Tag Archives: Literature

Book Review: Do prophets dream of electric psalms?

The latest two books I’ve read are connected in an obtuse manner. The first was sci-fi classic, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, by Phillip K. Dick, and the second was all-round classic, The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran. The former questions what it means to be alive; the latter gives answers on how to live.

This was the first Dick book I’ve read. I saw Bladerunner years back when I was too young to appreciate it. However, appreciating the existential nature of the novel is a delight.
Language wise, I loved the abbreviations, the most notable of which is ‘andy’, a nickname that has very human connotations. Dick has a simple style, but paints a dreary picture very effectively. His characters are all a little eccentric, lost in a technologically denigrated world. Sometimes the dialogue was a little brash, a bit out of character, but that happened rarely.
Our protagonist, Rick Deckard, is a bounty hunter who tracks down and ‘retires’ renegade androids. The difficulty comes in how close androids mimic human behaviour, meaning that an empathy test has to be administered. The fun (but that I mean learning) of the book comes in when Deckard asks androids (and humans) the questions, and how he tricks them into revealing whether or not they are alive. Deckard at one stage ponders his own existence, and the book ends on an ambiguous note. When a book blurs boundaries like this it adds so much joy to the experience, and I found myself stopping many times to try and think through the philosophies. I can’t wait to read more from this clear master of sci-fi.

The Prophet is less plot engaged, and reads more like a self-help book. The Prophet, who is the protagonist, is leaving his town, and is asked by fellow villagers a variety of questions. These include “Tell us of Children” and “Speak to us of Reason and Passion”.
My parents gave this to me when I left home, clearly for good reason. Finally getting around to it has been a blessing (they highlighted the chapter on Children).
I’m not sure how much I can take away from it, but I will certainly use it as a reference book. For example, this quote is from the chapter on Work:

You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.
For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out life’s procession that marches in majesty and proud submissions towards the infinite.

Good to keep in mind when you’re dragging your feet around the office.

These are two books I would highly recommend, and both will give you a slightly better grasp on life – albeit with completely different methods.

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Reads of the Day: Inspirational

Couple of links for today, a big discrepancy between pictures and a long read. Mondays are the worst what with Sunday Reading and all that. Nothing on the Oscars (thankfully):

 

“Stories don’t come with a convenient label: you need to be able to spot them — while experiences can make for great material.” — Some good tips to take on board.

“25 Places That Look Not Normal, But Are Actually Real” — That’s a terrible title, but the photos are inspiring.

“But the reality of choice makes digital determinists uncomfortable, for it puts the individual and society back in control of the machine.” — The ever-engrossing debate over Intellectual Property.

“You, tomorrow, could have your own bookstore, selling books in any format, that anyone could read on any device they wanted.” — Speaking of which, book publishing doesn’t know what it wants.

“In short, drones provide the technological impetus and the military capacity to turn the entire world into one giant, permanent theatre of war and a subject of total surveillance.” — Well, no need to read the rest then.

And in related news: How to defeat the drones.

 

Until next time, keep those eyes on the Web.

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Reading Review: The Trial and On the Art of Reading

I have read Metamorphosis, and didn’t really get it. The same goes, now, for The Trial.

Kafka has an amazing style, and conjures wonderfully dreary environments for his characters, but the underlying message — the novel doesn’t really go anywhere — eludes me. At first I thought it was about his take on writing, and how he feels trapped, judged by those around him. Then I thought it was about a girl, a commitment to marriage that he wanted to escape, and everything that happened was a horrible dream. The scene where he makes love with the administrator’s mistress is particularly reminiscent of a dream or fantasy.

Where did these ideas come from? The little introduction, the few pages that a lot of classic books have that talk about the author and the book. From reading this one can then judge what the book is about. From pinpointing exactly when in the writer’s life a certain text was written the reader can discern what the hell they are talking about. Rather than Cliff’s notes, read the author’s biography.

This is one of the pieces of great advice that I took from the book On the Art of Reading, a transcription of lectures given by one Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch from around the First World War. Example chapters include Children’s REading, On Reading the Bible, and Of Selection. He restates such virtues as writing every day, and inspires some new thoughts, such as waiting to read Paradise Lost until the age of 30, and using the Book of Job (yes, from the Bible) in literature classes. Not much has changed, and in fact the body of written work has expanded, making judicial choice much more important, and that importance is a matter of subjectivity. To quote Sir Arthur, “Considering for a moment how personal a thing is Literature, you will promptly assure yourselves that there is —there can be — no such thing as the Hundred Best Books.” Read widely, but wisely.

So back to The Trial. Has reading it imparted anything on me? I can’t say, except for perhaps the unique style, that is has. Certainly knowing more of the man may help, but as it is, The Trial is a bleak story and that’s about it.

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Reads of the Day: Writing and Working

There have been a bunch of articles the last few days that I’ve been waiting to read, but due to other commitments haven’t got round to. Finally I have caught up and I see a trend. The following are links that lead to musings on writing, so if you’re not that way inclined, tough luck.

“It’s because it’s hard work a lot of the time, and when it gets hard it’s never more important to stick with it, and good writers know this.” — This speaks right to me, seeing as I am, generally, a very grumpy kind of guy.

“And the shorter format, writers say, is a good fit for the small screens that people are increasingly using to read.” — Just when I start to make serious headway on short form, too.

“So even if short story collections were enjoying a boom in sales at the moment, there’s no reason — or at least no reason the Times’ piece presents — to conclude that digital publishing has played any role in that (nonexistent) phenomenon.” — Oh, a response.

“And yes, we can put a lot of the blame on the skewed priorities of publishers and ask why they don’t hold the written word as sacred.” — Freelancing is the reality; make it a living.

“Unfortunately, my mind is neither slow nor steady; it is erratic, sometimes bursting, sometimes dormant.” — I am SO this way inclined.

“‘Well, I’ll tell you a story,’ the fisherman said. And then he proceeded to do quite the opposite.” — On injecting story into non-fiction.

 

And finally, a little news piece on working in the CREATIVE arts in Australia.

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Saturday Review: Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson

I’m not a man who believes in fate, and despite so many examples that would swing lesser folks towards faith, the only time I let the blithering excitement of serendipity touch me is in a bookstore. Such a breakdown of my moral code occurred when I purchased the Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson in my local second-hand hawker. I was casually flicking through titles and picked up the intriguing On the Art of Reading, when this tome of Miss Dickinson’s insights revealed itself.

Old, with some random's signature on the half-title page!

Old, with some random’s signature on the half-title page!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s technically not on The List—I was meant to read the Complete Poems—but when fortune slaps you in the face like that, you take it in both hands and let the warm, fuzzy feeling take over.

It should be noted that I don’t read poetry. The seller even commented that, “It’s good to see people reading poetry.” I felt more than a little guilty. But heck, after the experience, I’m now primed for more. When I can sit shirtless on my deck overlooking St Kilda, glass of Pinot Grigio in one hand, the text in the other, and enjoy the lyrical lilt of a Great, well, who wouldn’t want to keep doing it? All I need is a greasy mo, wayfarers, and a dangling cigarillo to be complete.

On with the words.

Poetry, man. Haven’t touched it since the first semester of my undergrad degree. I tried my hand, learnt the various forms, and promptly forgot  most of it. Never interested me. Now that I’m a little older though, things have changed. Emma is my first excursion since those faithless days.

Emily Dickinson is known as a recluse, and the introduction by Thomas H. Johnson reinforces this. It’s suitably even-handed, a great opener for the poetics to come. On the serendipity theme, the latest issue of the Victorian Writer mag is poetry themed, and I bought Philosophy in the Garden this week, which has a chapter on Dicko (is that blasphemous?). Poetry is the word of the week, it seems.

One thing I took away from my Arts degree is that poetry is usually about simple, everyday things. It’s like clowning, in that it takes something easy and makes it complex. Emily writes about lightning, gardens, and books. Oh, and death. Lots of death, lots of life, the question of immortality rears its head repeatedly. Here’s a great one:

Surgeons must be very careful

When they take the knife.

Underneath their fine incisions

Stirs the culprit, life.

Succinct. Beautiful. Need I say more? Despite this ease of image, Emily sometimes comes across as very haphazard and unconventional. She doesn’t always rhyme, but her use of words is delightful. “Emphatic thumbs,” is one such gem. Here are a bunch more great little stanzas:

Water is taught by thirst,

Land by the oceans passed,

Transport by throe,

Peace by its battles told,

Love by memorial mold,

Birds by the snow.

Fantastic juxtaposition. It also shows Emily’s obsession with certain things, in this case ‘birds’. Birds appear again and again, as well as bees and words like ‘dew’ and ‘Calvary’. When you’re onto something good, I guess…

There is no frigate like a book

To take us lands away,

Nor any coursers like a page

Of prancing poetry.

This travel may the poorest take

Without offence of toll.

How frugal is the chariot

That bears the human soul.

Something that I love, made even more lovely.

A sloop of amber slips away

Upon an ether sea,

And wrecks in peace a purple tar,

The son of ecstasy.

This is interesting because this is the second time I have seen the word ‘ecstasy’, and it’s spelled differently. Also, it sounds great.

Finally, a poem on the theme of serendipity to close.

Faith is a fine invention

When gentlemen can see,

But microscopes are prudent

In an emergency.

Christ, that hits the spot. Which poets do you like, and who would you recommend?

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