The FoL Book Haul…

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As promised, here is the haul from the Friends of the Library (FoL) book sale the other day:

  • African-American Fiction 2010 – Nikki Giovanni (editor)
  • Famous American Plays of the 1940’s – Henry Hewes (ed) (plays)
  • Lottery – Patricia Wood (F)
  • Travelers’ Tales: A Women’s World – Mary Beth Bond (ed) (Travel NF)
  • Plan B – Jonathon Tropper (F)
  • Story-Wallah: Short Fiction from South Asian Writers – Shyam Selvadurai (ed)
  • Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why – Laurence Gonzales
  • Disease: The Extraordinary Stories Behind History’s Deadliest Killers – Mary Dobson

As to which one will make the cut to be the first choice to read, the jury’s still out but I’m thinking the African-American Fiction collection edited by Nikki Giovanni.

A Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl (1946)

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“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” — Nietzsche

So, I finally picked up “Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy,” Viktor Frankl’s mesmerizing autobiography about his time and thoughts when he was captured as a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz, one of the most notorious concentration camps in Germany during WWII. I’d been meaning to get to this for a very long time, but I felt that I needed to psych myself up to read it as I know it was not going to be an easy time. Now I’ve finished it and reflect back on the experience, it was a tough read in both the subject matter and also the philosophical discussion that is in the second half of the book, but it was hard mainly because it was true – that people had treated each other in this manner. What. The…. ?

Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) was a psychiatrist and neurologist living in Vienna during the 1930’s when Hitler came to power and instigated the horrendous concentration camps that tortured and killed millions of Jewish people at the time. It’s a time that I find incredibly hard to understand as it’s so completely removed from anything that I would choose to do (I hope), that there seems so little overlap between the life I choose to lead and the lives of the people who ran these camps. It’s easy to judge over time and distance, but I hope to god that I would have tried to stop this whole genocide if I’d had the chance, but who’s to know? The human condition is a strange one at times.

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Back to the book: it’s basically a book in two parts, the first part detailing the three years of his life (and those of others) when Dr. Frankl was picked up and sent to Auschwitz, and then the second half which is more of a philosophical discussion of how he made sense of the whole ordeal and came up with his school of treatment called logotherapy.

It’s an intense read, and if you’re feeling remotely sorry for yourself when you start to read this, I can almost guarantee that you will have your perspective shifted by the time you finish it. How could one compare the minor trials of life today with the lives of these prisoners who had *nothing*? Literally nothing.

It’s not an easy read, but how could it be when one considers that topic matter? What’s amazing is that anyone survived long enough to walk out of the camps when the final day of freedom arrived. (You’ll need to read Frankl’s description of how some of the prisoners reacted when the gates of the camp were first opened…. It’s incredibly powerful to read.)

So, Frankl discusses his ideas on the meaning of life for himself and others, and concludes that life has meaning to be found in every moment of living and that it never ceases to have meaning, even when one is suffering profoundly. This is the concept of “tragic optimism” — that no matter how terrible life can be, it only ceases to have meaning when there is no hope for change in the future. Once the hope is gone, then life is over – that love is the ultimate and highest goal that (hu)man can aspire to.

To me, the book seems to be about the importance of deriving meaning from suffering – that one suffers only so that you should learn from it to be a better person and if one loses sight of that goal, then one is doomed. If one feels a sense of control over one’s environment, then you will fare better than those who are physically strong but do not have that sense, and the existential angst that people may feel at some point in their lives is due to the lack of personal agency they may feel in their lives.

I’m not sure. It’s hard to write about this clearly without babbling and sinking into a morass of blather, but it seems to me that perhaps the key to a good life is to serve others. If one looks outside oneself to help someone else, therein lies the meaning of life.

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances—to choose one’s own way.

I urge you to read this for yourself and to draw your own conclusions. My vague personal ones are above, but I think this book is too important for you to try and draw your conclusions from my version of things. It’s a hard book, yes, but it’s an extremely important book and frequently in the top ten lists of influential books for people. It’s an astonishing read. Don’t miss it.

 

 

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 126

 

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Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 126: New potato.

Background Note: Cowboy is one of our cats who showed up out of the blue one snowy January day five years ago. Since then, she has made us her Forever Home (which works with us). She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level) and she eats a lot.

 

All of these points are helpful with this project that I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

 

Catching Up…

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Well, another weekend slips by the goalie…

It was a good one, though, with a really enjoyable blend of friends and solo time and hanging out in general.

Friday, I took the afternoon off to spend some time at the annual FoL book sale which was really fun. I do this each fall when the group has their biggest sale, and so I just puttered around the basement of the library exploring their shelves and seeing what little gems I could uncover. This year, I spent most of my time looking through the shelves of non-fiction more than fiction (mainly because I had lost my list of book authors (thanks to the new iphone update) and so couldn’t actually remember anyone’s name that I had thought I would be interested in. Sigh.)

So, instead, I roamed around the non-fictions and the short story and drama shelves quite a bit and picked up some interesting titles there. I have a pic for you (along with the list of titles), but that will have to wait for another day. However, I do think it’s a good stack for future reading choices and I’m thinking about which title to start with… Anyway, more to come.

It was a strangely cool weekend for here in Texas (“cool” being quite relative: it was 70’s instead of 90’s) and I even broke out my favorite jumper (sweater) from winter storage. I *adore* cooler temperatures, and so with the falling temperatures happening close to the first day of autumn (last Thursday in the U.S.), this was a big treat for me. More to come, I’m sure…

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A friend called up and invited me to see the latest Bridget Jones movies (“Bridget Jones’ Baby”) which was wickedly funny in places, some of which went unacknowledged by most of the West Texas audience (i.e. I was the only one guffawing at some of the English-based jokes), but it was a fun way to spend the afternoon. If you’ve enjoyed the other Bridget Jones movies, then you’ll probably enjoy this one. More of the same, really, except the titular character is a bit older now. (Aren’t we all, I might ask in a rather sage tone of voice.)

We went over to our friends’ house for some tasty veggie lasagna and home-made bread (nom nom nom), and ended up having great conversation for the rest of the evening – one of our favorite ways to spend time, I think. Volunteered at a local triathlon (which is always really good fun although not a big fan of getting up that early really). I used to do marathons and triathlons, and appreciate that most of the logistics are handled by volunteers, so this is one of my ways of giving back to the local community.

And then holding my breath with the upcoming Presidential Debates tonight. I’m all out for Clinton (because how could you be the alternative, really?), and I’m always making sure that my younger college friends know how to register and vote. This election is going to be all about the numbers, more so than other years, and I changed my whole citizenship (from UK to US) just so I could vote, so obvs very important to me. I hope it is to you as well (if you’re in the US), and that you’re helping your young friends get registered and understand the voting process (however you’re choosing to vote).

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I’m also getting pretty psyched to think about our upcoming visit to England to see friends and family over there. Trawling around the net (as one does), I came across the info that if you’re a UK citizen* (comme moi), you can ask your local MP (Member of Parliament) for a special behind-the-scenes tour of the Houses of Parliament.

As I’ve never actually been there, I thought it would be fun and so contacted my MP who has come through and got us one of these special tours. (My mum is a constituent in his district, so I just hopefully sent his office an email a couple of weeks ago asking for the tour availability.) I have no idea what to expect, but it should be interesting all the same. Other items on the list of things to do in London are hang out with my big bro and his family, go to a play (DH is in charge of that), and then also have dinner with our favorite Uncle Peter and visit the Royal Mews. And no doubt there will be a visit to a bookshop or two.🙂

And so it’s now back to Monday. Finished up a couple of books over the weekend, so reviews to come. Meanwhile, it’s autumn in West Texas, it’s below 90 degrees outside, and things are fabulous. I hope they are fabulous wherever you happen to live as well.

  • Yes, I know that I just said that I had changed my national citizenship from UK to US, but what that really means is that I added the U.S. citizenship without having to renounce the UK one. (That would have been pretty hard for me to do, even at this point in the game.) Even though the US only recognizes one citizenship at a time (i.e. one can only use one passport at a time), I still get to stay British/English (and in British official circles) at the same time as holding a US passport. Thus, I actually have two passports for the two separate countries, and I’m still a British citizen (in British official eyes). To American officials, I’m only American, but unless I travel down to Houston (where the nearest UK Embassy is) and renounce my citizenship, I get to keep the British one. See? Clear as mud.

All Involved – Ryan Gattis (2015)

book387All Involved is a far-ranging novel that explores the aftermath of the 1992 LA riots that occurred right after the end of the trial for the police officers who were involved in the beating of Rodney King. In 1992, I’d just finished graduate school and was very busy working my little heart out at an all-consuming job, so I remember this but not in very great detail. However, I do remember the six days of rioting in LA when the streets in South Central were in a state of chaos day and night with law enforcement struggling to regain control. Additionally, with the emergence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, this seems pretty recent and relevant history even though it was actually 24 years ago. (Huh. Most college students weren’t even born then so it must seem pretty Olden Days to them.)

Anyway, this novel weaves and interweaves (and then weaves again) the many disparate characters whose lives were impacted by the riots in some way. There are representatives from both sides of the law – the lawless and the enforcers – and each chapter sees the events through the PoV of that character. You have to keep your wits about you, and it’s ambitious, but if you don’t daydream (a la me) you’ll probably be fine. (I might suggest a diagram at the back of the book for reference as it can get a mite confusing at times. The glossary was a good tool though.)

So as the story progresses, the reader sees the events play out through the eyes of various gang members, through a firefighter, through a nurse (receiving the injured at the ER), and through the friends and other contacts of these characters. It’s well done, and I found it drew me in and had me reacting in the immediate present as the riots built up to a crescendo and then wore out. It’s quite the ride, and I enjoyed it.

The only thing that niggled me was that Gattis is a white guy, but he wrote through the eyes of several people of color (POC), and I’m just not comfortable with that. How can a white privileged guy know what it’s like (really like) to be a socio-economically disadvantaged gang member in East LA? To the author’s credit, he does acknowledge having talked to numerous sources to get their experiences, but really, at the end of the day, I think it’s a tad awkward for someone in his position to pretend to “know” what life is like for someone from a very different background. And it’s not just one character, either. It’s character after character, which just seemed to be a large assumption on his part. However, is this the perspective of a similarly privileged white woman who might be over-sensitive about the issue? It just seems that it’s presumptive to write through the eyes of someone of a different race when the whole incident around which the plot revolves is a racial issue (which the Rodney King riots all boiled to in the end).

But then again, it is classified as fiction and I’m not grumping about anyone writing as a vampire when they clearly haven’t ever lived their life as a vampire. I’m not sure. I just think it’s a little insensitive (for a white man) to co-opt Latin@ and African American characters at a time when race is such the hot-button issue that it is right now. What would you think?

But – good read all the same. Various reviewers on Goodreads have compared it to the TV series The Wire, but I think that that was a much stronger end product than this.

General Catch Up Time…

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And another Monday rolls around… This week looks a bit busy at work, but I’m planning on keeping strong boundaries between the office and home life so that I can have… you know… a home life.🙂

disgraced_playThe weekend was fun as we went to a local play by the Hub Theatre Group. Called Disgraced, the play covers a lot of current affairs issues included Islamophobia and the huge question of identity. It was a really good presentation of some very complicated issues and although timely, was not too much in “in your face” to make the point. The director had also arranged for an inter-faith panel for audience discussion after the show which was really interesting. The only sad thing was that the people who I wish could listen to such a conversation weren’t there. However, the points raised were still important so I really enjoyed it.

If you ever get the chance to see this play (or any other local theater production), I recommend going. It’s a great way to support the arts in your local community, and generally speaking, the local actors will be acting their hearts out…

deadpool

We also saw a different kind of acting (but still acting all the same) when we watched the hilariously bad (as in naughty) Deadpool. (Be warned it’s a bit rough around the edges, humor-wise, but it’s the sort of film like passing a car wreck – you know you shouldn’t be watching but difficult to take your eyes off it all the same. Loads of fast wit flying around (along with expletives), but if you know that going in, you’ll be fine. :-)) Be also warned that you may want to listen to Wham after this movie. (I can neither deny nor confirm that I’m listening to them right now.) Just sayin’.

Oh, and lots of heavy-duty naps. I’d been very very tired for the past few weeks so needed to catch up on some sleep. It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it.

Reading-wise, I’ve been finishing up some titles although I’ve been rather quiet about them. They’ve still be good reads though.

Housekeeping vs. the Dirt – Nick Hornby (2006)

book386Hornby is a guaranteed good read (if you focus on his Believer columns) and I really enjoy reading his booky writing. He starts off each column with a Books Bought and Books Read column. What’s super impressive is that he actually reads one or two of the books he bought in that same month, a rarity in my life. (Interestingly enough though, this title was one that I bought and then read immediately. Go figure.)

So – if you’re looking for a lovely bookish read from an author who enjoys books as much as you and I do, pick thee up some Hornby. Be prepared for your TBR pile to have some additions though. (Another booky person is also Michael Dirda, but he’s a bit more serious for the most part. He’s also reading some rather hard books (classic-speaking) so not so accessible but seems just as nice.)

March Book III – John Lewis (2016)

book389The final volume of the March trilogy which chronicles Rep. John Lewis’ journey during the early days of Civil Rights, and even if you think you’re pretty familiar with this history, look again as this graphic novel presentation puts a whole spin on things. It’s a fantastic “I was there” look at the whole strange journey (still going on in many ways), and it really demonstrates how hard the civil rights were to get (and then keep). I’m continually astonished at how terrible people will treat each other based on nothing more than skin color, and the fact that we still see it happening today makes me worry for the human race. (It’s not just an American experience, unfortunately, as seen during the recent Brexit palaver, but this graphic novel covered the U.S. events.) There were times when I found myself holding my breath during the reading of some parts, and the many many players in the civil rights era were extraordinarily courageous. I think that if anyone reads this graphic novel trilogy by Lewis, you’ll understand more about the Black Lives Matter movement (whether you are for or against it). Highly recommend it.

(Review on March Volume I  and March Volume II .)

I’m slowly working my way through an interesting (but dense) non-fiction read on America’s contemporary frontier (i.e. the people and places who live out in the middle of nowhere). Living as I do close to the old frontier of the west, it’s fascinating to learn the history of such settlements that do live still in such inhospitable places. So, really interesting but slow-going for some reason. I think I just need to pick this up and put in a few hours of solid reading. I’ve been picking it up and putting it down and I’m not sure that that’s the best way to approach this read. Title: Miles from Nowhere: Tales from America’s Contemporary Frontier (Dayton Duncan) 2000.

And just picked up some fiction about the 1992 LA riots over the Rodney King beating: All Involved: A Novel of the 1992 LA Riots by Ryan Gattis (2015). It’s from lots of different characters’ perspectives (all of whom were involved one way or another) so I expect that they will all interweave as the story progresses. It’s really good so far, and reads like a hot knife through butter. (Or at least it feels that way after the frontier read!)

So – some reading going on. Just not very fast right now.

How’s it going in your life?

August 2016 Monthly Reading Review

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Another August packed up and back in the suitcase. It lasted a long time in some ways, and then was gone in a flash in others.

I read the following titles (with links to blog posts about said book where there is one):

Grunt – Mary Roach  (2016)

The Bottle Factory Outing – Beryl Bainbridge (1974) (no blog post)

Homecoming – Yaa Gyasi  (2015)

Blackass – A. Igoni Barrett  (2015) – read this one two times. (That good.)

Total number of books read in August: 5

Total number of pages read: 1,308 pages (av. 262).

Fiction/Non-Fiction: 4 fiction / 1 non-fiction

Diversity: 3 POC (all from African continent: Nigeria and Ghana). 3 women.

Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): 4 library books and 1 owned book.

Plans for September include reading all Labor Day weekend, collecting some possible TBRs for the month ahead, and clearing some space in the bookshelves for the upcoming FOL book sale. (Be still my heart.)