Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review: The Art of War

Some people compare finding the right career to fighting a battle for their livelihood. Changing careers requires planning and strategy, whether that means attaining an associate degree, obtaining online training, or striving for an MFA, if you are a writer. It may also require being able to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, anticipating possible challenges, and recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of players in the field. Changing careers means competing with other people who are either doing the same thing, starting out fresh, or who are well established and networked within a particular market. Having the right mindset is key to exploiting opportunities and developing the means to achieve a successful shift in employment.

The Art of War was a bestseller in the 1980s when the “greed is good” philosophy was dominant in American pop culture. While many people bought and read the book during that decade, its relevance still pertains to the current job market.

Sun Tzu, who wrote this manuscript, was a Chinese general who lived between 544 and 496 BCE. He was renowned for his military successes that depended not so much on superior manpower or material resources so much as psychology. As a strategist, he is traditionally revered as a man without peers, who still has lessons to teach after more than 2000 years spent studying his methods. Going about a career change with the goal of succeeding is imperative to making it work. The lessons of Sun Tzu will enable readers to be in top form and to maximize their advantage.

While this is a battlefield treatise, it offers lessons that people can apply to their own, more peaceful, career ambitions. The twelve chapters deal with various aspects of warfare that are both specific and general. For instance, Sun Tzu recommends reconnaissance of enemy terrain and abilities before embarking on an expedition. This is what job seekers do when they evaluate their options in new professional fields. They look for strong points in any given market, as well as evaluate weak points in which they can fulfill unmet needs over other people who have similar skill sets.

The most valuable lesson Sun Tzu imparts is the necessity of being well-versed in the abilities and expectations of the competition, so much so that trouble can be avoided and success achieved with the least amount of effort. Everyone knows that time and resources are valuable for someone looking to change careers. By presenting oneself as an expert and being able to back it up, job seekers will stand out from the pack in their market.

Planning and intelligence are helpful in seeking success. So is self-assurance. A worker or business owner who presents himself or herself as a qualified individual will naturally find opportunities crop up that will lead, one after another, to many chances for career fulfillment. Research and mastery are the keys to being able to project assurance, as Sun Tzu did with great success over two centuries ago.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Strangest Book I've Ever Read (by Erin O'Riordan)

A week or two ago, if you had asked me what the strangest book I've ever read was, I probably would have answered, "Christopher Priest's The Prestige." If you've seen the film version, directed by Christopher Nolan and brilliantly acted by a cast including Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Hugh Jackman and David Bowie, you have some idea of the strangeness of that novel. Some, but not all. In a distinctively English way, Priest took the idea of turn-of-the-century dueling stage magicians to places I never could have imagined...and keep in mind I read the novel after seeing the film.

I think we have a new winner, though. The title of strangest book I've ever read must now go to The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin. Pelevin, one of the finest contemporary Russian writers, released the book in his native language in 2005. It was released in English in 2008, translated by Andrew Bromfield.

Werewolf is narrated by A Hu-Li. Apparently, the Russian translation of her name is "So F---ing What," though in the original Chinese it means "A Fox Named A."

A Hu-Li is a werefox, but she's so much more than that. She's 2,000 years old, one of a sisterhood of werefoxes from ancient China. These foxes are a kind of energy vampires, using prostitution as a cover to feed off the sexual energy of men. Through a kind of hallucinogenic effect they produce with their fox-tails, A Hu-Li and her sisters never actually have to touch these men. A Hu-Li is, in fact, a 2,000-year-old virgin.

For the first time in her extremely long life, A Hu-Li is faced with the prospect of falling in love. She goes a little too far with a client who offends her; her imaginary whip draws real blood. This arouses the suspicions of an SVR (what used to be the KGB) officer named Alexander. Alexander is a werewolf. He may be Fenrir, the wolf from Norse mythology who, at the end of time, catches the sun and devours it. The two were-creatures are drawn to each other. By twining their tails together, they can act out any fantasy imaginable in their minds.

A Hu-Li has a sister who lives in England, with a husband who's obsessed with esoteric magic and believes in the coming of a super-werewolf. Alexander is convinced he is the super-werewolf, and together he and A Hu-Li embark on a strange journey through their own minds, over which they discuss the meaning of existence itself.

My favorite quote is this one: "The energy that serves for the conception of life does not belong to people. Entering into the act of love, a human being becomes a channel for this energy and is transformed from a sealed vessel to a pipe that is connected for a few seconds to the bottomless source of the life force. I simply require access to that source, that's all." Don't we all?