What If Our World Is Their Heaven?

What If Our WorldThis week’s book recommendation is What If Our World Is Their Heaven? The Final Conversations of Philip K. Dick. This book was one I found randomly at a book store. I had no idea it even existed, and I think it’s not too much of a stretch to say you hadn’t either.

I’ve recommended several books by Philip K. Dick before so of course I am a fan of his work, but this book is different. It’s actually an interview. Published in 2000, this “book” is really just a transcription of taped interviews that Gwen Lee had with Dick two months before he passed away on March 2nd, 1982 from a series of strokes. The transcription is unaltered and includes all “um”s and side-tracked conversations.

What I loved most about this short little “autobiography” of sorts is the glimpse into his mind. One of the key points included in this “book” is that it offers an insight into the book he was working on when he died. A book that was never finished. All we have of that would-be book is from these tapes. He discusses the plot in detail and gives us a glimpse of his writing process. The book would have been titled The Owl in Daylight and would have been an awesome read.

These interviews took place during the production of the Blade Runner movie as well, which is based on Dick’s novel Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep? It was really cool seeing how excited he was about the movie. Unfortunately, he never had the chance to see it beyond a few clips. He does discuss his book and the movie in these interviews.

I found it really interesting that he claimed he rarely read fiction. As a science fiction writer, you would think he read a lot of other novels including other science fiction work, but at the time of these interviews he admits he rarely read fiction anymore. He mostly read nonfiction and scientific books or articles. He was definitely an academic and loved learning new things. He mentions he learned Greek so he could read a religious text without a translation to make sure the there was no confusion about the context.

As a writer, I found it really interesting how he wrote his novels. The few details we get state that he would pump out a novel in one go. Write the entire thing within a matter of ten days or two weeks. He would become obsessed with the work until it was finished. Even at the cost of his health unfortunately. This is something that pops up when he talks about The Owl in Daylight and I’m not sure if there was a purposeful connection or not. One character is making incredible art, but it is physically killing him, and the ultimate choice he is given is to continue as he is, making the art until he dies, or go back to making mediocre art and regain his health. The more I think about it, the more I wish the book was completed.

Most of Dick’s work centers on a concept. That’s what I like about it so much. It is a conversation that the reader gets to be a part of. You can finish a short story or novel and you don’t feel like you’ve simply read a story. It gets your mind going. As with most of his stories, even this “book” that is really an interview made me want to write more. To explore concepts of my own and delve into the strange worlds I can create.

I’ll wrap this up before I ramble on too much. If you haven’t read anything by Philip K. Dick, do so as soon as possible. If you are a writer and haven’t read his work, do so as soon as possible or rather this very moment. Even if you have read his work and think it’s not for you, try this one out because it is about the man himself. Too often we enjoy the art, in whatever form, without really knowing anything about who created it. I’m glad I found the man as interesting as his work.

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 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 grow accustomed to them.

The best analogy I can come up 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 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, and 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.

Old School & This Boy’s Life

WolffThis week’s book recommendation is a two-for-one. Old School and This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff.

First is Old School. This book is one of two full-length books of fiction by Mr. Wolff (the first being The Barracks Thief), and is an expansion of his short story “Smorgasbord”, which was adapted and used as a chapter in the book. I greatly enjoyed this book for the same reason I enjoy all of Mr. Wolff’s work. He captures human moments and makes us think about our own actions and the way we interact with others.

This book is written as a fictional memoir of a man who recounts his senior year at a preparatory school that is highly influenced by the writing competitions it holds because of the famous authors who come in to judge the stories, which include Robert Frost, Ayn Rand, and Ernest Hemingway.

It’s an interesting story that spirals out of control near the end but, as many of Mr. Wolff’s stories go, the ending packs an unusual punch that makes you think about the importance of things and why we act the way we do.

I also thought this book was even better after having read Tobias Wolff’s actual memoir (and the second part of this recommendation), This Boy’s Life, which details his youthful years growing up. He has another memoir that recounts his time in Vietnam which I also enjoyed. It is called In Pharaoh’s Army. This Boy’s Life is not only compelling, but also shows how Mr. Wolff became the prominent person he is today (he is currently teaching at Stanford University). I also recently discovered (a few minutes ago in fact) that a movie was made from This Boy’s Life in 1993 starring Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio.

I don’t want to say too much because saying almost anything about a memoir, outside of general information, could be considered a spoiler. So all I’ll say is that I think Tobias Wolff is one of the best short story authors America has ever had. He writes primarily short stories and the books mentioned in this recommendation are the full length works he has produced. The two memoirs and the two books. He is well-known for his memoirs and I think that is what makes Old School successful (having been written as a fictional memoir). His work is naturally highly influenced by his own life. I won’t give you an order to read any of his work. I’m just suggesting you read anything he’s written. If you like it, as I have, you’ll want to read more.

Happy Reading.

A Slip of the Keyboard

Slip of the KeyboardThis week’s book recommendation is A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett. This is the first (and so far only) book I’ve read by Terry Pratchett. He is best known for his Discworld series and has fans from all over the world. If you are a fan of (or looking for) comedic fantasy, Terry will not disappoint you. I have many of his books on my “to be read” list and will eventually get around to them.

A Slip of the Keyboard is a collection of nonfiction, in which he covers many subjects and tells several stories. One of which details Neil Gaiman and himself misjudging a distance to a radio station they were scheduled to interview with, and their decision to walk resulted in them being hours late and effectively banned from that station.

He also covers several other topics. Some serious, some hilarious, but all of them genuine and endearing. He discusses in depth the illness that would eventually take his life, and the state of the medical field in England. He voices his opinions and I was glad to have listened. The world is oftentimes a chaotic mess and I wish Terry was still in the it to add his unique, fun chaos to the mix. It saddens me that I only discovered his writing (and him as a person) after he was gone, but he has left behind many “notes” for us to continue gleaning wisdom and humor from him.

Terry mentions in this collection that he was most proud of his book Nation, so of course that will be the next book I read by him. The Discworld series includes (I believe) over forty books. Not all of them are sequential or follow the same characters, but they all take place in the same universe and there is plenty of material should you wish to embark on such a journey.

I recommend you give any of Terry’s books a try. I still have many to look forward to myself. You can start with A Slip of the Keyboard like I did, or you can start with a work of fiction. As always, you have a choice.

Happy Reading.

The Princess Diarist

the-princess-diaristThis week’s book recommendation is The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher. Somewhat subject related to last week’s recommendation, this book is about Star Wars but not in the way you may think. This is Carrie Fisher’s memoir about her time working on the original Star Wars movie that released in 1977. She has several other memoirs, which I also plan to read. I picked up this one shortly after she passed away in December 2016.

This book is centered around Star Wars but really doesn’t talk about it as a subject at all. It is a great insight into what celebrity life can be like and goes into detail about the events of her life before and after the movies created one of the largest fandoms in history. It begins with her discussing how she never planned to go into show-business. One reason was because she grew up seeing the other side of the business being the daughter of Debbie Reynolds. I never realized how young she was when the first Star Wars trilogy was made. She was only 19 during the first movie. Another main topic of the book is her affair with Harrison Ford, which probably doesn’t go into enough detail for some but I thought it was well composed. Nearly a third of this book are actual pages of her diaries from the late 70’s. Diaries she re-discovered which prompted the book.

I think this book provides great details about who she was. She was often conflicted and always combating low self-esteem despite being an outwardly strong, independent role-model who seemingly never gave a shit. She definitely grew into that role. The later half details interactions with fans. You can imagine how some of the interactions go, but a few she details are something else. Though I can be really compassionate about things, I always think that if I were to meet an idol, I would keep my interaction brief and courteous (because I understand they have better things to do than talk to me). Though some fans go beyond the comfort levels, it was great to read that she had many great interactions and that she enjoyed every minute of meeting most of her fans.

This book is about how Carrie Fisher became Princess Leia and embodied that character nearly her entire life. She became an icon and had to live with the rewards and consequences of that. If you like memoirs or want to know more about Carrie or even just a little insight behind the scenes of Star Wars, give this book a read.

Happy Reading.