The Last Lecture: Randy Pausch & Jeffrey Zaslow

Afternoon wonderful readers; it’s finally Friday and despite a heavy week of working, reading and blogging it’s been a rosy seven days overall. Today’s review is one my father implored me to read a couple of weeks back. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post my father is a little like me, constantly with his nose in a book. He prefers to read rather gruesome thrillers with a religious twist however once in a blue moon our tastes align. This is one of those days and today’s review will be incredibly heartfelt especially due to the nature of the book and my dad’s passing of it onto me. It’s not often I say this but everyone should read this book and I’m going to explain why.

This book in a nutshell follows the last few months of Randy Pausch’s life as he begins to lose his battle with pancreatic cancer. After a resilient attack on the vicious disease a scan to see the progress of the treatment shows the disease has spread to his liver; ten tumors that will not and cannot be beaten. Randy, father to three adorable children, Dylan, Logan and Chloe and adoring husband to the delightful Jai is asked to give one last lecture. Pausch delivered his “Last Lecture”, titled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”, at Carnegie Mellon University on September 18, 2007. The Last Lecture as a book fleshes out Pausch’s lecture and discusses everything he wanted his children to know after his pancreatic cancer had taken his life; the book details his life working from university, to Disney , to CMU and forwards to his last days.

I guess that’s the easiest way to sum up the physical book in a couple of sentences but this book is so much more than that. It is utterly beautiful from the first word to the very, very last and you can’t say that for many. I was pulled along awe-struck by the compassion, dark humor and strength of the truly inspirational Randy Pausch. The book revolves around Randy’s belief that despite his life coming to an end much sooner than planned, with both the strength and clearness of thought that perhaps only a person facing death can muster the book, outlines his recipe for a happy life and achieving all your dreams.

He talks of reaching his childhood goals of including ‘floating,’  (experiencing zero gravity,) the utter delight of being asked to write an article in the World Book Encyclopedia, winning giant stuffed animals at amusement parks and bringing them home as trophies and being a Disney “imagineer.” Randy continually talks of scaling the walls and achieving your childhood dreams. Despite being a self-confessed former jerk at university, Randy was pushed and cultured by the people around him; friends, teachers, his parents, a football coach and in 1998, he went on to be a co-founder, along with Don Marinelli, of CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC.) He later started the Building Virtual Worlds course at CMU and is also the founder of the Alice software project, a project that will run way into the future teaching children animation skills that will help to form the computer scientists of the future. He’s built a legacy built solely on his desperation to fulfil those things he wanted to as a child.

What makes this book so special is the style of writing; it has an upbeat simplicity and the lucidity to tell the reader exactly how it is with a cold accurate eye. But it’s not a negative, but the honest truth that whatever life throws at you, no matter how difficult it all seems that ‘the brick walls aren’t there to keep us out, the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.’ The writing style although autobiographical and told in a lecture style is written with flair and pace. We are told towards the beginning that the book was scripted by a close friend of Randy’s (jeffrey Zaslow) who listened to hours of audio spoken by the author which was then structured and edited into the final draft we see today. By it being written in this way he is speaking directly to us and all the little stories and tit-bits of advice become even more personal.

The book is a mix of stories past and present as he tries to set out a life for his family whilst he has gone whilst also describing the life he has already lived. He advises parents to let their children paint on their bedroom walls, (Randy as a child drew elevator buttons, a quadratic equation and a rocket amongst others after his parents allowed it.) He tells of stories of his parents, and leaning back on dining room chairs, with the agreement that until the chair broke Randy’s mother would not say a word. The story of how Jai his wonderful wife was the hardest brick wall to scale. The stories are heart-felt but told in a matter of fact manner, smartly spelled out with a dry and often dark sense of humor but they are empathetic and honest and overall teaching a lesson in every single one. My favorites revolved around those of his parents and their rational sense of humor but utter devotion to their son.

As I neared the end, and saw the pages left to read were getting less and less I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. I can honestly say that this book will stay with me long after I turn the final pages and give the book back to my father. It’s a tale of life, and of living but also that we never know what is around the corner and that’s okay. I worry that I haven’t done this book justice, there are too many tales, lessons, people and little scribbles of advice. All I can say is when you’ve read this review please just get hold of a copy and read just the first paragraph, you’ll understand then.


Remember to Breathe: Simon Pont

Firstly, before I start this review, there are thank-you’s as always! Firstly thank you to Simon Pont for writing such as blisteringly sarcastic book of love, heartbreak, meltdowns, work crises and notably Tequila that made me not only smile and cry almost at the same time, but also to Matthew Smith of Urbane Publications, for as Pont puts it ‘for buying into me, and figuring Remember to Breathe was a leap of faith worth taking.’ This book was definitely a risk worth taking and it has certainly paid off. I have not read a book so brilliantly written with style and substance, and a message to boot! But enough of me completely getting ahead of myself, slow down and get ready for a ride of lifetime!

London at the turn of the Millennium. Samuel Grant has it all – the look, the job, the achingly cool suit… but he isn’t having any fun. Worse than that, he’s depressed. He loathes his dream job, has grown a boil, fashioned a Walter Mitty-complex, and his perfect girlfriend has dumped him. That he drove her away only makes matters worse. Samuel admits he’s hardly the worse off of London’s 8 million residents, but that’s hardly the point when you’re busy styling the perfect pre mid-life crisis. Remember to Breathe is Bridget Jones from the other side of the gender divide. The tale of one man’s search to feel like a hero, without having to do anything heroic. Samuel is “that guy”, the one you’ll naturally love to hate, and yet can’t help forgive and love just a little – because there’s a little bit of Samuel Grant in all of us. Remember to Breath follows the life of an unlikely anti-hero, who rather distressingly is going through a mid-life crisis. Drowning in hangovers, the bore of meetings in a career he is currently disinterested in, and heartbroken over a woman who appeared to be perfect Samuel Grant is in a rut (and don’t even mention the boil!) Pont describes a man weathered by life in a distinctively unrestricted and uncensored dialogue. Not only does the main character scream of a slight snobbery, and uncontrolled freedom but he also reeks of vulnerability and weakness. He is a liability if you will, and yet underneath the pretence of reckless abandon there is a spirit waiting to be nurtured back to life. Remember To Breathe, is a book of discovery, and of flaws and contradictions, written in an incredibly beautiful fashion. I guess as Samuel Grant continues to wallow in his life without the ‘golden boy’ label he wanders towards an unpretentious life that is openly genuine. But before getting there, Pont takes the reader on a road of discovery, through fancy meals in glitzy but notably pretentious bars selling expensive G&T’s, elaborate emails, nostalgic flash-backs to times where things all seemed perfect and hangovers, really, really bad hangovers.

This book had me from the word go; reading the blurb and the line

‘[RTB] is a rom-com trip set to a retro beat for anyone who’s ever partied like it was 1999. And woken to realise that the last tequila was unwise.’

You can’t really go wrong can you? The one thing I really loved about this book was the description; mocking and cynical the dialogue is rife with sardonic statements. The language used really allows the reader to get inside the mind of the main character and to understand the pain that he is going for. For at least the first thirty-two pages we are allowed unlimited access to the broken heart of the main character and to anyone that has recently gone through heart-break (myself, recently included) it made me cry but also want to laugh. The routines, the numbness, the sheer chasm of being alone is incredibly well described and definitely rang a bell with me. This description is exemplified in the portrayal of the London restaurant scene. Sardonic, snobbish and expensive, with rolling descriptions; ‘I went for their signature starter, a seriously yolky eggs Benedict served with enough hollandaise to down a Large cat.’ This sarcastic demeanour is a fixture throughout the entirety of the book and adds a mature understanding of style that I have never seen performed so well before. I have never seen a book written so honestly or so demeaning that works so incredibly well. The characters are also incredibly well-built up, not only Samuel Grant but the supporting members of the book; Tam is a strong, beautiful female with ambition and drive, she wants Grant to succeed and supports him throughout, whilst struggling to find herself in her own life. The romantic chemistry between the two I thought could have made an interesting sub-story, however their friendship comes through as very real and genuine and I think by the end both know that there could have been something more, that only makes your heart ache more. Jamie is ultimately a posh twit, with a love of beautiful women, sexist and disrespectful you can’t help but detest him and laugh at him albeit in a careful way and Sean is the dozy but loveable character that you can’t quite get enough of. They mesh together beautiful, fuelling hilarious email conversations, rollicking dinners, excessive partying and sarcastic life lessons.

If you haven’t realised yet, I loved this book and I wholeheartedly recommend it to any reader; I have not read a book of this quality in a very long time, and I cannot wait to read more of Simon Pont’s books. All-in-all this is a bittersweet nostalgic book of lost innocence, parties, love, friendship, heartbreak and overall, new leases of life. Set in the backdrop of the beautiful late 90’s this book screams of maturity in a sexy sarcastic way that I could not get enough of. I cannot wait to read this book all over again; pure brilliance (and I mean that!)

Buy a copy here, (you know you want to!)