad about Matt not liking killing.  Then she’s sad about liking killing.  So she leaves and then after killing Angelo from Switched at Birth goes after Stick.  Then Matt decides he loves her and wants to leave the country with her.  But everyone knows Elektra dies right?  So she dies.  NOOOOOO! screams Matt.  Nobody cares.  Because the other thing we all know is that Elektra is always resurrected.  ALSO, there’s even a character from the first season, Nobu, that already has been resurrected, so it surprises nobody even so.  She’s boring and not intriguing or interesting.  She’s not exotic, she’s just boring.  Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.00, just go directly to jail.  Except jail would have Kingpin, which would make it more interesting again, so…

 

Stick

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So the old guy is back, and while he was great in the first season, he’s all over the place here.  Matt can’t seem to decide whether this guy is crazy, deserving of his help, or an awful person.  One second it’s “screw you, Stick!” then it’s “I owe him everything!”  Stick seems similarly confused, as he vacillates between sentences of admiration “You’re the toughest kid I’ve ever met.” and derogatory remarks about how Matt has supposedly “gone soft.”  The end result ended up feeling like an excuse to keep us away from Frank Castle and Kingpin stuff… Unforgiveable!

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So on a scale of 1 to 1o, I give this season a 5.  This is the best version of Kingpin and the Punisher I’ve seen so far, but a lot of this season felt like filler.  The parts with the proper villains shine through wonderfully.  Here’s to more of that next year… you know, after they’re done with all that ninja garbage nobody cares about.

 

 

“N-Naruto…-” Get Real.

All heroes have their admirers.  Naruto is of course constantly after Sakura, as she is the heroine that he hangs out with constantly – plus he knows that she’s in love with his rival, Sasuke, which only makes her more attractive to Naruto as a challenge to overcome.  As Naruto’s arc develops, so too does Naruto himself develop in maturity.  His relationship with Sakura also develops too.

So naturally, this means that Naruto eventually winds up with Hinata.

… Wait, what?  Is this some kind of joke? How does a writer as brilliant as Kishimoto – the man who wrote Naruto’s inspiring speeches, developed lovable ensemble characters like Shikamaru and Choji, and cultivated long-standing relationships such as Naruto’s bond with Kurama – know absolutely nothing about writing a proper romance?  Hinata is the worst choice of character for our hero, and there are plenty of reasons why.

A Bad Example

Hinata is an awful role model for girls.  Her entire existence – spanning decades if we’re going to consider her little scarf debacle in the last movie to be canon – has been about Naruto’s approval.  She’s the heir of a wealthy clan, born with a biological advantage (the Byakugan), and apparently a very capable ninja and a master of the Hyuga clan’s signature Gentle Fist style.

I guess you can’t have too many skills in one basket, because she also seems to have some kind of crippling personality disorder.  She never speaks up for herself, never goes for what she wants, and has very stalker-like tendencies when it comes to our hero.  She even deals in creepy stalker absolutes; “I want to stand by your side – forever!” she rehearses at one point.  WHOA.  Forever, girl?  How about you go out for noodles first, then see whether you even like the same things, because I can’t think of someone more different from our hero than you.

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Her dialogue is literally “N-Naruto…!” whenever he does something to vaguely acknowledge her – positively or negatively.  She wilts and blossoms at his syllables.  What this teaches is that girls should be meek little flowers that wait until the object of their affection’s whims lean in their direction.  

Some may say that Naruto is an anime series, not a fable, and that it has no responsibility to teach anything.  If that’s true, why create such an inspirational character as Naruto?  He’s a brat that stays fixated on one goal – stubbornly refusing to be shaken from the morals he grew up with, even when it seems that all above him are ready to do so.  He wins not only the approval but the admiration of his teachers and peers alike because of this.  When it’s time for him to decide his Ninja Way, it’s that he’ll never give up on something once he’s decided to do it.  Naruto is not the best ninja there.  He isn’t the most powerful or the most experienced.  He’s not the first person they call for  an emergency.  He isn’t Goku, the all-powerful hero.  He’s a flawed child with a personality to be infectiously good despite his rough manners, boisterous personality, and tactless rhetoric.  Why go to the trouble to create such a role model for kids – such that they realize they don’t have to be perfect in order to be good people – if you’re going to not teach lessons through what he does?

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Naruto gains the lifelong respect of former adversaries – like Gaara – due to his persistence and strength of character.

Below His Character

While there are plenty of reasons to admire Naruto for the many things he has done for his village and the world – as well as for his winning optimism and eagerness to be the best shinobi his village has ever seen – there are not many reasons for Naruto to see anything to admire in Hinata.  When watching the movie The Last: Naruto the Movie, it became apparent that the biggest factor for Naruto’s reciprocation of her affections was… it was a sure thing.

Ew.  What a seedy way to portray the character that worked so hard to win my respect.  The excuse commonly given for Naruto’s ignorance of Hinata’s love is that he “hasn’t had anyone to express it to him before.”  First of all, lies!  Second of all, he expresses his own affection for Sakura constantly, such that he would definitely understand if Hinata were to talk to him like a human being instead of stuttering his name all the time.

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Naruto: “Wow, Hinata, you sure did a good job eating all that ramen.”

Hinata: [shocked that she was noticed at all] “N-Naruto…!”

Naruto: “I’ll bet that’s how you bulk up to get so strong!”

Hinata: [shocked at being complimented] “N-naruto…”

Naruto: “Well, I’m going to go talk to people that actually talk back.”

Hinata: [sad that their interaction is over] “Naruto…” [Her eyes swell with tears, partly with happiness at the overall tone of their conversation, partly because of the welling of emotion that she feels for him.]

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What is there to admire?!  All of the paragons of awesomeness that Naruto worships are people with real skills, real admirable traits!  He appreciates Kakashi for what he learned about being there for your comrades.  He learns some really neat skills from Jiraiya.  He respects Might Guy for the way he bolsters Lee’s confidence.  He admires Sakura for being a strong person.  He admires Sasuke’s drive to achieve one goal, with the possibility that this might have even been the inspiration for his ninja way.  Sure, Hinata is powerful, and Naruto can respect that, but she shows no initiative in using it.  It might as well have been a secret!  Naruto starts using sickening language like “I’ve been in love with you.”  Do you know what “been” means, kid?  It means that it was an ongoing thing.  You expressed no such thing in the past – not to the audience, not to your own internal monologues, and certainly not to anybody else.

The disappointment I feel in such a poorly written relationship for such a well-written series AND main character is tantamount to what would happen if Luke Skywalker had been killed by Jar Jar Binks seconds before entering Jabba’s Palace.  It’s like if Goku’s death to defeat Raditz had been his exit from the series.  It’s like if the Clone Wars replaced the EU’s Mandalorian warrior race with a race of peace-loving… wait, that one was real.

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One of the saddest retcons in Star Wars history.

Anyway, Naruto’s sudden decision to reciprocate in such a way (“I’ve always loved you, Hinata!”) cheapens Naruto as a character and worse, advocates behavior like this.  Better that he stay single than do this.  There’s no risk here.  There’s no character that puts their feelings on the line for the other – Hinata never even has to admit how she feels.  Naruto ends up reading her mind (via magic water and of course in true Naruto and Naruto Shippuden style: a series of flashbacks), so he knows it’s a sure thing.  There’s no risk at all for him to express his affection, and worse, because it’s the first time he’s ever expressed this affection, it looks manufactured.

Things Matter

This is why even fillers should be vetted carefully by those familiar with the main storyline.  These Hinata fillers are the reason why Hinata is getting such a nasty portrayal.  They’re still canon!  Character development always matters!  Handle your characters with care, or else you might just cheapen the character you worked so hard to create.