Slaughterhouse Five is Kurt Vonnegut’s darkly comedic reminder that we all end up in the same inert state, “So it goes.” An ironic treatise of the artSlaughterhouse Five is Kurt Vonnegut’s darkly comedic reminder that we all end up in the same inert state, “So it goes.” An ironic treatise of the art and pointlessness of war, based on the author’s own experiences in WWII, it is more thought-provoking than pleasant to read, but a good philosophical self-check, nevertheless, as to how we would like to spend the small bit of time we have been given. Protagonist Billy Pilgrim, surviving soldier whose thoroughly broken mind lends itself to time travel and abduction by aliens, becomes what the fatalistic species from Tralfamidor would prefer to the holy Jesus in our earthling Bible: a normal guy whose death is plotted by an irrational power-grabber, who kills him simply because he can. Likewise, whether we lead lives of idyllic ignorance of the political justification for the bombing of Dresden, Germany, or if we are ourselves members of the elite who make such Darwinian decisions, in Vonnegut’s metafictional satire, everything is just as it was written to be....more
Severed body parts, cruel torture and mild profanity lend lurid new detail to these familiar fairy tales of childhood. Not meant particularly for chilSevered body parts, cruel torture and mild profanity lend lurid new detail to these familiar fairy tales of childhood. Not meant particularly for children, Grimms’ renditions of Snow White, Rapunzel, Cinderella, et al, remind us that while the world a deep forest in which we are often the prey, hope and goodness always prevail. Their message is as fresh today as centuries ago, inspiring a new generation to push the proverbial witch into the oven....more
Kafka’s The Castle depicts an eerily autobiographical struggle against the whims and futility of corporate bureaucracy. Following the travails of protKafka’s The Castle depicts an eerily autobiographical struggle against the whims and futility of corporate bureaucracy. Following the travails of protagonist, “K,” who attempts to begin a new life and job in the village of an all-powerful and unapproachable castle, the overall feeling is of a mildly fevered dream full of absurdity and confusion. Though often described as humorous and even horrifying, the lack of obvious plot, long diatribes, constant conflict, unlikeable characters, and no resolution—all proving Kafka’s point—make it a consciously unpleasant read, a modern rendition of Macbeth’s “sound and fury, signifying nothing” lament, but without any of the gratifying pathos. Ironically, the author died while on disability benefits from his office job at an insurance company, never completing the book, thus sealing its fate posthumously as an ingenious and thoroughly existential classic....more
If your junior high English teacher forced you to read The Pearl, and to this day you still get the heebies thinkin“The gods do not love men’s plans”
If your junior high English teacher forced you to read The Pearl, and to this day you still get the heebies thinking about it, I have good news as well as a promise: it makes sense once you’re a grown-up and have seen a lot of the world, and if you scrounge up a copy, you will swoon for Steinbeck’s mastery of the language. “There is a great deal to be seen in the tilt of a hat on a man.” If you promised yourself to read classics once in a while because they’re good for you, this is the one to tackle: a mere 118 pages, you can read it in a day and will cherish it’s bittersweet wisdom, so timely for our generation. Some might fear that The Pearl reveals not just the greed of man, but the violent power expressed in protecting one’s family. Could domestic love, ultimately, be the worst sin, if it leads to such ends? Gripping and haunting, The Pearl will change your perspective on the benefits of education, evolving gender roles, sustainable living and required junior high reading assignments .
“’You have defied not the pearl buyers, but the whole structure, the whole way of life, and I am afraid for you.’” ...more
Lois Lowry’s award-winning young adult novel, The Giver, rivets and provokes like a sardonic Shirley Jackson short story. Through the eyes of a “TwelvLois Lowry’s award-winning young adult novel, The Giver, rivets and provokes like a sardonic Shirley Jackson short story. Through the eyes of a “Twelve” named Jonas, we enter a world similar to our own, but with intriguing differences: why is an airplane flying overhead a terrifying experience for an obviously advanced civilization? Why do ubiquitous loud speakers announce reprimands and rules, why are elephants and rhinoceroses extinct? These mysteries begin to unfold for Jonas at the yearly Ceremony, in which every child under twelve advances either to their next developmental level, or as in his case, to their assigned vocational role for life.
As the newly appointed and honored Receiver of Memory, he becomes one of the only two living citizens to comprehend the true cost of their utopian society. As his daily training progresses, he begins to feel entirely new emotions ranging from ecstasy to horror. With the help of the Giver of Memories, he ultimately faces a decision that will not only change his own family, but could destroy the peaceful way of life for his entire community. He discovers, as hopefully we all do, that love sometimes comes with terrible costs. ...more
Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence people is the enduring self-help classic, written originally 1937 to wild acclaim, that keeps on giviDale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence people is the enduring self-help classic, written originally 1937 to wild acclaim, that keeps on giving charmingly charismatic advice for success in both work and society. Focusing on other people’s strengths and striving to genuinely like and show interest in them, we win their admiration and trust. Then we can make them do stuff! It’s not really that easy, of course, but this book is a refreshing reminder to use encouragement rather than the intimidation which only engenders resentment, to deftly nudge others around you into becoming the best they can be, which is, let’s admit it, your minion!
While reading this, I often thought to myself that it was like a paraphrase of so much of Jesus’ teachings, that we should love others unconditionally (sometimes requiring extensive use of our imaginations), that the first would be last, that we should give of ourselves to extremity without thought of what we would gain, and that others would follow and do even greater things as a result. By applying these principles, which still seem to go against to our natural negative inclinations despite evolution and modern science and all that, we all would win, wouldn’t we? If yes, then click like on this review! ...more
English author and philosopher Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, a parable of a future world dystopia, offers insight into the political and social tumEnglish author and philosopher Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, a parable of a future world dystopia, offers insight into the political and social tumult of 1932 Europe on the brink of war with Hitler, as well as the mind of a man who has entirely too much time to brood.
Set in England roughly 600 years A.F. (After Ford), a man born in and raised in wild with a real mother visits a meticulously crafted, genetically and psychologically controlled population. Like Miranda of the Tempest, he is overwhelmed by this hygienic, dirt-free, air-conditioned place, where people ironically do not behave remotely as Shakespeare idealized. The populace reciprocates with morbid fascination of the newcomer’s outlandish moods and bold actions, his refusal to conform to or enjoy the freedoms of their social slavery. Why, they wonder, would this man want immoral things like love, romance, marriage and children--things that only lead to civil unrest and war?
Huxley’s representation of a moral man as a savage reveals the evolution not only of science, but of imagination in wake of the world events and social mores in the past century. If he were alive now, perhaps he would write a shocking story about people becoming devoutly religions and monogamous. ...more
True to form, Shakespeare again creates a simply enjoyable story, with a not-so-simple plot and characters, featuring two sets of rival brothers; a DaTrue to form, Shakespeare again creates a simply enjoyable story, with a not-so-simple plot and characters, featuring two sets of rival brothers; a David and Goliath boxing match; outcasts living in the forest like Robin Hood, where poems on trees lead lost lovers to one another; lovely young Rosalind disguised as a boy, who then pretends to be Rosalind, in order to hear Orlando’s proclamations of love for her/him; and two cousins who marry brothers, who then also become cousins. Whew! As always, this play is meant to be seen not read, however even in print Billy continues to rock the words centuries later....more
In his classic The Call of the Wild, Jack London captures the exhilarating and dangerous era of the Yukon gold rush of the 1890s through the eyes of aIn his classic The Call of the Wild, Jack London captures the exhilarating and dangerous era of the Yukon gold rush of the 1890s through the eyes of a dog sold into a sledding team. All the characters, both human and canine, test their strength and endurance to survive harsh winter conditions, each contending with its fellows by constantly jockeying for status, food rations and protection from enemies. Not all survive, but all are certainly changed through the process. Buck, the protagonist, becomes more the dog he was born to be, strong and fierce when he needs, loyal to the death, and a pack dog at heart. Thankfully, unlike most dog books, this one is not a tear-jerker; just an interesting perspective through which to explore a fascinating period of history, as well as explore the relationship between trial and character formation. Rather than avoid the harshest of work and treatment, perhaps the reader can see through Buck’s experience the rare jewel of embracing the pain in order to finding one’s calling in life. ...more
A lesser-known contemporary of the Bronte sisters and Charles Dickens, Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell delivers to greedy Anglophiles yet anotherA lesser-known contemporary of the Bronte sisters and Charles Dickens, Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell delivers to greedy Anglophiles yet another glimpse into the mores of her oft-idealized age. North and South seems to marry the world of Pride and Prejudice to that of Oliver Twist, when a well-to-do family suffers diminished means and must move from comfortable Helstone in the South to the industrialized town of Milton in the North, where social injustice is not so easy to ignore during cultured dinner parties. Picture smokestacks, pickpockets, dirty faces, consumption and hackneyed accents.
While protagonist Margaret Hale obviously laments her family’s fall in social strata, she not only adapts to this new life among the poor, but also learns both humility and courage to fight for their cause, even at the expense of her own reputation. Befriending her new neighbors, she sees face-to-face their sufferings and learns the conditions at the factories and in the unions. She directs her subsequent indignation toward their seemingly callous and greedy boss, John Thornton, who happens to also be the bread and butter of her own family. Misunderstandings ensue, due in part to personal prejudice but also to scheming mothers, and their relationship progresses much like the iconic Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.
Margaret is attractive to modern readers because she is willing to buck tradition and her comfortable place in society in order to fight for a worthy cause. In some ways, she paves the way for future women leaders in the suffrage and civil rights movements. This novel is not only entertaining for its romantic storyline set in a time when verbose sentences took half a page, but also for its social commentary in a rapidly changing period of world history. I will not say it is a gripping read, as it took me over a year to finish, but it is worthwhile nevertheless to hear from a passionate mind from a time and place that has shaped our own. ...more
What a lovely ending to our trip to Cape Cod to spread my Dad’s ashes in the Atlantic: in the box of books allotted to me from his estate, I found thiWhat a lovely ending to our trip to Cape Cod to spread my Dad’s ashes in the Atlantic: in the box of books allotted to me from his estate, I found this paperback copy of Cape Cod by Thoreau. My family and I had just traversed these same shores, some two hundred years after its writing, yet so many of the places are still there, however changed. Thoreau compiles several separate holidays on the Cape into this account of its history, its people and its terrain as he takes us on a journey through the rains and fogs and shipwrecks of the “curled arm” peninsula. He uses his surveyor skills to describe the starkly inhospitable terrain, while inserting humorous anecdotal social commentary toward the characters that are as much part of the landscape as the flora and fauna to keep the story moving agreeably, though certainly not grippingly. You cannot help but grow wistful for the sound of the sea and for the abundant seafood feasts it provides, as well as the memories you yourself may have made at such a place as this, Cape Cod. ...more
JRR Tolkien first told Roverandom as a bedtime story to his young son after the mournful loss of a beloved dog toy on the beach during a family coastaJRR Tolkien first told Roverandom as a bedtime story to his young son after the mournful loss of a beloved dog toy on the beach during a family coastal holiday. Tolkien eventually wrote it down and embellished it into a family remembrance that can now by enjoyed by fans of the author who brought us Lord of the Rings and other tales of Middle Earth. With beautiful imagery throughout, and plenty of humor for young and old, this story is best read aloud as initially intended, to any child you can get your hands on. Roverandom, the naughty, haughty little dog, must learn quite a bit of humility in the hands of wizards during his trip to the moon and to the bottom of the sea as creatures beautiful and terrible help him atone for his very doggy act of biting a strange visitor in the posterior. He returns home in humble, wagging joy, to discover that he wants the small boy most of all, not just the yellow ball on the lawn, of his old seaside home before his epic adventure began. Lovely tale to read by a beach or during summer vacation. ...more
Candide is perhaps sixteenth-century French philosopher Voltaire’s most memorable work. It is his anthem of a world view that challenges the naïve notCandide is perhaps sixteenth-century French philosopher Voltaire’s most memorable work. It is his anthem of a world view that challenges the naïve notion that all of man’s troubled existence is “the best of all possible worlds.” Voltaire moves his protagonist Candide through every conceivable trauma available in his time period: enlistment in the army, beatings, shipwrecking, robbery, torture by the Inquisition, and separation from his beloved Cunégonde, for whom all his sufferings began; exposes humanity’s corruption in government and religion; and shows the futility in the pursuits of philosophy, science, and even romance. Having plumbed the depths of worldy pleasures, fancy philosophies and fantastic quests, Candide ultimately resolves, like the writer of Ecclesiastes, that all is uniformly meaningless, and that we must therefore choose with resourceful intent to “cultivate our garden” amidst the detritus of life. “’Let’s work, then…It is the only way to make life bearable.’” Though pessimistic at its core, Candide was incredibly interesting, and often darkly amusing, as was the author’s intent. Here is a brilliant and satiric mind that lived hundreds of years ago that came to the same conclusion of the millennia: we choose our mindset, and live and die upon it, either in joy or despair....more