I found Underground while browsing for some new reads from familiar authors. I have a big literary crush on Haruki Murakami, a Japanese author who wri...moreI found Underground while browsing for some new reads from familiar authors. I have a big literary crush on Haruki Murakami, a Japanese author who writes magical realism masterpieces. If you like García Márquez, then Murakami is your next love. Murakami writes lyrical, 100-lb. emotional elephant kind of books. Discovering Underground was a great surprise for me, because I didn't know he had any nonfiction to his credit. It's a collection of first-hand accounts of The 1995 Tokyo Sarin Gas attack - which I'll describe more about below.
Memoir or awesome nonfiction? Awesome investigative journalism! (So over memoirs.) This was one of the worst terrorist attacks of the past decade, so it takes a deft pen like Murakami's to chronicle it. In bad hands, this could have been another salacious and insensitive "here's-my-side-of-the-story-pity-me" book, because everyone wants to cash in on a tragedy. The author makes it explicit that he is not going for that, and I believe him.
His position as a storyteller is even more complicated by his popularity in the Western World. I think Haruki Murakami was aware that he'd probably be the main interpreter of this event for a Western audience, so he tread carefully. But, I think he successfully positions himself as a voice from Japan, not the voice of Japan in his parts of the text. It's an important distinction for him to make.
Surprisingly, Murakami's voice isn't really in the book. Rather, he takes a step back and allows his interviewees to carry the emotional weight of the story, and paint a chillingly clear picture of what happened inside the trains. He deliberately separates the book into accounts of the victims, and then presents the other side from Aum cult members. The book seeks to answer why certain reactions were present over others. Some of the survivors describe how disillusioned they were with the media coverage, or with Japanese society in general. Several expressed anger about how many people avoided helping victims because they just wanted to get to work. There are a lot of salient points about deliberate social ignorance, and the nature of trauma in a society where emotion is suppressed.
What was the 1995 Tokyo Sarin Gas Attack? On March 20, 1995, members of the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo boarded 3 different commuter train lines going into Tokyo, and punctured bags of liquid sarin gas. They chose lines that went past government buildings. The cultists immediately debarked the trains, leaving hundreds of people on each line to suddenly go blind or being seizing due to the vapors from the gas. Many people had no idea they were poisoned until after they debarked the train and became violently ill. Entire stations were quarantined. The hospitals barely knew what sarin was, so they were treating thousands of patients for mass hysteria. The media vans who showed up refused to take people to the hospitals, despite a huge shortage of ambulance. In short, Tokyo wasn't ready for it, and they got hit hard.
When I imagine how all this went down, I obviously use Chicago as my template. In my understanding, this would be like 3 different people boarding the Red, Blue, and Green lines (which I take regularly) with the intent to kill commuters during the morning rush. The idea of being trapped in an El car with a nerve gas scares the shit out of me. Just one El car can fit 30 or more people on it during busy times. How could any Tokyo citizens, who depend on their mass transit even more than we do, feel right taking their trains again?
What is sarin gas? Sarin is a nerve agent, so it's fucking terrifying: - It can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled. A concentrated vapor (in a train car, for example) can be deadly. - It inhibits cholinesterase, an enzyme that helps control your bodily functions. - Its most recognizable symptom is constricted pupils, and many people immediately go blind with contact. They then exhibit seizure-like symptoms, which untreated puts them in a coma. - In its purest form, a drop of sarin could kill an adult almost instantly. - It's estimated to be 500 times more toxic than cyanide. - The UN has classified it as a weapon of mass destruction. Considering these factors, it's miraculous that there were only 13 deaths amongst the 5,000 or so people under attack.
This was kind of like the Japanese equivalent of 9/11 in terms of national trauma. Why the hell aren't we talking about it? I can't believe we're not talking about this attack in the US, even now 17 years later. Maybe it was a topic in the 90s, but I'd never even heard of this event until I picked up this book. As an American, I feel ashamed of that. When people were sending anthrax to Tom Daschle post 9/11, were we thinking about Tokyo? I hope so.
Why should someone read this book? As Americans, we need to refocus our lens on terrorism and why it occurs. Murakami's essay "Blind Nightmare" strongly criticizes how ignorantly most Japanese people treated the attack as something done by a "lunatic fringe group," rather than a group of disillusioned regular people convinced their problems could be solved by religion.
The Us vs. Them mentality is alive and well in the US, and it definitely got worse after 9/11. Neither Murakami nor I intend to make apologies for people who commit violence to get their voices heard, but it is true that we create social conditions for these things to take place.(less)
Ok, I'm a corny librarian. But seriously you guys, good nonfiction should make you walk away feeling like a much more enlightened person and a better...moreOk, I'm a corny librarian. But seriously you guys, good nonfiction should make you walk away feeling like a much more enlightened person and a better participant in the society. The Psychopath Test has definitely Here's a brief list things I learned from this book.
1. Were it not for Scientologists (AKA the wackiest people on the planet) and L. Ron Hubbard's passionate hate for amateur psychiatrists, we would have very few ethical standards in the psychiatry. WHAT.
2. This book posits that many CEOs and world leaders possess psychopathic traits or are psychopaths, because they use brutal tactics to be successful. So... what if the world is run by people with no empathy for other human beings?
3. Psychiatry and mental illness overall is still largely amateurish and run by checklists. It's also vastly entertaining to follow one's roommate around and administer the Hare Psychopath Checklist.
4. I'm still %$#@ing terrified of running into a psychopath. I cannot fathom what it means to not have empathy for other people, and to think constantly in "bottom line" terms. In fact, I actually use the word "corporate" to describe people like that, which Ronson might laugh at.
If you've ever felt angry at your depression pills like me, or wondered why people at the top are such assholes, here's a perfectly scientific explanation. Love it. (less)
True story: I'm an ex-suburbanite happily living in Chicago - or as I like to think of it, a "rehabbed" suburbanite. I mean that quite literally: movi...moreTrue story: I'm an ex-suburbanite happily living in Chicago - or as I like to think of it, a "rehabbed" suburbanite. I mean that quite literally: moving out of the suburbs was like attending rehab, in that I had to detoxify myself of ugly suburban ignorance tied to classism and white privilege. So when I saw a book entitled "Bomb the Suburbs", I was all about that shit: "YES, PLEASE.[fistpump]" Alas, fellow Chicagoan William "Upski" Wimsatt was really referring to bombing as in graffiti-bombing.
Okay, cool, I thought, but who is Upski? Turns out he's a DIY journalist and political activist from my hometown, which means I immediately have love for him. But, he also happens to be white. I approached this book with some hesitation because of this: how can a white person write about hip-hop? (That, and I really do know absolutely nothing about hip-hop itself.) Upski never hides his whiteness though - he remains an unapologetic and respectful observer of urban culture. He also uses his unique position to make some very solid observations about how graffiti and hip-hop become diluted and propagated by suburbanites. He certainly describes well how white privilege has infiltrated and corporatized something owned and created DIY by urban communities.
But why only three stars? Merely describing just wasn't enough for me. I felt he could've done more. But I could see a lot of inklings of good observations and ideas that weren't followed through upon. Perhaps at the time of publication, Upski wasn't yet mature enough to tackle the topics he brings up. Or maybe I didn't get it. Maybe I'm the wrong audience for this book - even though I'm a librarian in a Chicago public school, 100% African American and low-income. I could see how there's a lapse in experience and knowledge for me to fully appreciate this book. But still, I want to peruse more of his work, to see how these ideas are delved into. (less)
Today, I went on Amnesty International's website and signed a petition to demand a more human treatment of Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip. In...moreToday, I went on Amnesty International's website and signed a petition to demand a more human treatment of Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip. In reality, I have a pretty low opinion of AI, especially when the Chicago office told me my student group couldn't affiliate with them if we called the situation in Darfur "genocide" (political issues, disgusting) - but I had to do something today. I am pissed, and you should be pissed. I'm a school librarian on Chicago's West Side, and I have plenty to be outraged about - but in perspective, my kids don't have what's happening in Palestine, and I am eternally grateful for that.
If you want something to get angry about, here it is. A human story about occupied Palestinian territories, AKA Hell on Earth. We Westerners have all seen the images on the news, and we regard them with pity and dispassion. In truth, we have no personal connection to these events... other than perhaps our tax dollars, which are funding Israeli guns and bullets. Most of the events we're seeing have no real meaning to us, because in our mind we've dehumanized the perpetrators as "Arabs" and "Israelis" - not human beings.This is why we need Joe Sacco: to bring us stories that make us consider these people as humans.
There are some horrors that you cannot depict with just words - the images have to speak for themselves. That is the genius of Joe Sacco, a true on-the-ground journalist who mixes haunting personal stories with his drawing style to create his own brand of comics journalism. Regain a bit of your humanity today, read him.
This is a "road book" - but not the cool, self-reflective kind. It's more like the "pathetic, wallowing" kind. Chuck K travels across America to visit...moreThis is a "road book" - but not the cool, self-reflective kind. It's more like the "pathetic, wallowing" kind. Chuck K travels across America to visit the locations where famous rock stars died, such as Buddy Holly's plane crash site. Along the way, he ruminates/has fake conversations with ex-girlfriends, and inevitably comes to the conclusion that he royally fucked up the relationships.
And you'd think that was progress... but no. Instead of sharing sage advice with the reader of why the relationships failed, he takes the time to just advertise himself. I'll say it before, and I'll say it again - Chuck Klosterman is the living embodiment of everything wrong with the Millenial generation. He's the type of "nice guy" who calls himself a "devil's advocate" on OK Cupid: he pretends to be sensitive and different-thinking, but he actually just argues with you to hide that he has nothing to say. He's selfish, privileged, internet-connected, and little. You can just see him sulking on his iPhone.
Just fucking trim your beard and accept that you are a piece of shit, Chuck. Once you do that, you might actually find the satisfaction you claim you'll never find. You're not Kerouac, you're just a loser with ties to SPIN.
One of the most fucking awesome things I have EVER read. I've been able to find essays for nearly everyone I know, I'm gonna copy some and send them o...moreOne of the most fucking awesome things I have EVER read. I've been able to find essays for nearly everyone I know, I'm gonna copy some and send them out to people!(less)