**spoiler alert** The best part about this book is the title. In saying this, I am not being sarcastic: the title alone (in addition to a well-meaning**spoiler alert** The best part about this book is the title. In saying this, I am not being sarcastic: the title alone (in addition to a well-meaning friend's enthusiasm for it,) had me thinking of all sorts of possibilities. Why, after all, should we expect something to be in the same place day after day simply because we find it convenient? Surely a majority of our collective difficulty with life is our inability to embrace unexpected change in our lives, I reasoned. Surely the good doctor has written a most remarkable book.
But I was wrong. Had I paid for the book myself, I would have taken it back to the store and demanded my money back. First, the font made it appear as if it were written for unusually stupid 8 year olds who had trouble with words too close together. had I gotten a children's version? No, this was indeed the adult version....and even though the examples and the comparisons neared the pathetic, I spent the full hour necessary to read the entire tome. Why this was published by anyone who read it is the only question I continue to ask myself.
Once again, I thought the title was a stroke of genius. There was so much a good writer (even of the self-help genre, which I usually loathe) could have done that I have to restrain myself from spitting venom at this short waste of paper. However, if you have a decent imagination and have been, as most of us have, been caught up demanding that life always hand out roses, take a few minutes, meditate on the title and commit yourself to embracing life which just doesn't seem fair. It's worth the effort and it just might save yourself a little misplaced road rage....more
**spoiler alert** I have been troubling over a way in which I might summarize this troubling book and I have decided that it is best represented by a**spoiler alert** I have been troubling over a way in which I might summarize this troubling book and I have decided that it is best represented by a well known Pascal quote: "lus je vois l'homme, plus j'aimie mon chien. Yes, that is the positive aspects of this book in a nutshell. In fact, when the protagonist’s dog, Fox, was killed, I cried, unable to stop for several minutes. The rest is a depiction of a social fabric which has torn itself to rags and threads of pseudo-value. This is a difficult book, one would almost call it deceptively erudite as Houellebecq throws out concepts and ideas as if he were handing out menus to a deli on a busy New York street. It seems odd that one should have to read Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and even Heidegger before one can truly understand he is saying but, alas, it seems true: even his jokes, which are extremely funny, are so arcane that they often seem transparent. For the first half of the book, I filled up pages and pages of quotes, even the dirty ones, because I found them all so intelligent and wonderful. After that, it wasn’t quite that I was bored with the idea as I was beginning to wonder where the book was going. In truth, close to the end, I suspected that it wasn’t going anywhere and would do something “poetic” like hang the reader out to dry. In truth, it almost did. If I understand this any better than I did before I read it, I believe that the Epilogue was written first and then he constructed the entire book around the character. If I had a criticism of the book, I might argue that it isn’t a perfect fit either, but that would be quibbling. As with Particles, none of the characters is very admirable, least of which is the protagonist. He is a sexist loutish pig, but someone not out of character with the modern day man who sees wealth and sexual power as the pinnacle of expression. In fact it was easy to recognize the women too, fixated on being anyone but themselves, all the time insisting on their freedom to become something that meanders into nothingness without a care in the world except the self’s expression. It is a rather ugly look at, it finally strikes one, the modern world and where mankind seems to want to go right now. If it takes one longer than 100 pages to realize that he or she is looking in a mirror, one has perhaps missed the entire point. H. has devised a kind of science fiction in which the self is created in a neo-human way through copying DNA. You don’t find that out until about 200 pages has gone by and in the meantime you are reading about these people like Daniel 1,9 and Daniel 25,1 and all these other people with numbers after their first name. I almost went back and started again convinced I had missed something but I hadn’t. It’s just slow in coming and in the meantime he is hawking Schopenhauer (the concept of the infinite life cycle) and making fun of people like Teilhard de Chardin and Hegel. I didn’t quite get why he didn’t like Hegel, but maybe he was too much of a Schopenhauerian. I even considered that Houellebecq himself was one of the neo-human forms of Schopenhauer. Maybe that is one of the only ways in which this book makes sense anyway. This book affects you deeply when you read it, especially if you take it to heart, something on the order of reading Dickens, except that no one really wins out in the end. The Island is, after all, only a possibility, a place where one might live, even after becoming neo-human, but my skepticism tells me that he doesn’t think it either likely or something which will catch on. Play that dirty music, white boy! Still he mentions Spinoza twice and it made me think of how he meant to evoke his spirit…and then I realized that this was a positive hidden thing. One gathers that the possibility of modern society rediscovering the meaning of living is probably pretty slim. Still, even as this is an indictment of our modern age, I couldn’t help but think of Dante’s Paradiso in Canto 29 where he says, “I would not have you doubt, but have you know surely that there is merit in receiving grace, measured by the longing to receive it.” Perhaps then even this diatribe against what we have become in our little planet has the solace in understanding that our acknowledgement of our hubris is the beginning of a better way. At least we have the sense to know that our pets are more deserving than are we.
A stunning and stark journey into the pit of darkness, this is a book one can hardly put down even though the train wreck of a conclusion is observablA stunning and stark journey into the pit of darkness, this is a book one can hardly put down even though the train wreck of a conclusion is observable from the beginning....more
I was ill prepared for how wonderful this book is. Most of what I have ever read of cultural anthropology has been rather tedious and flecked with egoI was ill prepared for how wonderful this book is. Most of what I have ever read of cultural anthropology has been rather tedious and flecked with egoism and hope that some propounded theory will provides the metaphysical glue which hold long enough to achieve notoriety. Eisley writes with no such prejudices and with so much joy that it is easy to accept his statement that his childhood finally ended when he was 50.
One has to admire someone who is capable of absorbing the world around him as a child. During one of his sojourns into the cold dark winter, he discovers a discarded Christmas tree and strokes it apologetically and finally takes it home for a closing ceremony which he believes that it missed. This is to say his observations are childlike rather than childish. His reading breadth is nothing short of amazing and I was glad to see him acknowledge the genius of Francis Bacon as the father of modern empirical science. It is not the supposition or the imagining of what something of our world is like, but the discovery which is significant. It cannot be stated strongly enough how much such thinking changed our world to the point where the statement is almost obvious. While his chapter on World Eaters was profound, the comparison of men and their ideas as spore bearers was beautiful imagery. Our ideas are necessarily thrown out into the world .. and there is great waste about such because they are a mere best guess of a direction, but generally it is hoped that a few will be pollinated and thrive. It gives one a sense of both the necessity of having created various ideas and the reason they never germinate: after all, he suggests, nature is rather wasteful too! Man is not a creature to be contained in a solitary skull vault, nor is measurable as ,say, a saber-toothed cat or a bison is measurable. Something, the rainbow dancing before his eyes, the word uttered by the cave fire at evening, eludes us and runs onward. It is gone when we come with our spades upon the cold dead ashes of the campfire four hundred thousand years removed. This book reminds us of something which Einstein said, something those of us who seek God's closer nature ought to bear in mind more often than we do. Man pushes onward through time as he must. The paradox remains, as he points out quoting Maritain, that God exists out of time...more
**spoiler alert** Although I have always been a tremendous fan of cummings' poetry, even going so far as to purchase one of his paintings, I was truly**spoiler alert** Although I have always been a tremendous fan of cummings' poetry, even going so far as to purchase one of his paintings, I was truly pleased when one of my professors loaned me his personal copy of this book. It soon became uncomfortably clear that cummings and I had certain similarities, mosty centered around insisting that we do things which only fit our narrow moral compass...and making flippant remarks concerning such to those in charge of our lives. While this story is about cummings when he went to WWI as an ambulance driver in France, his lack of enthusiasm for the cause of war in general got him thrown into a French jail for 4 months. He was, after all, a suspicious character and it is the easiest thing in the world to round up suspicious characters. The jail is a real... hole and the reader feels the sinking feeling being forced upon him quickly as he realizes just how much stark reality of depravity is staring him in the face. Nevertheless, this book is a story about not just coming to grips with his cell mates, but humanizing each of them in a wonderful way. cummings achieves a kind of solitude, one guesses, which he had always sought, but had been unable to find. In truth finding solitude at a young age is next to impossible only because of the things playing on in one's own head.
In a way, this is a story of Dante's own pathway through hell and finally a kind of heavenly modern salvation. It was at least something I could understand in my opinionated twentieth century soul... and the sounds rang perfectly clear. cummings essentially does find a kind of salvation by having everything reasonable about the world wrested from him... and he rises to the occasion to achieve it. While no doubt the experience was far more terrible than this book depicts, one can understand not only the generation of his thoughts, but his friendships with others there... and the impression he must have made finally on them. As I recall, cummings would never say anything further about this period of his life in public or to his friends. When one is tempted, it seems to me, to ask a question, one should simply read this book again and find the answer. It is in prose, of course, but it is written much like a poem. It is evocative and it is powerful beyond the words used in it. While I have suggested that in this he achieved a kind of salvation, perhaps it is better put another way: one has to achieve this kind of salvation before one understands what the real thing actually is. If nothing else, this book is quite capable of shutting down that spurious noise of the life you think is important and forcing you to look hard into the darkness for one's own answers....more
**spoiler alert** They had nothing. No future. So they stuck to small things. In so saying, Arundhati Roy captures both the hope and hopelessness of**spoiler alert** They had nothing. No future. So they stuck to small things. In so saying, Arundhati Roy captures both the hope and hopelessness of modern Indian culture. Still as I read this often beautiful prose carefully, I began to think that I was observing someone who claimed to be an impressionist, yet creating with a paintball gun on a brick wall while wearing a blindfold. There are some great colors and even the admixtures are often spectacular, but the events seem to go on and on ad infinitum. After a while, I wasn’t inclined to visualize this as art any longer. The events of the book, written not only in reverse order but to a great degree, upside down, seemed oftentimes incongruous and inchoate as the culture she criticizes so vehemently. This is not so much an argument against the portrait which she creates but rather that it is all too busy making multiple points to be completely understood, at least by me. I was most impressed by the fact that Roy defended herself in an Indian court which felt this book was an affront to Indian culture. While I am glad of such, I have to admit that I cannot identify with this struggle, besides being horrified. After the first thirty or forty really ugly things, I stopped thinking that this may be truly beautiful... and simply regarded the ugly for what it was. After a while I could guess that the repulsiveness was going to begin oozing out or perhaps break like a dam simply by the character. I also admit to being puzzled by exactly what the god of small things really was... and what his powers were... and what his relationship to the god of bigger things was. I found myself wondering whether, in fact, there might be all sorts of gods, like "the god of things bigger than small, but not quite medium." In a word, it seemed a bit contrived in much of the writing. Several passages were so profound that I could not help ascribing meaning to them although I am still incapable of understanding them. For example the following: "The air was full of Thoughts and Things to Say. But at times like these only the Small Things are ever said. The Big Things lurk unsaid inside." I have stared at such sentences and paragraphs for almost a week, unable to grasp their significance. Why was the air filled with Thoughts? Were they BIG Thoughts because it is capitalized? "Small Things" gets capitalized too, as if Roy wishes to give them greater influence as we read it. Critics say that this portrayal is genius, but I rather think it comes off as affected. But the greater question is why the big things lurk inside! Are they incapable of being said or are they just not, as I suspect, culturally said? One is left to wonder or perhaps I am just obtuse. Ultimately, I think Roy is stacking the deck in order to win the hand: The beautiful people are too good and the bad are too ugly. This isn't to say that I think that either the caste system should be changed or should not be changed. I would have to be some sort of part of it to even comprehend it. From a western standpoint I admit that it seems ugly and horrid, a fearful hideous thing like the lemonorange man. Still the untouchable is the only one who appears almost godlike, and, unfortunately, without a human personality. The greater question remains: Could the untouchable have become who he was without such a class struggle? Hence in a way, the greater argument goes against itself. One last quote: Man's subliminal urge to destroy what he could neither subdue nor deify. Men's needs. I didn’t even think that this statement were true, although I can understand the bitterness and anger generating such. If I were in such a cultural system, would I have such prejudices? Probably. Still this comment and the book as a whole seems overly cynical, like a call to become more natural and, in her way of thinking, pure. One might as well suggest that the perfect lovemaking of tomorrow could be replaced by the injection of a drug, a temporary panacea, a place where one exists without pain for a little while. Culture could all be repaired if we all just got naked and rolled around in the grass every day. To me, her conclusion smells of some sort of desperation. Maybe I just don't understand the smaller gods at all. ...more
**spoiler alert** While I loved the beautiful writing, I wasn't quite prepared for how this book turned out. Before I was halfway through, I was absol**spoiler alert** While I loved the beautiful writing, I wasn't quite prepared for how this book turned out. Before I was halfway through, I was absolutely positive that it would begin making its point. While this is a thoroughly lovely tale about a young girl's summer in Savannah, replete with estrogen laden environment (all male characters are either rendered as scuzz-buckets or dismissed as ancillary,) I think it deserved to be so much more. When Cee Cee's mother suffers from schizophrenia, consistently humiliates her among the small-town Ohio citizens and finally is accidentally killed, when her father disappears from her life pretty much escaping in the same way that her mother did, this gave the story all the earmarks of a truly damaged psyche. While in fact Cee Cee does recover, slowly, with the help of new friends she never believed she would ever have, I thought that the story might engage in some real life lessons. Instead it completes itself like a kind of Disney movie or southern sweet tea. It is even suggested that had her mother been living in Savannah, her oddness might never have been more than eccentricity. I also thought the comparison of women to oysters rather odd though it is worth repeating that, It's how we survive the hurts in life that brings us strength and gives us our beauty." Of course one ought rightly to say this about both genders.
This was a great read, very funny in places, heartbreaking in others and the writing is first rate, but I think it could have been so much more....more
I read this book because I heard that it was the basis of the movie No Way Out which I adored, even with all its logical problems. It wasn't a popularI read this book because I heard that it was the basis of the movie No Way Out which I adored, even with all its logical problems. It wasn't a popular book and so I had to order it, but at least it was still in print, perhaps receiving a resurgence in interest. It is certainly a delightful depiction of a very different era.
However, this book stands on its own as a gritty kind of dark venture into the underworld, thankfully coming out the other side in better shape. I was somewhat surprised to find how easy it was to read, although it took enough twists and turns that it was delightful. I think I was most fascinated because everything in the book wasn't a case of black and white and even at the end it is only the fact that the bad guy is revealed that the peccadilloes of others are either forgiven or overlooked. It must have been the kind of wonderful world we had before Miranda... about which only the sane can dream.
Although somewhat tame now, the clock in question exposes its great mechanicals as the inside of the great boss' office and it really does feel quite remarkable, both a symbol of power and wealth as well as the sense that time passes judgment on each of us. It is quite a powerful image and the movie version does the book great justice, especially with the characters which pop up for comic relief. After I read the book, I found the movie on late night cable, but I still didn’t get more than a passing connection between this and No Way Out. I am surprised that anyone saw the connection much less the critics who described the movie as a copy. Frankly I think they were just jealous of Kevin Costner....more
In Garden Spells, one of the two appealing male characters, Tyler, (three if you count the gay guy,) has a sexual relationship with Claire which consiIn Garden Spells, one of the two appealing male characters, Tyler, (three if you count the gay guy,) has a sexual relationship with Claire which consists solely of him pleasuring her… without pleasuring himself. It also takes place in a garden on the ground, apparently without attracting any attention of the house dwellers. One almost has to return to the insidious vampire books to find relationships with a less firm grip on the reality of male/female relations. As a result, I have finally become convinced of the truth of chick lit in general… and that is that it is pornography for females. While traditionally women prefer erotic words to pictures, chick lit has bypassed the airbrush and gone for a complete restructuring of the individual into some new amenable gender. Porn for guys dehumanizes women. Chick lit not only dehumanizes men, but makes the ones who receive any approbation at all completely unrecognizable as male. Most of the women I know have more male characteristics than these men. I have often wondered why guys aren’t interested enough to complain because these books so atrociously stereotype male behavior. It’s probably because they are too stunned to believe the truth. This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy Garden Spells, but I couldn’t help reading it without replacing the two lead ‘witches” in my mind with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman from a similar movie. Still my favorite characters were the little girl, Bay, and the apple tree which acts more human than any of them but for some reason or other no one can figure that out. One of the female antagonists is described as follows: She was so Southern that she cried tears that came straight from the Mississippi, and she always smelled faintly of cottonwood and peaches. While that’s a bit over the top for someone who lives in western North Carolina, it is reasonably eloquent and enjoyable. This book has all of the elements of a good Southern novel, overtly bitchy women, strange women (who don’t accept that they are strange) and really eccentric women whom everyone accepts as a matter of tradition. The men, such as they are, remain remarkably calm and oblivious, the latter being this books only nod at reality. Still this isn’t Faulkner or O’Connor or Welty. This is a fun read, albeit thoroughly predictable. This also doesn’t mean that I am going to stop reading chick lit. I have decided that this is the only way I will ever find a guy who wants to cuddle in bed and listen to me prattle into the wee hours of the morning without offering advice. That’s got to be worth something, even if it’s fantasy. ...more
There is a great beauty in mathematics, a kind of natural beauty which mirrors worlds composed of other dimensions. While some mathematics refers to tThere is a great beauty in mathematics, a kind of natural beauty which mirrors worlds composed of other dimensions. While some mathematics refers to things of this world, a great part of it does not. To a degree, there is a precipice in mathematics in which those who are naturally inclined never see, but walk off into Hilbert space. The rest of us, even those who really want to find out the mysteries of the universe which it holds, those who wait like frightened baby birds for the faith to leap from the nest into the void, we can never really capture that magic. It's a place where one can never question one's need to push forward, but, moreover, a place where one exists by him... or her self. More's the pity that loneliness and solitude are intermixed at various intervals. Therein lies the theme of this book: obscure mathematics as it applies to humans. Most people have probably never heard of the Riemann zeta function, upon which one of the protagonists wishes to work in order to graduate. Suffice it to say that it would be an ambitious task for a graduate student, but unheard of for an undergraduate. Still the key point about the Riemann zeta function is that it established a relationship between its zeros and the distribution of prime numbers. When you combine this with the title of the book, one gets the compacted version of what this book is about. The irony is that calculating the possibilities of mathematical functions is a kind of necessity, much like the consequences of certain actions elicits a certain reaction in people. The difficulty is not that certain actions don't require certain reactions, but that in order to put either into motion, they require the will to put it all into motion at all. No, what she had found in front of her was a grown-up person who had built a life around a terrifying abyss, on terrain that had already collapsed, and yet who had succeeded, far away from here, among people Alice didn't know. She had been prepared to destroy all that, to disinter a buried horror, for a simple suspicion, as slender as the memory of a memory.
Still when we see that each character in Solitude is capable of making some relatively miniscule choice which might resolve the tremendous difficulty of his or her life, we are in the audience of the Dr Phil show, insisting that other people's lives be changed by the simple concept of confrontation, without insisting that we change our own. Hence this book is a reminder that all great fiction ought to be capable of eliciting a life changing event in the reader. As far as that is concerned, I believe that this book falls a bit short in that regard. It is beautifully woven, masterfully crafted and monumental in its details of the study of mathematics and photography (the real kind where we used to use actual film.) Giordano writes beautifully and captures the reader's attention early and keeps it on a varying pulse throughout. Ultimately he holds the mirror up for us and asks which one of us does not understand the excuses we maintain of our own paltry lives and the results we have, perhaps, reaped. Still while each of our lives may be like the computation of a complex function, especially in an heuristic manner, the greater question is why we have chosen a certain model of a function by which to operate our lives. Thus, while overwhelmingly brilliant in its conception, I find that conception slightly flawed in that the choice to discover the consequences are only bound by the certain vicissitudes of time. In that, it is not so much that we have existed which is important, but that our paths have been chosen actively through our choices… especially when, as humans invariably do, we run into the dead end of our ineffectiveness. Thus I argue that while we create our own abysses and pitfalls, ever so inadvertently, we can always choose new directions, even when those directions require a greater degree of discomfort than we think we can withstand. I believe that ultimately it isn't all about us anyway....more
I have been reading this book over the last several weeks and I admit that it has been tough going. I first ran into this tome as a sophomopre in highI have been reading this book over the last several weeks and I admit that it has been tough going. I first ran into this tome as a sophomopre in high school.. and immediately fell in love with Weber's passion, his three page paragraphs and sentences so long that they would make Hegel blush.I had read some psychology and I was suspicious of such writings, suspecting that someone who wrote (or studied) psychology probably had a few things wrong, but sociology was like psychology without people... and I loved the concept of groups of people acting in this very defined and therefore predictable manner. To me it was like seeing the underworkings at Disney World... and it was almost like magic. No, actually it was magic! Of course the great tome is divided into two separate part and I loved the teutonic sense of order. When you get to an end of a section, all you know is that you have read enough arguments on the issue to feel sated. This time I wanted to be convinced. Alas it was not to be, although Weber is still my favorite of the classic sociologists, Durkheim a close second. Still this time I was able to understand a great deal more when in high school most of tose Reformation guys were just names in a book. I knew Calvin was a determinist, something I still find quite strange, but that's another issue. Rreading quotes fromn Luther and Bradley and Franklin was just exalted. The huge trouble is, of course, that the correlation between events is always a rationalization, kind of like post hoc ergo propter hoc. This wonderful argument concerning the spirit of capitalism seems much more likely to correlate to the rise in literacy rather than some disvestiture of value or even deterministic triangles. Weber to his credit forsaw what the modern alienated worker would be like and it's like living in a time come true. It's too bad none of this could have been used to prevent today's wealth redistribution concepts. Of course it's easy to throw rocks now, but the point remains that Weber saw today's alienated spiritless society, left without values and redefining the past. It's a heady read but one worth a sincere effort. Anyhthing else wil leave you lost....more
We read this in a weekly meeting at church and I was impressed with this book's simple wisdom. One can read the words easily, but taking them to heartWe read this in a weekly meeting at church and I was impressed with this book's simple wisdom. One can read the words easily, but taking them to heart is a different matter. I can recall reading a handful of books in my life, only a few which were theological in nature, where I got to a certain point and I had to stop, simply because I couldn't go any farther: I could not get my head...or heart... around such a concept as was being presented and I felt that pushing through or on would have been a waste of time. I still feeel that way about really good books. The first time I read this book, I pushed through without bringing myself to some of those hard decisions, things which would change the way I did things, should I do them. In a sense I had to push onward: there wasn't any time to stop and tell myself that I was unwilling to do something important for my relationship with God. This time I am not stopping and that makes it all the more beautiful....more