“Where does it all lead? What will become of us? These were our young questions, and young answers were revealed. It leads to each other. We become ourselves.”
― Patti Smith,
“Where does it all lead? What will become of us? These were our young questions, and young answers were revealed. It leads to each other. We become ourselves.”
― Patti Smith,
“It would be better to give up the notion of writing until you are better prepared. Now it’s time to be living. I don’t want to frighten you, but I would like to make you understand the import of what you think of attempting. You must not become a mere peddler of words. The thing to learn is to know what people are thinking about, not what they say.”
― Sherwood Anderson,
“Every reader, as he reads, is actually the reader of himself. The writer’s work is only a kind of optical instrument he provides the reader so he can discern what he might never have seen in himself without this book. The reader’s recognition in himself of what the book says is the proof of the book’s truth.”
― Marcel Proust,
Yann Martel’s latest novel, The High Mountains of Portugal is a unique reading experience. Divided in three parts, “Homeless”, “Homeward” and “Home” Martel tells a story that transcends time but held together by, essentially relics of the past. The book is almost set up to mimic a religious text – or, at least mimic the types of stories that make up religious mythology.
Although the three sections of the book all form an over-arching story of it’s own, since the book is broken up in three parts, I will discuss a little about each part.
The introductory story titled Homeless begins with a man named Tomas in the year 1904 who is presented with a the Biblical Job-like predicament. His wife, child and father all die within a few days of each other and in protest to this divine injustice Tomas begins to walk backwards. In Tomas’ possession however he has an old diary that speaks of a religious artifact that, according to the diary will upturn religion as it is known. Tomas sets out on a quest, using the latest marvel of his age, and automobile to find this holy relic that is spoken of in the diary. The relic is a crucifix with a chimpanzee.
The second story, Homeward is set on New Years of 1939. I personally enjoyed this section the most. This section is the story of a mortician who is visited by the ghost of his wife who comes to discuss Jesus Christ and Agatha Christie and the interesting parallels that exist between the Gospels and Christie’s novels. This part of the book essentially reveals what Martel is attempting to do. Shortly after the discussion with the ghost of his dead wife, the Mortician is visited by a woman hauling with her a suitcase. Inside the suitcase is the corpse of her late husband. The woman requests that the mortician perform an autopsy on the course so she can learn about the mans life. When the mortician does the autopsy he starts pulling out things that made up the mans life. In the chest cavity the mortician pulls out a chimpanzee holding a bear cub. The wife then climbs into the now empty body and requests that the mortician sew her up with the chimpanzee and bear cub, essentially becoming one of the desires that the man lived for.
The final story, Home takes place in 1981 and is about a Canadian senator who after losing his wife through a sequence of events essentially adopts a chimpanzee and gives up his entire life to live with it in Portugal, incidentally in the same small village that the two previous stories take place. Once again we have a Biblical parallel here where the chimp is a stand in for Jesus. It is a subtle reference to when Jesus tells a rich man to give up everything he owns and follow him. The Senator lives side by side with this chimpanzee until witnessing a rare miracle. In his adventures with the ape, he discovers the early relic and learns of the peculiar autopsy involving the chimp in the chest cavity of the man.
I’ll be honest, I will be thinking about this story for awhile. All three stories are tied together with a premise that humans are not fallen angels but rising apes and Martel uses an ape as a place holder for Jesus, first as a relic, then dwelling in the ‘heart’ of a man then finally as prophet who is followed to a Heaven that is represented as The High Mountains Of Portugal. All in all the story was enjoyable, I’ll be revisiting the middle story in time.
★★★★ THE HIGH MOUNTAINS OF PORTUGAL by Yann Martel
“Grief is a disease. We were riddled with its pockmarks, tormented by its fevers, broken by its blows. It ate at us like maggots, attacked us like lice- we scratched ourselves to the edge of madness. In the process we became as withered as crickets, as tired as old dogs.”
― Yann Martel,
Today is one of the toughest days I’ve had in quite a long time.
Tomorrow my roommate, my friend, is moving out.
It’s been a tough year – a lot of it documented here, on my blog – and we’ve been through a lot…
…and life is taking us our separate ways, to unknown destinies.
It is so hard to keep from crying right now. I knew this day was coming, I’ve been dreading it. From here on out, all my roommates will be essentially strangers.
My one true friend is moving out.
I feel so lost.
Mitch Albom is not an author whose books I would generally buy, let alone read, but after hearing an intriguing interview with him about his latest work; The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto on NPR, my curiosity was piqued. It was recalling this interview that, upon seeing copies of the hardcover of Frankie Presto on sale at a book store, that I bought a copy for myself and for my dad for Father’s Day.
Yes, I bought a copy of a book I haven’t read, based solely on an interview NPR had with the author as a gift for my dad for Fathers Day. This is something I never do, but I had the feeling it was right.
This past weekend I was able to finally read this book and I was happy that I did. I do believe that when my dad is finally able to finish it, he’ll enjoy this magical story as much as I did.
The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto is the story of a talented musician narrated from the perspective of Presto’s talent itself; Music at Presto’s funeral. Music, being with Frankie Presto from birth is able to recount all the twists and turns that Presto’s life takes, and ultimately how Presto dies. The story is quite captivating and interspersed through out the book are interviews from musicians who recount the influence that Frankie Presto has had on them.
On the surface this book is about music, but it encompasses so much more, from fate, family, love and legacy – I couldn’t put it down. The narrator, Music brings up a point numerous times throughout the novel – that as we move through life, we join various different ‘bands’ which is to say that we develop these different relationships with people that create for us families that are not tied together by blood, but by something deeper -perhaps love, talent or a mutual interest. The novel also spoke about how our actions, whether good or bad, have an affect on other people and we do not necessarily know what that affect is so it is best to be good to others.
The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto is easily one of the best books that I’ve read this year, and I am so happy that I’ll be able to share this story with my dad. I am unwilling to provide a deeper analysis of this book because I do recommend checking it out and enjoying the beauty of this novel on your own.
★★★★★ The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
I’ve been listening to NPR and The Diane Rehm Show for many years now. Many of the books I’ve read are books I learned about on Rehm’s show when she’d interview authors about their latest publications. I’ve also enjoyed the insights into various topics on her show as well. Despite being an avid listener of her show, I somehow was unaware that she had a few books of her own published. To my delight, I came across her most recent memoir in my local library, On My Own.
Due to the book’s short length, I was initially going to include it in my “holiday week reading wrap up” but when I began reading it, I realized that this book deserved a post to itself. The subject matter is too important to be thrown in with the other three books I read over the course of the week.
On My Own is Diane Rehm’s reflections on her life immediately following the death of her husband of 54 years, John Rehm. John had Parkinson’s disease and as the disease took over his body, he began to lose his ability to function. In early June of 2014, John made the decision that he’d refuse food, water and medication which ultimately lead to his death on June 24, 2014.
John’s death immediately changed Diane’s life. She had never lived on her own before and as she approached the age of 80, she was faced with living a life without the person who had been next to her for over half a century. Rehm discusses how loneliness, grief and sadness affected her personal and professional life. The circumstances of John’s death turned Diane into an advocate for the right to die movement. Her advocacy for this caused a stir in the NPR headquarters as she began speaking, and ultimately representing this controversial stance.
The book is set up in a series of what appears to be both journal entries and essays. The journal entries are far more personal as Rehm reflects on the life she once had with John, including traditions the two of them had around the holidays and different memories the two made with each other. The essays are generally more topical and talk about grief, death and the politics that relate to them. Both of these formats work well together in this book offering a comprehensive look into the mind of someone who is trying to maneuver through life in the wake of all of these traumatic changes that have taken place.
Some of the more difficult parts of this short memoir are when Diane takes into consideration her own death – you can see she has a trepidation as she considers the last days of her life. She is adamant that she is given her own right to die as she refuses to die without any dignity. Diane mentions the death of her parents in here quite often – insisting that her dad died 11 months after her mother of a ‘broken heart’ – and as I read through her memoir, I could only think that Diane believed she’d have the same fate – a death due caused by a broken heart at the loss of her beloved, John.
On My Own is only 162 pages, and can easily be read in one sitting – I do recommend this book. I believe that I will be buying a copy for myself
After completing the very lengthy book, The Elven I decided that I would give myself a bit of a break from fiction and long books and read a few short non-fiction books. The three books I read over this past week covered three rather unconnected topics. Politics, Advertising and Housecleaning. All the books had their merits, but I figured that I’d provide my thoughts on all three of them in one blog post.
Just a reminder, I don’t give ratings to non-fiction books no matter how terrible or wonderful they may be.
The first short book that I read is called On Tyranny; Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder. This book is essentially an essay with it’s intended audience being graduate students (or that’s at least how it was being marketed at the book store where I picked it up from). This essay, at the title suggests, is comprised of “twenty lessons” that a savvy youngster should be aware of while embarking out into a world in which “the [current] president” is now leader of. Drawing heavily on practices carried out by early fascist governments, Snyder tries to draw parallels that come across rather flimsy.
Let’s get something out of the way – I am in no way a fan of Trump, but I am not nearly naive as Timothy Snyder appears to be to think that we live in some sort of political vacuum where Trump seized power essentially out of no where then gave himself endless tyrannical power. No, Trump is the by-product of an ever evolving tyrannical government, with an executive branch that enjoys handing itself more and more arbitrary power. I recall numerous books like Snyder’s coming out during the Bush (W.) years. The End of America by Naomi Wolf would be a good example (and her warning is composed FAR better than Snyders.) There were also similar books published in regards to Obama’s tyrannical powers during the 8 years he served as well.
The reason these books are published is because people have recognized that the executive branch of the US government is just WAY TOO POWERFUL for it’s own good. We are comfortable with that power when *our* side has it, but when *their* side has it, fears of a dictatorship and other alarmist writings emerge.
Snyder seems completely oblivious to institutions that were set up during previous administrations that are enabling the current president. Snyder complains about the loss of an individuals privacy yet seems oblivious to what the NSA has been up to. He warns of para-military police forces yet doesn’t mention the Department of Homeland Security at all – nor how completely Third-Reichish in origins that is. Snyder then frets about how Russia likes to undermine different democracies around the globe yet seems to be blind to the USA’s own role in undermining democracies around the globe.
In short – despite the FEW valid arguments this book makes, it’ll leave you more ignorant when you finish it than when you started it. I do not recommend this particular waste of paper. IF I rated non-fiction books, this might receive a half star because I enjoyed the books formatting, and that’s about it.
Following that book I read another recently published essay called The End of Advertising by Andrew Essex. Essex is a former executive who worked for a major advertising company and in this short book he offers that unless that industry discovers a new approach to advertising, that industry will meet its demise.
Although this small book clocks in at just around 200 pages, the first half reads almost like a memoir as Essex attempts to explain why he believes advertising as we know it is about to die unless it rethinks its place in the world and goes through a renaissance. His belief that advertising is about to end was arrived at because Essex learned about a new technology called AdBlock and realized that people could now opt-out of watching advertisements and, in fact, many people were. He in fact had also decided to opt-out of viewing advertisements and found it to be quite free-ing.
Essex however makes a suggestion for the advertising industry that, for me, seems like the set-up for the movie Idiocracy, which would make it alarmingly fitting for the current world in which we live. Since local governments are having such a difficult time maintaining the infrastructure in different communities, why not have large corporations do it instead?
Yes – that is what Essex proposes in regards to ‘saving’ advertising. Potholes in your road? Here’s Pepsi-Cola to the rescue! Now your roads are blue, red and refreshing. Your cities water infrastructure is crumbling, lets have Gatorade or Powerade bid on who will fix it, ’cause either way, ELECTROLYTES FOR EVERYONE!
Anyway, despite the authors proposal on how to fix advertising, I do recommend giving this quick book a read because it will offer insights into an industry that we generally only get to see (and block) the products of.
And finally this week I read Other People’s Dirt by Louise Rafkin. This book I checked out of the library after having quite a dreary day and badly desiring to go for a walk. After staring blankly at numerous shelves of books and still finding nothing of real interest, I happened up this short work that, for whatever reason, felt just right.
Other People’s Dirt was published in 1998 and is about Rafkin’s ‘adventures’ as a housecleaner. The book is somewhere between memoir and investigative journalist as Rafkin explores different aspects of the world of 1990’s housecleaning.
Initially the book talks about Rafkin’s independent work as a housecleaner in which she highlights what she likes and dislikes about this particular profession. The book begins with Rafkins dream of one day becoming a spy and, in a way, how she sort-of is one while she housecleans. She tells about how she learns so much about other people’s lives simply by the hints of the lives they lead within their own homes.
Each chapter covers different aspects of the world of housecleaning, from housecleaning as sexual fetish to housecleaning as religious practice and numerous other variations in between. In one part Rafkin joins a commercial cleaning company where she feels she is severely underpaid for the work she is doing. At another point she attempts to join a woman who cleans up the remains at crime scenes inside homes.
The part of the book that I found the most important however is Rafkin’s look into the life of the woman who once cleaned her childhood home. This particular chapter where Rafkin goes back and learns about Lupita’s life, is the chapter in the book that, for me, humanized the author for me because before this, the book felt like a disjointed examination of housecleaning experienced by an author who was difficult to relate to.
The reason that I’m pointing out the year in which this book was published is because, without consciously doing it, this book offers a real-life glimpse into what life was like just before the dawning of the internet and smart-phone age. There are numerous scene’s that highlight this, but one in particular that stood out to me was the small two line part where Rafkin is discussing what fake vacuuming is, and she says (and I have to paraphrase here) that it’s when you turn on a vacuum and let it run while you sit down and read People magazine. All I could think of is that in today’s world, you’d be pulling out your phone, getting on the homeowners wi-fi and begin going through various apps.
So, in short this book also served as a time-capsule of sorts. I do recommend it primarily just for the unique insights it offers into this world that we may not think too much about.
I checked out one other book from the library – but I think that one will get a post all to itself due to it’s subject matter.
“Every person, all the events of your life are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you.”
― Richard Bach