Effective STL

Rating: 3/4 (Recommended for the bookshelf of any STL user)

I find myself using STL a lot in my C++ code. I also found that I was continuously rewriting the STL code, every time I discovered subtle bugs in the way I was using it or when I found a more elegant solution to the same problem. Looking around for wisdom on STL, I picked up Effective STL by Scott Meyers. Scott has authored two other books: Effective C++ and More Effective C++, both of which I have found to be approachable and useful.

Like the other books in the Effective series, this one too has 5x chapters or items, as they are called. The topics they deal with include containers, iterators, algorithms and functors. The whole area of extending STL has been skipped and left for other books. Each item in the book is self contained with a title, introduction, examples, explanations, guidelines and sometimes even trivia. I found the book very useful, showing up mistakes in my code and also sharing a lot of idiomatic methods to write what I wanted. While reading the book, I found myself compelled to go back to my code and start polishing it immediately! Much like the other Effective books by Meyers, Effective STL too is really easy to read, understand and apply. Recommended for the bookshelf of everyone who uses STL.

Related: My notes from this book can be found here.


The Secret Life of Bees

Rating: 3/4 (Lovingly shot and engaging, though a bit long)

I got a chance to watch the movie The Secret Life of Bees at a screening at the university. The movie is based on a novel of the same name by Sue Monk Kidd. The movie is set in 1964, around the time of the Civil Rights Movement in USA. Lily, a young girl, lives in South Carolina with her unloving dad T.Ray and her black servant Rosaleen. Rosaleen is racially abused when she tries to sign up as a voter. Lily and Rosaleen run away from home, Rosaleen to save her life and Lily in search of her mother’s memories, which have been tormenting her. By the logo of a honey jar that Lily had from her mother, she lands up at the home of the Boatwright sisters who make that brand of honey. Lying about their reasons for being there, they stay on in the house. The elder sister August teaches Lily how to collect honey, while Rosaleen helps around the house. They live happily like this, until a racial fight erupts when Lily is seen with a black boy who frequently helps around the Boatwright residence. The chain of events that follow rock the Boatwright home, but also bring closure to Lily and the memory of her mother.

The Secret Life of Bees is completely dominated by its female characters. Dakota Fanning is Lily, and she does not seem to have grown up much at all, from the last time I saw her in War of the Worlds. Thankfully, she is not as irritating as she was in her earlier movies. Acting as the responsible elder sister August at the Boatwright residence comes easily to Queen Latifah. Alicia Keys acts as her beautiful younger sister June, who I could not even recognize in her 60s getup! Paul Bettany, the imaginary roommate of Nash (Russell Crowe) from A Beautiful Mind, is great to watch as the pained and unloving T.Ray. Except for Dakota Fanning, who I find grating whenever she cries, the acting talent here is very satisfactory. The story is engaging and the cinematography is lovely. The settings of the 1960s and honeymaking are delicious to watch. I felt the movie was a bit stretched out and could have been shorter. The Secret Life of Bees is a lovely delicious tale, though a bit long.

Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga

Rating: 4/4 (A delicious followup to Manga! Manga! and a must read for Manga fans)

Well entertained and educated by Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, I picked up Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga, the 1996 sequel to that book. Written by Frederick L. Schodt, this book gives a much needed update to the earlier book which was published way back in 1983. Dreamland Japan is not as organized as the earlier book, and is a loosely arranged set of essays on Manga.

The first 2 parts of the book give a brief introduction to the world of Manga, essential for the reader who has not read Manga! Manga!. An interesting addition here is an essay on Dōjinshi, the Manga artwork produced by fans. These copy the characters from actual Manga and put them in scenarios that the creators could not think of. This amateur market is wildly popular with large exhibitions dedicated to them. Manga creators and publishers allow this huge grey market to live and thrive, this is something that cannot be imagined in copyright-crazed USA!

Part 3 is a huge section that looks at the various genres of Manga magazines by describing a few popular titles from each. Kids are hooked to CoroCoro Comic, which publishes the mega-hit Doraemon. Young boys read Weekly Shonen Jump, the most popular Manga magazine which sometimes has a readership of 6 million per week! Japanese are addicts to gambling games like Mahjong and Pachinko and magazines aimed at them are popular too. Finally, magazines like June and Comic Amour provide the erotic fare that Manga is (in)famous for.

In part 4, Schodt introduces his favorite Manga artists and editors, their style, history and works. Oddly, a lot of his choice seem to be purveyors of gore or sex! The artists who stands out here are Fujiko Fujio, the creator duo behind Doraemon, the all-time smash-hit Manga about a robot cat. By 1996 itself, Doraemon books had sold a stupendous 108 million copies! Another interesting essay here shows just how much freedom Manga magazines have in Japan. This is about Aum Comics, published by the notorious Aum cult, which was behind the deadly sarin gas attacks in 1995.

The entire of part 5 is dedicated to just one person, Osamu Tezuka, the God of Manga himself! The author knew Osamu well, having acted as his manager and translator on his visits to USA. Sadly, Osamu passed away in 1989 at the age of 60. Osamu is frequently compared to Walt Disney, but Tezuka is more an artist and less a businessman. Over his lifetime, Osamu firmly shaped the world of Manga with 150,000 pages of artwork spread over 500 titles. Most notable among his works are Astro Boy, Adolf, Black Jack, Buddha and Phoenix. Phoenix deals with the search for immortality and reincarnation and was called by Osamu as his raifu waaku (life’s work). Tezuka was also the creator of Jungle Emperor, whose artwork Disney shamelessly stole for their Lion King franchise without ever crediting him.

The last part of the book looks at where Manga is headed in the future. The author was optimistic about the English market (USA) and the Internet. Both of his predictions have become true in the decade since. Manga is all over the Internet, with countless fans involved in scanlating and sharing them. Comparatively, growth in Manga USA had a tough time, but has now caught on with regular publications coming from publishers like Dark Horse Comics. Though Manga sales have started to decline in Japan (how many decades can they rise?), it has now gained a strong foothold across East Asia and is spreading across USA and other English markets.

Well researched and written, filled with artwork and personal anecdotes, Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga is a delicious followup to Manga! Manga!. I highly recommend both books for anyone interested to discover the world of Manga.