Saturday, May 28, 2011

The other side of Betty White

book review

Book: If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t)
Author: Betty White
Genre: Non-fiction
Publisher: Putnam Adult (2011)
Excerpt: “…if one is lucky enough to be blessed with good health, growing older shouldn't be something to complain about. It's not a surprise, we knew it was coming-- make the most of it. So you may not be as fast on your feet, and the image in your mirror may be a little disappointing, but if you are still functioning and not in pain, gratitude should be the name of the game.
Actually--and don't laugh--there may even be some upsides to aging. People treat you more gently. They may even think your years of experience make you wiser than you are. And somebody always finds you a place to sit down, whether you want it or not.
Somewhere along the line there is a breaking point, where you go from not discussing how old you are to bragging about it. I have never lied about my age, but these days I seem to work it into the conversation at the drop of a hat. Please stop me before I get to the point of, "Hi, I'm Betty White--I'm eighty-nine years old!" There's nothing to brag about--I didn't accomplish that age, it sneaked up on me.”

2010 was a phenomenal year for Betty White, the 89-year-old actress who has had a television and film career spanning over six decades and is still going strong. With her popularity seeing a resurgence of late, Betty has amassed both more fame and acclaim since last year after being cast in Hot in Cleveland, and hosting Saturday Night Live  following a Facebook campaign led by her fans, while earning awards along the way.

In her latest book, If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t), Hollywood’s favourite octogenarian shares her thoughts on topics like life, love, and growing old. Not so much a memoir (which she has also previously written) as a collection of feelings and opinions, the book is divided into sections such as body and mind, Hollywood stories, stagecraft, love and friendship, animal kingdom, and state of affairs, each of which house her views on relevant issues as the actress shares anecdotes and remembrances from her career. While the book mostly focus on her work during the more recent years, Betty touches up on various areas; she writes about her parents, husband, co-stars, and even her animal friends, and talks about her experiences of working on different projects.

The musings are interesting and witty, and the tone is both candid and friendly. The book, however, is too short, and the content is a little random, plus there aren’t any big revelations, so you won’t exactly be inundated by a lot of new information about the celebrity. That said, it is still interesting to read what she has to say about things like turning down roles, walking the red carpet, appearing on talk shows, fans and fan mail, and being eighty-nine years old, and the book remains enjoyable throughout.

All in all, If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t) makes for a short but pleasant read. Some might find the content unsubstantial for the price of a book, but Betty White fans will still enjoy it, even though they’ll probably wish the book was longer and offered some more content.

- By Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 28th May, 2011

For young readers: Books about dinosaurs

book reviews

The prehistoric world and the life forms that inhabited it can be a fascinating topic for people of all ages, which is why creatures like the dinosaurs still maintain a noticeable presence on the pages of books despite the fact that they have been extinct for millions of years. Through works that have been put together keeping young readers in mind, children (at least the ones who don’t find these gigantic animals intimidating) can explore the mysteries of the prehistoric times while learning about the mighty beings that once ruled planet Earth.

Dinosaurs: The Fact Files
Author: Paul Harrison
Dinosaur Fact File aims to present “the who, when, [and] where of the prehistoric world”. The book begins by explaining what a dinosaur is, and then gives details about each of the species discussed. The dinosaurs are presented alphabetically, and information is offered about each type along with trivia in the form of fact files, which include things like how to pronounce the dinosaurs’ names and what the names mean, which family and period they belong to, where they were found, how high and long and heavy they were, what food they ate, and if they had any special features. The book manages to get quite a bit of information across, and the illustrations add both colour and detail to the descriptions; a lot of facts are on offer here, and this is one book that kids who want to read about dinosaurs are very likely to love.

An Alphabet of Dinosaurs
Author: Peter Dodson
Illustrators: Wayne D. Barlowe and Michael Meaker
From the Ankylosaurus to the Zephyrosaurus, this book gives brief descriptions of 26 dinosaurs – one for each letter of the alphabet – with accompanying images (both black and white illustrations and painted pictures) that bring the creatures to life. These 26 dinosaurs may be “just a tiny portion of the many different kinds of dinosaurs that lived during the 150 million years known as the Mesozoic Era”, but the descriptive (albeit very brief) text is easy to read, the concluding guide offers interesting facts about each dinosaur, while the illustrations paint a vivid picture of what these creatures were like and are very likely to capture the imagination of young readers.

Author: Patrick O’Brien
The fact that dinosaurs were huge is one of the reasons we find them so fascinating, but discerning the size of these “terrible lizards”, as the author explains, wasn’t easy, as “complete dinosaur skeletons are very rare” and “the bones are usually found broken and scattered”; scientists had to put these pieces together to understand how big these creatures really were and what they looked like. In Gigantic!, Patrick O'Brien uses illustrations to compare different dinosaurs with items like cars, tanks, and human beings to give readers an idea of their real size, and also provides a summary of some of their sizes and measurements (in feet) along with a few interesting facts about these massive beasts.

Crafts for Kids Who Are Learning about Dinosaurs
Author: Kathy Ross
Illustrator: Jan Barger
This book hosts creative projects for kids who are learning about dinosaurs and would like to create simple dinosaur-related crafts. The 22 projects in Crafts for Kids include a fossil necklace, dinosaur puppet, bone-headed dinosaur pencil topper, Stegosaurus scrap box, Pteranodon lapel pin, and more. The pages detail the list of material required for each craft along with step by step instructions as well as illustrations that help the kids as they create the items. The crafts on offer will keep the young ones busy, although grown ups will have to help find the appropriate materials as well as guide and supervise to see that things are used properly. Those interested in arts and crafts will certainly appreciate this book.

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 28th May, 2011

Friday, May 20, 2011

Chaar Payee: Right on beat

cover story

The first worldwide university freestyle drumming competition for students, Tum Tum Pa came to Pakistan last month, inviting students from Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad to express their creativity. The competition saw students create their own percussion instruments out of everyday materials found around the classroom – like pens, pencils, rulers, scissors and erasers – and then use these instruments to perform a cover and an original composition before being rated by the jury for their creativity, rhythm and style. In the end, the group Chaar Payee succeeded in collecting the most points, based on their "creative tools and excellent collective rhythm", and have won the chance to compete at the finals in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June, representing Pakistan against the finalists from more than 45 countries. We got a chance to ask the group about their experience of participating in this contest and what they anticipate for the finals. Here’s what they had to say:

Us: Please tell Us a bit about each of the group members.
Ahmer "Kichoo" Mubashar: I am currently finishing up my BBA at the Lahore School of Economics. I have always been interested in music and I’m a drummer/percussionist by hobby. Other than this, gaming is another passion that I actively pursue.
Uzman Qureshi (UQ): I am currently studying architecture from University of the Punjab. I have been a good student all along; however, extracurricular activities have always appealed to me more.
Raja Nabeel Banwa (RnB): I have studied from Aitchison College and currently I’m a student of Lahore School of Economics. I am passionate about music and I’ve always been interested in exploring new musical instruments.
Talha Jamil (TJ): I am currently preparing for ACCA from the Professional’s Academy of Commerce (PAC). I have had an avid interest in music since childhood and I am a singer and guitarist by hobby. Music has always been an integral part of my activities and I try to improve my skills every now and then.

Us: How did the four of you come together as a group? And what’s the significance of the name Chaar Payee?
Basically, I have known Nabeel for three years during our interaction through the LSE Music Society. Me, Usman and Talha are already band-mates, spearheading a band called Do Hazaar (yes, we do come up with eccentric names). So, when I was approached by the organisers to form a team, I had the line-up in my mind from the start. As far as the name is concerned, it’s basically Punjabi for ‘four brothers’, but the Punjabi/Urdu dialect takes the meaning to two different spectrums. No one’s complaining, though.

Us: How did you hear about Tum Tum Pa? What made you want to enter the competition?
Well, I was contacted at first by Riyan Durrani, from Red Bull, which is one of the organisers, in collaboration with Ufone’s Uth Records and an FM station. He knew that I was a drummer by hobby and subsequently presumed that I would be interested in an event of this format. To be honest, the chance to go to Rio Di Janeiro and represent Pakistan on a global platform, that too in a competition pertaining to music, was what lured us all in. Hands down.

Us: How did you come up with the idea of your instrument? Why did you call it Arif Gondal?
Raja Nabeel:
Well, to compete in a competition like Tum Tum Pa, we were certain we would need a lot of creativity. So we came up with this instrument we’d crafted ourselves from a box of paper ream, some cans, pencils and pens, which turned out to be pretty amazing.
Arif Gondal’s story is particularly interesting – we wanted to give the concoction a name. This idea eventually transformed into a literal concept as the name chosen for the instrument was Arif Gondal. This not only gave Arif Gondal an identity but also effectively made it the fifth member of our group, which ironically is called Char Payee. So that’s pretty much the story of our fifth paya, Chaudhry Arif Gondal.

Us: How did you come up with your composition?
Uzman Qureshi:
The original composition is what goes around in your mind all the time. We didn’t try to do something extraordinary; we just defined the basic structure of the composition (a theme or storyline), went with the flow and then every member of the team contributed in the way he could with his self made instrument. I daresay we managed that quite well.

Us: How was the experience of participating in such a unique contest?
Talha Jamil:
It was indeed different and unique and one thing that it certainly highlighted was the amount of talent that the youth of Pakistan possesses. There were some great performances and lively bits of creativity, hence it was a fantastic experience to be crowned winners in such a "different" contest.

Us: In your opinion, what importance do such events/contests hold?
Talha Jamil:
As I mentioned earlier, the one really good thing about this event was that it brought out talent from the youth in leaps and bounds. There were some really cool ideas that people were trying to pull off and overall I think events like these should be held on a more regular basis. I myself have been a winner of the LUMS Olympiad, so I totally vouch for the increasing frequency of music-related events where students should be able to showcase their talents on a substantial platform.

Us: What did it feel like to first be the initial winners from Lahore, and then the national winners?
Raja Nabeel:
A proud sense of achievement, that’s all I can say. People may think that since this was the first time that such an event was being held, maybe we did not encounter the right kind or amount of competition. However, I assure you that our efforts in this competition were 100 percent right from the starting line, and in the end they took us over the line. To be able to have a chance to represent your country in anything is always fascinating and me and the boys look forward to giving our best when we go to Rio, InshaAllah.

Us: How tough was the competition?
Talha Jamil:
Oh Boy, this is a toughie. Well, not really. I can safely say that all the other six performances that were presented on the day of the National Finals were simply superb. Each of them had their own eclectic mix of sounds to share and it was really intense. The favourite team from Islamabad, Jismani Remand was really on top of their game with the plethora of instruments that they brought and the amount of support they received from the home crowd. Overall, it was a real gritty battle from which, thanks to Allah Almighty, we emerged victorious from.

Us: What was the most interesting/memorable part/incident of the competition?
Well, if we talk about interesting moments, then personally I think it was the time when we won the LSE Auditions (the very first round of the competition). That actually defined the scope of this competition and actually made us realise that we could be heading for something much bigger. Then came the heavy practice and creative sessions and it finally paid off.
The most memorable moment, however, (this may sound really clichéd) was when Farhad Humayun announced our name crowning us the national winners who would go to Rio.

Us: How will you guys prepare for the World Finals in Rio de Janeiro?
Uzman Qureshi:
Well, in Rio we’ll certainly be having a tougher time. The key, however, is not to think or concentrate on what the others are doing, avoid getting butterflies and just doing your thing with utmost zeal and flair. It’s not really balderdash to presume that we may just be good enough to win this title. We’re experimenting with bhangra beats that will hopefully make the Samba Boys and Girls dance to our tunes.

Us: Have you seen the performances of any other international contestants?
Oh, plenty. In fact we have been visiting YouTube more often than Facebook, ever since we came back from Islamabad. There are certainly a few performances that are quite spectacular, but we’d like to think of them all as par with us. As Usman mentioned, it would be really futile to form a negative image beforehand. We just have to take all of the other competitors in their stride and give our best. This is going to be huge!!!

Us: What are you most looking forward to on your trip to Rio?
Umm… Tum Tum Pa (of course), Ipanema Beach, Christ the Redeemer, Ipanema Beach, the Favela, the Monumento aos Pracinhas, Ipanema Beach, the Estádio do Maracanã (yes, I’m a football fan, thank you). Hang on, did I mention Ipanema Beach?

Us: What are your musical influences? What kind of music do each of you listen to?
Uzman Qureshi:
A. R. Rahman. Through and through.
Raja Nabeel: Although I listen to all kinds of music, basically anything that sounds good to my ears, I am a huge fan of progressive rock/metal music – bands like Dream Theater, Rush, Yes, Symphony X, King Crimson, etcetera – and because I’m a musician myself, I like to play the same type of music too.
Talha Jamil: Dream Theater, Guns N’ Roses, Porcupine Tree, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. I mainly listen to progressive rock, jazz and sufi music.
Kichoo: My taste in music is quite varied. I’m mostly tuned in to music channels for my regular dosage of what’s in and what’s happening. No specific preferences. Acoustic percussions are always a delight to listen to, however.

Us: Do you plan to pursue music as a career?
Raja Nabeel:
Well I already have a band. It’s called Odyssey; we play progressive metal music. Although it started off as a hobby, it has progressed into a passion and to date we have released one studio album and the second album will be out in a month or so. Pursuing music as a career? I don’t think I’d be allowed to take it professionally but yeah I don’t think I can ever stop doing what I’m doing right now. So career or not, I’m sure I will be doing music for the rest of my life.
Uzman Qureshi: Yes, definitely. As we all are part time musicians, I don’t see any reason why we should stop pursuing this beloved activity of ours.

Us: Any message for the readers?
Raja Nabeel:
Don’t ever hesitate to let out your creativity.
Kichoo: Please support us and pray for us that we go and make our country proud in Brazil. And I hope to see all of you battling it out for top spot, the next time Tum Tum Pa comes to Pakistan. Cheers!!!

We wish Chaar Payee all the best for the World Finals. Good luck, guys!

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 20th May, 2011

Saturday, May 14, 2011

With love from Bieber

book review

Book: First Step 2 Forever: My Story
Author: Justin Bieber
Genre: Autobiography
Publisher: HarperCollins
Excerpt: “Sometimes they let a celebrity guest – a war hero, beauty-pageant winner, local news anchor, or whatever – ride in the Zamboni. And, until three years ago, that was my definition of celebrity: somebody who gets to ride around in the Zamboni. My definition of a rock star was somebody who gets to ride around in a tour bus.
A lot can change in three years.
When I was twelve, my manager, Scott “Scooter” Braun, saw a YouTube video of me performing in a local talent show. When I was fourteen, we joined forces with the recording artist Usher, who was not only one of my heroes but helped introduce me to the world. A few months after my fifteenth birthday, my first single dropped. Now I’m sixteen and about to launch my first tour as a headliner.

Whether you’ve heard his music or not, chances are you have heard of Justin Bieber, the teenage pop sensation who has become a global phenomenon on the back of his ability to send his tween- and teenage fans into a screaming frenzy. Initially coming to the world’s attention via YouTube, the Canadian singer became a hugely successful young star upon the release of his My World (2009) and My World 2.0 (2010) albums. Then, at the ripe old age of 16, he decided it was time to write a memoir, thus giving us First Step 2 Forever: My Story, an account of his almost overnight rise to fame.

Supposedly penned by Justin Bieber himself, the autobiography chronicles the events of his life, from being born to teenage parents and raised by a single mother, to getting interested in music, learning to play instruments, meeting Usher and eventually becoming the R&B star’s protégé. Along the way, Bieber details his tour preparations, offers a generous dose of praise for everyone who helped him get to where he is today, tells readers about the things he likes (girls, pizza, pranking, Chuck Norris, and yes, girls – he’s very insistent about that one), and shares stories of his successes and failures – including finishing third in a talent competition, and initially failing his driver’s test.

As you may suspect, the book is predictably light on content. The 240-page tome is chock full of photographs of the singer, and padded further with tweets and snippets from lyrics. This isn’t like a rock biography that you can delve into even if you’re not a fan of its subject and still find its content fascinating. Of course Bieber’s fans will love every word of his memoir, but while there is an inspirational aspect to his story – going from rags to riches and following his dreams – First Step 2 Forever is just not interesting enough to excite or engage non-Beliebers.

In short, the book has been written keeping his fanbase in mind and its primary reason of existence is to cash in on the whole Justin Bieber phenomenon. Readers get a chance to hear about his life in his own words and get to see lots of pictures of the pop star, thus making the book everything his fans would want; if you don’t consider yourself a diehard Belieber, however, then First Step 2 Forever is very likely to leave you unimpressed.

- By Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 14th May, 2011

For young readers: Velveteen Rabbit, Lightning Larry, and Herbert's Wormhole

book reviews

The Velveteen Rabbit (1922)
Author: Margery Williams
Illustrator: William Nicholson
A stuffed rabbit who yearns to be real is the subject of The Velveteen Rabbit, the much loved story which is considered to be a classic piece of children’s literature. After arriving as a pristine new toy that is a Christmas present for a boy, a rabbit made out of velveteen – with a coat “spotted brown and white”, “real thread whiskers”, and ears “lined with pink sateen” – comes to live with the other toys in the nursery, where a wise, old skin horse tells him that a toy can become real if its owner really loves it. “By the time you are Real,” the horse explains, “most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand,” thus making the rabbit wish he too could experience this magic called Real.
The story progresses into a poignant tale about life, love, and beauty that is not only timeless, but also heart-warming and touching. The Velveteen Rabbit is both beautifully conceived and very nicely written, and thoroughly deserving of all the acclaim it has received.

The Legend of Lightning Larry (1993)
Author: Aaron Shepard
Illustrator: Toni Goffe
Set in the Wild West, the book tells the story of Lightning Larry, a mysterious stranger who one day rides into Brimstone, a town troubled by a gang of outlaws. Much to the bad guys’ chagrin, Lightning Larry isn’t just your average gunfighting good guy; not only can Larry draw faster than the rest of them, but he also has a very peculiar gun, one that doesn’t shoot bullets but bolts of light! Larry aims straight for the heart, and once hit by the bolts of light, the meanness is gone, and the bad guys are transformed into nice, helpful citizens. Of course the rest of the outlaw gang aren’t happy that their comrades have gone straight, and they in turn come after Larry, which eventually leads to a showdown.
The picture book is a quick, fun read; the main character is easy to love and root for, and the story of a cowboy who likes to drink lemonade and shoots bolts of lightning into people’s hearts which make them nicer is very likely to amuse young readers.

Herbert’s Wormhole (2009)
Author: Peter Nelson
Illustrator: Rohitash Rao
After finishing AlienSlayer 2, a video game involving aliens who need to be slayed, what Alex Filby really wants is the new, super cool game AlienSlayer:3-D!; his parents, of course, have other plans for his summer, so what he gets instead is a jungle gym and a playdate with his nerdy inventor neighbour Herbert Slewg, which he reluctantly partakes in, only to discover that Herbert not only had AS:3-D!, but much to Alex’s horror, has taken the game apart and incorporated it into his inventions, including the games silver zip-up bodysuits, which he has modified in an attempt “to invent the world’s first Negative Energy Densifiers”. Little does he know that it is these very suits that will take him on the adventure of his life by opening a wormhole in his jungle gym’s tunnel-slide, and transporting the boys a hundred years into the future, where humans live in harmony with an alien species known as the G’Daliens, who wear bad toupees and fake moustaches wearing and have Australians accents.
The zany science fiction plot is both fun and amusing, and the story is interesting enough to make you want to keep reading. The narrative is interspersed with illustrations, much like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, and while the drawings could have been slightly better artistically, the pictures do add to the tale and complement the story well, while making the book more reluctant-reader friendly.

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 14th May, 2011