Book Review: Souldancer (Soul Cycle Book II) by Brian Niemeier

Souldancer - Cover

Recently, I read and really enjoyed Part I of Brian Niemeier‘s three-part Soul Cycle series, Nethereal. Having read Part II, Souldancer, I can say that Brian improves upon nearly every aspect of the already impressive Nethereal, creating one of the most memorable sci-fi worlds I have had the pleasure to be invited into.

Mild spoilers for Nethereal are ahead, so if you plan on reading the series yourself–which I strongly recommend that you do–you might want to skim or otherwise skip most of this review.

(Wow . . . what kind of writer tells his readers not to read his blog? There can be only one: this guy!) Continue reading “Book Review: Souldancer (Soul Cycle Book II) by Brian Niemeier”

Earning by Doing

Every parent has dreams for their kids: Success…health…happiness…fulfillment. 

We want these things not for our own benefit–I hope–but because we love them so damn much. 

And in trying to ensure that these things happen, we expose them to things that we hope enrich their lives. 

My son loves music, for instance–listening, singing, dancing. He’s fascinated by my guitars and drum set, and has expressed interest in learning something

So we signed him up for piano lessons. 

It went great! He really enjoyed his first lesson, and took to it readily and eagerly. My wife and I were thrilled, especially since we had just taken my mother’s piano off of her hands after my parents’ recent move. 

Of course, our son’s teacher wanted him to practice at home, ideally three times per week. Why wouldn’t she? And why wouldn’t my wife and I?

Simple, right?

Quiz time: In two months of taking lessons, guess how many times he practiced?

If you said “Zero,” consider yourself a winner. 

“It’s boring!” he’d say, finding something else to do. He also thinks most things are boring, including school (my son!), so we took this with a grain of salt. 

But you know what? Even with incentives from us and his teacher, he would not touch the damn keyboard to save his life. 

So here came a fatherly conundrum: Do I force him to stick with something he clearly doesn’t enjoy because I know it’s good for him, or do I seek other learning avenues that appeal to him?

My boy is what you’d call “strong-willed,” which research has taught me really means he’s big on independence, autonomy, and choices.

In other words, he doesn’t like being told what to do without a reason and a say in the matter

He also responds best to experiential learning.

Sounds familiar…

Mind you, he’s not quite five, so I’m not exactly having a structured debate with him. But I do try to listen to him and treat him like a human being. And I’d rather not create the association in him of “music” with “negativity.”


Enter Legos. 

He’s always been obsessed with them, which is a great thing. There was a particular set, a castle, he’s wanted for months. 

So my wife and I struck upon the idea, prior to canceling piano lessons, that if he did X amount of lessons, we’d get him the set.

Nope. 

And so, with heavy heart, we discontinued the lessons. 

I know I could have pushed him, and I know he not only could have gotten good at piano, but it would have benefited him immeasurably–music is wonderful like that. 
This would be a tougher nut to crack. How do I motivate him? He’s a really sharp kid (everyone thinks their kid is sharp), but he never seems to want to put in the reps. 

Yet like I said, I try to listen to him. 

Lately he tells us he wants to skip age five and go right to six.

“Okay,” I said. “Six-year-olds can read and write.”

This sounds odd, right? Like a non sequiter? And kind of mean? But listen: Ever since we moved, taking him out of the fantastic preschool he was attending, his writing and reading, as it is, has backslider dramatically. 

We’ve been trying to get him to practice on his own using some workbooks we’ve purchased, but to little avail.

“If you can do ten lesson,” I told him, “I’ll get you that Lego set.”

This he could get behind. So I whipped up a list and stuck it to the fridge, letting him check off each successful lesson. 

“You’re going to earn these Legos,” I told him. 

“Earning things is silly,” he said three lessons into our deal, frustrated and cranky. And of course, as he says, bored. 

See, the kid gets impatient when he can’t do something right away. Not surprising. I used to be the exact same way. 

So I leaned on him, explaining why but still being firm. I told him, “Do some now, do some later, do some tomorrow, but you don’t get the Legos until you do ten.” Hey, someone’s got to be the cranky guy at the head of the table

“You’re going to earn this,” I said, “and it’s going to feel so good when you get it.”

It only took the little son-of-a-gun a week to do all ten lessons. 

Now, is this bribery? Of course it’s bribery. But so is our modern economy, truthfully. Except that it’s voluntary. Everyone (theoretically) follows the same rules: Want something? Earn it!

His excitement was palpable as we drove to the toy store. He was so happy, so proud of himself. And I was proud of him. I hope that feeling lasts in him longer than the joy of having that Lego set. 

And I need to think of other incentives to keep him going. For little kids, the extrinsic motivations are more powerful. But I’m going to try to inculcate some intrinsic ones while I’m at it. 

After all, I can’t trust the schools to do this. 

Everybody gets a trophy? Not in my house. 

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Book Review: Emma by Jane Austen

I am four books into my read-through of the entire Jane Austen canon, and all I can say is that I enjoy each book more than the last.

So does that mean that Emma, the topic of this review, is a better book than Sense and SensibilityPride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park? Only in the sense that I seem to enjoy whichever of her books I am reading at the time the most.

Everybody knows Emma, right? Emma Woodhouse, the matchmaker who cares so much about the romantic goings-on of others, and so little for her own, that a few early successes blind her to the romantic blunders she is making others step into.

This matchmaking aspect is a large part of Emma. But it’s not the only part. I am finding it difficult to say anything about the Austen oeuvre that hasn’t been said before and have instead tried to extract from them why I think they are worth reading aside from the entertaining stories. And two themes that I took from Emma are those of self-awareness and that people can change.

Let’s have some plot for context: Emma is the youngest daughter of the hypochondriac widower Henry Woodhouse. She is charming, rich, witty, attractive, and too clever for her own good. After successfully matching her sister Isabella to family friend John Knightly, she fancies herself somewhat of an expert on matchmaking. And that is where her trouble begins.

Emma is also flighty, inconstant, and never spends enough time devoting herself to the improvement of anything, as John Knightly’s brother George, who serves as her conscience, is so fond of pointing out. She is, in other words, a middleweight despite her obvious energy and intellect:

“She was not much deceived as to her own skill, either as an artist or a musician; but she was not unwilling to have others deceived, or sorry to know her reputation for accomplishment often higher than it deserved.”

What’s worse, many of her schemes to bring people together go wrong, with sometimes humorous, sometimes harmful results.Her friend Harriet Smith; the priest Mr. Elton; the farmer Robert Martin; Frank Churchill, the stepson of Emma’s governess; family friend Jane Fairfax . . . they are all on the receiving end of Emma’s machinations. The fun and poignancy of the story is seeing all of these little stories play out, and the effect that they have on Emma and her conception of self.

I won’t go into spoilers except to say that, as with all of Austen’s works, her characterizations are sharp and deep, her insights into human nature are masterful, and there is always that dialogue . . . some of the best written by anyone, ever, in the English language.

But Emma might be my favorite Austen character thus far, and here’s why: While clearly intended to be unlikable at the outset, she does what she does not out of malice, but out of what she thinks is for the best. So there’s a clear intention/outcome dichotomy, but it works because of Emma’s  willingness to change. Continue reading “Book Review: Emma by Jane Austen”

Book Review: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Jane Austen is chick lit.

Yeah, I know. So the next question is: Why is such a manly man of manliness like me reading her?

Let’s get some stuff out of the way first: My brother, who is also quite manly, enjoyed and highly recommended her. And then there’s my good buddy the author, English scholar, and manly man who recommended them to me. So my manly credentials remain intact.

And second, most importantly, if something is good, it’s good, regardless if I’m a member of its so-called intended audience.

I recently finished reading Sense and Sensibility, Austen’s first novel, and let me tell you, it’s good. And I think men should read this book, and Jane Austen in general. Why?

Because it’s good for men to read things written by women to understand their perspective.

There. I said it. No, I haven’t gone full feminist. But I am concerned by how messed up man-woman relations are in the twenty-first century. In reading Sense and Sensibility, I’m struck by how nice it is to enjoy a story where men are manly and women are womanly, each sex exhibiting strengths, weaknesses, and in general complimenting each other the way those in healthy relationships should. Throw away all of the social stuff regarding the limited opportunities for women at that time and enjoy the story for what it is. Continue reading “Book Review: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen”