Finally! I'm done with Vonnegut forever! Or at least for a long time.
For my final Vonnegut book, I chose The Sirens of Titan, mostly because its one of the few Vonnegut books that my school library carries, but also because The Sirens of Titan has themes similar to the themes found in Slaughterhouse-Five and Player Piano.
Although the writing of The Sirens of Titan focuses mostly on a man by the names of Malachi Constabt, Unk, or Space Wanderer (depending on his location), the story is truly about another man by the name of Winston Niles Rumfoord. Rumfoord finds himself in an unusual situation caused by space travels, and he develops the ability to see all of time at once. With his ability, he plans on doing something fantastic: uniting the people of Earth.
Rumfoord manipulates his own wife, Beatrice, as well as Malachi is such a manner that Rumfoord essentially de-humanizes them. In all fairness, Rumfoord de-humanizes several other human beings by erasing their memories and having them prepare for war. Where do these soliders train for war? On Mars. What race do they consider themselves? Martians. Who will the Martians fight in the war? The Earthlings.
Rumfoord creates his own church, known as The Church of the Utterly Indifferent. Malachi acts as a messenger, and travels from Mars, to Mercury, back to Earth, and then finally, to Titan, the largest moon of the planet Saturn. The content of book revolves mainly around Malachi and his struggles to win Beatrice's affection, his son's affection, and his life's purpose.
The themes that shine primarily in this book include religion, fate, and family. The religion theme comes to life when Rumfoord develops his own church, Malachi acts as a holy messenger, and when people follow a specific set of ten commandments. The fate theme is much more prominent, and is shown with several examples. Because Rumfoord can see all of time at once, he makes predictions about people's fates. Even though these people try to resist their destinies, their resistance causes their fate to become reality. The family thing lies primarily with Malachi- ignored by his father, shunned by his mate, and unloved by his son. Even though Malachi has no true family connections, his loyalty to his family is one of the most moving ideas in the book.
This book, unlike some other Vonnegut works, is written in a mostly linear progression. This allows us to follow along better than with some of his other works. Since we already know Malachi's fate, we are able to follow along with the story even when his name changes.
I also liked the concept of people trying to avoid their fate is what actually leads to them to their fate. It's a very clever interpretation of time, much unlike the popular time concept with which someone's resistance can change the future. With The Sirens of Titan, what is meant to be happens, regardless of any character's will to prevent it.
Here's what I didn't like:
1. Winston Niles Rumfoord. His character development is great, but there's just something about that guy that I hate. The way he manipulates people is cruel and intentional- he won't even assist his wife financially. His circumstance is one where rather than resisting his fate, he accepts it and won't even try to do anything else. If maybe Rumfoord went against what is meant to be, something exciting would have happened.
2. Malachi's long journy. The ideas behind Malachi's journey were great, but it was sooooo loooonnnngggggg. I think the book was a little lengthy to tell the story that Vonnegut wanted to convey. And then there were paragraphs, pages even, that seemed unnecessary to the overall plot line.
3. Some of the language used was not vile, but it wasn't pretty. It's just bland and boring.
4. The ending!!! I can't even spoil the ending, because it felt as if the book didn't even have a true ending. Ugh.
Hey, if you're into Vonnegut, go for it. If you like novels about fate, then maybe this book is for you. However, I can guarentee that there are more titles out there that you will like loads more than The Sirens of Titan.
This was a book that met one of our book club’s central tenets: it was a book we would never pick up and read on our own. This was the story of the murder of a young English woman, Luci Blackman, in Tokyo, the difficult and Byzantine police response following her disappearance, and the tearing apart of her family and friends.
For the first third of the book, you don't even know if they will figure out who her killer was. It turns out the crime rate is so low in Japan that the police were unprepared and inexperienced in crime investigations against a perpetrator as skilled and careful as this case. Were it not for Luci's father Tim Blackman, the investigation would have gone no further than investigations of previous murders by the story's monster, Obara. Tim Blackman, for all his failings, was the force behind the ultimate discovery and capture of his daughter’s killer.
The book also examined the extensive personal fallout from Luci's disappearance/murder. One line toward the end of the book summed up: where after some tragedies, people come together, in this case the centrifugal forces pushed people apart: Luci's' mother Jane, sister Sophie, brother Rupert, and friend Louise all ended up with their own sets of demons, and all suffered mostly alone. The damage of the murder, the tedious and impersonal investigation, the battered relationships among people in Japan, all contributed to the depths of despair for all the affected characters.
Some of the greatest insights into Japanese culture included examination of its xenophobia: separation of gaijin (foreigners) and particularly deep prejudice against Koreans, which may have been at the heart of Obara's sociopathy. The protocols within Japanese society toward criminality, including a 99+% confession rate, stifled the investigation and the conviction (there never was one) in a variety of ways; the expectation of "salarymen" to hang out and flirt with young women after work and before going home sustained a 'mistress for an evening' custom, where excesses were mostly reined in by unwritten rules of engagement; precisely where Obara inserted himself. Obara operated cleverly within his society, understanding its vulnerabilities, and leveraging these to satisfy his personal brand of depravity.
The trip into such degradation in the underbelly of an urban Japanese society was distressing. We all agreed it was worth reading, but to peer into the heart of evil is not a place to visit deeply, or often.
Some questions we explored:
- Was Tom wrong to take the money? Jeff argued (and I agreed) that we should pause before being too judgmental. How we think we might react in a given situation may be different when faced with such opportunities. We are all the products of our own experiences, and these are different for every soul.
- Could he have operated as effectively within American culture? Hard to know.
The other gross characters:
- How about the con man Mike Hills? Predator of people in desperate circumstances.
- The S&M sickos, Matsuda, and Takamoto. 'Nuf said.
And the outlier of human personality (the effective sociopath) intersecting the outlier very rich and very smart (the evil genius) trust fund operator: together enabled his continuous two decade long sex crime spree. The combination of evil with its effect on all the people it touched was beyond disturbing, particularly as these characteristics collided badly with an otherwise normal, adventurous yet inexperienced girl.
Our conversation led into a broader discussion of institutions (or in this case an entire culture) lacking adequate degrees of accountability, and how such institutions leave room for evil to sprout quietly up from within, ultimately challenging the very foundations of the affected institutions. Would the case change Japanese police procedures? Even that question remains unanswered.
If you haven't heard of The Hunger Games, then there is a large chance that you have been living under a rock.
Suzanne Collins's highly praised series has gained a lot of attention over the past few years. Just over a year ago, I attended the midnight premiere of The Hunger Games, and that movie absolutely rocked! (Check it out, AFTER you read the book.) The rest of the movies for the trilogy are in production, and here are some quick spiels from me about the series.
*Warning: Spoiler alert*
The Hunger Games
Katniss Everdeen lives in District Twelve, and offers herself as tribute in order to save her sister Prim, from competing in the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games are an annual event in which children from each district must compete to the death. Katniss and Peeta, the other competitor from her district, journey to the Capitol, flirt with the media, and eventually take part in the slaughter that are the Games. Using trickery and strategy, Katniss and Peeta live to the end. There's only one problem: there can only be once victor. Instead of murdering the other, the two plan a joined suicide, forcing the Game Makers to allow two victors for the first time. However, the battle for Katniss and Peeta has only just begun.
The girl on fire returns once again in the sequel. Selected to compete in the Quarter Quell, Katniss must once again live the nightmare that is survival of the fittest. The Games in the second book differ from those in the first, but Katniss essentially does the same thing she did before: make friends, use strategy, and lie to earn the sympathy of the audience. Faking a pregnancy, Katniss competes as the world watches her fate. The most alarming thing is the ending. Katniss does not win. Rather, she is busted out by refugees from District Thirteen, along with other competitors. Peeta is not saved, but captured by the government and held hostage. The book ends with a cliffhanger, which can only be satiated by reading Mockingjay.
To be honest, I don't know if I have the credibility to write about Mockingjay. The Hunger Games was brilliant, Catching Fire was alright, but Mockingjay was downright horrible. I couldn't even bring myself to finish the book, and that NEVER happens. What's the point of starting a story if I'm never going to finish it? But I couldn't. I simply couldn't. The plot line went from being clever and exciting to boring and slow. I literally had read more than half the book and absolutely nothing had happened. It's a shame that Mockingjay turned out so horribly, but I believe it to be the horrible end of what was a great idea for a trilogy.
The Hunger Games is definitely worth a read. (The movie is fantastic too.) If you like the first book, then give the second book a chance. If you want to read the whole trilogy, then go for it. However, if you don't want the fantastic idea of The Hunger Games ruined for you, then I recommend reading the first book and then stopping. The second book was highly repetitive with ideas from the first, and the third was unbearable.
Vonnegut round two.
If you didn't see my first blog about Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, then you might not understand why I have two books by the same author on the blog, especially within such a short time period. No, I am not a Vonnegut fanatic; however, he is the author for my literature enrichment project. Here we go!
The novel takes place post-World War II America, and our main character is a man by the name of Paul Proteus. Paul is an engineer, and he wants to break free from the restraints that society has placed onto him. He searches for a better meaning of life. In order to do so, Paul purchases a farm, attends the annual engineering retreat, and joins the Ghost Shirt Society. The ending of the book is somewhat abrupt, but nonetheless, the ending is appropiate with the entirety of the novel.
The novel shows a clear anti-technology theme. Although Vonnegut wrote this novel in the 1950s, and things such as vacuum tubes seem very archaic and outdated to us, the idea of advancing technology still resonates within the work. Other themes include topics like self-discovery and government/society.
I enjoyed Player Piano much more than Slaughterhouse-Five. As a piece of literature, this novel expresses themes subliminally and it does so wonderfully. Compared to Slaughterhouse-Five, this book actually has a linear plot. Although this may take away from some of Vonnegut's creativity, the story is easier to follow. Player Piano manages to use the classical Vonnegut language that is used in Slaughterhouse-Five, but I found Player Piano to be much more enjoyable.
Player Piano reminds me a lot of George Orwell's 1984. The same overarching theme encompasses both novels: a society from which it is impossible to break away. If you are a fan of Orwell, or dystopian novels in general, Player Piano is the book for you. Even though Vonnegut's claim to fame is that his novels are science fiction, Player Piano embodies the dystopian genre much better than the science fiction genre. I'm hoping to truly find Vonnegut's oh-so famous science fiction in The Sirens of Titan, which is the novel I plan on reading next for my project.
We had most members of the book club join us for this topical and timely discussion of Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind:Why Good People Disagree on Politics and Religion. The book had so many provocative features we jumped around in our discussions, and still covered a lot of ground.
The book is broken into three logical sections, each building on the previous. The first section introduces the elephant and rider metaphor: the rider can influence the direction of the elephant of our emotions, but can’t control them.
The next discussed how political proclivities can be reflected by a combination of measuring personal interest on 6 spectra: Care–Harm; Liberty–Oppression; Fairness–Cheating; Loyalty–Betrayal; Authority–Subversion; and Sanctity–Degradation. Conservatives find all six metrics important; liberals are more influenced by the first three, to the exclusion of the latter three.
Some members were skeptical of the characterizations that make up a "righteous mind", putting human thinking and behavior into these six silos reduces the incredibly complex and infinitely more variable human being onto a chart. But this is the nature of science: you have to measure what you want to quantify.
The final section discussed human groupishness. We are mostly chimps, pursuing self-interests first, but partly bees, a part of a community greater than we can be on our own. These communities can be national (affecting ‘loyalty’ and ‘authority’), as well as groups closer to home. We talked about our own “hives”. All found family to be primary, but other hives included local social hives, professional, and church.
At our book club meeting, one person argued against the Dawkins view that sanctity and religion are mere evolutionary coping mechanisms for establishing a moral order within human society with degradation and suppression often the result. The early Christian church behaved in ways that severely reduced their chance of survival as an institution, based on faith, not to establish a moral order. Another posed the question, "to what degree must you believe the supernatural of the ‘sacred’ in order to have faith as guide in life?" I offered the explanation that it’s the struggle in pondering this question that matters.
Most members agreed that this book helped to understand why different people think differently about the same set of facts. We also talked about the distinction between evolving political positions and 'flip flopping'. Evolution is defensible, but switching based on polls alone deserves the scorn usually heaped on anyone whose political position changes.
We concluded our discussion early to allow all to get home in time for the second presidential debate back in October. Definitely worth a read if you're into politics and/or psychology.
Just like every senior taking the AP Literature class at my high school, I have to pick an author and analyze his/her writing using literary criticism in order to write three papers. Sounds fun, right?
Well, I thought I would go ahead and be different. So many of the authors, such as Jane Austen and Ernest Hemingway, are already so appreciated in the literary world that I thought, "Hmmm... Maybe I should do an author that isn't as well known. Maybe I should break away from the typical story, the typical genre, and be my own person with my own unique author!" So I did. So it goes.
If you didn't guess from last sentence, I chose Kurt Vonnegut, most famous for his war novel Slaughterhouse-Five. (If you are a Vonnegut fan, and you realized I used that sentence incorrectly, I assure you that I KNOW.) I read Slaughterhouse-Five first and oh man, I certainly do have some things to say about THAT.
First of all, Slaughterhouse-Five isn't written in a linear progression. The protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, is a man with the ability to travel through time. As a result, we see different parts of Billy's life as we read through the novel. Some of the events we witness out of order are his experiences in the war, his kidnapping to the alien planet Tralfamadore, and even Billy's own death.
Although the concept of a nonlinear story is intriguing, the story was somewhat difficult to follow. However, the ideas and events in Billy's life come full circle and make complete sense only after finishing/ approaching the finish of the novel.
Slaughterhouse-Five explores many different literary themes. I focused on the ever-present anti-war theme in my paper, but many other topics could be explored. For example, Christianity and religion play a role in the tale of Billy's life. Also, fate and free will are considered, and a new perspective of the world is put into play.
I'm not going to lie to you; it wasn't the best book I've ever read. It also wasn't the worst. The book covers a lot of darker themes and is somewhat depressing. If you aren't into darker humor and satire, Vonnegut and his works are not for you. If you are looking for a light read, without deeper analysis and more of a plot, then I recommend reading something else. Slaughterhouse-Five is not a novel that should be light-heartedly picked up and read over the course of a few days. In fact, it's the exact opposite. I feel as if people who are deeply into literature and deeper meanings are the perfect candidates for this book. Honestly, as I was reading it I thought to myself, "Why on Earth would I choose this? It's awful." I can now admit I was wrong; it's not awful, but it's not for everyone.
It's safe to say that Vonnegut was good at what he did. He wrote about dark themes and ideas to impose them on his audience through his works. After I finished, I realized how truly brilliant his work was. However, I could have lived my life happily without ever touching the pages of Slaughterhouse-Five. So, if you aren't up to the task, I suggest picking up a different book on the shelves.
In a senior literature class, I get the opportunity to read some very fascinating works. Several people I know had already read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini before the book was assigned for winter break. I had no idea what was in store for me.
The book takes place over the a quarter of a century in Middle Eastern countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan. Later in the story, the setting switches to California. Eventually, the protagonist returns to his homeland for a noble mission.
Our protagonist, Amir, who grows up in Kabul, feels as if he can never win the affection of his father (Baba). Hassan, Amir's servant and one subject of Baba's attention, keeps Amir company. The two grow up together as best friends- although, Amir never admits to the friendship. Hassan is of a different ethnic race, one that is considered to be very lower class.
Amir wants to win Baba over, and Hassan assists him by helping Amir with a kite contest. While having the last kite in the sky is one prize, running kites and gathering them after they fall is equally as important. The most coveted kite to run is the last one that falls out of the sky. Hassan is a natural kite runner, and he runs the last kite for Amir to present to Baba. However, Hassan runs into some huge trouble as he runs the kite. Amir is faced with a choice: he can either save his friend, or earn his father's affection.
Amir chooses his father over his friend. As a result, Amir is plagued with guilt for the rest of his life. Hassan and Ali, Baba's servant and best friend, leave Baba's house. While Amir is relieved that he no longer has to look at Hassan, he feels as if he never got the punishment he deserved for not saving his friend.
The Afghan government gets overthrown by the Taliban, and Baba and Amir leave the country. They escape to California. Amir gets an education, meets the love of his life, and everything seems fine until he is summoned back to Afghanistan. By this time, the Taliban rule the country and it is a very dangerous place.
Once Amir reaches Afghanistan, he is presented a mission by one of his old, dying friends. Amir has no children of his own, but Hassan has a son. Amir is heartbroken when he hears of his friend's terrible fate (Hassan was shot), but Amir realizes that perhaps he can make up his sin for not helping Hasson long ago, and Amir agrees to rescue Hassan's son, Sohrab. On his way, Amir faces an old foe, saves Sohrab, and finally feels justified.
Just when you think everything's going to be a happy ending, some issues with Amir potentially adopting Sohrab emerge. The ending is not at all predictable. This story has a complex and fascinating plot, and since so many things come full circle I tried not to put in too many spoilers. (Such a good read, you'll thank me that I didn't include everything in the summary!)
This book covers a wide variety of themes. The most prominent in the entire piece are about family, religion, war, love, society, as well as gender and ethnic roles. This novel has it all.
Especially important are the secrets that are revealed in later parts of the book. Tiny details from the beginning come back in a way that is almost haunting. No matter, the story remains beautifully written and engaging.
This is perhaps that most moving piece of literature I have ever read in my entire life. Ever. I couldn't put the book down once I started. I challenge another book to make me think as much as The Kite Runner did. This book made me cry, appreciate, and realize so many different things. Sometimes we think our own problems are bad, but there are people out there who live like this. Although a work of fiction, the events that take place in The Kite Runner are very real.
This book contains many, many mature themes. Taboo topics such as rape, adultery, attempted suicide, and massacre are discussed prominently throughout the book. Part of the reason that this book was so moving is that it explored these topics; they were unavoidable. However, these topics are not discussed lightly. I wish I had time to mentally prepare for everything that happened. This is not a light tale. I found myself hysterically in tears at certain parts of the book, so much that I had to put it down, walk away, and allow myself time to process what had just happened. Do not read if you cannot handle heavy topics.
The Kite Runner was made into a movie in 2007. Hosseini also wrote another novel similar to The Kite Runner known as A Thousand Splendid Suns. While I have not read it, I have heard that it is excellent. Hosseini has another novel titled And the Mountains Echoed that is to be released in May later this year.
There’s been a new word inducted into our culture recently: YOLO. As much as I hate the word, (an acronym for “you only live once”), I can’t bring myself to hate the meaning, especially after reading The Last Lecture. Randy Pausch truly was an inspirational man. He taught computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, and he faced death with complete grace. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Pausch underwent painful procedures in order to prevent his cancer from spreading. Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams was the name of “last lecture” Pausch delivered.
The book The Last Lecture is based off the ideas and stories that Pausch told during his final speech. Pausch co-authored the book with Jeffrey Zaslow, writer for The Wall Street Journal.
The book isn’t written in a traditional manner- the chapters are short and sweet. In a somewhat linear progression, Pausch discusses his childhood dreams, disappointments, and goals. He mentions everything from football to Disney to his family. The point of the book is to give life advice as well as give his children some more insight into his life. His children were very young at the time of his death, and this book has been on the New York Times best-selling list.
Pausch’s lecture is on YouTube and you can watch it below. (Warning: It's an hour long, so it may take some time to buffer. However, it's worth the wait.)
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone with a spare two hours on his/her hands. I willingly admit that this book did make me cry- it’s definitely one that will pull at your heartstrings.
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In my last book review blog, I wrote about E. L. Doctorow’s Homer & Langley because a.) I had to read it for school, and b.) I enjoyed it a lot. My senior English that class this year is AP English Literature, so naturally I ended up reading some good titles over the summer.
To begin my summer reading, I started with David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars. Out of the four books I had to read (Homer & Langley, Snow Falling on Cedars, The Last Lecture, and The Sound of Waves) I would definitely say that Snow Falling on Cedars had the most complex plot and took the longest to read.
It was worth it.
Wow. Where do I even begin? This novel has it all- a murder trial, forbidden love, a post-World War II atmosphere, and more. Taking place on San Piedro Island off the coast of Washington state, the community is described as a small fishing town where everybody knows everybody’s business.
To open the story, Guterson begins with the murder trial of Kabuo Miyamoto, a man accused of murdering Carl Heine. In this small community, Carl was one of the most respected fishermen, and in the eyes of the citizens Kabuo is automatically guilty. Why? Kabuo is of Japanese ancestry.
But Kabuo has his own story- one regarding a particular strawberry field and his family’s honor. His wife, Hatsue, also plays a huge role in the plot because of her history with Ishmael Chambers, the town’s crippled reporter. Ishmael lost an arm fighting against the Japanese in World War II and struggles with his conflicted feelings of love for Hatsue, as well as a hatred for the Japanese that blossomed during the war.
The stories of the different characters affect the outcome of the trial. The only question is: will Kabuo be found innocent or guilty?
I already said it; I’ll say it again. Wow. Although it took me about two weeks to finish this monster of a book (460 pages!), this book saved me from going crazy during an eight hour family car ride to Virginia. The story is fantastic; I would recommend this book to anybody craving an unpredictable plot.
Guterson’s vivid descriptions really help the story progress. At times his descriptions would seem to ramble, but the writing was always superb. Evidently, his fantastic writing was recognized because the book quickly became a bestseller, and it also won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in 1995.
After doing some more research, I discovered that it took Guterson ten years to write Snow Falling on Cedars. Bravo, Mr. Guterson. It certainly was time well spent.
E. L. Doctorow’s Homer & Langley tells the story of two brothers growing up during twentieth century New York City. Doctorow bases his work on the actual Collyer brothers. These brothers were famous because of their odd behavior and their vast collection of obscure, unrelated objects. Doctorow’s novel differs from the actual lives of the brothers in many aspects, such as birth order and length of lifespan.
The story is written from the perspective of Homer Collyer, a man who lost his eyesight at a young age. Homer comes from a wealthy family living in New York City and he has an older brother named Langley who goes to fight in World War I.
When Langley returns, he is completely changed. His new goal is to make a one-time edition of the newspaper, where everything that ever happened and ever will happen is reported in one convenient place. While Langley’s project is underway, the Collyer parents both die and leave everything they had to their two sons.
Throughout the story, Langley takes care of his brother and tries different treatments to cure his brother’s blindness. All treatments end in failure, and Homer continually becomes less comfortable with his handicap. Homer often dreams of finding love with someone who could accept his blindness, and he is consoled only by playing music.
The brothers have multitudes of adventures that range from walks in the park to run-ins with the mob. The two meet a wide range of different personalities while the collection of objects continues to grow, essentially burying the brothers in junk. The Collyers also attract the attention of the public and become international celebrities, but the fame isn’t welcomed by the two. Teenagers harass them and police officers break up social events at the house.
As Homer grows older, he also begins to lose his hearing. Blind and deaf, Homer’s only means of communication with Langley depend on a Braille typewriter. Since Homer can no longer hear, he puts all of his effort into writing the story of him and his brother, which brings us back to beginning of the novel.
In preparation for my senior English class, I had to read four books (Homer & Langley, The Last Lecture, Snow Falling on Cedars, and The Sound of Waves). While I enjoyed all of them, Homer & Langley was by far the novel that fascinated me the most. The tale of the brothers was a potpourri of small stories, goals, and events that formed the life story of Homer Collyer.
I had no idea that the events in this story were based off true events. Imagine my surprise! My history teacher was right; there are no better stories than the ones that actually happened.
Although the writing was slow at some parts, the overall experience reading Homer & Langley was a fantastic one. The worst part of the entire experience was the story isn’t divided into chapters or other smaller parts; it’s just one long piece of writing in a book. Sometimes that can be discouraging and make it easy to lose place when reading over a period of several days.
However, the story shines brighter than the format. The ending to this story amazed me; it couldn’t have been better. I won’t spoil it here, but a few short words caused me to reflect on the entire story, and I guarantee you will too because anyone who has a taste for the different or the unusual should certainly read Homer & Langley.