Robin

RobinThis week’s book recommendation is Robin by Dave Itzkoff. This is a thoroughly researched biography of Robin Williams. Nearly every account mentioned within these pages is told through first-hand experience by the people who were in Robin’s life at the time. It opens with the recounting of Robin’s childhood and education before quickly diving into his start in comedy. From there, it tells an unbiased account of Robin’s life all the way up until, and shortly after, Robin’s death in 2014.

Normally I’d add a quick statement about how a book like this might not appeal to many people, but in this case, I think this one does. Robin’s life and career has been experienced by millions of people. He was an icon and will continue to be one as future generations are introduced to his work. He was a well established film star by the time I was born but I was a huge fan of his. I was influenced by him. Inspired by him. I still am. Maybe even more now that I have a better understanding of who he was. I picked up this book simply to get to know him, and I’m glad I did.

I grew up watching several of his movies. His work in Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, as Genie in Aladdin. I loved all of these movies (especially Hook). Some of his movies I think mean more to me now that I’ve grown up. I also still need to see many of his movies that I didn’t know he had made or were made well before my younger years. A few in particular that are on my watch list after reading this book are The Fisher King and Good Morning, Vietnam. This book does include a complete list of Robin’s works both on-screen and off and includes the awards he was nominated for or won. It’s always interesting to discover how a movie was received in its time when you only know it after it gained a reputation. Some of his movies that are iconic now did not fare well in theaters. His films successes and failures weighed heavily on him.

For anyone who may only be interested in this book as a means to find an answer, you need only read the final few chapters. Though I hope you care enough to read all of it to fully understand him as a man. After all, there is a difference between knowing and understanding.

I won’t say too much because this isn’t just a story. This is a man’s life. A man that you may very well already have an opinion of, be it high praise or possibly even no appreciation at all. To me, he was a man full of life and empathy. He genuinely cared about others more than you would expect from anyone. The world needs more people like him. I hope I can spread a fraction of the good that he did…I miss him.

This book is for anyone who wants a peek behind the exuberant force that was Robin Williams. I think you’ll be surprised what you find.

Happy Reading.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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This week’s book recommendation is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. Originally published in 1974, this book is both autobiographical and philosophical fiction, which means it is based on true events while delving into philosophical topics that, well, make you think about the world we live in. This may be one reason I liked it despite struggling to get through a few, small sections of the book. This book is a bit long at 540 pages.

It starts off as a simple cross-country trip and ends up as an examination of the self. The subtitle “An Inquiry into Values” refers to the philosophical topics. There is a sequel to this book titled Lila: An Inquiry into Morals that I have yet to read and was not as popular as Motorcycle Maintenance, but I may eventually pick it up. Motorcycle Maintenance was Pirsig’s first book and became hugely popular shortly after its release selling approximately five million copies worldwide.

The title has been played off of since it first became popular. You have probably seen other books or titles that start with “Zen and the Art of [whatever]” around, but this title is actually a play off of Zen and the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel that actually goes into Buddhism and facts/practices of archery. Motorcycle Maintenance states little about actual motorcycle maintenance, but does have a few tips in that area. It rather focuses on Robert himself and what some may consider a slip into madness. This “madness” is what made me consider the constructs of language and how we are shaped, imprisoned, freed, and defined by it along with other social constructs we otherwise do not see because we are accustomed to them.

The best analogy I can come up with right now to explain this is ‘air’. We do not think about air. We constantly breath and bring it inside our chests where exchanges happen that allow us to continue living. We depend upon. We cannot live independently from it. When you really start to think about it and examine what it is and how it impacts us as people/living beings, you start to realize different aspects about it that you originally didn’t care to know or never experienced. Many people probably don’t realize the actual composition of air (mostly nitrogen, but of course contains the oxygen we thrive upon, and many other elements). The closer you look at it, the more it consumes your vision. There is a lot to learn.

But it is also not necessary information, right? We don’t need to understand ‘air’ to continue living, nor can we live “better” lives by knowing more about it. It is more of a reflection on how it affects us and how it is a part of us. This is really the best way I can describe what this book does. It brings some things into focus as if they were hiding behind a thin veil of reality. A solid thought for you to juggle with.

You’ll take away from this book what you put into it. Cliché, I know, but true. It is definitely easier to read than most philosophical books, but (like other philosophical books) this one may not be an easy read for many people. However, I do think it is worth the read, which is why I’m recommending it.

Robert M. Pirsig died last year on April 27th, 2017. His words have inspired millions and will continue to do so. Maybe they will provide you with a different way of looking at the world.

Happy Reading.

A Moveable Feast

A Moveable FeastThis week’s book recommendation is A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. This may be a book that is more interesting for writers or historians, but I think it’s an interesting read. The book is a memoir of Hemingway’s time in Paris. It was published in 1964, three years after his death in 1961. A “Restored Edition” was published back in 2010 and includes several sketches by Hemingway he made during that time along with other materials not found in the original publication.

Hemingway isn’t a colossal figure in my eyes as he is for many others. I’ll admit I’ve only read a few of his books, this being one of them, and several short stories (my favorite probably being “Hills Like White Elephants”). I understand why people like him and why he is such a figure in the literary world, but he didn’t instill a desire to devour everything he ever wrote that many claim to experience. I’ve experienced that feeling with other writers though. We all have our own tastes.

So why am I recommending this book? Because I like it. Simple as that. I like the truth of it. It’s a memoir, not a fiction. It details his life while in Paris and life was a lot different in the 1920’s than it is today, almost 100 years later (yeah, we aren’t too far away from 2020). Memoirs and biographies are like glimpses into the past where the world is the same but of course strangely different. I really enjoyed the final few chapters because they bring in F. Scott Fitzgerald. The two of them were good friends and there is a scene with Fitzgerald’s car breaking down that stuck with me because it would be considered absurd today. Maybe it was the sign of the times. Maybe people trusted each other a bit more back then (probably), or maybe it was the carelessness of these two writers with their lives outside of their written work. Who knows?

If you are interested in Hemingway, writing, or history, you’ll probably enjoy this book. Even if you don’t care for any of those things, you may still like it. If this book is outside of your comfort bubble of interest, try it anyway, or scroll to the top of the page and look at my other recommendations.

Happy Reading.

Man’s Search For Meaning

Man's SearchThis week’s book recommendation is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. Though this book takes on that penultimate question of humanity, it does so in a way that is derived from experience (an experience that pushes the limits of the human mind and body) and a careful examination of that experience. Vicktor E. Frankl was a neurologist and psychiatrist. This book details his experience and observations during his time in concentration camps. A majority of these reflections take place in Auschwitz.

Please try to prevent yourself from letting that information bias your opinion of this book. In fact, I suggest you try to temporarily forget what you know of World War II as you read it to better grasp what this book is attempting to discover. This book is a record of events and a psychological analysis of the human mind. The themes found here are dark at times and unveil some of humanity’s worst traits, but there is a triumph. Human history is plagued with injustices. This book doesn’t try to make sense of those injustices, it tries to make sense of the human mind and the differences between individuals. It attempts to discover what humanity really is.

This book was published in 1946. The first half consists of Viktor’s experiences in the concentration camps. He spends time analyzing the camp guards, but he spends even more time analyzing his fellow prisoners. The second half delves into Logotherapy, which is Viktor’s theory that human nature is motivated by a search for a purpose for one’s life. This search is individual and suggests that each person discovers their own answer to what their meaning is.

Most copies of this book are printed as a small paperback. Small enough to fit in a pocket and around roughly 150 pages. Despite its brevity, this book has the potential to cause introspection for the reader that in turn causes analysis of others. At the base of it all is a hope for humanity.

I often recommend books that have positively impacted me and that I greatly enjoy. Some of my past recommendations were purely entertainment picks. Many were books that opened my mind by making me questions certain things in this world. This book, Man’s Search for Meaning, is something a little more. Maybe because it is steeped in history or straightforwardly examines the very definition of humanity. Something about it resonated with me, and I believe I will return to it several times throughout my life.

Happy Reading.

J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography

TolkienThis week’s book recommendation is J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter. This is the first biography that’s made it onto my book recommendations list and I feel it is a good alternative to outright recommending The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, or any of his other tremendous works. I say this because anyone who knows me knows that I have a slight obsession with Tolkien’s works, which in turn made me feel like recommending his work was a cop-out as far as a book recommendation goes since his magnum opus is so popular.

So instead of writing a very lengthy recommendation on LotR, I am going to discuss the man himself. Humphrey Carpenter is an excellent biographer and definitely did his homework. He is also the only biographer (that I know of) to have gotten permission from J.R.R. Tolkien himself to write it. He therefore had access to a lot of material any other biographer then or since wouldn’t, making this biography one of the best out there about this man. It covers nearly the entirety of Tolkien’s life. From birth, into the wonders of childhood, through the Great War, and beyond into academia and fatherhood (not to mention the parts about writing a few books that caught the world’s attention). I found the time at Oxford the most interesting, but I’m biased toward academia myself. And despite being a non-theologian, I did find Tolkien’s faith and resolve toward it a bit inspiring considering the conflicts it caused among family.

I won’t cover any details because I don’t want to spoil anything from this great insight into the man behind the epic, but there is a good deal about his friendship with C.S. Lewis. I have no doubt that you will learn more than just about Tolkien from this book. So if you like Tolkien, or just like biographies/history, give this one some consideration. It’s good to read a little history from time to time. It’s like a glimpse into the past.

Happy Reading.