The Paolini Family’s February 2015 Favorites


3d-bookStyle, by F. L. Lucas, is the best book on writing I’ve ever read. It won’t teach you how to structure a plot, but it will help you to tell a story with grace, clarity, and power.

Lucas provides an overview of the evolution of prose styles from antiquity to modern times, along with an explanation for why certain eras were more prone toward verbosity, and he includes several samples of editing that—in my opinion—are top-notch examples of that particular art. I especially appreciated how he avoids getting bogged down in technical details. A working knowledge of grammar is important, of course, but where you put this comma or that comma rarely affects the overall quality of your work. Instead, Lucas asserts that good writing arises from sound thinking, and moreover, that great writing arises from the character of the author. This, in his view, is where the genius of the very best writers lies. I agree.

Metaphors, similes, versification: all these are discussed and more. But what I really appreciated is that Lucas was an accomplished and well-respected author himself. As such, he understood the unique challenges of this profession. Along with his other advice, he devotes a chapter to questions of lifestyle. How fast should you write? How much coffee should you drink? Should you write when sleepy? Where best to write? The advantages and disadvantages of writing in a chair. And so forth. In my experience, these things can have a profound influence on the quality of your prose, even if they aren’t traditionally thought of as being part of your writing style. It was nice to see them examined from an informed point of view.

Style is generously footnoted, which can slow your reading, but then this is a book that you’ll want to savor. Because of the era in which it was written, there are a few lines that may strike a modern reader as being somewhat insensitive. However, those are small flaws in an otherwise brilliant piece and worth overlooking.

I’ve read Style once, and I know I’m going to read it again before another month passes. It’s the sort of manual I wish I’d had when I was starting out with Eragon.

10/10. Two thumbs up. Saphira’s Stamp of Approval. (What are you waiting for? Go get it!)



RoseCongouLast month I shared my favorite electric kettle. This month I thought I’d share my favorite tea. For years I’ve enjoyed a variety of teas and blends: Earl Grey, Lady Grey, English Breakfast, Jasmine, etc. And then I discovered Rose Congou, which is made from black tea and rose petals. Breathing in the aroma of the dry leaves reminds me of my childhood and the rose fragrance my mother wore and of the tea roses grown by our neighbors that I sometimes watered when they traveled. The tea itself is rich, smooth, well-rounded, with a hint of rose that isn’t artificial or overpowering. Many mornings I brew a cup, hop on the treadmill, and read a paper or magazine while enjoying it’s warmth. I purchase mine from the Upton Tea Company. You can also sample another offering from Amazon. I haven’t tried it, but it looks like a similar product. Happy sipping!



PushingDaisiesToday I’d like to tell you about one of the most delightfully peculiar TV shows I’ve ever watched. Pushing Daisies is its name, and it is a strange, strange show filled with charming, sweet tales about horrible things. The story revolves around Ned (Lee Pace), who makes pies and wakes the dead—but always at the cost of another life; Chuck (Anna Friel), his childhood sweetheart, who used to be dead; and Emerson (Chi McBride), a private detective who realizes that Ned’s talent will make it a lot easier to find murderers.

Pushing Daisies won an abundance of Emmys, but sadly only lasted two seasons. It is a memorable show, unlike any that came before or have appeared since. Whether or not it is your cup of tea will depend on your tolerance for twee, as it is sufficiently twee to challenge Wes Anderson’s best efforts at quirkiness. You can expect undead dogs, synchronized swimming, bees, lighthouse keepers, astonishingly expressive eyebrows, nuns, taxidermy, and vivid windmills. Everything is intensely colorful. The dialogue is absurd and witty. People randomly burst into song. But the whole bizarre trifle, at its core, has an abundance of heart—which is a rare find in any story.



MassEffectTrilogyI started the month trying to finish the Mass Effect 2 video game, with a few achievements left. What remains now is the Insanity playthrough. After hitting problems part of the way in, I decided to stop temporarily for a breather. Meantime I loaded up Mass Effect 3, which I finished, along with all the achievements, including all the DLC.

Spoilers ahead:
The story of the Mass Effect trilogy spans all three games. It is a tale of humans and alien races coming together to fight the Reapers, who appear every 50,000 years to obliterate all technologically advanced races. No one initially knows why this happens, but you play Commander Shepard, a human, who’s tasked with figuring out what’s going on. Your choices throughout the games carry over and influence what happens later.

The upshot of the story arc is a cautionary tale of technology. When life becomes sentient and advances, it creates artificial intelligence. Rudimentary machines keep getting more and more sophisticated until they become self-aware. When synthetics, as they are called, gain sentience, they strive to advance way beyond what their creators intended. At a certain point, The Reapers, a race of powerful mechanical beings, intervene to solve the inevitable conflict that arises between organic and synthetic life. Unfortunately, the Reapers eliminate everyone except young, non-technological life, only to have the cycle repeat every 50,000 years. Or does it?

A potential conflict between organic life (that’s us, humans) and synthetic life (that would be the computers, robots, and more) is not just a hypothetical argument. Check out these recent articles below:

Artificial Intelligence as a Threat

Microsoft’s Bill Gates insists AI is a threat

And yes, I am back plowing through my Mass Effect 2 Insanity run. Happily, I’m past the spot where I got stuck.

Beyond games, this month I want to recommend flashlights. Over the years, I’ve accumulated a collection of these cool tools. I could do a whole article on them, but right now I will keep things under control and give a hearty thumbs up to the Petzl line of headlamps. The Tikka and Myo models are excellent. I use both every day. Why? Well that’s another story.