On Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt VonnegutI gained a greater appreciation of Kurt Vonnegut after reading Pity the Reader by Suzanne Collins and Kurt Vonnegut. I had read a handful of his books prior and did so primarily because he had become a larger literary figure and his book Slaughterhouse Five is often considered a classic American novel. I failed to fully appreciate the few novels I’d read at the time, and all of his work I’ve read recently I’ve enjoyed immensely. I think it is because I have a better understanding of the work as it continues to relate to the world we live in today.

Granted, some of the stories are dated considering they were written 60-80 years ago, but they are dated much in the same fashion as Philip K. Dick’s work is dated. In a nostalgic way that showed how hopeful and imaginative some were about a future that has since come and passed. Unfortunately, several topics Vonnegut covered continue to remain problematic in today’s society despite the decades since he wrote about them.

I first discovered Vonnegut randomly and without realizing who he was. There is/was this website that would take you to random websites much like playing roulette with the entire internet. I don’t recall the name, but several people at the university I was attending were using it to alleviate boredom and I momentarily joined the trend. Anyway, as I was jumping around the web, I came across a YouTube video of an older guy discussing the shapes of stories. This guy turned out to be Vonnegut and that video supposedly became fairly popular as Suzanne Collins explains in Pity the Reader. This was my first encounter with Vonnegut and surprisingly remains with me. He was witty and fun while remaining serious about what stories were and how they impact us, or rather what is needed for us to like or relate to them. He was able to distill complex topics into simple explanations which is the mark of a master.

Though I have explored Vonnegut’s work, there is still plenty I have yet to cover but I am taking my time. I don’t feel a rush to read it all and I think it is better to read his books scattered among other books (at least that is how I like to read them). After learning more about Kurt Vonnegut, I not only feel I have a better appreciation of his work, I think I have a better appreciation of what this life is and what we should be doing with it. I hate to say I need reminders from time to time as I get busy with work and responsibilities and forget to take a step back and remember to breathe. Vonnegut’s work often does the job reminding me that society is essentially a farce and we shouldn’t invest too heavily in our participation.

Vonnegut, like many other authors I’ve come to cherish, was actually alive during my lifetime but I failed to realize this until after his passing. Kurt Vonnegut was born in 1922 and died in 2007. He first published in 1951 and went on to write 14 novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five nonfiction works. Much of his work, and much about himself, had a deep-rooted connection to his time spent as a soldier in World War II. Many speculate that Slaughterhouse Five is his work that most closely discusses his experience during the bombing of Dresden. Perhaps his view of the world was highly influenced by his need to make some sort of sense out what he experienced, but that is simply my own speculation. Regardless of what happened in the past, he left behind a sizable volume of work that continues to be read by many today and which will persist well into the future.

Welcome To The Monkey House

Welcome to the Monkey House book coverWelcome To The Monkey House is a collection of short stories by Kurt Vonnegut. Having recently read Pity the Reader which provided much insight into Vonnegut the writer and Vonnegut the person, I read this collection with much more appreciation, and much more fun, that I think I would have otherwise. I even laughed out loud a few times which I almost never do when reading.

I will also admit that I partially picked up this collection for the story “Harrison Bergeron” which I had read in either high school or my undergraduate years (so many years ago) and had for a long time associated the story with Ray Bradbury (I think because I read the story at first while also reading Fahrenheit 451).

This collection is great. Despite all of these stories being written in the 1950s and 1960s, most of them comment on social issues that persist or are, unfortunately, re-emerging today. I also think it is fun to read stories like these 60-70 years after they were written because they often imagine a future that people from those days thought might come to pass. They were big dreamers back then and lived in a much different world than the one we have today. Of course, these being stories, they include conflict despite the “bright” future they imagine or because of the “darker” future they could also dream up. I will admit that “Deer in the Works” may not be terribly far off from a situation Vonnegut imagined could happen in a future of mega-corporations.

Overall, this is a fun collection and, despite some aspects of these stories being outdated, the stories remain relevant and insightful about the human race and the way we interact with each other.

Happy Reading.

How Not To Die

How Not To Die book coverThe next step on my journey into nutrition was How Not To Die by Michael Greger, M.D., with Gene Stone. This book is filled with interesting information whether you are working toward a healthier you or if you just like general knowledge about the society we live in. The focus is on the 15 leading causes of death in the United States and each chapter focuses on an individual disease, what pharmaceutical options have been created to address it, and what foods have been used to address and reverse the disease. Basically, this book discusses using food, or diet, as medicine with plenty of interesting facts that may surprise you. The second half of the book is Dr. Greger’s daily dozen foods he recommends to promote and maintain a healthy lifestyle that will add years to your life.

I’m not recommending this book because I want to shift your entire focus to your diet or make you feel bad for wanting to eat a burger. Why read a book about diseases if you are healthy? Well, this book is more than just about diseases (though many of the diseases discussed can begin years before being detected). I am recommending this book because it is an interesting read and can be a very useful reference tool to help you or perhaps someone you know. To put it simply, the standard American diet is not healthy and often leads to the leading causes of death in this country. If a few small changes to your eating habits can drastically improve your health, why wouldn’t you give it a shot?

With nearly 150 pages of notes (out of the book’s total 560 pages) that reference the many papers, studies, and other medical and historical publications, Dr. Greger took evidence from the vast resources of medicinal studies and created an easy-to-read book to help us better understand how our diets impact our health. He doesn’t promote any fad diets or specific eating restrictions. He even promotes eating foods in less healthy forms if that is what it takes to help you eat healthier than you are now and hopefully help create a trend upward towards an even healthier you.

It is crazy how little the average person knows about nutrition. I remember growing up learning about the Food Pyramid which has since been debunked, and I wouldn’t dare follow it given what I know now. My recent dive into nutrition proves how little I knew, and I am glad my current focus is creating a better future for me. I know many people want to be healthier and many know how to be healthier, but they just don’t have the motivation or commitment to make it happen. If you fall into this category, I think books like this can help with motivation because it helps you focus on your future with encouragement to act now. Reading about studies on heart disease makes you want to ensure you don’t develop heart disease. Dr. Greger’s daily dozen foods is available in an app simply titled the daily dozen. The best part is you don’t need to sign up or create an account. It is simply a checklist with access to other information about the food groups to help you begin healthier habits. He has a website NutritionFacts.org which is filled with short videos and articles centered around nutrition. Interested in a new type of food or a natural way to decrease blood pressure? There are dozens of videos averaging 3-4 minutes long to help you learn and better understand your body and how the food you eat can help or hinder your health.

I’ve been focusing on my health recently for a multitude of reasons, but primarily to build a sustainable nutritional and physical regiment to maintain a healthy body and mind. My aim is to be healthy and live as long as possible for my family. The fact I have more energy and feel much better physically and mentally is a testament that it is working. I’m even starting to exercise and eat healthy because I enjoy it. My hope is that you also want to feel great and live as long as possible. I may not know you, dear reader, but I care about you nonetheless. You matter, and I want you to live a happy life.

Happy Reading.

Eat & Run

Eat and Run book coverI had no prior knowledge as to who Scott Jurek was or even that ultramarathons existed before I dove into Eat & Run by Scott Jurek with Steve Friedman. I am not a runner and I do not know anything about the sport except that races exist. I thought marathons were the longest type of race. A marathon is 26.2 miles. An ultramarathon ranges from 50 to 100+ miles. The Spartathlon is a race in Greece that is 152.4 miles (and people run this voluntarily!).

Eat & Run is part memoir, part running, and part nutrition. Altogether, it is a story about Scott Jurek’s life and his experience in the world of ultrarunning while being a vegan. I think, more importantly, this book delves into what drives us as human beings and what is important as we spend our precious time on this earth. As you can imagine, running 100+ miles is a monumental task for the average person and even those who regularly participate in these races often struggle, but part of what entices them to run such distances is the way they push beyond their limits and push through barriers to better understand themselves, physically and mentally, and the world around them.

There is naturally a very small group of individuals who gather around this niche sport, but most of them are minutely aware of their physical needs and capabilities as this is necessary to complete these types of runs. Scott researched and experimented with nutrition to help him become a better athlete, but also to be a healthier individual. His journey into veganism is purposeful despite many fellow runners thinking it wasn’t possible to compete on such a diet. Scott also delves into what drives him to compete in these races and what compels him to continue to push beyond his limits to the edge of what is physically possible.

You will never find me running for 24 hours straight, but what drew me to this book, and how I first learned about it, was the combination of exercise and nutrition. Someone recommended this book to me after a discussion of these topics. I do not plan to become a vegan (each chapter features a vegan recipe FYI), but I am interested in eating more simply to gain the benefits of being healthier and ultimately happier. I’ve begun a journey to improve myself physically through diet and exercise and I already feel better and more energetic. I want to explore this further and fine-tune both areas to maintain a healthy lifestyle so I can enjoy life as best I can but also to spend as much time as I can with my family.

I think we can all improve our eating habits for a better life. Modern foods are not designed to keep us healthy but rather to keep us fed (and often wanting more), and exercise can be difficult to fit into busy schedules and sedentary jobs. Even if you are not interested in running or a vegan diet, you may find Scott Jurek’s journey interesting. At the least, I hope it may inspire you to take a step, especially if it is a first step, toward a healthier and happier you.

Happy Reading.

The Genius Life

The Genius Life book coverThe Genius Life is Max Lugavere’s follow-up to Genius Foods, which I have recommended in the past. Genius Foods focused on a detailed breakdown of nutrition and how our diets impact our bodies and, more importantly, our minds. The Genius Life looks at other factors alongside nutrition that may be hindering our physical and mental health and is split into seven chapters that cover food, our circadian rhythm, the importance of sun and sleep, exercise, the various chemicals found in day-to-day products that disrupt our body, depression and anxiety, and how to incorporate some or all of the suggestions found in this book into your life and make them habits.

Like Genius Foods, this follow-up is chock full of great information broken down for easy reading. All data and research referenced in the book is cited if you want to dive further into any specific area. Many statistics were surprising to me. For example, the average person spends approximately 93% of their time indoors thanks to our modern lifestyle. I thought there was no way this could be correct, but then I examined my own time. I currently have a job where I work from home. Many of my hobbies are sedentary such as reading, writing, playing video games, or watching movies all of which often take place indoors (I do try to read outside when possible). Even most of my exercise is inside, at least for weight training, though I do try to get outside to go for long walks. The 93% of time spent indoors has subsequently led to 42% of the U.S. population being deficient in Vitamin D. So get out and spend at least a little of every day getting some of that beautiful sun.

I really enjoyed Genius Foods which helped me become more conscious of my eating habits and how my diet impacted my health, physically and mentally, and I believe I’ve come a long way with improving both since first reading it. Naturally, I picked up The Genius Life to learn even more and help refocus my attention on ways to be even healthier. The benefits are invaluable. I have much more room to improve, but I already have more energy, feel better mentally and physically, and hopefully will maintain great health and extend my life as long as possible so I can spend it with my family. I say this now having been exercising regularly for 3-4 months and losing almost 30 pounds in the past year (not including the 10 pounds I had put back on last holiday season, whoops!).

We only get one life and I think books like these help us realize how much better off we can be if we paid more attention to our environments and what we put into our bodies. It is never too late to get on a better, healthier path in life. This book has helped me do just that, and I hope it can do the same for you.

Happy Reading.