Category Archives: 1001 books

“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

“Hunger Games”, “Divergent”, “The Maze Runner” and “The Handmaid’s Tale”. What do they all have in common? They all tell the story of dystopian societies. You know what else? This genre is very popular today (stating the obvious). Atwood’s novel however was written way back in the year of 1985.

Let’s go off subject for a second. What was the world like during that year?? Microsoft released the first version of Windows, Windows 1.0, Compact Discs were introduced to Americans (you know, the form of music that used to be sold at music stores which are becoming obsolete like video stores), gas was $1.09 average a gallon, that was the last year the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl, my brother and I were sporting the Jim McMahon ‘do, and we were living in Hawaii. Oh, I miss you tropical paradise.

http://www.si.com/longform/monsters/index.html
Super bowl shuffle

June 25, 2195, “The Handmaid’s Tale” describes a dystopian society that centers around surrogates that preform the childbearing duties of the barren wives for the leaders of the new government of “The Republic of Gilead.” With the previous corrupt government overthrown, the new regime attempts to right the wrongs by reverting back to a biblical based system. Jobs, bank accounts, and any possessions are taken away from most women and they are forced to lead submissive roles to men. The misdeeds of the men and women before and after the formation of the new government, were written on a sign that dangles over the necks of the hanged perpetrators who are perched on “The Wall” for all to see. One of the misdeeds includes “gender treachery”. I’ll let you figure that out for yourself.

The story follows a handmaid by the name of Offred who was given to a Commander as his future childbearing surrogate. We read her story of what happens when she was seized by the new government and her new life is like within the confines of this dysfunctional society.

This book was ahead of its time. The central figure of a woman who isn’t interested in playing along with the new dystopian society goes quite well with the novels I’ve mentioned in the first paragraph. Along with being on my list of 1001 books, it was included as Good Reads, “50 books that will change your life.” I for one enjoyed reading it but not to the extent that I would include it on my top fifty as of yet.

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#30 “Disgrace” by J.M. Coetzee

I just finished reading “Disgrace” on my lunch break. I now stand at my work station waiting for the starting bell to sound for the monotony of truck building to commence for the next two hours until the end of my shift. The air feels heavy with disillusionment. Yeah, I initially thought it was asbestos too. Each breath seems to enter my stomach weighing me down or it could be the two pounds of barbeque from “Shigs and Pit” I scarfed down a few days ago. No… I know with sixty percent certainty that it is directly related to the content of the aforementioned novel.

http://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g37114-d3196968-i97302212-Shigs_in_Pit-Fort_Wayne_Indiana.html
http://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g37114-d3196968-i97302212-Shigs_in_Pit-Fort_Wayne_Indiana.html

In this two hundred and twenty page book I trudged along laboriously reading about David Lurie’s downward spiral from a position of esteemed English professor to a lowly assistant of an animal shelter who aids in euthanizing and disposing of injured and unwanted animals.

How did this happen? I’m glad you asked.

David Lurie made a series of bad decisions based on faulty reasoning with the backing of his chemical composition. No. he doesn’t have a psychological disorder. He’s just a typical guy flirting with fire who finally got burned. So, David Lurie likes sex. No… he NEEDS sexual release. He had a good plan from the beginning; he saw on a regular basis, an escort by the name of Soraya. Lurie hopes that this will satiate his hunger (faulty reasoning number one). But one day by chance, they spotted each other outside of their weekly “meetings”. Soraya was with her two boys and that glimpse into a non-sexual part of her life was awkward for them both and eventually led to the termination of the arrangement.

Next scene: David comes across a student of his, Melanie Isaacs,  “dawdling” “through the old college gardens”. After inviting her up to his place for all intents and purposes to seduce her into bed she woke out of her naive trance realizing that she was about to have coitus with her fifty-two year old professor with his aged body and gross wrinkly balls. She leaves with no harm. Later as he  battled within himself over whether to accept the reality of the situation (it’s just ICKY) or give into his desire, the latter won out. He tactically pursued her whereabouts, caught her off guard, overcame her and got what he wanted without a struggle.

A complaint was filed which led to him being confronted by a committee of his peers. He plead guilty and lost his job and respect. All of this occurs in the first fifty-five pages.

The rest of the one hundred and sixty-five pages reminded me of the last few episodes of “Breaking Bad” when Walter White discovered that his actions have created some serious repercussions. Instead of admitting his mistakes he continued spouting his pompous drivel of “I’m doing this for sake of my family”.  Likewise David Lurie pridefully admitted his actions were justified explaining to his daughter (faulty reasoning number two):

“When you were small, when we were still living in Keniworth, the people next door had a dog, a golden retriever…It was a male. Whenever there was a bitch in the vicinity it would get excited and unmanageable, and with Pavlovian regularity the owners would beat it. This went on until the poor dog didn’t know what to do. At the smell of a bitch it would chase around the garden with its ears flat and its tail between its legs, whining, trying to hide…There was something ignoble in the spectacle that I despaired. One can punish a dog, it seems to me, for an offense like chewing a slipper. A dog will accept the justice of that: a beating for a chewing. But desire is another story. No animal will accept the justice of being punished for following its instincts…that poor dog had begun to hate its own nature.”

Well, the rest of the story as you might have expected from my second paragraph didn’t go well for David. I wanted there to be restitution for his actions but it really doesn’t feel satisfying when it actually happens.

http://www.allmovie.com/movie/disgrace-v462908
http://www.allmovie.com/movie/disgrace-v462908

Can I be honest?? I am a male, big surprise. Glad I got that off my chest. Phew!! Seriously though, I can relate to this character. I used to go to bars and dance clubs and how often I’ve seen and heard men using many tactics to catch their prey off guard in the hopes of getting laid from the simple “can I buy you a drink” to the lame when I actually heard someone say they were a rocket scientist. Does this work ladies?

Like in “Disgrace” we have the pursuer and the victim. In the bar setting both parties are subject to my earlier statement, “bad decisions based on faulty reasoning with the backing of his chemical composition.” As in animals we feel the heat of passion and want to release the pressure. As humans we have deductive reasoning and forethought that going home with someone at the bar will usually not end with a positive note. Oh well we only live once right?? I hate that comment. I would like to hear someone say that after they find out their pregnant or contracted an STD.

I have no game. No skills. All I got is my tireless attempts at making eye contact and I know how to shake my booty. I recall once walking around the dance floor, scoping out the ladies, beer in hand, when I spotted a lady staring me down. So this is eye contact. Surprised, I continued walking sipping my beer and glancing in her direction again. Still locked in my direction. I turned around to see if someone was behind me that was the recipient of this look. As you can tell I was not used to this. I danced with her and left it at that. I didn’t want to be a baby daddy.

The application after reading this novel is use deductive reasoning before allowing yourself to fall prey to your passions.

#29 “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque

The day I moved from Dayton, Ohio to Marshall, Texas was the scariest yet most exhilarating experience of my life. Embarking through the great unknown equipped only with a couple of suitcases full of clothes, a credit union card, and a hodge-podge of practical life lessons to help me survive. Of course initially I didn’t put all that good advice to use. The only one I actually applied was when it came to coitus, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” Or my more crude version, “wrap it before you tap it.” I was never really much of a tapper.

When I first arrived in Marshall I grabbed the first apartment I found available with a communal laundry room which was the hang-out of some of the worst riff-raff I’ve ever encountered. An assortment of flying insects fluttering about, spiders lurking in the corners and webbed above the entrance, and waterbugs the size of mice scurrying to their hiding places as I plied into the room. The apartment was only slightly better. Waterbugs and cockroaches invisibly squeezing themselves between the carpet and walls. The bedroom ceiling fan covered with duct tape to seal the entrance from the swarm of ladybugs that blessed me one day right before bedtime.

Apartment, check. Next, it’s time to go shopping for food and supplies for my new home. I took off to Walmart and bought pizza rolls, frozen burritos, Hot Pockets, candy, cereal, milk, cups, silverware, cleaning supplies and plates to put my Subway sandwiches and all that other crap on. I’m nauseous even thinking about how I actually ate that stuff.

forgottenbeast.wordpress.com
forgottenbeast.wordpress.com

Finally I bought the big stuff. Microwave, air mattress, Playstation, DVD player, and a 48 inch big screen television (Rent to Own).
This is surviving baby!

I’ve said all this but what does this have to do with “All Quiet on the Western Front”. I’m glad you asked. One day I rented “Band of Brothers” at Blockbuster to watch on my 48 inch TV from the air mattress on the nasty carpet eating my Subway sandwich on my new Walmart plates. Thus began the moment when I fell in love with this mini-series and the amazing stories of the brave soldiers who fought for our country. I discovered that real history was much more interesting than the condensed and biased version they teach in high school. For me, facts and dates are nowhere near as captivating as the stories of the individual struggling to survive and make a difference.

Reading “All Quiet on the Western Front” reminded me of what I loved about “Band of Brothers” minus the special effects. A story about a collection of German soldiers banding together through the harsh elements of World War I. Not filled with political propaganda but designed primarily to describe the realities of war:

thegreattimewarp.wordpress.com
thegreattimewarp.wordpress.com
  • A limited supply of nourishment and sleep.
  • Death an almost certainty and the longer the war the greater the odds it will come for each soldier.
  • A need for survivors to develop a thick skin for others who have perished before them or fear of the soldier’s fate could leave them petrified.
  • WWI trench warfare.

The details included in this novel was expressed so translucently it became a banned book in Germany. I presumed the country saw this novel as a threat to the morale of future soldiers.

I constantly hear about how some week has been designated to pay tribute to something or ruther so Septempter 21-27 has been chosen as “Banned Book Week“. Check out this list when you have time and feel like a rebel with the book you’ve chosen to read.

My wife requested that I make this a two part blog since I wrote multiple versions about this amazing novel. I loved the story about a war I was less familiar with that was from the German perspective. Even more so I connected with the mental struggle the soldiers endured with my own battle with having a daughter with a neurological disorder knowing from the beginning that it will inevitably take her life. I will explain in more detail in my next blog.

 

 

“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams

I try to stay away from the news. Rarely is it popular to report good news. Is it only me or does the news of one’s good fortune usually leave you feeling more jealous and resentful than joyous? Must be my cynical side coming out. I want to be happy for others but envy soon follows. When it is my turn to reap some good fortune? Why does God give us the trials more than others. Yes, we should be thankful for our trials and look at them as an opportunity than a curse. Sounds good. Raise your hand if you are the first one willing to sign up to adopt a special needs child that has a short life span. I give so much credit to those that do. You are amazing people. My point. Nobody wants to have a difficult life right. We accept the lot given and move on but there’s envy of those whose lot seems easier even though it may not be. Is this only me?? There is a time for sorrow and a time for laughter. That’s somewhere in the Bible!

“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, a time of laughter science fiction novel filled with surprises just about around every corner. A man by the name of Arthur Dent is about to  unexpectedly loses his house to make room for a bypass road. Attempting to thwart the bulldozer’s progress the construction workers explains “the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last 9 month” which Dent found earlier “sitting in a cellar, in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet, stuck in a disused lavatory (bathroom) with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of Leopard'”. In its irony the author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, alien Ford Prefect, was just finishing his research on the planet Earth noted as “mostly harmless“, when an extra terrestrial Vogon ship hovering in the sky announced on the PA of its plans to make room for a hyperspatial express by eliminating the planet. It stated “All planning charts and demolition orders have been on display in your local planning department in the Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years.” This is the subtle use of the novel’s humor throughout the novel.

Dent along with Prefect barely escape the fate of the rest of Earth’s inhabitant by the use of Prefect’s Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic to hail a passing spaceship for a lift. The mode of travel for hitchhiker’s, “Don’t Leave Home Without It” and also don’t forget your towel. Wait…what?? Yeah you will have to find out why for yourself. The two travelers get discovered as a stow away on the Vogon ship, get kicked out into space to die of asphyxiation at the loss of oxygen in the matter of minutes. Along comes the Heat of Gold ship stolen by the president of the Imperial Galactic Government, Zaphod Beeblebrox to the rescue. The ship powered by the Infinite Improbability Drive found the least probable event to happen in space at that time is the rescue of these two doomed victims. The result. Again they barely escape with their lives.

 

www.wallmay.net
http://www.wallmay.net

On board “The Heart of Gold” they encounter an Earth woman, Trillian, who actually had a conversation with Dent at a party right before Zaphod persuaded her to come with him on grounds that he was “from another planet. Along with her and Zaphod the ships occupants were a depressed robot constructed with a Genuine People Personality feature and a cheery annoying know-it-all Sirius Cybernetics Shipboard Computer which controlled every part of the ship.

Once they all become acquainted with each other again Zaphod’s mission is revealed. The purpose of stealing “The Heart of Gold” is to find the most improbable planet that ever existed. Magrathea, the planet that custom-made other planets for their suitors, “gold planets, platinum planets, and soft rubber planets with lots of earthquakes”.  Folklore stated that it fell out of existence when “became the richest planet of all time and the rest of the Galaxy was reduced to abject poverty.

galleryhip.com
galleryhip.com

Who purchased Earth? Yes, Earth too was created by the Magratheans but I will not cheese up the surprise. Whomever had Earth created was preparing the prophetic planet and its inhabitants to discover the question to the answer of the question posed to the greatest computer ever to be made designed by the second greatest computer, Deep Thought, of “the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.” However, Earth was destroyed right before the time when the greatest computer was to reveal the Ultimate question to the answer, 42, to the aforementioned question.

“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is the first book of a trilogy so naturally I will have to continue the series or be satisfied with not knowing the Ultimate question to…you know the rest! Not a dull moment throughout this exciting adventure story that takes the reader through Adams version of life in the great known. I have quoted more than a few lines from the book to prepare who choose to undergo a brain lobotomy in English style humor. After reading a few chapters my wife commented that it’s many crazy made of words reminded her of doing a MadLib. I have filled out a few with her family and they have come up with some very descriptive off the wall words. If anyone reading this blog would like to share in their best made up words I would love to hear them. Perhaps I will bust out the best ones next time we fill out a Mad Lib.

 

#28 “The Sea” by John Banville

Here we go again. It’s morning at a summer rental house that is in walking distance from the Oregon Coast. I lift my daughter, Layla, out of her chair due to another freaking cluster of seizures hoping that a change of scenery will quell the storm. I carry her out of the house walking across the street to a vacant house’s backyard which abuts up against a cliff overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean. Up near the edge I pace the length of the house and I continue to examine my daughter’s face for the ticks and twitches of a seizure refusing to leave. They’ve abated and I breath a sigh of relief, but the damage is done. Cradled in my arms lays a limp and exhausted Layla. I’m at the point of never asking why this has to happen to such a beautiful and innocent child. Thus is the nature of life.

 

Loved eating the sand!
Maggie loved eating the sand!

 

Closing my eyes I breath in the cool breeze and exhale the worries and anxieties of the moment, the past, and the future. Opening my eyes I then stare out into the ocean when my senses become immersed in the scene before me. The deserted beach and blue ocean, misty morning air, and the only sound is of the rushing waves. I love this. Then a thought occurs that being out in its element would change my opinion. It’s dangerous out there. The swells sucking underwater its inhabitants, the strong waves capsizing boats, the hypothermia leading to Jack Dawson’s (DiCaprio) death in “Titanic”, and the blood thirsty sharks and other lethal animals residing in its depths. Hmm, from my perspective on safe land the ocean has this rejuvenating spiritual quality but out in its depths it can devour you in a heartbeat.

The setting for John Banville’s “The Sea” is never mentioned but I’m guessing it’s in Ireland since that’s his home. My wife, originally from the state of Oregon, studied abroad in Ireland for a summer and her description of the country has coined a phrase by me that “Oregon is the Ireland of the United States.”

  • Both are known for their drinking. Portland, Oregon was ranked as America’s Best Beer City according to Travel and Leisure.
  • Both have cool wet climates throughout the year that result in  lush green vegetation covering the land.
  • Ireland’s green picturesque rolling hills compare to Oregon’s scenic mountains covered in towering pine trees.
  • Ireland’s history is steeped in folklore. Walk around downtown Portland or watch “Portlandia” and see they are actually living in a mythological world.
  • Ireland is surrounded by the cold Atlantic Ocean. The waters of Oregon’s coast is likewise cold.
literallife.wordpress.com
literallife.wordpress.com

Ironically for me the novel takes place at a summer rental home called “The Cedars” also close to the sea. Max, the main character of the story, reminisces over a few significant events of his past including a time in his childhood when he spent an August summer with “The Grace family”. A pivotal month of his life when he experienced his first and second loves and the feelings synonymous with them.  Sweaty hands, jittery nerves, the first electrifying touch when lovers first hold hands, the tingly sensation moving through the body at the kiss, and the smooth feel intimately caressing her inner thigh bordering on the untrodden forbidden land. I recall my first experience thinking “I can’t believe this is happening!” Of course, no great book is without a tragic ending. How nice!

The story moves from that summer to his present state and the torturous memories when finding out his wife was going to die from cancer and her slow painful demise. Banville’s painful description of what he was going through with his wife’s slow passing wasn’t fun to read but enlightening, realizing that many have and many will struggle through the intimate death of a loved one. These words can be of some comfort to know these feelings are normal.

I found this novel a heavy hearted version of a “Wonder Years” episode where Max instead of Kevin Arnold relives the two traumatic events of his life. While writing my rough draft of this blog I continued to ask why he did this? I was about to leave that question unanswered until the thought popped into my head. Max’s wife, a photographer, while dying in a hospital went to the other patients’ rooms and painstakingly took pictures of their wounds (missing limbs, a mother cradling a sick baby, a person laying in bed in a full body cast) and described this as her dossier. Details of a person’s past when collected defines who that person was. Max,I believe was paralleling her behavior in the same way. When all gathered together what was he hoping to reveal about himself? Read it and find out.

There will come a time for all of us when we will form our own dossier. Chances are it will not be filled with memories of good housekeeping, well manicured lawns, or reading accomplishments. Only a few significant moments of doing something amazing or feelings of utter regret letting those moments slip through our fingers. Unfortunately, as described in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” (also on “The List”) which my wife Amy will be so kind as to share her thoughts on the novel, in movies they have many takes to get the scene right, but in real life we only get one shot.

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

Two days ago while feeding my daughter her lunch my wife with a little giddy-up in her step lunges for the front door with her keen sense of knowing when our mail is delivered. I have a keen sense when watching Jeopardy that right after a contestant chooses a topic and Double Jeopardy pops up I eerily knew it would. Creepy!!

So, my wife with her mail in hand drops off a package delivery to me. I can’t wait to open it but I must finish feeding my daughter first. Every part of my being desires to rip it open right now. The box looks sturdy so I may need a knife or a…and here comes my lady already prepared bringing the scissors. I’m still in the act of feeding as I watch her slice open the box with such precision like a surgeon cutting into a patient. As I stare at her hands lifting out this massive book I am sure the spoon I’m wielding is dripping food on the top of the high chair. The title on the front of the book says “1001 Books You Must  Read Before You Die.”

She comments that it’s a lot bigger than she thought it would be. The perfect opportunity to respond, “That’s what she said” but my stomach is churning with excitement (I know I sound lame) waiting in anticipation to sift through the pages novels I will one day read.

In the evening while laying on my stomach hands, elbows and pillow propping me up I skim through the novels I’ve recently read to see what literary professors had to say about them. See if I missed something. In fact there was a lot I was missing. No “Watchmen”, no “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”, no “Saturday”. Well, if you’ve read my blog you would find I wasn’t too crazy about “Saturday” anyway. I was flabbergasted.

I originally chose the books from the online list of the aforementioned title. Investigating further I found out that the new book I received is a revised version (which I was aware of) and according to Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. the version I have in my possession contains 250 changes of the 1001 novel titles. What!! “The List” I was working from is a 2006 version. Let’s see I have read (drum roll) 54 novels, blogged about 27 of them. Of the 27 novels 8 have been removed from the list.

The day I am nearing the end of completing this massive task there will be many more revisions. Maybe one day the books like the Hunger Games trilogy and the Harry Potter’s will be added and my goal will be even closer.

I will now pay tribute to the novels I have blogged about that have fallen down the out-of-order elevator shaft to enter the world of “Well, it’s okay if you die before you read it” list.

1. “Saturday” by Ian McEwan (don’t worry you have a few left on the list)

2. “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro (every time I see your title I will cringe at the idea of having my organs ripped out)

3.  “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon (you’ll always have Broadway)

4. “Fingersmith” by Sarah Waters (I was glad that you were in audiobook form)

5. “Youth” by J.M. Coetzee (I am glad I read it before it was taken off the list)

6. “Choke” by Chuck Palaniuk (Palaniuk has no other books on the list but I know every time I ride a plane I will remember how someone could be naked in the bathroom with the door unlocked waiting for an innocent bystander to stumble upon them in hopes of contributing to the mile high club)

Question to my readers. I can’t even imagine joining the mile high club in such small confinements as the planes’ bathroom. Who has joined the club and what creative ways did they accomplish this task?

7. “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden (I still will recommend you to others)

8. “The Robber Bride” by Margaret Atwood (after reading “The Blind Assassin” also no longer on “The List” thank God, this book restored my hope in Atwood’s other books on the list.)