Tag Archives: books

Of Human Bondage

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A dark, depressing book brings me some peace. That book is “Of Human Bondage” by Somerset Maugham.

In the novel, Philip loves Mildred, a woman that tortures him and never loves him back. He loses hope and questions the point of being alive. An acquaintance tells him the meaning of life can be found in a Persian carpet. Before he can unlock the mystery of the carpet it is destroyed.

Later on when he keeps thinking about the lost carpet, he unlocks the secret. The patterns in the carpet, the cycle of life and death, are all we have. Life has no meaning on this rock hurtling through space. But this insignificance gives Philip power.

Forget about the meaning of life and just find a place in the pattern. Failure and success are all the same. Just live as best as you can.

Nivana is a big nothingness in an Eastern culture. The elimination of life on earth is the goal.

My Western mindset pursues meaning in life. A life that does not end in death but continues on to a blissful, new afterlife.

The Eastern viewpoint makes more sense to me than the Western one.

It’s kind of odd that meaninglessness provides more comfort to me than everlasting life. Getting composted back into the All seems to be a useful occupation for the dead. Not too shabby to be One with the Cosmos.

But how much do my sensibilities matter in the grand scheme of things? For all I know, this universe may be running on Calvinist principles. If that hurts anyone’s sensibilities, no one cares.

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A Fabrication by Any Other Name

I prefer books over screens for my entertainment. I scoff at people that find joy in gluing their eyes to a computer screen. Surely reading is a superior way to spend time. To be fair, on closer inspection, just how different is virtual reality from fictional reality?

Human interaction suffers when life is lived predominantly within a computer screen. Yet many times, I get so involved in a book that I dread any human interfering with my turning of the next page. I want to stay in my fictional world. Screens and books are best as solitary endeavors.

I too feel the draw of a world filled with ubiquitous screens. I waste time clicking and scrolling through computer articles and photos. The dog and cat videos make me laugh. But I fear the sway of advertisements that push me to buy what the most powerful social media forces out there are selling. I try to resist this modern siren call.

Besides my Etch-a-Sketch, the television was the only screen I could stare at when I was young. My staring was limited to one-hour per day. And that hour had to be broken in half. So a half hour in the morning, another half hour in the afternoon. Maybe that explains why I read. I could explore fictional (and non-fictional) worlds with the flip of a page.

A flip of a page or a swipe of a screen, are they so different? I’m sure I could be swayed by reading too; that is if I only read one book. A wide and diverse reading list protects independent thinking. Social media lies behind a heavy curtain.

My father took me to the Detroit Institute of Arts one Saturday when I was young. I fell in love with this exciting, brand-new world.

Years later, I took my son and his cousin to the art museum. They were bored to death. I thought the suit of armor exhibits would surely interest them. More boredom. Unlike me, they had already spent hours playing video games and had a broader access to television. Television and computers were part of their school curriculum. How can a bit of paint on a canvas compete with the fast-changing and addictive colors and sounds that run across screens?

And yet, I admit to my own addiction. An addiction to the arrangements of 26 letters across a page. How can I judge others?

Books energize me, too much screen time depresses me. A screen has the power to dull a mind and passively lead a person to buy the ideas and products displayed so attractively on the virtual shelves.

Reading is far more active. A reader interacts with the author, with the stuff already read or experienced creating a solid foundation to build up ideas. Who knows, it can even bring about a change in long-held beliefs. Books breed independence and knowledge building. The ceaseless chatter of information on a computer ends up feeling shallow.

My prejudices lead me to forget that the oral storytelling tradition led to books and then books led to computers. Perhaps this is an inevitable course of events that is not necessarily better or worse, just the progress of imagination. The end of the oral tradition weakened our connection to each other. In turn, we connected with machines. Human to human, human to machine, machine to . . . How does the story end?

Give War and Peace a Chance

Read “War and Peace.” Pushing Tolstoy’s novel, what an out-of-date idea to tackle. Who is going to buy this viewpoint?

Reading is fun to me. But telling you that “War and Peace” is fun, may be a step too far. Yet I can’t let go of the belief that reading this book, and many other books, would benefit the humans I see in my community and on the Internet.

I know that respecting a dead (or living) white male writer is unpopular in and of itself. Even worse than reading his writings is probably pushing the more distasteful idea of reading substantively. I know people that shun reading any book. They cannot think of a more horrible activity.

The world runs fast, who has time to read more than a handful of words on a screen. Short, pithy remarks are as far as we go to research a subject. I noticed this years ago when I thought I could do away with my dictionary or thesaurus. I would look up a word online and find quick, simple, incomplete explanations of that word. My old three-volume dictionary went into so much more detail that it came from a different world. A world where an in-depth look at words and ideas mattered.

I started to love reading when I was quite young and the love of my life in third grade read Greek myths. I pursued his interests in reading in order to have him love me. The love of this boy did not last, but the love of reading stuck.

I read even more, because I did not trust my mother. She told me things that sounded false to my young mind. I wandered the shelves of libraries. That’s where I found “The Second Sex” and other feminist literature to teach me alternative views to my mother’s “something horrible happens to girls when they get older.” I discovered the horrible was only natural. I also discovered a feminist viewpoint that suggested that a man without a penis is preferable to a man with one. So I also learned to filter my reading.

The women in “War and Peace” are far more traditional and sentimental than any 1960s feminist. The woman’s place is in the home in Tolstoy’s book. That does not strip them of depth, passion, and ability. They grow and change as they learn more about the world and themselves at every turn in this tumultuous period in history.

Today I’m amazed to see young women around me that forsake promotions in the careers they have forged. They cut back on their hours or stop working for a few years and chose to stay home with their children. A more traditional and sentimental view of themselves than the past fifty years have been teaching them. A young woman doctor I know who graduated in the top 3% of her class, actually said that she won’t pursue a more demanding medical specialty because she doesn’t want the long workdays. She sees herself as the primary caregiver for any children she may have and sees this view as still being the way of the world. A practical and emotional draw to domestic life that has not been severed by modern goalposts.

A quick, tweet-length summary could never define any one character or scene in the book. You need nearly 1,700 pages to get a partial grip on the characters and the story. Rereading may be required. The century I find myself living in relentlessly reduces ideas into flat simplifications. If you can’t fit it into a blog or Facebook post, forget it.

One of the most remarkable bit of writing in “War and Peace,” is the near-death experience of Prince Andrew on the battlefield. Foreshadowing the modern times his world was entering, Prince Andrew became disillusioned with the great leaders he idealized and lost his belief that war brings glory. As I read this part, I felt as if a dreamlike, born-again atheism was let lose on the world as a valid and attractive alternative.

Tolstoy critizes the egos of Napoleon and Alexander. Both French and Russian leaders believe the world revolves around them. But just as the earth had been displaced as the center of the universe, so have the ruling classes. Napoleon and Alexander ultimately have little to do with the overall progress of war and peace. The lowliest member of the army has more to do with the final outcome of the chaos that is war than those on the highest rung of the social order. The military orders that come from the two great leaders are mostly senseless and impossible to carry out. Small unknowns on the battlefield make or break the outcome. The serf triumphs or dies from his own decisions and wins or loses the battle. Tolstoy died just before the Russian revolution and “War and Peace” anticipated the uprising.

Today’s power players in politics and personality must conquer the electronic media. Streaming video, audio, quick bites of words, work on fleeting emotions rather than a depth of thought. The hard work of reading substantive fiction retains what is the best in human.

I agree with George Eliot when she said, “Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot.”

If you limit yourself to social media posts and the mesmerizing bells and whistles of sound and colors appearing across screens, than you are merely a consumer and the consumed. Beware of what you buy into, passive scrolling may be the new opiate of the people. Escape a new servitude; read, read, read.

Read and open a narrative with the author, with yourself and the cumulative ideas already pinging around in your brain. Do not be force-fed gruel. Allow unknown worlds into your brain. Challenge your interpretation, go off on a tangent. Add to your experience, don’t just replicate them. Build upon ideas.

The Internet periodically publishes articles calling for the closure of libraries. The argument is that libraries are archaic, expensive, and unnecessary since the Internet is a superior source of information. I believe the real rebels of the future will be found in the libraries and bookstores where the reading selection is more haphazard and not media-driven. Used bookstores are especially of value, unusual and out-of-print books lurk about there. If everything can be found on a computer, who needs books, buildings, or librarians? But how would you know what is being filtered out of the information found on the screen?

Who needs arms and legs and a way to experience the outside world? (I know I’m missing out on a database eternity.) Why keep your music in a box connected to your head and miss out on listening to all the other music out there? Including the sight and sound of birds, the wind, the insects, the turning of a page.

Launch Defense Mechanism

One-word Prompt: Launch

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/launch/


Gaming addiction

“A word made flesh is seldom”

Flesh on paper — Saved

Lofty Aspirations

Daily Prompt: Lofty

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/lofty/


Know me like a book

Open the paper treasure

Immortality.

 

Is God Natural?

DAILY PROMPT
Doubters Alert
What commonly accepted truth (or “truth”) do you think is wrong, or at least seriously doubt? Why?

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/doubters-alert/

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A walk among nature proves the existence of God. How can you look at the beauty of a tree and doubt the existence of God? Believers espouse that the natural world screams out the fact that only a Creator could lay out a plan so perfect and beautiful. Peek out a window to witness the truth.

I’m a city girl that has no great love of untamed nature. But I do love the little bit of nature in my backyard. If anyone reads my blog, they know that I love the birds and cultivate them with birdseed, nectar, and a clean birdbath. I would rather gaze at the few annuals I plant in my yard than get daily deliveries of fresh flowers from a florist. I don’t care for insects in my house, but I do enjoy viewing their buzzy, crawly activities outside.

Nature has beauty. It does not prove the existence of God.

For this lack of belief, I blame modern times. As a medieval human, I’m sure no doubts would exist in my brain. In particular, I blame two modern strains of thought: existentialism and science fiction.

The play by Sartre, No Exit, squelches any ideas of a cut-and-dried heaven and hell. Perception is changeable, not subject to finite rules.

Earth is our sanctuary. In science fiction, one can find vastly different worlds that suit other life forms or machine forms perfectly well, but are a torment to our eyes. Likewise, our earth can be one huge horror movie to some Others in this universe.

Biting into the apple of modern times puts an end to certainty. I can’t un-see or un-think this point of view. What I love, proves nothing. In turn this tinges everything with sadness. I would prefer a kinder point of view.

China Travel in Four Days

China is evil according to some of the news reports in America. I’m skeptical since agendas abound.

What I do know is that I found another author to read and he is Chinese: Cixin Liu, the award-winning author of The Three Body Trilogy. I just finished the second of the series, “The Dark Forest” and look forward to the translation of the last book in his series next year.

A book on the philosophy of Confucius is the only other book I remember reading from China.

I may have missed the author’s intentions, but here is some stuff I found interesting in his books so far:

History and evolution of communist forces in China. I started reading up on some of the incidents he mentioned.

Technology holds a positive place in the future of mankind. A different spin on the debate between environmentalists and industry. When technology is held hostage by an alien force, the world may be doomed.

Spirituality has a place. Many of the characters in his books are atheists and they wish they had the ability to believe in something. A piece of the puzzle eludes them even if it is only a comforting piece.

Love lends a hand in solving problems for some of the lead characters.

The humanities, the arts clarify reality. They are a useful tool even in a high-tech world.

A frequent refrain in “The Dark Forest” is, “If I destroy you, what business is it of yours?” Despite the harshness, it is something to contemplate. Historical, societal, and personal concerns alter the meaning of this idea.

The firefly refrain: it is everywhere in the book and thought by different characters. I just love the symbolism.

A spaceship named Natural Selection. What a fun, not too subtle reference. All the names of the earth spaceships are interesting to note.

Cixin’s description of nanotechnology, space stairs, and the potential immensity of a photon brings me a bit closer to getting these scientific concepts into my unscientific mind.

I find it harder to separate fact from fiction in the real world. Statistics lie and so does the mutable Internet. I trust well-written, solidly researched books instead. If nothing else, good fiction and non-fiction books start a conversation in my head. Unravel with a book.