“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
If there were one word to describe the 765 page behemoth fantasy novel, The Elven, that word would be “epic” indeed. The Elven is a story that spans both place, time and worlds as two elves and one human try to hunt down a demon that has emerged without explanation in the human world.
The story begins with Jarl Mandred and his hunting party hunting for game near their small village when they come upon the corpse of an animal that has been viciously attacked. The nature of the animal’s wounds alarm the hunting party – it is unlike anything they’ve ever seen before. As the men prepare to set up camp, they are attacked by a creature that is described as being half man and half boar.
The only survivor of the attack is Mandred who fled to a sacred, yet forbidden structure that takes him to the world of the elves. Once healed from his wounds, Mandred is taken to Emerelle the elf queen and requests to form a hunting party to kill the creature that murdered his companions. Mandred is convinced the creature that attacked him has its origins in the elf world.
The queen allows for the assembly of a hunting party on one condition – she gets Mandred’s first born. Due to the urgency of the situation, Mandred complies.
It is during the assembly of the hunting party that Mandred meets the two companions that will be by his side throughout the rest of the novel; Farodin and Nuramon. Farodin is considered the fiercest fighter of the elf world and Nuramon a healer. In one of the strangest story arch I’ve encountered in a book, Nuramon and Farodin are part of a strange love triangle with a strong sorceress, Noroelle who, through a series of events has been banished to yet another world by the queen Emerelle.
When the hunting party reaches the human world they learn that the creature that Mandred was attacked by was a demon – a creature that should have been killed many years ago. There is no explanation why it suddenly reemerged, but what the demon does sets a series of events into motion that will impact the fates of all the characters involved.
The novel is epic in scope and has a sharp focus on the role of fate and destiny, and how you sometimes have to endure a lot of trials to finally achieve what fate has in store for you. Although enjoyable, the book did have several parts that would have benefited with some form of explanation, for instance, the peculiar relationship the elves had with the trolls. At one moment they are fighting each other, the next they are fighting side by side – what caused this sudden trust? Then there is also the lives of the dwarves, what happened to them during and after the final battle?
But most importantly, the most irritating aspect of the novel was Noroelle, in many aspects she was a very unconvincing plot device. Apparently it was the love that Farodin and Nuramon had for her that drove them on this long epic quest to try and free her from her banishment. It’s not that I disliked her, but she certainly owed one of the characters an explanation in regards to the origins of a certain child. She put one of the characters through quite a bit of hell and seemed to only want to write it off as a mere ‘oopsie’.
The decisions she made certainly deserved more explanation on her part considering the multitude of lives she put at stake – including those of her lovers.
Mandred’s personality went through a lovely evolution throughout the book. I enjoyed his interesting point of view as he observed the changes taking place around him. It was also quite clear to me that Nuramon was a healer; his abilities were highlighted several times throughout the book. The book however offered little proof supporting that Farodin was indeed the ‘fiercest fighter’. Yes, there was that scene where he alone attacked the troll fortress, but nothing stood out that said, ‘look! this is the distinguished elven fighter, Farodin’. To me there seemed to be nothing very extraordinary about him.
If you are looking for an epic fantasy to sink your teeth into, I would suggest The Elven by Bernhard Hennen – it certainly had its weaknesses, but enjoyable none-the-less.
☆☆☆☆½ – The Elven by Bernhard Hennen
I typically will try to post a review of a book every Saturday if circumstances allow for it. A week or so ago I decided to delve into a rather hefty epic fantasy, The Elven by Bernhard Hennen which clocks in at approximately 770 pages. I am just approaching the 500 page mark as I write this. This however is the reason there hasn’t been a review posted.
Anyway, about the book.
For starters, this book is quite captivating. It is one of the more enjoyable books that I’ve read in quite awhile. The story begins with a group of hunters trying to secure food for their small village when suddenly they are attacked by a strange creature. In an effort to escape, one of the hunters, Mandred, runs to the safety of a forbidden, yet sacred structure which turns out to be a gate that transports him to the land of the Elves.
While in the land of the elves, Mandred appeals to the queen to assemble a hunting party to go to human world and kill the creature that had attacked his hunting party. The queen sets out several guidelines for this and has a hunting party assembled. Mandred and the elves then go back to the human world and try to hunt down the creature.
Upon seeing the creature, the elves are able to identify it as a demon that should have been killed hundreds of years ago in an early Elf and demon war.
And this sets numerous sequences of events into motion that launch for Mandred and his Elven friends a long journey both on land and through time in an effort to repair the damage caused by the demon and return the Elven and Human worlds back to normal.
Generally I’m not a fan of fantasy, however this story is so enthralling that I am always wondering what is going to happen next. Due to my busy schedule this past week, I’ve only been able to read a few chapters at a time – and those chapters each feel like I’m watching another epic installment in this epic journey.
I hope to be able to finish it within a day or so due to having a couple days off from work – and then posting a review. As of right now, if you enjoy fantasy, I would say that this book is a ‘must read’.
“Look into any man’s heart you please, and you will always find, in every one, at least one black spot which he has to keep concealed.”
— Henrik Ibsen, The Pillars of Society
My roommate called me this morning from work – he needed a ride to the hospital, his extended family had made the decision to ‘pull the plug’ on his uncles life support.
I don’t know how to accurately convey my feelings right now. Two hours ago my roommate got home from the hospital after being dropped off by a family member. In the short time that I’ve known my roommate, which is approximately one year, he has experienced more deaths of family this way – including his own father – than anyone I’ve ever known.
Although I’ve gone through the turmoil of death of loved ones, there is no way for me to know exactly what he is going through. I can’t imagine what is going through his mind.
My roommate’s family has Huntington’s disease, and despite only being 23, he has seen this disease take the lives of numerous people in his family. In order to cope with these deaths many of my roommates relatives have turned to drugs. The devastation rippling through his family is unfathomable.
He is moving out because his aunt’s health is currently in severe decline. She is losing her home because she can’t pay for that and her medical bills.
My roommate is going through a lot – I told him that no matter what happens, he will always have a place here. He is always welcome back.
I don’t know how to be happy right now.