Archive for the “Book Club” Category

Anthem
by Ayn Rand

If you need an introduction to Ayn Rand, read Anthem. I started and finished reading it tonight. It will only take a couple hours and give you a crash course of her ideology. It is something of a breath of fresh air for me tonight. Maybe it is because I am empty after a long week in Vegas. Maybe it’s because recently music leaves a different taste in my mouth. Maybe it’s because this house is too big for me. Maybe I’m hungry. Or maybe it’s definitely something different entirely.

The hero of this book is the non-conformist. He is the damned because he asks questions. He is beaten because he will not surrender. He has the will to live, to learn, to love, and will not accept a path be followed blindly because he is told that it is the only way. His society oppresses freedoms whether they be thought, speech, actions, professions, relations. His name is Equality 7-2521 living in a future or past, you decide.

It’s no secret that Ayn Rand is a professor of the ego. This book introduces the reader to her philosophy with minimal time investment. Not literally. It’s a short novel with a great story and powerful message.

To me.

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Slaughterhouse Five
by Kurt Vonnegut

If you didn’t know already, I like madness, and any kind of eccentric people that may be defined as an artist of unconventional ideas, or mad, or insane. I’m not talking about the clinically insane. Some people may define Vonnegut as such, mad though not clinically insane, which is why I had been drawn to explore some of his works.

Let me begin by saying that maybe where I am in my life has something to do with how I received this novel. Slaughterhouse Five was interesting, and entertaining, but I didn’t agree with the points that the characters were representing. Perhaps the points were merely being drawn out as an ironic satire where the joke is the ideas themselves. I’m not sure, but I didn’t like it.

The book follows a character named Billy Pilgrim, and Billy Pilgrim has had the ability to jump to different moments in his life from the past as well as the future. This makes the novel have absolutely zero stagnant moments as it tends to jump all over time. He learns when he is abducted by aliens (Tralfamadorians) that everything in the world exists and happens because it has to be and happen. In fact, the aliens explain that out of all inhabited planets they have traveled to, Earth is the only one which mentions anything about free will. They also explain that death is not the end of life, but just the end of one existence that begins another. They know the end of the universe, as well as the cause. And Billy knows how he dies, and has lived it many times.

The one idea that did speak to me was also from the Tralfamadorians. They spoke about although wars, pain, suffering, and anything else unpleasant must and will always exist, but because of that, you should embrace and entirely soak up the good moments to their fullest.

That’s what I took away from this novel.

Because of Vonnegut’s pessimistic attitude, I needed something more refreshing to cleanse my palate. That’s why I chose another Steinbeck novel for my next book. I’m revisiting some of the characters from Cannery Row in the novel named Sweet Thursday.

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Cat’s Cradle
by Kurt Vonnegut

It’s back, and I have a lineup that will surely inspire all three of you to pick up a book or two. I am fully aware that three may be an exaggeration. I read this book in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and do not know if the distance of time passed or the surrounding attitude will play a part in the review. Let’s have at it.

This edition of the Book Club covers Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. If you don’t know Kurt Vonnegut’s style, think sarcastic, dry, pessimistic. I believe he might hate people, specifically Americans, though not limited to. He justifies his pessimistic outlook with stories of the ridiculousness of our actions, of our wars, of our religions, of our government, and of our personal choices. These, among others, are all covered in Cat’s Cradle.

Cat’s Cradle is told from the viewpoint of a guy named John. He is inspired to write a book about the atom bomb and it’s detonation, destruction on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. John logically seeks the creator of the bomb, which brings him to interview and follow the lives of (mainly) the Hoenikker family. Although the novel is told through this guy named John, he is really merely a conduit for the main characters’ stories. The Hoenikkers and their associates are the subject.

Felix Hoenikker, in a way the patriarch but only because he is the father of the children in this book, is the “Father of the Atomic Bomb.” He is/was a scientist or thinker that had no personable or personal characteristics, though he was not cruel. He just was. His purpose was to invent, solve, and create. He was a mad scientist of sorts that would fully immerse himself in work not because he loved work, but because he enjoyed solving a problem. Felix Hoenikker had two main (subject) inventions that are covered in detail. One was the atomic bomb. The other was a substance called Ice Nine. Realism stattes that the former is fact, the latter fictional.

John interviews Felix Hoenikker’s children: Frank Hoenikker (the logical coward), Angela Hoenikker (the tall matriarch), and Newt Hoenikker (the midget). Incidentally, all 3 children have in their possession a small vial of Ice Nine. John encounters many more characters and interviews which cover everything from espionage, scientists, religion, law, money, art and of course, the apocalypse.

If you follow my book club, you know that I won’t spoil the end, or even the beginning or middle, because I don’t make a point to cover the book in it’s entirety. But it is good to know that this book covers the end of days. Vonnegut’s attitude comes alive through the words of John, and you can tell that he is tired of the stupidity of mankind. At times he is funny, even if only through pessimism and ironic observations.

Is Cat’s Cradle worth the read? It’s short, it might be a little funny (though not really), it might be a little depressing (though not really), and entertaining. I enjoyed every minute of it, enough so to pick up Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, which I’ll cover in the next edition.

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The Stranger
by Albert Camus

The content of this one was largely similar to Catcher in the Rye, although the style was not nearly as painful for me, the reader, to read. The main character Meursault (the stranger) was generally disconnected within society and could not really relate to those around him. He was not entirely connected with his girlfriend, who asked him whether or not he loved her, he responded that he didn’t, but it didn’t really matter anyway. He said he would marry her if it was what she wanted, though. He didn’t cry at his mother’s funeral, and couldn’t understand why, nor why he should.

The book was split into two parts. The first one ended with Meursault killing another man, an Arab armed with a knife, and the second started with Meursault in prison awaiting his trial.

The plot ends as Meursault engages in an argument with a priest who comes to chat about his sins and accepting god before Meursault receives his death penalty by guillotine. Madness and enlightenment is the resulting end. At least that’s what I got out of it. This was another pretty short book by volume, and I enjoyed a bottle of wine while I read.

What was more strange than the ending of the book, was the result of my finishing the book. After reading for a good part of the afternoon into the evening, during my slumber I had a dream that my good friend Eddie was to be put to death by guillotine, which happened, and I caught his head after it was severed off. Then, in my parents lawn shed, I was torn up about how to break the news to his family, who I was sure would blame me somehow for involving Eddie in something that resulted in his beheading. But I was also trying to get in touch with my brother, who had stolen my parents Jeep, and was joy-riding with a friend in downtown Philly. The on-star lady told me that he was drunk, and there was nothing she could do to help.

So, what’s the moral of the story, you ask?

If you read The Stranger, and drink a bottle of wine, you will have some fucked up dreams.

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Cannery Row
by John Steinbeck

If Catcher in the Rye ate my soul, Cannery Row punched both Holden and Sallinger in the face, reached in their stomachs and gave it back. I read the first paragraph and was hooked instantly. It was poetic; it was perfect. Steinbeck, who grew up in Northern California, describes a small town in Northern California, and although this is a work of fiction you can’t help but wonder where the fiction stops and the truth starts.

Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches,” by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, “Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,” and he would have meant the same thing.

Cannery Row is a different style of book than what I have been reading. Steinbeck is more focused on the surroundings and scene than he is on the actions of a particular character. Once he sets up a particular time and place, he allows the story to slowly creep in on it’s own. So, there isn’t much of a plot in this novel. If there is one, it’s mainly about how Doc is a standout guy, and because of that, Mack and the boys (the bums of the Palace Flophouse that swindle with good intentions) throw him two parties, both with similar outcomes, but one was a failure and the other a success.

Each character is interesting, and the adventures/events that lead up to the two parties are captivating and sometimes moving. Between the frog massacre, the Place Flophouse, the Bear Club whores, and the guy named Gay, this novel is a must read.

If there is anything that I will walk away from this book with, it is in the last page of the last chapter. It is the final section of a poem that Doc was reading at first to the party, and then to himself as he was cleaning the next day:

Even now,
I know that I have savored the hot taste of life
Lifting green cups and gold at the great feast.
Just for a small and a forgotten time
I have had full in my eyes from off my girl
The whitest pouring of eternal light

This is a great book, you should read it.

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CATCHER IN THE RYE
by J.D. Sallinger

I was drawn to this book in the way a moth is to a flame. It was instinct, it made sense. I’ve heard that serial killers seem to always be drawn to this book. It is found in there collection, or proclaimed as a favorite, so maybe I might find a little madness contained within the pages. I didn’t like it, though, which might be a relief to all those who might think I’ll turn murderous some day. It won’t happen with a book.

Catcher in the Rye is a book about a guy named Holden Caulfield, and his seemingly unimportant events that lead up to his arrival home for Christmas break. He has been expelled from school due to failing grades (again), hates everybody (except his sister and late brother), can’t stand phonies (people, movies, etc), and speaks with redundancies like it’s gong out of style (he really does). I didn’t like this book. The spoken style of writing with slang, redundancies, and purposeless banter is unrewarding to the reader. The message is wrapped around the hatred and frustration of a disillusioned kid that can’t or won’t find his place in the world.

Holden Caulfield’s rebellion, confusion, alienation, and teenage angst is just another way of interpreting his loneliness. He wishes to hold on to these ideals and become some kind of martyr because of them. He says that he would like to stand guard at a cliffs edge where kids are running and playing in a field of rye. He would catch the kids that accidentally ran too close to the edge, to save them from hurting themselves. He would be the catcher in the rye.

The story ends with Holden in a mental institution, or at least hinted towards being in one, saying that he’s going back to school next semester. Then he tells the readers, “Don’t tell anybody anything, if you do, you’ll start missing everybody.”

I started reading Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, and it is like a breath of fresh air after the cluttered banter of Catcher in the Rye.

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GOD IS DEAD
by Ron Currie Jr.

Reading has become more of a pastime than most other categories in my blogging life. I can remember when I had to read in school. One time in particular, I had to choose a book from a list of classics to read and write a report on. I chose the shortest one from the list for just that reason. But these days, I am reading excitedly and more quickly than ever before with eager desire to move along to the next. Here is the fourth installment in under 2 months.

As a non-practicing atheist (is there any other kind?) I was drawn to this book’s title immediately. I picked it up and read it in a weekend. The premise, as you might have assumed, is that God is dead. He takes human form of a Dinka woman in Sudan, and when the woman dies, so does God. This is the first chapter. Also included in this chapter is a very interesting view of Colin Powell, painted to sound very much like an angry Samuel L. Jackson. Every chapter after this is a short, loosely connected story of what occurs after God’s death. The stories range from a priest plunging off a bridge, to the mass suicide of a group of college buddies, to the interview of a Dog that fed on God’s flesh, to the worship of children. It is at once very strange, oddly funny, and highly captivating reading material.

Instead of attending church, people have started worshiping children on Sundays. One passage is the words of a man that is torn between spending his last $100 to fix his car so he can look for a job, or buying grocerys so he can feed his family. He decides to ask his worshiped 4 year old son what he should do with the money. His son replies, “Buy 10 sets of Hungry Hungry Hippos!” So he buys the Hippos and hopes for the best. Irony is not without a sense of humor. Neither is Currie.

The book ends describing a young man trying to flee a war torn country between 2 opposing philosophical beliefs. The idea sounds about as ridiculous as a war between 2 different religious beliefs. The book oddly reflects a world that is not so different from the one in which we now live.

God Is Dead might not change your life, or make you laugh out loud (especially with its nearly offensive subject matter), but it will hold your attention for it’s duration. If you enjoy dark comedies, you will enjoy Currie’s first novel. I did.

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SIDDHARTHA
by Hermann Hesse

This book moved me from the first chapter to the last. I love this book like I love The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, though the styles are on far opposites concerning literary style.

I have never been the type to do what he is told or what is expected. In fact, I often struggle to the point of self-destruction to do the opposite. But, I will honor my path and understand that the things I have learned, and have yet to learn, have to happen on my terms, and in my time. To deny any of these, their importance, their necessity, is to negate the substance of me. I do not figure my end realization, nirvana, or the existence of such a thing is possible or probable, nor do I wholeheartedly agree with the book’s message in it’s entirety, but Siddhartha is a book that I will turn to again.

Siddhartha’s quest is to find enlightenment, what he calls “the truth.” He travels through many paths to find it, but realizes that one can not see everything when you are looking for something so entirely. The quote from the book does a much better job expressing this idea than anything I could write:

When someone is seeking … it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything … because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal.

Upon leaving his home with the Brahmins, where he believes he has absorbed the majority of what they can teach him, he joins the Samanas where he learns his three basic skills: to learn, to wait, and to fast. He applies these skills throughout the rest of his life, and the rest of the book. When he believed he had learned all he can from the Samanas, and still not enlightened with the truth, he looked for Gotama, the enlightened, the Buddha. After hearing Gotama teach the way to enlightenment, Siddhartha realized that it is impossible to learn the way to the truth through spoken words. That anyone trying to speak the way would come off as sounding foolish. Knowledge can be taught, not wisdom.

I could continue to summarize Siddhartha, which would be meaningless. It is a collection of experiences that only become significant because they stand together.

I have always related more to the Eastern philosophy than with the religious practice we are accustomed to in the West, even before I knew what Buddhism was. It seems more worldly, and less self-centered, and self-serving than what I grew up with. Love, understanding, patience, are important practices in one’s life. The world needs these ideals. However you become these things is up to you.

For what it’s worth, this book comes highly recommended by me, among others. I will read a few more Hermann Hesse novels because of this one.

Om.

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A MOVEABLE FEAST
by Ernest Hemingway

This book makes me want to be a writer. I seriously considered starting a collection of short stories about my experiences moving from the east coast to southern California. Destroyed By Madness is the beginning of that goal, I suppose. So here is what I have to say about A Moveable Feast.

The comment left by Bleublls on my first Book Club post is very accurate. Of course it is, as it was copied word for word from the Wikipedia entry. So instead of attempting to pass a plagerized opinion as my own, I’ll give ownership to the appropriate resource.

The book contains Hemingway’s personal accounts, observations, and stories of his experience in 1920s Paris. He provides the detail of specific addresses of cafes, bars, hotels, and apartments that still can be found in modern day Paris. The title was suggested by Hemingway’s friend A.E. Hotchner, author of Papa Hemingway, and comes from a conversation the two once had about the city during Hotchner’s first visits there: (credit, wikipedia.org)

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
-Ernest Hemingway 1950

This quote from Hemingway is quite popular, and I’d imagine it’s even more popular to those who have been to or lived in Paris at some time. But, wherever I go for the rest of my life, many events will stay with me. I believe the impression of life, love, loss, means, and experiences are what will stay with you, especially as a young man or woman. So instead of saying that a place like Paris will stay with you, I’d like to change the quote to read, “If you are lucky enough to have ambition and energy and desire as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for youth is a moveable feast.” But of course, I have never lived in Paris, as a young man or now, so I will be the first shadow of doubt to be cast upon my opinion for lack of experience.

In Hemingway style, the book comes across as a collection of connected short stories, with each passing short chapter, not necessarily leading into the next, but not leaving itself behind either. The most moving chapter to me, being the trip that Hemingway took to pick up a car with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hemingway had in mind to learn from Fitzgerald during this trip, as he says, “If he could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby I was sure that he could write an even better one.” Hemingway looked up to Scott, and needed to go, although he could not afford the trip. But, being poor or starving did not give way to character defeat nor limitations. The dividend of adventure is nearly always worth the investment, in my opinion. And to expect an outcome as a definite or inevitable will only mar the true meaning behind the experience, as Hemingway learned upon his return.

I got to experience Paris through Hemingway as if I were him, thinking his thoughts and seeing his sights. His friends during that time, historically famous writers, were given human qualities through their personal character flaws. For example, F. Scott Fitzgerald had a soon to be found insane wife that limited his writing because her jealous intent. Scott and his wife Zelda drank too much because of mutual jealousy, and Zelda gave Scott a complex on his, umm, masculinity. Relate away.

In short, I would recommend this book to any aspiring writer or artist. Through it, I was inspired to write more, and perhaps feed other creative outlets with more liberal doses of indulgence. You might do the same.

A scattered book report, I know.

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A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE
by Tennessee Williams

Dependency vs Desire, Delusion vs Confidence, Reality vs Fantasy. I enjoy these kinds of comparisons in literature, although when I look back on this book, I will surely remind myself that I did not enjoy it with it’s depressing conclusion. Further examination may conclude that I relate more with Blanche DuBois than with Stanley Kowalski, which is an even scarier conclusion which I do not endorse. I am a realist, though and through, and at times to a fault, an overly confident man. But desire is a powerful word, and hope is even more. I do not care to dive into despair or disappointment.

When it comes down to it, the book’s starring theme describes the conflict between the hopes and delusion of living in a world of magic instead of reality. Blanche paints a picture of elegance and grace, living as a southern belle in the Belle Reve mansion. That picture is slowly, but surely, smeared clear through the likes of learning of her late husband whom after unintentionally revealing his homosexual tendencies, pulled the trigger to a revolver placed in his mouth almost mid-dance with his wife. This was the beginning of the end of Blanche’s reality. Her masquerade grew to cover the lose of her husband, her home, her job (she was fired from teaching after sleeping with a 17 year old student), and she was living in a sleazy hotel where drunkards would come late, looking for an easy lay. She was relatable, though, because although others were affected, malicious intent was never present.

Oh, and did I forget the rape scene? Scene is not an accurate word, though. Williams hinted towards it. After the rape, the last chapter describes character Stanley Kowalski (the raper) had convinced his wife (Blanche’s sister) to have the delusional rape victim (Blanche) institutionalized. So who is the hero? Maybe Stanley Kowalski’s wife, Stella? But Stanley verbally and physically abused her. That might get my feminist readers’ panties in a bunch. I’ll assume that this tragedy lacks a hero.

Should you read it? You won’t miss the hours if you do; it’s a quickie. Although “groundbreaking” during it’s time, A Streetcar Named Desire needs to be stretched to reach current times context. Maybe if Stanley text-bullied his wife, and Blanche whored herself to an entire classroom gang bang… stop. The play deserves a little more respect. I’d be happy to forgive my copy permanently to you, if you want it.

So…

Summer is racing onward, and the fact is never more apparent than when sitting on the beach in the 70 degree sunlight of Southern California. I will be reading under the bluffs on a regular weekend schedule. The crashing waves along the Pacific coast soothes my soul in a way that I can’t quite describe. For my efforts, I’m starting a one-man book club. I don’t expect anyone to sign-up, nor need participation, but if you’d like to read along, and post your opinions, I just started reading A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.

Until the next time we meet, respectfully, me.

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