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Man Gone Down

22 Oct

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A stream-of-consciousness kind of book could be very hard to tackle.  Yet when you prevail, it often rewards you well for the efforts.

“Man Gone Down” is no different.  Frustratingly absurd at times, it simply refuses to be read as your usual bedtime story.  I had to read it in a full-concentration mode to fully appreciate it.  Oh yes, in some lighter passages you can let your attention wanders, but you would risk missing some beautiful thoughts which more often than not, lurks masquerading behind some imageries and powerful allegories.

Using metaphors heavily, Thomas takes us to a journey deep into a mind of a 35 year-old man who is in some crises in his life.  Broke and broken, the unnamed narrator gropes desperately for some grip to salvage his spirit for some serious survival.  Granted, this is a classic, maybe even overused, theme for a book; but Thomas daringly twisted it into a searching mental quest, questioning the biggest myth of all : The American Dream.

I will not pretend that I was able to comprehend this book wholly.  A work of this scope needs several re-reading to hit you as hard as it was meant to be.  Hell, my edition of it even has a set of reading guides at the end of it.  One thing I do know is, Thomas is a strong user of words.  At some of this book’s best, his diction makes my arm trembles.

Go figure…!!

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This book can be read online here.

Maya – Deliberations of Life and Love

22 Oct

I had high hopes with this one.  After all, Gaarder was the man who penned one of the modern classics that is Sophie’s World.

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And he didn’t disappoint me.  Maya is definitely a worthy successor to the likes of Sophie’s World and Vita Brevis.  Staying true to his calling, he takes us in a tour-de-force of hard philosophical questions that were difficult to imagine, – let alone deliberate, by anyone alone.  This, – I think, is where his greatest influence is supposed to be : in his provocations where one is forced to take a long, hard look at oneself and ponder why is he living at all.  Such incitements are necessary because by default, man always strive to fulfil, but not question, his needs.

Focusing more to the question of evolution and biology, Maya nevertheless feel a little bit constrained by the love-story plot.  This did not become obvious, however, until the last 40 pages or so.  A savoring reader thus will not have any problems in immersing into Gaarder’s typical mental discourses happening all over this book.

What more interesting is his try to take on mystery / thriller genre, – however slight.  Granted, in the end the mystery was only used as a device to build the momentum towards climax; but it’s still intriguing for me that he adopt such an adventurous plan.  Not that it didn’t work.  On the contrary, the execution was of such excellence that I was fooled into thinking that this is truly an enigmatic book in the same league as Eco.  Now that I had time to think about the issue, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising at all.  I mean, a man who can construct a very exciting verbal scene full of anguish between his human character and a gecko; will surely be able to keep us in his grip in one or two alternate methods.

The epilogue, then, explains all.  Only then it became apparent that this is a first and foremost, a love story.  A very beautiful and profound love story, for that matter.  Yet, I can not help but think that this is also this book’s weak point.  Had Gaarder been more flexible; maybe letting go to the momentum and taking on the metaphysical thriller theme to the end will pay more.  It almost feels like a hangover for me : riding so high in the buildup, but then take a sharp ( although admittedly sweet ) drop in the end.  It then dictates a necessary evaluation of the question :  Should a literary work’s end justify the means ?

Finally, this book again exhibits Gaarder’s ability as a storyteller.  Bearing that small complaint in mind, I’d still gladly recommend this one.  If  you don’t read this book with a critic’s spectacle, then it’s truly enjoyable to let yourself go, even swept by some of the finest dialogues I’ve ever read in modern fiction..!!

Half Broken Things : Sweet Humiliation

22 Oct

If you’re anything like me, you must have some judgement ( however slight ) of a book you’re going to read.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t be interested to read any books at all.

Half Broken Things, I’m ashamed to say, is one of the books that I underestimated.  Two days later, after I finished reading it, I was completely humiliated.  Not that I mind, though..

You know.. I’ve always been fascinated by writers who can take some dull, bland and tasteless events and painted them with his words to form a vivid picture of an exciting events.  Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” instantly come to mind.  In a way, I think that’s what separates great works from the rest : the ability to transcend an ordinary world into a gloriously sweet ( or sad ) surroundings.

This is where this book main strength lies.  Daily concerns like money and food turned into a monster that haunts you constantly here. Telling the story of three reluctant loners in life, it successfully chilled me to the bone that hunger and loneliness are very real.  And when they are, they will drive some people to the dizzy heights of a psychological cliff-edge, not knowing where to ( or even whether if he should ! ) return.  For Steph, Michael and Jean, they are simply some dire needs to die for.

I really could not talk about this book a lot without risking to give you some spoiler.  Its simplicity doesn’t allow that.  Don’t let it deceive you though.  I’ll just make one comment at this point :  As far as I remember, this is the only book where I encountered crimes that feel so natural, effortless and pristine.  At some points, I even could not continue without lighting a cigarette to calm my nerves…

Anyway, if there’s a time I wouldn’t mind being humiliated, it’s the time after I read this book.  Heart-wrenching, thought-provoking, subtle, poignant and even lyrical; this book is sublime.  Very much recommended.. ( 3.5 out of 5 )

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater : Ramblings of an Unquiet Mind

22 Oct

I am forced to answer a question whose answer I’ve always taken for granted all this time :  Do you have to be able to fully understand a book to appreciate it as a work of art ?.  I reckoned that the answer must be yes.  Boy, was I wrong.

Confessions is a difficult work.  De Quincey apparently did not try very hard to make himself as readable as possible.  Instead, he resorted to a strange method where he seemingly just recorded whatever happened in his head.  The proverbial flight-of-ideas, so to speak.  I did not relish this at all when I first tried to read this.  His ramblings are so difficult to follow, and sometimes even incoherent.

But then it dawned on me that this is exactly where the genius of Confessions is located.  It succeeded excellently in giving me a picture of how exactly a mind of an addict work : frantically.  It forces me to challenge the way I comprehend good literatures so far.  It disturbed me.

If there is one thing I complain about Confessions; it would be its unattachment from reality.  While the journaling-style of writing fits neatly his intention to document his thoughts as an addict, I seriously doubt whether this book will appeal greatly to the greater part of readers.  Always philosophical in nature, his ramblings are sophisticated, to say the least.  At worst, imagine studying philosophy when you’re stoned on marijuana or something.  Anyone who ever went to school surely can imagine what a humongous task it would make.

A good work indeed, but not recommended for those who gets tired easily on long discourses about Philosophy.  Oh, and while you’re at it, I also lament the fact that de Quincey spent so many pages in descrying Coleridge and praising Wordsworth.  It’s too much, methinks.  But then again, maybe it was his intention ? 🙂

Link :  Download from Project Gutenberg

Steppenwolf – Fantastic Work of Psyché

22 Oct


Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse

By far, this would be one of the best works I’ve read this year.  Where have I been ?  Indeed, I went as far as stating in Twitter that “my life reads like a bastard child of Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo and Hesse’s Steppenwolf”.  In the word of a good online friend of mine, this one definitely is a “mindfuck”.

The book deals with the most profound issue of mankind : the self.  It painstakingly describes the state where the self is torn by conflicting desire between its higher order and lower desires of the proverbial Steppenwolf ( Wolf of the steppes or a coyote ).  Definitely Freudian in its basic idea, Hesse elaborated this further by bringing forth the idea that a soul comprises of several other “selves” than just the ordinarily-known ego, superego and id.  Thus, a self is a kaleidoscope of different beings which in the case of Harry Haller ( the main character ), completely torn him asunder and trying in futility to “get a grip”.

It also employed a surreal fantastic story-telling method, especially in later parts when Harry underwent a painful experience in Theatre of Dreams.  We never know for certain whether Harry actually kill Hermine, for instance; hence the term “surreal” for its merging of fantasy and reality.  The good news is, it works.  Which is more than can be said of a writer who attempted this method at all.  Only great ones succeed, reminiscent of John Fowles’ “The Magus”.

I tell you one thing : if you plan only to read one book this year, this is the book that I will recommend.

More info of Steppenwolf in wikipedia ( link )

For those who don’t know it yet, Steppenwolf and other great works of all time can be downloaded from a free, fantastic library here.

The Big Book of Hoaxes – I’m Asking for More..

22 Oct

What can I say ?  This book speaks for itself.  A tour-de-force of human tendency to believe strange things.  In fact, it’s eerie how Hitler words ring true about this :”It’s easy to lie, just make it big.”

Factoid did a very good job by bringing this series.  You could read some serious references without diving into that scholarly encyclopedia.  In other words, this is information made enjoyable.  With honest, humorous and sometimes cheeky illustration, it’s also easier to grasp some concepts which otherwise would need a lot of pages to explain.

The book itself contains any famous ( and not-so famous ) hoaxes in history.  From Poe’s balloon hoax, the notorious Howard Hughes’ autobiography;  I actually learnt that Boxer rebellion in China was made several times worse by a hoax !

A very good work, indeed.  I found myself asking for more.

You can download the book here.  Again, I’m only sharing the link.  Have fun !

Me Talk Pretty One Day – dangerously funny

22 Oct

Some preliminary facts and datas from Wikipedia are due first :

Author David Sedaris
Cover artist Jacket design by Chip Kidd
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Essay collection
Publisher Little, Brown and Company
Publication date May 2, 2000
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 288 pp (first edition, hardcover)
ISBN ISBN 0-316-77772-2 (first edition, hardcover)

This book is guaranteed to make you giggle like crazy. At some of its best point, you would even shake with laughter.

David Sedaris wrote with some shameless sense-of-humor here. He freely talked about his speed-addiction, sexuality, and characteristically, even some childish hilarity like turd ( you heard me right, turd ). Based on this tone, this book is not for everyone’s fancy, though. Some will enjoy it very much for its brainlessness, allowing you to laugh at someone else’s folly without realizing that you are indulging in your own’s stark naked forbidden guilty self. While for the others, this book will risk being categorized as simply disgusting.

As for myself, I enjoyed a lot reading this with one note : I found that Sedaris’ humorous take on drugs ( methamphetamine, aka. speed, aka. shabu ) is deeply disturbing. It definitely can lead to some serious misled choices.

All in all, if you can read it with some open mind, a good read this one really is..