August Reads

Seven days late but after a little sickness and family visit, not too bad. This month I was terribly let down by a favorite author of mine and entirely surprised by my interest in a president of the past. And then there was that tiger I dealt with. Or did I?


THE PATH by Richard Matheson


Rating:



Last month I wrote that I didn’t think I’d ever give a book anything lower than three nails ever and that was true…at the time. But that was before I slugged through The Path by Richard Matheson. It’s quite ironic not only that I had just claimed I’d never give such a low review but even moreso because it’s one of my favorite writers. However, this book was such spiritual gobbledygook that the two stars was mercy because I love Matheson so much. I don’t recommend this book to anyone. In fact, if you were on your deathbed reading this book for your last spiritual hope I’d snatch it from your hands and promise you were better off hopeless. As unnecessarily aggressive and obviously arrogant such an action would be, my cards are on the table. A simple scroll through the reviews will let you know I am not the only one thinking this way. It follows after similar worldviews as The Four Agreements. Along with this ideology comes the unfortunate thinking of one’s illnesses and pains are the results of negative thinking. I.e. if you have cancer it’s your own fault or if your child dies, that’s on you. I don’t believe that statement to be hyperbole, I’ll quote it from the text below. I enjoyed Matheson’s thoughts on spirituality in novel form in What Dreams May Come, however when written in prescription form it’s an entirely different aftertaste left in your mouth. Even though it is written as a story, it is only so in the sense that there are two characters who talk. Although, it is one character who talks mainly and it is him espousing his thoughts on the world and how the afterlife works, seemingly based on his thoughts alone. Sure, some might claim isn’t that what all religion is? To an extent but there are some that have thousands of years of history, tradition, validation and culture. But this is not the place for such a detour. At the end of the day, I think it legitimatizes my love for Matheson. After all, to be a true fan you can’t love everything an artist does. P.S. it’s no wonder this book was difficult to find and seems to be out of print. After you read my review of Life of Pi, you might understand this more but I can summarize my feelings about this as: it just isn't a good story and thus the message suffers.


"Dying is the withdrawal of that body from the physical body. As it recedes, rigor mortis sets in. The regions left become cold and there is no feeling in them. Then the three bodies hover or flutter over the heart and puff themselves out of the mouth with the last breath, causing a slight gurgle in the throat." (pg. 50)


"And a period of suffering begins as the doer enters the first stage of hell."

"Hell?" I said, my body jolted by the thought.

"Calm yourself," he told me. "There are, in this hell, no tortures. No fire. No brimstone. No foul-smelling waters. Nor for that matter any of the infernal agonies which theologians of various religions have fabricated. There is no cloven-hooved, forked-tail Devil either."

"What is there then?" I asked.

"Suffering for sinful acts and thoughts while on earth," he answered. (pg. 56)


"There are twelve states, stages or conditions constituting one round which each doer passes through from one life to its next on earth. Eleven of these are stages after-death in the preparation for another life. In the twelfths, the doer re-exists in a human body." (pg. 71)


"How many birth conditions are caused by thought?" I asked.

"As I said," he told me, "from the parents themselves come some of the material used in the make-up of the body. The rest is all created by thought. The birth of the body represents a budget of debit and credit accounts created by thoughts. The body comes into the world with the desires and tendencies which the doer has transferred to the child though the mother and father." (pg. 92)


I felt awe-struck, numb. "How long will it take me to...be you?" I asked; I could barely say the words.

"Perhaps a hundred lives," he said. "Perhaps a thousand. Perhaps a hundred thousand. It's not for me to let you know that. It is for you to achieve. As, one day, you will. As, one day, all men and women will, all me and women must." (pg. 143)


achieve, achieve, achieve



THE PERILOUS ADVENTURES OF THE COWBOY KING by Jerome Charyn


Rating:


This book is worth the purchase off the cover alone. But after you’re finished being mesmerized by the awe striking face of the book, you can dive in and gorge yourself on the story of a young Teddy Roosevelt. Jerome Charyn, popular historical fiction writer, paints a heartwarming, insightful picture of this young politician. While it is technically fiction because it is written from the perspective of Teddy and isn’t written by him, it is still an illuminating look into history considering the majority of the book is based on real events and accurate as possible portrayals. The book leads all the way up until Teddy’s presidency, likely the history which most know. But the best stuff is what people don’t know, at least what I didn’t know. What made the man Teddy Roosevelt and the world in which he lived. I learned numerous things not only about the past but also the present from this book. It turns out as things on the micro level have changed (I.e. polictics, language, technology and culture) the macro level (humanity and it’s consistent tendency towards flaws and failure) seems to be a constant. There was corruption, evil capitalists and even plots/talk of election fraud. This book gave me food for thought but moreso, gave me conversations with my father about history and politics. Characters pop up that we still know to this day, like Pierpont Morgan AKA J.P. Morgan (Chase bank) and brands like Abercrombie and Fitch which I had no idea started in 1892. Even more fascinating was the lingo and vocabulary of the time that Charyn incorporated so well, leading me to look up words and learn even further. The amount of study and research which had to have been done thouroulgly to write this book is astounding. And the cherry on top of it all, of course the cover. If you get a chance to read this book, do it. You won’t regret it.

The Delavan House was a dusty temperance hotel right across form the railroad yards. Liquor wasn't allowed in the rooms or in the lobby, but you could find whiskey everywhere, in canisters, flasks, and canteens, in teapots, coffee cups, and milk bottles. (pg.33)


McManus was showing off to the Democratic and Republican chieftains. I had realized within a week or two that there was little difference between the Parties: judges, lawyers, bankers, business tycoons, and political bosses divvied up the power among themselves. (pg. 33)


His bravos began to fidget in their waistcoats. They'd expected to bushwhack me without a bundle of words. The Indian agent was on their side, or else they wouldn't have acted. They could blame my death on a drunken Shoshone warrior. But I cut into their calculations with the scythe of an ex-lawman. (pg. 119)


I did not believe in sentimental attachments. I walked where I had to walk like a whirlwind, and then ripped that whole panorama from my mind. I had been that way as a rancher in the Badlands, as deputy sheriff, or Civil Service Commissioner, and President of the Police Board. (pg. 168)


He brooded for a moment. He wasn't a showman in his heart of hearts. He was a man-killer, another Wild Bill, in a world where man-killers had become fossilized. And so he dreamt of Hickok, while he curated the Wild West. That's why he was so successful. It wasn't his strengths as an impresario. It was the dream of violence that lay embedded in every one of his acts. A two-gun man hovered under his tents--Hickok's ghost. (pg. 240)


And I had a dream of such utter loneliness and despair that I could feel my head ride right off my shoulders and bounce across the convention hall like some monstrous gourd with a mustache and a pair of spectacles, as Hanna's delegates and their wives in the balcony hissed and heaped their venom upon me with balled handkerchiefs of spit.... (pg. 261)


"Son, you should be careful about escorting young ladies into a miner's shaft. The real danger isn't the dark." (pg. 278)


LIFE OF PI by Yann Martel


Rating:



I saw the movie Life of Pi when it came out in theaters in 2012. The visuals in the trailer and the idea of being trapped on a boat with a tiger enthralled me and I loved the film. There was always an interest in me to read the book but the thought had drifted away not unlike Pi himself on his lifeboat. Now, years later I found myself at a library book sale and how could I not pick it up for a couple bucks? To my surprise the book was more up my alley than I previously realized. It was news to me that it was considered a philosophical novel with a heavy focus on spirituality, religion and the art of storytelling. Maybe because I was young when I saw the movie I missed these aspects of the film. Either way, I was engrossed in the story as I read about Pi’s spiritual journey learning about the major religions and taking his pieces from each. Of course, the action and survival aspect of the entire story is thrilling as well. Pi, after an inspection of his youth and early introductions to philosophy and religion, finds himself on a large boat transporting his families zoo animals to Canada from India. A large storm causes problems for the boat and he finds himself aboard a life boat with one of the tigers from his family’s zoo. Naturally, things get dicey. The book begins with the premise that there’s a story that could make you believe in God and proceeds to attempt to prove said premise true. In the end, let the reader decide. It gets at something I attempted to get at in my novel, Free Dom. How stories can shape and impact us and whether or not the historical accuracy is not only important but even relevant to the hearer. Life of Pi poses these thoughts for you to chew on and I thoroughly enjoyed not only the ride but the thoughts I was left to mull over after. If you are looking for a combination of a great story and thought provoking ideas, this is the book for you.


I don't mean to defend zoos. Close them all down if you want (and let us hope that what wildlife remains can survive in what is left of the natural world). I know zoos are no longer in people's good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both. (pg. 19)


And so, in that Greek letter that looks like a shack with a corrugated tin roof, in that elusive, irrational number with which scientists try to understand the universe, I found refuge. (pg. 24)


What a downright weird story. What peculiar psychology.

I asked for another story, one that I might find more satisfying. Surely this religion had more than one story in its bag--religions abound with stories. But Father Martin made me understand that the stories that came before it--and there were many--were simply prologue to the Christians. Their religion had one Story, and to it they came back again and again, over and over. It was story enough for them. (pg. 53)


This Son is a god who walked, a pedestrian god--and in a hot place, at that--with a stride like any human stride, the sandal reaching just above the rocks along the way; and when He splurged on transportation, it was a regular donkey. This Son is a god who died in three hours, with moans, gasps and laments. What kind of a god is that? What is there to inspire in this Son?

Love, said Father Martin. (pg. 56)


It was wrong of this Christian God to let His avatar die. That is tantamount to letting a part of Himself die. For if the Son is to die, it cannot be fake. If God on the Cross is God shamming a human tragedy, it turns the Passion of the Christ into the Farce of Christ. The death of the Son must be real. Father Martin assured me that it was. But once a dead God, always a dead God, even resurrected. The Son must have the taste of death forever in His mouth. The Trinity must be tainted by it; there must be a certain stench at the right hand of God the Father. The horror must be real. Why would God wish that upon Himself? Why not leave death to the mortals? Why make dirty what is beautiful, spoil what is perfect?

Love. That was Father Martin's answer. (pg. 54)


I remember the smell of the spent hand-flare shells. By some freak of chemistry they smelled exactly like cumin. It was intoxicating. I sniffed the plastic shells and immediately Pondicherry came to life in my mind, a marvelous relief from the disappointment of calling for help and not being heard. The experience was very strong, nearly a hallucination. From a single smell a whole town arose. (Now, when I smell cumin, I see the Pacific Ocean.) (pg. 200)


At the second it was in position at the base of his tail, Richard Parker's anus distended, and out of it, like a bubble-gum balloon, came a black sphere of excrement. It fell into my cup with a clink, and no doubt I will be considered to have abandoned the last vestiges of humanness by those who do not understand the degree of my suffering when I say that it sounded to my ears like the music of a five-rupee coin dropped into a beggar's cup. (pg. 214)


I bit into it. My chops were in for a shock. The inner tube was bitterly salty--but the outer was not only edible, it was delicious. My tongue began to tremble as if it were a finger flipping through a dictionary, trying to find a long-forgotten word. It found it, and my eyes closed with pleasure at hearing it: sweet. (pg. 259)


"So you want another story?"

"Uhh...no. We would like to know what really happened."

"Doesn't the telling of something always become a story?"

"Uhh...perhaps in English. In Japanese a story would have an element of invention in it. We don't want any invention. We want the 'straight facts', as you say in English."

"Isn't telling about something--using words, English or Japanese--already something of an invention? Isn't just looking upon this world already something of an invention?"

"Uhh..."

"The world isn't just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn't that make life a story?"

...

"I know what you want. You want a story that won't surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won't make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastiness factuality." (pg. 302)


"So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can't prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals?"

Mr. Okamoto: "That's an interesting question..."

Mr. Chiba: "The story with animals."

Mr. Okamoto: "Yes. The story with animals is the better story."

Pi Patel: "Thank you. And so it goes with God."

[Silence] (pg. 317)


Thanks for reading and if you take any of these recommendations I hope you enjoy the read!

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