“Every poem should remind the reader that they are going to die.”
— Edgar Allan Poe
“Every poem should remind the reader that they are going to die.”
— Edgar Allan Poe
“I just can’t help thinking what a real shake up it would give people if, all of a sudden, there were no new books, new plays, new histories, new poems…”
And how proud would you be when people started dying like flies?” I demanded.
They’d die more like mad dogs, I think–snarling & snapping at each other & biting their own tails.”
I turned to Castle the elder. “Sir, how does a man die when he’s deprived of the consolation of literature?”
In one of two ways,” he said, “putrescence of the heart or atrophy of the nervous system.”
Neither one very pleasant, I expect,” I suggested.
No,” said Castle the elder. “For the love of God, both of you, please keep writing!”
― Kurt Vonnegut Jr.,
“What use is a god with boundless mercy, sir? You mock me as a pagan, yet the gods of my ancestors pronounce clearly their ways and punish severely when we break their laws. Your Christian god of mercy gives men licence to pursue their greed, their lust for land and blood, knowing a few prayers and a little penance will bring forgiveness and blessing.”
― Kazuo Ishiguro,
“It is clear that the books owned the shop rather than the other way about. Everywhere they had run wild and taken possession of their habitat, breeding and multiplying, and clearly lacking any strong hand to keep them down.”
— Agatha Christie (The Clocks)
All The Birds In The Sky is a book that defy’s all possible genres and does so quite successfully. It’s the story of a witch and a tech mogul and the world between them.
The novel opens with a young Patricia in a Doctor Dolittle-esque that consists of a wounded bird, a mean older sister, a cat and a wise old tree. The scene serves as an introductory to Patricia and her abilities as she begins to discover her own uniqueness.
Following this initial glimpse into Patricias life, we are soon introduced to a young tech nerd named Laurence who is quite the savant when it comes to technology. Laurence finds himself being a social outcast at his school, he spends his free time building devices that he finds instructions for on the internet. One of his projects is an Artificial Intelligence program that dwells in a computer in his bedroom.
Inevitably Patricia and Laurence meet and become friends as they go to the same school together. They begin to mature into their respective abilities. This gets the attention of a certain member of a Nameless Order that attempts to interfere with the ultimate destiny of these two. As the children grow, Patricia starts exhibiting the powers she possesses as a young witch while Laurence hones his technological abilities. They help each other get out of trouble when necessary. Interestingly, Patricia and Laurence begin to grow together and apart almost simultaneously as they each have to come to terms with each other.
This attraction and polarization of Patricia and Laurence is done quite well by Anders – it showcased that despite these twos sharp differences, there is something that transcends these that’ll bring them together. Although the book does focus on the relationship between Patricia and Laurence, it does so in a world that is on the verge of complete collapse. Hurricanes are wiping out large portions of the United States while other disasters arise that must be confronted. Can magic and technology come together to help solve these crises instead of warring against one another?
This is perhaps the strength of All The Birds In The Sky as it serves as an allegory for the world that we live. Anders does not make an assertion that one field of thought is better than another, that true strength comes with solidarity rather than war.
★★★★★ ALL THE BIRDS IN THE SKY by Charlie Jane Anders
“At various points in our lives, or on a quest, for reasons that often remain obscure , we are driven to make decisions which prove with hindsight to be loaded with meaning.”
— Dai Sijie, Once on a Moonless Night
“The story is told that when Joe was a child his cousins emptied his Christmas stocking and replaced the gifts with horse manure. Joe took one look and bolted for the door, eyes glittering with excitement. ‘Wait, Joe, where are you going? What did ol’ Santa bring you?’ According to the story Joe paused at the door for a piece of rope. ‘Brought me a bran’-new pony but he got away. I’ll catch ’em if I hurry.’ And ever since then it seemed that Joe had been accepting more than his share of hardship as good fortune, and more than his share of shit as a sign of Shetland ponies just around the corner, Thoroughbred stallions just up the road.”
— Ken Kesey (Sometimes a Great Notion)
“Those two, in paradise, were given a choice: happiness without freedom, or freedom without happiness. There was no third alternative. Those idiots chose freedom, and what came of it? Of course, for ages afterward they longed for the chains.”
— Yevgeny Zamyatin, WE
Written from the perspective of his body reflecting on the events in his life, Paul Auster’s Winter Journal is a rather intimate piece of a person reflecting on their life. Winter Journal is a recounting of Auster’s life from his earliest memory to the present. The book opens with a paragraph that let’s you know that there isn’t exactly anything extraordinary about Auster’s life, however despite the rather ordinary life being lead, Auster presents it in such a fascinating way that keeps you interested.
You think it will never happen to you, that it cannot happen to you, that you are the only person in the world to whom none of these things will ever happen, and then, one by one, they all begin to happen to you, in the same way they happen to everyone else.
Winter Journal is my first introduction to Paul Auster’s writing and I’m pleased to state that he did not disappoint with this narrative. I enjoyed the book, from the reminiscing about his childhood, to how Auster lists all the places he’d lived through his life and the troubles and tragedies that he’d gone through as he aged.
Since this book is written in the second person, it takes a bit to get used to, but once that aspect of the book becomes familiar I no longer noticed the peculiar perspective as the book went on. This book also features paragraphs that go on for several pages* as Auster recounts major events of his life. Initially intimidating, these blocks of text were not tough to get through and added to the over all atmosphere of the book.
What is so incredibly memorable about this are Auster’s occasional introspection’s about his own craft; writing. In one part, Auster compares writing to a form of dance. These are the aspects of the book that I tended to gravitate towards and enjoy the most.
Writing begins in the body, it is the music of the body, and even if the words have meaning, can sometimes have meaning, the music of the words is where the meanings begin….Writing as a lesser form of dance.
Although an autobiography of sorts, I couldn’t help but wonder as I went through the book if Auster was attempting to build a caricature of what it means to be an American using his own life as an inspiration. Although many of the events that take place in this book are, obviously, events exclusive to the author; in many cases it felt that Auster intentionally tried to make some of the experiences universal in nature. It seemed as if he were trying to say, ‘despite this happening to me, this is an event that is shared time and time again by people across this nation.’
If you enjoy Paul Auster’s work and haven’t picked up Winter Journal, I would recommend it. I’m not sure if this book would be for everyone, but I found it to be a great introduction to Auster’s writing.
*I should note that I mistakenly picked up a LARGE PRINT edition of Winter Journal at a used book store and therefore I am unaware how exactly this book was laid out in it’s other editions. There were no chapter breaks and the text often went on for several pages with no paragraph breaks.
Brain on Fire is brilliant; a book that I now consider a ‘must-read’. Although Brain on Fire is a memoir, it is so much more than that. This book is also a public service announcement that should become required reading across the US until the disease discussed in the book becomes more widely known. Although technically a memoir, this book could more accurately be considered a case study written in the first person, a case study about a little known disease that needs more public awareness.
Susannah Cahalan is a journalist for a New York publication. She is a young professional woman with a stable job and a promising future. Cahalan, however, for unknown reasons begins to experience symptoms – sensitivity to light, mood swings, slight hallucinations, speech impediments among others that she can’t explain. After seeing a doctor about this initially, she is told it is due to excessive partying; alcohol withdrawals. One of her doctors speculates that what Cahalan is experiencing are caused by her birth control, still another believes these symptoms are the result of too much stress.
Initially, Cahalan is skeptical of all of these possible diagnoses and attempts to diagnose herself with having, what she believes, is bipolar disorder. This self diagnosis, Cahalan reasoned, provided an explanation for a majority of the symptoms that she was experiencing. Initially she was content with this, however her condition worsened. Her mood swings began to get more and more extreme to the point that she was taken to a hospital to be examined. Numerous tests were run on her, and they all came back displaying that Cahalan’s health was normal, despite the severity of her symptoms.
Through a series of events, she is eventually hospitalized. Her initial doctor is so perplexed with her, that he eventually hand’s off her case to a different doctor. This new doctor, Dr. Souhel Najjar was able to discover what really was going on with Cahalan and provide her with a diagnosis, a rare auto-immune disease, then provide a treatment that ultimately saved her life and returned her to a version of normal of her previous self.
This book helped to demonstrate the continued weaknesses of modern medicine – that despite our best abilities, there are still illnesses out there that, despite being prevalent, we know little to nothing about. What appears to be one thing – a mental illness, could very well be something much different. Even Cahalan’s initial doctor was perplexed by her ailments, and since he was unaware of the existence of the disease that effected Cahalan, he had no frame of reference to use in order to diagnose her.
“In the spring of 2009, I was the 217th person ever to be diagnosed with anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis. Just a year later, that figure had doubled. Now the number is in the thousands. Yet Dr. Bailey, considered one of the best neurologists in the country, had never heard of it. When we live in a time when the rate of misdiagnoses has shown no improvement since the 1930s, the lesson here is that it’s important to always get a second opinion.
While he may be an excellent doctor in many respects, Dr. Bailey is also, in some ways, a perfect example of what is wrong with medicine. I was just a number to him (and if he saw thirty-five patients a day, as he told me, that means I was one of a very large number). He is a by-product of a defective system that forces neurologists to spend five minutes with X number of patients a day to maintain their bottom line. It’s a bad system. Dr. Bailey is not the exception to the rule. He is the rule.”
This is why I believe this book should be required reading, because until more are aware of this disease, it will continue to be misdiagnosed until awareness grows.