Book Review: Jack Kerouac on the road

995913_287180518092984_739780354_nThis was an incredible work of fiction.

The book is based upon some of the author’s own experiences as he traveled across America after WW2. It was first published in 1957.

I think I’ve found my favorite author. I’ve never read a book that hits the highs and lows like Kerouac has in this book. There were such amazing insights into the human mind and human experience. These were a couple of my favorite quotes:

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones were mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars in the middle you see the blue center like popping everybody goes ‘Awww!’

For life is holy and every moment is precious

Isn’t it true that you start your life a sweet child believing in everything under your father’s roof? Then comes the day of the laodiceans, when you know you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, and with the visage of a gruesome grieving ghost you go shuddering through nightmare life.

Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?

He was beat – the root, the soul of Beatific

But they need to worry and betray time with urgencies false and otherwise, purely anxious and whiny, their souls really won’t be at peace unless they can latch on to an established and proven worry and having once found it they assume facial expressions to fit and go with it which is, you see, unhappiness, and all the time it all flies by them and they know it and that too worries them no end.

Anonymity in the world of men is better than fame in heaven, for what’s heaven? What’s earth? All in the mind.

The main character is a man named Sal Paradise, and Sal is on the move. He travels across the country, from New York to San Francisco, several times throughout the book. You get a real feel for Sal’s life and his search for something more, something meaningful, or exciting, but not in a superficial way, like extreme motocross, but in an extremely human way, a connection to life that many never experience while working through the doldrums of Americanism.

Sal (Jack Kerouac) experienced life on his own terms, and he wrote about it. It’s a captivating read.

The only thing I found a little unfortunate was this: the culmination of all Sal’s wants and desires was the freedom to pursue his most base instincts. He was able to do so in Mexico. There, he could smoke weed with impunity, because they grew it out in the open. He could have sex with the under 18 prostitutes while the cops kept guard in front of the brothel. He would get stoned for days and be lost in his own mind. This is happiness? This is what he was searching for his entire life? After experiencing the war, the superficiality of life in America, and this is what he so badly wanted?

It seems hopelessly base. Like the real meaning to all life and the real, sublime desires that the ‘man’ stops us from enjoying through oppressive culture and law can ultimately be found in the desert shangri-la: Las Vegas. That’s it. That’s this man’s heaven. To smoke weed with impunity, have sex with underage prostitutes, and not have any responsibilities put on him. That’s heaven.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the book is a masterpiece, but can’t we do better as a society? Can’t we find a greater, more noble meaning in life than this? Can’t we??

I sure as hell hope so.

To Kill a Mockingbird – book review

Photo (19)I’ve always wanted to read this book. It’s part of my 40 books I should have read in high school,  but didn’t. I’m glad I read it, because it’s a great book.

The book takes place during the Great Depression, in 1933, in a fictional town called Maycomb, Alabama.

To kill a mockingbird is a sin. It’s a sin, according to the book, because the Mockingbird doesn’t harm anyone; it just sings all day.

So who was the Mockingbird in the book? The answer to that question is Boo Radley. Boo was also peaceful, like the mockingbird, and when Boo helped Jem and Scout fend off their attacker by killing him, the Sheriff didn’t want to put Boo on trial, because it would be a sin, like killing a Mockingbird. He didn’t want to put him on trial because of Boo’s reclusive nature, being a shut-in his house for most of his life would cause great harm to Boo.

“Atticus said to Jem one day I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the Blue Jays you want if you can hit them try to remember it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird

And then at the end of the book, Scout was talking to her father, Atticus, about putting Boo Radley on trial for the murder of Mr. Ewell:

“Atticus looked like he needed cheering up. I ran to him and hugged him and kissed him with all my might. ‘Yes sir, I understand,’ I reassured him. ‘Mr. Tate was right.”

Atticus disengaged himself and looked at me. “What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?”

This poses and existential threat to Atticus, who never did anything in his house he wouldn’t do in the street. He wasn’t going to hide the event, even if it was for a good cause, because he couldn’t live with himself if he did. The book has a running theme of living according to your own conscience:

“Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a persons conscience.”

This was the main reason Atticus took up the obligation and duty to defend Tom Robinson, a ‘Negro’ that was being charged with raping a white woman.

“This case, Tom Robinsons case, is something that goes to the essence of a mans conscience – scout, I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man.”

Even though Atticus thought the chances that a Tom would be acquitted of the charges, he was going to defend him to the best of his abilities anyway. This gets to the heart of one of the great themes of this book: courage. According to Atticus, courage is to continue even when you know you’ll most likely lose.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

The book really delivers in exploring these deeper human values of courage, and then using courage to live according to your own conscience, even when everyone else is turning on you. In that regard, it was an excellent book, that framed these broader human values into the context of a small Alabama town during a trial between two different ethnic groups.

More Review on the book

The story is told from the point of view of Scout, a girl in the 1st grade that can already read and write. She has a brother, Jem (short for Jeremy), and their dad, Atticus. For some reason, the kids don’t call their father ‘Dad’, but they call him by his first name, Atticus. Such memorable names: Scout, Atticus, and Jem. I can’t help but think of the 80s ‘Jem‘ whenever I read his name.

I really enjoyed the historical placement of the book. Studying the Great Depression has been a quasi-hobby for me, because there’s so much that parallels our own economic times.

Scout and Jem grow up next to a reclusive neighborhood family, the Radleys, who according to another neighbor, belong to the foot-washing Baptists, meaning they take a literal view of the bible and don’t like to do anything that contradicts their understanding of the bible. Thus, they stay indoors all day and read their bible, or something like that.

The Radleys are a constant source of trouble for the young kids who can’t resist tempting fate and try to interact with the reclusive family in a series of daring events to somehow bring out the Radleys of their home and converse with them.

You do get a good sense of the life struggles of those in the small town. There’s a family, the Cunninghams, who can’t afford to give their child lunch for school due to their economic hardships during the Depression, and yet they won’t take any handouts that they can’t repay.

“The Cunningham’s never took anything they can’t pay back no church baskets in the scrip stamps can never took anything off of anybody they get along on what they have. They don’t have much but they get along on it.”

This again hits on the theme of courage and living according to your own conscience.

The social-political themes from the book:

I really enjoy reading the sub-text of a book, i.e., what will it mean for the young minds of people reading this? You have an interesting myth created from this historical fiction. The town isn’t real, neither are the characters, but the authors creates such a powerful myth that sets up the righteous indignation of future liberals for years to come. The book was written in 1960, a time of great social justice, to use their term, where different race groups were trying to find a balance of power that hadn’t existed there-to-fore.

With the trial of Tom Robinson, the powerful injustice myth was sealed into the memories of any young liberal mind that felt profound empathy for the innocent Tom, who was later shot to death trying to escape the system after being falsely convicted.

Thus, the real story is the inability of one race to gain equality in life and in the court of law, regardless of their actual innocence or guilt (and they’re never really guilty, are they?) This enables the reader to fill themselves full of righteous indignation towards the oppressive class, a freedom fighter, if you will, for the oppressed minorities.

From the book, it’s obvious that all oppressed minorities are then innocent of the crimes they commit and are only being tried, and found guilty, because of the pre-existing prejudices of the oppressive class. This injustice creates the moral crusaders who will fight for the fictitious Tom Robinson.

The young liberal mind thus takes on the struggle of Tom and his class and seeks for ‘social justice’ everywhere.

I’m not saying the myth is wrong or right, just how interesting the fictitious story creates a new mental model formed into the minds of young, impressionable readers, for good or bad.

I thought it was an excellent book, not only with real, human emotions and values, but also a very easy read, like the pages kept turning themselves.

40 classic literature books I should have read in school

It wasn’t until I read this list of 40 classic literature books that I started to think that this could be something possible for me to do. When I went to high school many moons ago, I don’t think I read one book. For some odd reason, that was almost an accomplishment? I think it was some type of passive agressive rebellion for the nearly insane asylum atmosphere that was ‘school’. I’m not going to get into it, because who wants to read another cliche story about the shortcomings of public education. Maybe another billionaire can finally, finally fix the system, man!

Instead of tying reading with academic education, I’ve gone a different route and enjoy reading for the pleasurable life experience that it is, and that is it.

Reading is not a pursuit to get me somewhere; it’s not to help me out one day, someday, in the never present distant future. It’s not any of that. It’s simply enjoying a good book for today, because it feels so damn good to read such beautiful writing. 

With that said, I decided to take the challenge and read these books. I’ve already read a couple of them, but I figure if I write them down in a list, I’ll be more inclined to finish the list. 

Image

1. Catcher in the Rye 

 

Reading Schedule

Here is my reading schedule and upcoming blog posts for the next few weeks. Reading is something so enjoyable to me it’s hard to describe. I’m always trying to finish the book I start, but I think I love the idea of reading sometimes more than reading itself. Each new book brings new insights and new understanding. I get a high from the ideas. I love how it changes my thought patterns, and it places me outside of my current thinking. I really want to finish my 40 classic literature books list, but sometimes you just have to go where the wind takes you.

Here’s what I’m reading today and for the next few weeks:

1. St Augustine’s Confessions: 300 pages
2. Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Meditations: 122 pages
3. Seneca: 230 pages
4. Epictetus Enchiridion: 56 pages
5. Chronicles of the Crusades: 336 pages

total pages: 1,044 pages. At 25 pages a day with 4 books reading in one day, that should take me about 10 to 11 days from now, which would put me at June 3rd to be finished with these books. That’s the plan, now let’s see if I can stick to it 🙂

New Book: Marcus Aurelius Meditations

Image

Once upon a time, there was a baby boy named Marcus Aurelius who was born in Rome in the year 121 AD. His father died when young Marcus was but 3 years old. He was adopted by his Uncle, Antoninus. Later in life, Marcus became the Roman Emperor. He fought invading hordes of Germanic armies, and he held his Empire together during times of great famine and plague. Even though he ruled an empire, he also loved to think and ponder about life. He loved to think about the deeper questions, and it just so happened that he wrote down these questions on paper. The book I have in my hand is the writings of this person that died over 1800 years ago. Marcus never intended to publish these meditations; they were simply for himself to reflect on the deeper questions of life. And now we have his thoughts that we can read for ourselves. What a treat!

Here’s some of my favorite writings so far:

“Nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him. We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work in opposition to one another is against nature.”

“Every hour of the day give vigorous attention…to the performance of the task in hand with precise analysis, with unaffected dignity, with human sympathy, with dispassionate justice – and to vacating your mind from all its other thoughts. And you will achieve this vacation if you perform each action as if it were the last of your life: freed, that is, from all lack of aim, from all passion-led deviation from the ordinance of reason, from pretense  from love of self, from dissatisfaction with what fate has dealt you.” page 11

“You may leave this life at any moment. : have this possibility in your mind in all that you do or say or think. Now departure from the world of men is nothing to fear, if gods exist: because they would not involve you in any harm. If they do not exist, or if they have no care for humankind, then what is life to me in a world devoid of gods, or devoid of providence? But they do exist, and they do care for humankind: and they have put it absolutely in man’s power to avoid falling into the true kinds of harm.” page 13

“No one can lose the past or the future – how could anyone be deprived of what he does not possess?”

“Alexander, Pompey, Julius Caesar annihilated whole cities time after time, and slaughtered tens of thousands of horse and foot in the field of battle, and yet the moment came for them too to depart this life. ” page 18

“Train yourself to think only those thoughts such that in answer to the sudden question ‘What is in your mind now?’ page 18

“Let the god that is within you be the champion of the being you are – a male, mature in years, a statesman, a Roman, a ruler” – 19

“No retreat offers someone more quiet and relaxation than that into his own mind, especially if he can dip into thoughts there which put him immediate and complete ease: and by ease, I simply mean a well-ordered life. So constantly give yourself this retreat and renew yourself.” – 23

“Things cannot touch the mind: they are external and inert; anxieties can only come from your internal judgement.” – 24

“Remove the judgement, and you have removed the thought ‘I am hurt’: remove the thought ‘I am hurt’, and the hurt itself is removed.” – 25

The Confessions of St. Augustine – a book review

Image

St. Augustine Confession’s is a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while now. Ever since I read that Francesco Petrarch, a personal hero of mine, would carry the Confessions in his pocket with him his entire life, I wanted to read this book. St. Augustine also marks a philosophical transition from the Roman religion to the Christian religion. Christianity did not become the official state religion of Rome until 380 AD.

He wrote the Confessions in 397 AD. He was 43 years old. He died in 430 AD, at 76 years old, at the hand of the Vandals, a Germanic tribe, at Hippo, which is in present day Algeria.

The book begins by Augustine’s own testimony on what he has written in his book:

“This work begins thus: “Great art thou, O Lord.”

The book itself reads a bit dense. I don’t know if that’s the right word, but it seemed that in talking about God, Augustine would cover all the bases:

“For who is Lord by the Lord himself, or who is God besides our God? Most high, most excellent, most potent, most omnipotent; most merciful and most just;  most secret and most truly present; most beautiful and most strong; stable, yet not supported; unchangeable, yet changing all things; never new, never old; making all things new, yet brining old age upon the proud, and they know it not…”

I get it. God is great. Reeeeallly Great. It reminded me of some of the Nicene Creeds and at the First Council of Constantinople in 360 AD:

“We believe in one God the Father Almighty, of whom are all things. And in the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of God before all ages, and before every beginning; through whom all things visible and invisible were made: who is the only-begotten born of the Father, the only of the only, God of God, like to the Father who begat him, according to the Scriptures, and whose generation no one knows but the Father only that begat him. We know that this only-begotten Son of God, as sent of the Father”

One line I thought was interesting on page 9 as Augustine was first learning to pray to God:

“I observed men praying to thee, and I learned from them to conceive thee – after my capacity for understanding as it was then – to be some great Being, who, though not visible to our senses, was able to hear and help us. Thus as a boy I began to pray to thee, my Help and my Refuge, and, in calling on thee, broke the bands of my tongue. Small as I was, I prayed with no slight earnestness that I might not be beaten at school.

No, he wasn’t talking about bullies; he was talking about his teachers! It wasn’t that long ago, even in America, the Principals could spank students. Why in fact, my very own grandfather was a principal for most of his career, and he would hang a wooden paddle above his desk. The paddle had holes in it so he could swing it faster when he spanked the kids. Good times!

Thursday, Day 2 of reading:
It’s interesting to read about St. Augustine’s education. I’m really into studying ancient education, and he has some gems from his early educational life:

“But what were the causes for my strong dislike of Greek literature, which I studied from my boyhood? Even to this day I have not fully understood them. For Latin I loved exceedingly – not just the rudiments, but what the grammarians teach. For those beginner’s lessons in reading, writing, and reckoning, I considered no less a burden and pain than Greek.” – page 12

After describing the beatings he took at the hands of his teachers, he gives quite an insight into the education of people:

“From this it is sufficiently clear that a free curiosity is more effective in learning than a discipline based on fear.”

I thought this was written really well about human nature, even in childhood, can seek for pre-eminence:

“I often sought dishonest victories, being myself conquered by the vain desire for pre-eminence. And what was I so unwilling to endure, and what was it that I censured so violently when I caught anyone, except the very things I did to others? And, when I was myself detected and censured, I preferred to quarrel rather than to yield. Is this the innocence of childhood? It is not, O Lord, it is not…these same sins as we grow older are transferred from tutors and masters; they pass from nuts and balls and sparrows, to magistrates and kings, to gold and lands and slaves.”

And then on page 22:

“To whom am I narrating all this? Not to thee, O my God, but…to that small part of the human race who may chance to come upon these writings.”

on page 25, St. Augustine recounts his experience of stealing a bucket full of pears. What’s interesting is not that he made mistakes as a youth, he was only 16, but the honesty in which he portrays his love of the evil deed itself. His honesty shows a darker side than mere error; he loved the error, he loved the shame. He was corrupted.

“Late on night…a group of young scoundrels, and I among them, went to sake and rob this tree. We carried off a huge load of pears, not to eat ourselves, but to dump ou to the hogs, after barely tasting some of them ourselves. Doing this pleased us all the more because it was forbidden. Such was my heart, O God, such was my heart — which thou didst pity eve in that bottomless pit. Behold, now let my heart fondness to thee what it was seeking there, when I was being gratuitously wanton, having no inducement to evil but the evil itself. It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own undoing. I loved my error – not that for which I erred but the error itself. A depraved soul, falling away from security in thee to destruction in itself, seeking nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself.

I’m liking this book more and more. In order to make progress on my books, I’m going to read 25 pages in each of the books I want to read, per day. Then I can read 100 pages in 4 days.

More book review coming soon…

St. Augustine painted in 1430

St. Augustine painted in 1430

Chronicles of the Crusades

Joinville and Villehardouin – chronicles of the crusades

I decided that every minute I spend surfing the web is a minute I lose reading good books, so I’m making a challenge for myself that every time I feel like surfing, I read instead. So far so good.

This book, Chronicles of the Crusades, happens to be the actual words from crusaders themselves in 1200 AD! Fun, that! I always try to read primary source documents whenever I study history, because it saves me from the banality of modernist interpretation, which is all wonky and hubristic, mine included.

“All those who would take the cross and serve God for a year in the army would be free from all the sins they had committed and confessed. People’s hearts were greatly moved because the indulgence was so generous, and many of them took the cross because of this.” – page 5

When speaking to the doge of Venice, the doge said this to the French Baron envoys that wanted the Venetians to make boats available to the French to capture Constantinople from the Muslims:

“We will build horse transports to carry 4,500 horses and 9,000 squires, with 4,5000 knights and 20,000 foot sergeants travelling in ships.”

To pay an advance, the envoys borrowed 2,000 marks of silver. Yes, there were banks in ancient Venice! A mark was roughly 8 ounces of silver, so in today’s prices, that would be roughly $350,000 in today’s money. “The total cost of what has just been outlined would amount to 94,000 marks” – page 9 Today, 94,000 marks would be about $17,000,000.

“With the agreement and approval of the other envoys, Geoffrey of Villehardouin…announced their intentions and said, ‘My lords, the most eminent and powerful barons of France have sent us to you, and they beg you to take pity on Jerusalem, which is enslaved by the Turks, and to be willing, for God’s sake, to join them in avenging Jesus Christ’s dishonor.” – page 10