Friday, December 28, 2012
Monday, August 6, 2012
- Ripping the rich from their homes and sharing the spoils
- A bloated “judicial system” holding ridiculous public trials
- Thin ice rather than the outright, gruesome horror of the guillotine (but same idea)
- Storming Black Gate Prison = Storming the Bastille
“He knew enough of the world to know that there is nothing in it better than the faithful service of the heart.” ~Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
It was really interesting to read about her early years (she grew up in a wealthy St. Louis family) and what led her to become a nun. I can personally say that I have never really thought about the process that leads a person to choose a nun’s life. It was also very interesting to get a look into what a nun might do and where she might go, depending on what order she joins.
Monday, March 19, 2012
"A plan is a real thing, and things projected are experienced. A plan once made and visualized becomes a reality along with other realities -- never to be destroyed but easily to be attacked." ~John Steinbeck, The Pearl
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Well hello there blog! What’s that? You feel as though I’ve been neglecting you lately? I want our relationship to be open and honest, and in that vein, I will tell you that there is someone else I’ve been spending time with. His name is Grad School. But it doesn’t mean anything, I swear! I would much rather spend my time with you. Maybe if the two of you just meet, you will see that it’s just a passing fancy….
I rarely allow my reading-for-pleasure life and my reading-for-grad-school life mix, but there are exceptions to every rule. In this case, I read a book that was worthwhile and interesting and I want to share it. Since it’s my blog, I do what I want. I read the book, The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr. as part of an Organizational Ethics class. The book places the opinions of opposing worldviews side-by-side using the lives and writings of two very intelligent and outspoken historic figures. Sigmund Freud represents the atheistic worldview and C.S. Lewis represents the religious side of the dichotomy.
The problem with reading this book, of course, is that it is pretty much impossible to read without some sort of bias. Every single person will approach this book with leaning towards one worldview or another and with preconceived notions of each. I know that I read this book without objectivity. With that being said, I found a great deal of what Freud wrote and believed to be outlandish.
Freud’s contributions to the field of psychology and to science in general are undeniable. I find many of his theories to be seemingly legitimate (his notion that childhood shapes us, the importance of our dreams, etc.) and the psychoanalysis practices that have been built on his life’s work have a valuable place in our society. However, I can’t help but find some of his theories to be over the top. After reading more about his life, in this book, it seems that his central subject in the development of his theories was himself. For example, he had inappropriate feelings of love toward his mother so he assumed that was true of everyone and began to look for it in his patients…hence the Oedipus Complex, developed by Freud. It seems like most of his theories were developed in that way and that seems like an unsound scientific practice. You need to have facts to arrive at conclusions, not develop conclusions and then mold facts to support them.
I also learned that Freud was a deeply troubled man. He struggled with clinical depression most of his life (which he often treated with cocaine), he was superstitiously obsessed with his own death, and he struggled to maintain both friendships and professional relationships. If Freud is one of the best examples that the atheistic worldview can come up with, that makes is even less appealing to me.
Furthermore, based on the examples in this book, I don’t think that Freud was ever thoroughly convinced or at peace with his own atheism. He seems to struggle with the question of God his entire life. In fact my favorite quote about God, from this book, was written by Freud when he was a young man: “Science of all things seems to demand the existence of God.” This statement was sent to a personal friend in a letter but he later denied that he had ever swayed in his atheistic views. He also made a great effort to categorize believers as unintelligent and delusional. To me that signifies unrest. If you are secure in your atheistic beliefs, why would you need to put down the people who oppose your worldview? It seems childish to me. In all, this book made me sad for Freud. He never reached a sense of peace in his life or in his beliefs.
C.S. Lewis, on the other hand, seemed to have a full, contented life after his conversion to Christianity. The interesting aspect about Lewis is that he was also an atheist until his 30’s and seemed to be on a similar life path as Freud was. Lewis was unhappy and withdrawn before his conversion with bouts of depression marring his life. After he became a Christian people said he was caring, warm, and lively. He became one of the greatest advocates for Christianity in the 20th century and his writing is still very impactful. I really enjoyed reading more about his viewpoints the way he tackles huge questions in such a simple and elegant way. It’s worth saying that Lewis wasn’t blind to the devastation and travesties that have been committed in the name of Christianity. He didn’t think that theists are perfect people and atheists are idiots. He had a personal relationship with God that was well thought out (from an academic perspective) and the positive influence of that relationship was evident to those around him. This book convinced me to spend some time reading Lewis’s writings as a means of understanding my own beliefs better but I don’t want to ignore the writings of atheists either.
Regardless of the opinions a person might bring to this book, I think it is a very worthwhile read for anyone. If nothing else, it persuades you to look at your own past and your own values to get a sense of how your worldview has been shaped. I think that’s important for every person. We shouldn’t just become complacent about our beliefs but need to take a daily, active role in reaffirming or questioning what we believe. That way, if nothing else, at least we can defend them when challenged. And I don’t mean that we can get heated or irrational and rage about our beliefs. I mean that we can have a structured, calm discussion with the people around us.
"There are no ordinary people. [No one ever talks to] a mere mortal...it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors...your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses." ~C.S. Lewis
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
In this book, Columbine was just an interesting incident in the character’s lives. It’s almost as if the author googled “tragic national trauma event” and chose the one that would best sell his book. I wanted a book that did Columbine justice; a book that dealt with the event and the aftermath. Instead, it feels like Wally Lamb read enough headlines and police reports to do a decent job of hitting the major details of the shootings. Once the shooting was over and his characters had sufficient PTSD symptoms, Lamb moved them back to their family farm in Connecticut and continued with his book. He plugged in a distinctive, book selling tragedy and then moved on to the book that he had really set out to write. Lamb didn’t do Columbine justice. In fact, the first 283 pages and the last 440 pages felt like completely different books. The downside is you are stuck with the same unlikeable characters for both parts of the novel. Both parts of the book were hard to read but for different reasons. Part one was emotionally difficult because of the retold details of the Columbine tragedy. I will warn you right now that chapter eight will especially wreck you; it consists entirely of quotes and excerpts from conversations, journals, and videos that Klebold and Harris left behind. Chapter eight was literally heart breaking to read.
The second part of the book was difficult to read because I was bored and annoyed. I didn’t like a single character in the book and Lamb kept throwing in random issues, histories, and plot twists. So much so that it was overwhelming. It wasn’t enough to have your characters deal with the aftermath of Columbine? You (I’m speaking to Wally Lamb directly here) had to layer in abortion, alcoholism, narcotic addiction, vehicular homicide, hurricane Katrina, women’s prison rights, the history of German beer, suicide…and on and on? The reader doesn’t have a chance to process whatever newest crap Lamb has piled on before he’s on to another, loosely related, issue. It felt like the author has a lot of topics he wants to address, but rather than write more than one book he found ways to layer them into this book. It didn’t work for me. The second half of the novel was extremely reminiscent of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski , except I liked that book much more.
For me it comes down to Lamb’s essential catch 22: I picked up this book because it was advertised as being about Columbine and then hated it because it didn’t deliver. However, if the book wasn’t advertised as being about Columbine I never would have picked it up. Lamb knows how to sell his books. After this experience, though, I will be extremely reluctant to pick up another Wally Lamb novel.
"That's the funny thing about mazes: what's baffling on the ground begins to make sense when you can begin to rise above it, the better to understand your history and fix yourself."
~Wally Lamb, The Hour I First Believed
Monday, January 9, 2012
Am I the only one who is really getting back into Edith Wharton? Oh…I am the only one? Well in that case, I’ll just start this whole thing over…
Let me tell you why you should really be getting into Edith Wharton. I’ll go ahead and start by saying that she was a genius. Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize and her writing is prolific. In her novels, she explores late-nineteenth century American society with a raw and honestly critical view. Wharton gives us a glimpse into the dysfunction and cruelty that was inherent in upper class men and woman of the time. And why should we care about late-nineteenth century society? Because those customs and those socialites are our heritage; our social stigmas, traditions, and absurdity are a direct ancestor to Edith Wharton’s subject matter. She may just give us a lens through which we can understand ourselves.
In The House of Mirth specifically, it’s the cruelty that strikes the reader. Wharton’s characters (Mrs. Dorset, Mrs. Trenor, Mrs. Fisher, etc.) are the original Mean Girls. Each chapter provides you with at least one opportunity to utter the phrase, “Oh no she didn’t!” Their gossip and aptitude for stepping on people to advance themselves literally ruin the main character’s life. This cruelty is set among social traditions that were intact over a century ago, but it’s not at all difficult to translate them to today’s world. People still gossip. People still use other people as means to an end. People still ruin other people’s lives without considering the consequences. In fact, if I could make this novel a required read for every teenage girl in America, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it. We need to learn from our history and shed light on what we do to each other in the name of social advancement.
The main character, Lily Bart, was easy to relate to (for me anyway); a single 20-something woman who is feeling the pressure to marry rich. Landing a rich husband will mean stability and a constant flow of the finer things in life. However, she feels the pull of her more intellectual, independent side as well. Lily gets so close to happiness (either with a rich husband or the intellectual love of her life, Lawrence Selden) so often in the book but manages to ruin it in one way or another, every time. She’s not a stupid character. She understands the implications of her actions. It is the internal struggle that keeps her from achieving her goals, because she can’t be sure what goals are the most important to her. Of course, having the “Mean Girls” (and men) completely ruin her reputation multiple times throughout the novel doesn’t help. Poor Lily just wants stability, but she’ll either have to settle in a loveless marriage or settle for a frill-less life.
As a 21st century reader, you want Lily to stand up to those ho-bags , get them back with the gossip she has, tell her man that she loves him, and live her life above it all. But there are social conventions (and a lack of resources) holding her back. That’s the part we struggle to relate to. Most of us grew up as empowered women who are encouraged to stand up for ourselves and not tolerate injustices. In many ways, we may just have Edith Wharton to thank for that kind of thinking.
Having already read The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome (both Edith Wharton novels), I knew better than to expect a happy ending to The House of Mirth. I also knew that this novel was written in the vein of The Awakening by Kate Chopin and Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy which pretty much told me where things were going. Without ruining it more than I already have, I will just suffice to say that I consider this novel to be what I call a “freezer book”. A book which reaches a point (or many points) that is so frustrating/upsetting/sad/etc. that you just have to put it in the freezer to get some space… à la Joey Tribbiani:
And now, a social tip from Mrs. Edith Wharton:
"It is almost as stupid to let your clothes betray that you know you are ugly as to have them proclaim that you think you are beautiful"
~Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth
Friday, January 6, 2012
1. Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon ---January 13, 2011
2. Day After Night by Anita Diamant ---January 22, 2011
3. Night by Ellie Wiesel ---January 23, 2011
4. World War Z by Max Brooks --- February 25, 2011
5. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens --- April 17, 2011
6. Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel --- April 23, 2011
7. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot --- May 8, 2011
8. American Gods by Neil Gaiman --- May 27, 2011
9. Born to Run by Christopher McDougal ---June 10, 2011
10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling --- June 24, 2011
11. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway --- August 3, 2011
12. Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares --- August 7, 2011
13. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas --- September 7, 2011
14. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins --- September 11, 2011
15. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins --- September 14, 2011
16. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins ---September 16, 2011
17. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts --- November 12, 2011
18. My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares – December 4, 2011
19. The Social Animal by David Brooks --- December 15, 2011
20. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – December 17, 2011
21. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen --- December 22, 2011
I’m not the resolution type, not even a little bit, but I hope to read more in 2012. I have a few books on the near horizon but I am always open to suggestions and cannot wait to see where my reading list ends up. Happy New Year to all, and to all a good read!
(no need to comment on how corny the last sentence is, I am fully aware)