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Review | In The First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Image result for in the first circleWe have all read books that aren’t what we expected. My first experience with this oddity was reading Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. I had seen the movie first, so when I went into the book I was shocked to find a completely different story. Yes, there was the same witty humor and feel that the movie presented, but the story was much deeper and more engaging than the movie could ever be (needless to say the book is infinitely better).

These books that defy our expectations can cause countless responses, both good and bad. Often they are unexpectedly more delightful or deeper – as in the case of Ella Enchanted or Entwined by Heather Dixon (which was marketed as a “breathtaking romance” but actually was about more profound familial love and had a fantastically creepy villain who stole the show more than the romance). But these books can also be unexpectedly disappointing.  This seems often the case with overly hyped books as well as the final book in a series.

It is a little rarer to go into a book not knowing what to expect and yet having some expectations and then finding that the book both fulfills and defies these expectations – in fact the author turns the expectations upside-down and suspends them from the ceiling like stars hanging in the night sky. The reader sees their expectations and recognizes them, but doesn’t quite know what to make of them anymore.

Such was the case when I was reading In the First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I approached this book with the expectation of an engaging, but slow-moving masterpiece of intrigue and subterfuge. Instead, I was confronted with an imprisonment, various philosophies on humanity, truth, and life, and the soul-crushing everyday life of various people living behind the iron curtain. Yes, a masterpiece still, but the first half of the book I spent confused staring up at the stars of my expectations.

Yes – there was intrigue, but the intrigue was turned inwardly on itself. A rat chasing its own tail as the government slowly began to eat its own people and itself. There was subterfuge, but it was less about making an atomic bomb (or preventing it) and more about the quiet subterfuge we use on ourselves and others in everyday interactions. It was engaging but not through presenting exciting material, instead it was engaging through boring me to the point where I finally slowed down enough and actually engaged with the lives of the prisoners. Then my mind was able to connect and engage in the devastating every days of prison life and the simple pleasures and entertainments that these prisoners eked out of their existence.

No, it is a not a book of our time. It is not a book that “I couldn’t put down” that “ I read in one sitting” that “Everyone needs to read now.” I do think everyone needs to read it, but I believe a lot of people won’t be able to get through it. I am not saying this from a place where I think I am better than others for finishing it. I am no better; I thought many times about skipping to the end or just giving up and I skimmed through many passages. I made it through much of the book by sheer willpower and the rest because I was able to suspend my expectations and slowly realize the truth of this masterpiece.

To finish this work it took patience and dedication; a removal from the instant fulfillment culture of today. Everything in it was the very antithesis of instant gratification, the writing, the subject, even the philosophy on life that was presented. This was the point in fact, and one as necessary in capitalist U.S.A. as in the U.S.S.R. Solzhenitsyn writes:

“Satiety depends not at all on how much we eat, but on how we eat. It’s the same with happiness, the very same…happiness doesn’t depend on how many external blessings we have snatched from life. It depends only on our attitude toward them. There’s a saying about it in the Taoist ethic: ‘Whoever is capable of contentment will always be satisfied.”

This was my expectations turned upside-down, this tiny, bright star that encompassed but surpassed what I had expected. This book was not about exaggerated consumption, stuffing yourself until you can’t eat anymore. It was a long book not to stuff the reader to bursting, but instead to draw them to a place where amount mattered little when compared to the quality of reading and writing. Once I got to this place I was able to engage with the book deeply and beyond enjoying my reading experience I learned from it and discovered profound truths in seemingly unimportant scenes.

 

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Review: Human Acts by Han Kang

34964181Haunting.

This book is a haunting.

It challenges in the most demanding way possible, that the reader consider humanity. Not just philosophies or theories about humanity, but also the little moments that define who we are to ourselves and each other.

It forces the reader to acknowledge the violence so often enacted on people’s humanity.

It requires a response. As the New York Times review so aptly put it:

“What is humanity?” the book asks. “What do we have to do to keep humanity as one thing and not another?” This question made me rethink — and retranslate — the Korean greeting, and realize how hasehyo could be taken as a more forceful verb, insinuating a command. Instead of “Are you at peace?”, it could also be, “Are you doing peace?” Or “Are you practicing peace?” As in, peace comes not with passivity but with participation. As in, peace requires action, just like violence. And only now do I see yet another aspect of the novel’s English title: “Human Acts,” the tacit verb suggesting that, in the end, perhaps our actions are what matter.

Am I practicing peace?

That question reverberated in my mind every time I put this book down. It is a question that lingers now that I have finished. I believe it is a question that will continue to pester me until I find some kind of answer.

While the book gave no clear answers to this question – only offered a rich, kaleidoscopic view of human life. It gave tears – both mine and the writer’s – and it gave glimpses of joy; but mostly it expanded slim definitions of who a person is and asked the reader to contemplate the secret lives of those around us.

Having Fun with the ABC Book Tag

I had planned to write the second installment for my writing tips series….however, after a work party yesterday I’m hungover and miserable today.

Also…just in general my brain is a bit fried this week. I am emotionally, mentally, and physically worn out. So instead of wracking my mind to come up with some clever or insightful post, I thought I would do a book tag. It’s light-hearted, fun, minimal effort….everything I need to get myself through the week.

Image result for book pictures

This book tag — well more of a book survey — originated at The Perpetual Page-Turner. This was the perfect tag for my worn out brain, practically created for just this situation. As she even writes, ” Feel free to join me. . . if you are feeling like you want to let down your metaphorical blogging hair and do something silly to relieve some pressure off your blogging shoulder. . . .”

So, here goes. . . (more…)

Pier Walks

Silence was a prison no more
Noise no longer chaos
Conversation held no power
When a gentle effervescent space blossomed

Around Hobbesian anarchy reigned
Horns honked, demanding the right to occupy space not their own
Trash piled on corners and in crevices
Reminders that decay would approach

But within. . . within
A simple kiss was all – forming a new contract
Releasing from the heavy dictates of mortal codes
As silence swarmed around, resisting

Aimless wandering in the quiet
But, the quiet is better with you

Fragment: Scarlet

Eyeballs with lids peeled back

Thoughtfully wander across the room.

Blue, Brown, Grey, Green, every-

One rests staring at me.

 

I’ve been caught!

Red handed — literally!

A saw covered in sticky platelets,

My soul laid out like that guilty Plantagenet for all to see and condemn.

 

My own eyes turned downward at the ragged stumps–

Where my legs once were–

Now just sharp bone, tangled

Veins and crimson.

 

Questions begin to erupt like magma.

Coming to the surface, turning into destruction and lava,

Lascivious commentary.

Crude descriptions of this madness.

 

But I merely sat,

The pain numbing into complacency

Because —  just for a moment —

I was freed from the tyranny of thought.

Guilty Confessions: 17 Books I Should Have Read

Image result for the name of the rose by umberto ecoI always have a long list of books to read, whether they are books on my bookshelf already or one of the dozens of books recommended by friends, family, professors, random people on the street… the list seems to go on and on.

And choosing which books to read and when is not always an easy decision. Do I want to read something short or long? Fiction or non-fiction? Old or new? There are so many options it can be a task in itself to choose just one.

This act of choosing which books to read also means that there have been many books that have been left unread. Books that as a self-professed reader and lover of books and especially as an English major pursuing a Masters in publishing, I’m embarrassed to admit I have not read.

Now, this year I have made some headway towards correcting these oversights. I finally read Lolita and Rebecca; Atlas Shrugged and Outliers: The Story of Success; The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and Americana by Don DeLillo.

However, for every book that I check off my list, I’m left with dozens more still to go. So, now that we are over halfway through the year and as I am assessing my reading goal and beginning to plan out books for the remainder of the year, here is a list of 17 books (in honor of today’s date) that I am embarrassed to admit I haven’t yet read!

17 Books I’m Embarrassed I Haven’t Read

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A guide to manipulating people to obey you – or a simple explanation of “Orwellian”

This may be a little choppy, my time for writing was short, but I really wanted to share this video!


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I’ve long appreciated dystopian novels, from the famous Hunger Games trilogy and 1984 to the less well known Genesis by Bernard Beckett. Throughout my youth and adult life I have gobbled up many dystopian novels.

While not all the dystopias I read were successfully written or smartly imagined, one common theme that slinked through most was that of language manipulation. Language can be used as a mechanism for control – through rewriting history and propaganda it can be used to manipulate people’s thoughts.

 

 

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Froggy Memories

The frog — startled by my presence — skipped across the surface of the pond before diving into its safe abyss. My mind tripped as well, following him momentarily into the comforting depths of memory. Flickering momentarily to a childhood spent in stealth and frog traps. Time smeared back to those innocent days, free of humid worry and heavy doubts.

Common frog (Rana temporaria):

Books, Books Everywhere!

"Please, sir, there are enough books for everyone. You don't have to run." | http://writersrelief.com: Good morning on this wonderful Monday morning (I know — wonderful and Monday seem like  an oxymoron don’t they?). I know I haven’t posted much during and since my trip to London, so I thought I’d merely give an update on the books I’ve gotten during this time (which have been many.)

And yes, the British Library was most incredible.

While in London — despite visiting many bookstores and spending hours browsing and burdening my very patient boyfriend with dozens of books — I only brought back three books (damn you luggage restrictions!). One of those books was for a friend and I’ve already given it to her, but the two I got for myself make me very excited. (more…)