Teacher Slaps Wrist of Student

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After finishing up with Orwell’s “Animal Farm” I opted to keep the momentum and slide right into “1984“. It’s a natural and easy progression as sometime I find myself struggling when adjusting from one authors voice to another.  That and it keeps with the dystopian theme.

You can’t really speak of dystopian literature without bringing up “1984″ and its predecessor Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World“. The two seemingly are the quintessential comparison of the methods for dehumanizing society.  Perform any random Google search on the two and you’ll come up with articles, papers, comics and charts galore comparing and contrasting the differences of the two.

However, one of the more interesting observations on both come to us in letter form.  Dated October 21, 1949, Orwell received a letter from his former French teacher at Eton; one Aldous Huxley.  Huxley sings brief praise for the book, yet what follows is one of the better “It’s fine, but….”, “my novel’s better than your novel” smack downs;

Wrightwood. Cal.
21 October, 1949

Dear Mr. Orwell,

It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. It arrived as I was in the midst of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references; and since poor sight makes it necessary for me to ration my reading, I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals — the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution — the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual’s psychology and physiology — are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World. I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred and fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognizance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile, and the rest.

Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud’s inability to hypnotize successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnotism. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects.

Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.

Thank you once again for the book.

Yours sincerely,

Aldous Huxley

(- via “Letters of Aldous Huxley“)

“Four Legs Good. Two Legs Bad.”

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Artwork by Ben Templesmith

Artwork by Ben Templesmith

 

Over the weekend I re-consumed George Orwell’s “Animal Farm“.  I really shouldn’t even say it was over the weekend, it was more like an hour on Saturday.  It has always been near the top of my top 10 books; ever since being a required read for High School English.

Reliving my youth aside; my admiration for the politically fueled allegory is not something that I’m alone in.  It’s just one of those novels that leaves a lasting impression on a reader.  For goodness sakes, I even have friends who love George Orwell so much that they are going to name their first-born son Orwell. (It’s better than Apple or Hashtag I suppose.) While I’m not that adoring of Orwell’s work, I will admit that I own the 1954 cartoon adaptation of “Animal Farm” that I force my daughter to watch about once a year.

This book is one of those that I feel, no matter how it’s reviewed or summarized, it always will come up short.  In order to truly appreciate the symbolic mirroring that is spun with regards to the Stalin era; one simply has to read it.

One of my favorite part while re-reading this was remembering specific lines as I read.  As the commandments are slowly altered in the story; I’d play a mental game of “memory” to see if I could recall the modifiers added to the laws, which I forgot only one. How well can you do without cheating? Can you recall the wording of the last revision?

The original commandments are:

  1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
  2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
  3. No animal shall wear clothes.
  4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
  5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
  6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
  7. All animals are equal.

 

As American as Apple Pie – “The Corrections”

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If we applied reality to the metaphor of an apple pie on the window sill, instead of idyllic notions, we’d be looking at Jonathan Franzens “The Corrections;” a whimsical, shameful and all too human account of the dysfunctional family and our self delusions of the world around us.  Our focus is brought to the Lambert family, aging Midwestern parents and their 3 grown children who each ran from the nest as fast as they could.  It is through their perceptional misconceptions and the actions taken by each we witness the overwhelming need we all have to “correct” the lives of ourselves and those around us.

When I was investigating this book I found that readers either loved the book or hated it; touting itself as a high brow, post modern, intellectualism work probably didn’t help.  This isn’t your typical open & closed tale.  It opens itself up in the middle of a period in time and while we do receive a bit of back story, the focus is drawn to the real time moments of our characters with no foreseeable resolution.  I imagine it’s a bit pretentious in that way.  Readers often want (for lack of a better term) the whole story, while here it is just a chapter in the greater story of life.  Franzen doesn’t give us any grand happy endings or aha moments.  Instead he lays aside us a mirror that mimics our own lives, only with some imperfections in the reflection.  There is no way to see ahead nor behind; only an immediacy of what lay in front of us.

In today’s world of quick and easy gratification, this book refuses to fill a reader’s need for fulfillment.  It moves incredibly slow in unfurling it’s central story that by the middle of the book you’re still introducing yourself to characters.  Then suddenly without warning it just stops.  I can understand how some readers felt a bit cheated and led on.

While I wouldn’t go so far to call this a classic, must read novel; I think it does provide an interesting narrative and a hauntingly familiar glimpse of dysfunctional family that may be more screwed up than one’s own.  Throughout the narrative you start to actualize with the characters traits in one way or another. That is part of the beauty of it, the apprehension that engulfs you as you begin to empathize with aspects of the story.  The failure to have resolution intensifies the reality of the theme; drives home the innate short comings we all carry. So while it may not be a must read book of mine, however if you appreciate the fragility of human nature or just need to reassure yourself that there are families out there more dysfunctional then your own; it’s a worthwhile read.

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After Dark in a Bookstore (NSFW?)

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We all know that books open the doors to new worlds. They somehow breathe life into words; creating rich scenes and touchable characters. But have you ever wondered what happens to those seemingly alive plots and presences when we turn our backs?

Wonder no more! (I’m not sure if you could consider this NSFW or not, so just for cautions sake I’m going to label it as such.)

Longest Sentence I’ve Ever Seen

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Last week I checked in and uttered my dismay at “The French Lieutenants Woman.”  Following my own advice I put it down, slowly backed away and picked up another to devour.  This time the pick was so much better and interesting and funny and real.

I’ve never heard of Jonathan Franzens “The Corrections” and for that I am a bit ashamed.  I’m only half way through it, but the book has me so engrossed I hate putting it down.  The chronicles of one family’s everyday struggles an insights strikes so close to everyone who picks it up and reads it.  The crazy, shameful, real antics that ensue are things that the reader can relate to in their own family to a certain level; it puts the “I have a crazy family” line as such a common place occurrence we all have and if not, then it leaves the reader thanking God for not making their family as offbeat as this one.

I’m really looking forward to recapping it as soon as I finish.  Until then though I stumbled across something while reading that I had to stop and reexamine.  See I’m the kind of reader who has a few OCD like pet peeves, such as: when you are reading a book and find that the typeface/print is laid out just so, that occasionally there are consecutive spaces falling in a perpendicular succession creating annoying breaks in the page. Or abnormal structure, I’m not sure why I notice it, I’m certain I commit enough offenses against sentence structure myself that one wouldn’t think I’d pick up on it.  Though this one, this one is a doozy that I’ve never seen before. I now present you with the longest sentence I have ever read (I reread it 10+ times just making sure.)

He began a sentence: “I am-” but when he was taken by surprise, every sentence became an adventure in the woods; as soon as he could no longer see the light of the clearing from which he’d entered, he would realize that the crumbs he’d dropped for bearings had been eaten by birds, silent deft darting things which he couldn’t quite see in the darkness but which were so numerous and swarming in their hunger that it seemed as if they were the darkness, as if the darkness weren’t uniform, weren’t an absence of light but a teeming and corpuscular thing, and indeed when as a studious teenager he’d encountered the word “crepuscular” in Mckay’s Treasury of English Verse, the corpuscles of biology had bled into his understanding of the word, so that for his entire adult life he’d seen in twilight a corpuscularity, as of the graininess of the high-speed film necessary for photography under conditions of low ambient light, as of the woods whose darkness was the darkness of starlings blotting out the sunset or black ants storming a dead opossum, a darkness that didn’t just exist but actively consumed the bearings that he’d sensibly established for himself, lest he be lost; but in the instant of realizing he was lost, time became marvelously slow and he discovered hitherto unguessed eternities in the space between one word and could only stand and watch as time sped on without him, the thoughtless boyish part of him crashing on out of sight blindly through the woods while he, trapped, the grownup Al, watched in oddly impersonal suspense to see it the panic-stricken little boy might, despite no longer knowing where he was or at what point he’d entered the woods of this sentence, still manage to blunder into the clearing where Enid was waiting for him, unaware of any woods- “packing my suitcase,” he heard himself say.

(PHEW!)

Lost in Sweden

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Have you ever had one of those books that you try & try to get into, yet can’t?  You can pick it up, force a few pages down like over-cooked okra (or broccoli) only to put it down in frustrated disgust? Wait a lil bit, then repeat & rise, starting the cycle over and over and over…..

I don’t really have it happen that often, but go figure it’s happened on my second book from the list.  I have struggled and coerced and force-fed myself “The French Lieutenants Woman” by John Fowles since Monday and I am still less than 50 pages in.  The frustrating part about it is that I’ve read decent reviews on it, I know the intrigue & unusual plot structure which it promises. Yet with every page I feel as though I’m trying to swallow a mouthful of dry, dense bread. Belch!

I actually can’t even really put a finger on why this book doesn’t agree with me.  After the first 10 pages the prose seemed to flow easier, less constrictive but I still find my eyes roaming listlessly across the page.  Reading just to read.

It was a bit fitting then that last night I finally got the cookbook I’ve been pining for a month.  Being a classically trained chef I have an asinine amount of cookbooks.  Not little Home & Gardens, Williams & Sonoma books either, oh no, these are exhausting, heavy tomes dedicated to the finesse and passion of culinary escapades.  I am a bit picky about what to include in my collection and last month while wandering around Seattle I stumbled upon Magnus Nilsson’s book on Faviken.

That probably doesn’t mean much to many people but it is a beautiful labor that unfolds within.  Faviken is Nilsson’s restaurant in Sweden, one of the few quickly climbing the charts vying for best restaurant in the world (which since El Bulli is sadly closing its doors, leaves big shoes to fill for restaurants like Faviken or Noma, Mugaritz or Aliena.)

So last night I threw aside dry, hard to swallow literature and cuddled up with culinary delights.  I’ll say it’s not a book for everyone, it’s not a straight forward, go cook this from book to table instructional.  However, it is a necessity that everyone who has any interest in cooking and food should read.  Even old kitchen dogs such as myself.

Recent years have shown a huge upwards trend in “modernist” cooking.  In bare bones essence this division of culinary explorations is the backbones of what cooking is.  Understanding and applying the scientific methods that alter particles, molecules into edible food. All of cooking is science; Modernist cuisine amplifies  scientific principle to new levels.  This is how Ferran Adriàs El Bulli managed to stay best restaurant in the world for almost 10 years. He pushed the boundaries of science and food into the ultimate sensory experience for diners. Light airy mousse that sings of oysters.  Brilliant hued Pantone rainbows of contradictory flavors.  Frozen bubbles spring pea essence, the list goes on and on.

Modernist cuisine is something fascinating that demands a certain appreciation.  But it’s become annoying and jaded as it hit its momentum among “trend-setters.” I equate it now to the cupcake trend- While great at first, everyone has jumped on the wagon and now cupcake shops are about as common as Starbucks.  This is where places like Noma & Faviken step in.

They don’t glorify and push the boundaries that food presents.  It’s a return to art of embracing ingredients for what they are.  No hydrogen bottles or centrifuges here. Just an appreciation of what one can find outside their doors, using what they have on hand.  It’s (re)learning how to appreciate and accentuate the simple and the over-looked.  Mastery of the basics which will always trump the fanciest executions of method a chef could ever dream of.  Eating with the seasons, utilizing all parts of products.  Capturing not only the flavor of the food but paying homage to it culinary history.

I have been so engrossed with devouring every morsel of Faviken that I forgot how much I loathed attempting to read “The French Lieutenants Woman” until I picked it up again earlier today.  Nope nothing has changed, we still have a strained relationship.  I think perhaps it is best to put it down, start on something else and come back to it later.  That is if I don’t get sidetracked by the allure of food again.

 

 

 

First Book Off List Finished!

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It’s been snowing here all day.  News predicted a minimal dusting that in turn has let loose huge, billowy snow flakes, blanketing everything beneath 2-3 inches.  I love winter days such as this; as long as I’m not driving in it.  It’s the perfect time to cuddle up on the couch with a cup of coffee & settle into a book.

Which is exactly what I did; finishing  up Carson McCullers ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.”  I’ll admit that even until the last 70 pages or so I was a bit unsure of where this book was trying to take me as the reader.  Then it suddenly hit me, as if I had walked with my head down this entire time until I ran myself right into a wall.

McCullers constructed such a beautiful and honest look at part of the human condition in this novel.  Focusing on how we as social animals constantly need and drive to have others of like mind around us.  All throughout life we search for someone to understand, accept and emotionally become part of us, our ideas, beliefs. We are almost always in a constant state of hunting for acceptance and ends to our singularity.

Humans fear and shun isolation on many levels starting at a very young age.  As children we find ourselves drawn to other children playing the games we wanted to play.  No one wants to be the last man called upon when choosing teams.  We fear being left as the only one without a date or a click or group.  We hunt and search and pray and at one point or another we find like-mindedness and turn confidant into friends/family.

We all experience those periods of isolation.  The times when we feel utterly alone, with no one in the world to understand us (as we do like to think.) It is in those times that our hearts & souls are the hungriest.  Humans need outlets, those who will listen, engage and understand whatever turmoil we experience at the moment.  We want socialization/civility to end the loneliness and replacing it with solidarity.

That is what the book was about.  4 unique and very different people trying to satiate themselves from over whelming loneliness.  All their needs where different: loss of a loved one, need for civil liberty, a door to bigger possibilities, the struggle of oppression.  Yet all found their answer in the same man.  A man who himself felt more isolation then the rest of them combined.

I probably could babble on for a while like this as it is still snowing, but I’ll leave it at this:  It is a worthwhile read.  Beautiful and poignant in just the right places.  Am I a better person for reading it? No, not at all.  But knowing that this infliction of feeling isolated is universal, well I do feel less alone in that regard.

 

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

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HeartIsALonelyHunter

I can’t think of any “sound” logic behind choosing the first book in this journey.  Out of the handful of books I ordered last week, this one spoke to me from the pile I had strewn across my bed.  It has a certain length to it, not too much to discourage and the title resounds with promises of a bitter beauty.

I’ve always been a sucker for the forlorn and sullen philosophical culminations we as humans so often endure.  I suppose that is why this book, out of the many, called to me.  I would rather gaze out upon the world with veiled vision. Having to consciously discover; focusing in and out on mortal existence. Then trying to combat stark blinding proclamations which lay bare for all to see.

That’s why I chose this to start with; and as of half way through the book, the veil has yet to lift.  Let me start by saying how surprisingly easy it is to read McCullers work. Sometimes as a reader, one struggles trying to harmonize with an author. Not here, McCuller jumps between various points of narrative seamlessly.  His “voice” ebbs and flows through small arcs carrying the reader weightlessly.  This book is a beautiful read in those regards.

But content wise I’m still in a haze.  Granted I am only half way through, but the grand scheme of things has yet become apparent to me. I suppose the best way to describe it is that the individual narratives lock together, but the entire puzzle isn’t recognizable yet.

Perhaps that is the secret behind the book, there doesn’t need be an overwhelming grand arc in life.  For it is all the individual pieces that tell the narratives. There through the veil, when one isn’t looking to hard. It is therein that the each, the lonely, make up the big picture.

“Begin at the beginning …”

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“… And go on till you come to the end: then stop.” -Lewis Caroll

Seems mighty logical and easy enough, doesn’t it?  I’ve always had issues with the beginning part; the first page, the first post.  It’s taking that leap into the unknown that is always the hardest.  So here I go- eyes shut and taking that leap.  Pretty soon the beginnings will be a distant memory. 

I’ve set out to tackle the Times All-Time 100 Novels list.  I wish I could say that there was some logic to my madness when picking which list I would attempt; alas not so much in retrospect.  I wanted a knowledgeable, well thought out list.  One that I haven’t read a great majority of the books (I’ve read much of the 30 before 30 list and a great deal of “classic” literature.) A list that held some intrigue and interest and didn’t have Homers Iliad or Odyssey listed (not bad, both just too long to want to read again.) A list where I wouldn’t have to compete against time to try to finish, nor speed read everything to finish.

Scanning Time’s list it made the cut.  Granted it is a bit dated, from 2005, but it’s still getting comments as late as 12/12 and great literature never grows old.  The largest appeal behind it is the large percentage of books I haven’t read yet, that is what sealed the deal for me.

So here I go- jumping in with my first post & picking up my first book off the list.  I don’t have much rhyme & reason to it at this point, just a plan to read and chronicle the journeys I encounter along the way.  I’d very much so love for anyone wanting to hop on board to read along, cheer along or just comment to join me.  I promise it’ll be fun along the way.

 

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