Bluebeard

BluebeardBluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut was first published in 1987 and is the hoax autobiography of Rabo Karabekian. This novel is laced with many parallels to Vonnegut’s own life. Much more so than his other novels as they all include aspects, either references or core experiences, from his personal history. Regardless of any level of direct association between author and text, this book was fun to read because it focuses on a changing history within America (and the world) mostly around art, war, and the changing of generations and what is remaining, fading, or gaining the spotlight of world events.

This novel centers around Rabo Karabekian, an aging artist and World War II vet, who has a secret locked away in his potato barn on Long Island. Along comes a younger, recently widowed, woman who invites herself to stay in his home and badgers him to tell her his life story. The result is in effect the entirety of this novel.

Circe Berman, the widow in question, is tiresome at times with her efforts to uproot Rabo’s contentment with (or resignation to) the life he has led. I doubt anyone would really have put up with some of her behaviors, but her own vitality re-ignites the old man’s interests in life to the point he is no longer content just sitting around and waiting to die. This gives us our story and one which I recommend because Vonnegut again gives a narrative that provides a unique perspective of what life means on this small world and how we live together within it.

The celebrities of today will fade and new popular artists and persons will emerge. Each generation seems to have their own heroes and time is unrelenting. Rabo Karabekian was fine thinking he was a forgotten artist who possibly made it into a footnote of history. He had seen much change in the world and most of his friends were gone. His perspective of seeing a world that has somehow already moved on from such a major event as World War II is both incredulous and sorrowful.

Unfortunately, the technologies of today almost make it seem like newsworthy events are cycling through the front page faster and faster than ever before. The world has forgotten the realities of the World Wars and unfortunately quickly forgets the realities of yesterday leaving us no time to mourn or laugh or even ponder the moments that are making up our lives.

So, dear reader, I hope you remember to slow down and enjoy the life you have. Read books that make you feel, think, wonder, and learn. Read books that give you new perspectives. The world is rich with all types of experiences. Go forth and enjoy the time you have.

Happy Reading.

Mother Night

Mother NightMother Night is Kurt Vonnegut’s third book and was originally published in 1961. It is one of several of Vonnegut’s novels that is relatively short and, at least for me, read easy. I very well could have finished it in an evening. I did finish in just a few days.

This story features Howard W. Campbell, Jr. who is wanted as a WWII Nazi war criminal. However, he was secretly a spy for America, his native country, but has no way to prove his work that helped defeat the Nazis and no agent from America will or can vouch for him. His work as a spy prevented him being tried as a war criminal directly after the war, but after 15 years lying low in New York, he becomes the center of many people’s, and several nation’s, attention once again.

Not only does this book drip with references to Vonnegut’s own time during WWII, but it provides a fictional yet very real perspective of how people still hold strong beliefs and alarmingly hateful ideas despite what paths have been walked throughout history. I hate to say that this book very much remains relevant considering the growing number of people spouting old hatreds that should have been buried by society long ago (or perhaps the hatreds were always there and they found new ways or more confidence in shouting them).

Howard W. Campbell, Jr. is a man who did and promoted terrible things. He admits as much and states how he was able to do them in order to survive the times that enveloped much of the world. He knew the evils he committed but held shreds of hope that his work was worthwhile as through those evils he provided information to assist those he truly believed in. His struggles resulted in a mostly apathetic, shattered old man who finds a way to live through any situation or society. Unfortunately, I think to a degree, we all take part in a society where we disagree with many aspects and wish things were better than they were or more accepting of the things we hold most valuable.

For me, that would be books, and the recent increases in book bans (including works by Vonnegut) only increases my desire to speak up and spread the information others want to suppress. Perhaps this counts as doing just that.

Happy Reading.

Kokoro

Kokoro book coverKokoro by Natsume Soseki was first written in 1914 but it reads as a timeless story albeit tied to a defining era. Published two years before Soseki’s death, this book is threaded with seemingly autobiographical content if you were to explore Soseki’s own life. However, despite the connections that can be easily made, I often think it best to keep the author separate and let the text stand on its own.

That being said, I believe Kokoro is a good book for multiple reasons. The first and foremost being that the story is relatively short but overall is contemplative of life itself. The title roughly translates to, or is meant to mean, “the heart of things” and the story arguably centers around interpersonal interaction, the meaning of life in relation to those around us and those of different generations, the meaning of friendship, of love, and many other aspects of humanity as both singular and as a whole. Thus the title seems very fitting. How can all this be present in one novel, you may ask? Well, a book is simply an independent link between a writer and a reader. The reader brings their own experiences and history to a book. Once the book is out in the world, it no longer changes and the writer’s initial intentions may or may not remain as the text survives them. In other words, the writer is both of the utmost importance to the book but is also immaterial once it takes on a life of its own.

Which brings me to the second thing I enjoyed about this book. Since it was written over one hundred years ago, the book acts as a time-capsule into the past. Not the same as a history book. This story is fiction. Though I said earlier that it reads mostly as a modern novel, partly in thanks to the translation by Edwin McClellan, it is set in Japan in or around 1914 and therefore reflects the era in which it was written. Reading a story that had no concept of our modern day technology can help put our own era into perspective. For example, there are no telephones present in this story because they were not commonly available at that time. Letters were the main form of communication and therefore meant news would take days to reach someone. Something we can readily forget when we are connected or available at a moment’s notice every second of the day. Reading a story where there is no immediate connection or ability to access information at the touch of a screen can be relaxing. If I’m honest, it is a good reminder that we don’t have to be connected at all times and that we should take time away from the screen. Either to contemplate why they exist or to forget them entirely. Another reason to enjoy physical books.

Seeing the world through another lens is often a good thing. It lends perspective and can help a reader learn more about the world we live in or more about themselves and their place in the world. This book I think does both. Which is why I am recommending it. It definitely is a book that you can take a lot away from, but at the same time only if you open yourself to the story. Each person may experience the story quite differently and take away different perspectives. You may read the book and find it boring or insightful. You may not finish it or it may be the best book you read this year. My only hope is that you are at least intrigued enough to consider reading it, especially if you had never heard of the book or this author before now.

Happy Reading.

Mythos

MythosI am a big fan of all kinds of mythology. I finally got around to reading Mythos which is Stephen Fry’s retelling of the Greek myths. Yes, Stephen Fry the comedian and actor. He even read/performs the audiobook, roughly 15 hours in length, which is how I made my way through this book. Though the overall story tells of a history of the world, it is a collection of smaller stories which makes it is easy to find stopping points or pick up without getting lost even when many stories build upon or reference earlier ones. I really enjoyed listening to Fry tell these stories and recommend the audiobook version though any version will prove entertaining and enlightening.

One thing I really enjoyed about Fry’s retellings was his method of showing how each story influenced the world we live in. He does so primarily by telling how certain words derived from or retain connections to the myths. You can certainly tell that he, perhaps with some assistance, conducted thorough research into these myths and enjoyed not only telling the stories but showing how they continue on.

It is commonly known that many of the Greek myths, or rather the problems at their center, stem from Zeus’s inability to keep it in his pants. This is of course true, but there is a lot more to the myths and there was much from this volume that was new to me. There were several stories I had not heard before and many characters I had known about but did not fully know their backgrounds or origins. For example, I knew the standard interpretation or general reference to Sisyphus, but I knew practically nothing else about him. Now I do and I feel much better about it for some reason. The same goes for many others including those who came before the more common Greek gods. I knew of Chronos and his relation to Zeus but I did not know his origin or those who existed before him. I did not recall how humans came to be via Greek myth but now I know that too. Thank you Prometheus.

There is so much depth and richness (both fascinating and horrifying) to the Greek myths and they greatly influenced, and continue to influence, much of the world. They are arguably the most well-known of the world mythologies and many stories today are influenced or reference them. There are of course those that directly relate to or incorporate the Greek gods such as the Percy Jackson series (that I have yet to look into), but there are many that are more subtly influenced by these myths. Fry has published additional myth-related books and I may eventually read, or listen, to them.

If you are a fan of mythology, history, or just interesting stories, then this is a book for you.

Happy Reading.

The Other Side of the Whale Road

The Other Side of the Whale Road Promotion BannerI’m happy to be part of the blog tour featuring The Other Side of the Whale Road by K.A. Hayton. Below is the official blurb for the book, and below that are my thoughts which are kept at a minimum to avoid spoilers but hopefully give you enough information about the book to help you decide if you would like to read it yourself.

When his mum burns down their house on the Whitehorse estate, sixteen-year-old Joss is sent to live in a sleepy Suffolk village. The place is steeped in history, as Joss learns when a bike accident pitches him back more than 1,000 years to an Anglo-Saxon village. That history also tells him his new friends are in mortal peril from bloodthirsty invaders. Can he warn their ruler, King Edmund, in time? And will he ever get home?

I think there are many good things happening in this book. A juxtaposition of different ways of life (present and across time), a troubled teen struggling to find his place in the world after being through the ringer of social services and a debilitated mother, and expectations fostered both internally and externally that are influenced by society. Overall, it is an adventure that touches on a lot of interesting points, a few I feel could have been explored further or in greater detail.

There were many things I liked about this book, but unfortunately several things I did not like about it, which was a bummer because I had high hopes for this story. Perhaps my expectations got the better of me this time around. The overall plot is good and it is easy to read. The time travel element is cool and interesting. I just had trouble personally connecting with the main character. This simply means that I didn’t enjoy the book as much as others will, and have, and that is okay. It could simply have been the fact that I was unable to connect with the sixteen-year-old Joss since I am now a crotchety old man at 30 years old (this is a joke…I think), or it could have been my perception that Joss never seemed at risk despite being placed in dangerous situations, or perhaps I don’t read enough young adult fiction to properly appreciate this story.

To put it bluntly, I think the real reason was simply how Joss treated the women he supposedly cares for within the story and the, albeit somewhat justified, chip on his shoulder. You might find Joss more interesting though and possibly enjoy this story much more than I did. I hope so.

The Other Side of the Whale Road releases on September 2nd.

Happy Reading.