Darkness Visible, A Memoir of Madness

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This author, William Styron, abused alcohol for 30 years, and then started adding excessive tranquilizers.  When he went into depression he thought it may have been the result of going off alcohol cold turkey. On one of the first pages of this small book he wrote a verse from the book of Job:

“For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me. I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet, yet trouble came”

An article in Vanity Fair reported on the death of Primo Levi, an Italian writer who survived the Nazi death camps, but apparently died from depression in his final years. Styron was appalled by the unsympathetic response of the public. 

He wrote his own article for Vanity Fair saying that "the pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances, because its anguish can no longer be borne”. He wanted the public to know that the prevention of many suicides will continue to be hindered until there is a general awareness of the “nature of this pain”.  He didn’t offer a lot of details about causes, but felt strongly that the “disorder of mood” should carry no more stigma than other diseases, and that the great majority of people who go through, even the severest depression, survive it and live afterward at least as happily as others. 

His father had battled alcoholism throughout his life, so Styron considered that, and his own experiences growing up, looking for answers. He tells us about, and tries to convey his feelings, of falling into despair and almost killing himself. He recognized the role of friends, lovers, family, and religious devotion, in helping, and says, even though it helps, it also reinforces the sense of worthlessness that is felt. He refers to the psychiatric literature on depression as being enormous in quantity, and suggests that it just proves the difficulty of understanding the mystery.

Quotes by William Styron

A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading. 

The writer's duty is to keep on writing.  

The pain is unrelenting; one does not abandon, even briefly, one's bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes.  

The pain of depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be borne. The prevention of many suicides will continue to be hindered until there is a general awareness of the nature of this pain.

 

 

 

In The City, Random Acts of Awareness, by Colette Brooks

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The book starts out asking the question, “What kind of person is a city person?” Colette Brook’s first paragraph says; “a young girl dreams about a place she’s only heard of in books, in movies, on TV. It is much bigger than the town she grew up. People in that distant place are busy, happy, never bored.”

Brook’s tells us “that a city person is one who doesn't feel the need to finish a jigsaw puzzle, who relishes jagged edges and orphaned curves, stray bits of data, stories parsed from sentences half overheard on the streets”.  The voice of the novel wanders the streets of the big cities of the world to find the missing puzzle pieces by listening to conversations, watching the headlines and looking for “random acts of awareness” which are supposed to be the missing pieces of the puzzle.

The voice at one point tells us that it sees. “tourists with cameras, all taking the same shots, and I imagine the thousands of similar photographs that must exist at any given moment throughout the world. Some have been carefully inserted into albums, captioned in countless languages…”

The past and present seem to blur in some of the stories that include, criminals, commuters, and some just sitting in their apartments. One-man mails packages with bombs and another drives a cab studying a new language out of a dictionary at his side.

Apartment dwellers in the city of the 1800’s couldn’t outrun a fire and today some are just alone drinking by themselves in those same apartments. The lives of many seem to turn on a “fork” in the road. On lady feels certain that she see’s a ghost sitting by her on a train. Someone who she had known years ago. She just accepts that the ghost will stay on the train when she leaves.

City people seem to just accept the "forks" in the road. Even the young girl from the first paragraph goes to the city, grows up, and looks out the window at the loneliness she faces and remembers that as a young girl she had a book that explained it all.

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“If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say: in the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.” 
― Leo Tolstoy, Essays, Letters and Miscellaneous

 

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

Link to "The Cat in the Hat & Don't Forget the Oatmeal" at bottom

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Theodor Seuss Geisel,  (Dr. Seuss) wrote over 60 books. He bet his publisher that he could write a book with only 50 words and the results of that bet became, Green Eggs and Ham. It was published in 1960 and by 2016 it had sold 8 million copies.

The books were funny, but Seuss said of his own writing, that he did not want to write stories about modeling good behavior, and even called himself, "subversive as hell". In his books, if you were an obstacle to children overcoming fear and standing up to authority, you were considered a Grinch.

Green Eggs and Ham encourages trying something new. The story begins with Sam declaring, "I am Sam, Sam I am". Sam's mission is to get Joey to try a new dish, green eggs and ham. Joey wants nothing to do with them and says: "I don't like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am." Sam asks him to try them in eight different places. A house, box, car, tree, train,dark,rain and boat and then with a mouse, a fox and a goat. 

Joey gives in and tries the green eggs and ham, and he does like them saying: "I do so like green eggs and ham. Thank you. Thank you, Sam-I-am.   

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The message was one that China's Cultural Revolution considered to be bad and counter to the goals of their goals of eliminating Western Influence and capitalism in China. It was the 4th best selling English language children's book so that may have added some symbolism for the Chinese to ban this book in China shortly after it was published. The book was taken off the banned list after Dr. Seuss died in 1991.

Thoughts about "I Am"

Exodus 3:14  God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM.  The phrase "I Am" is often uses to refer to God.  I am Sam, Sam I am. is the start of this book.  Did Dr. Seuss intend to add divine direction? Is Sam short for Samuel another biblical reference, maybe? Is this just so much over analysis? Did Seuss just want kids to try something new?

Dr Seuss Quotes

 

"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." 

"The more you read, the more things you will know."  

"Why fit in when you were born to stand out?"  

Quotes on Kid's Books

C.S. Lewis said, "A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest."  

Albert Einstein said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.

Click books (Oatmeal and Hat Books) above for other Reviews

 

All Quiet On The Western Front

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Paul Bäumer joins the German army, with a strong push from his high school teacher, shortly after the start of World War I. Many from his high school class also join and they make up a cross section of society. He quickly finds himself on the Western Front and he and many of his friends look to an older soldier, Stanislaus Katczinsky, for some guidance.  

The author, Erich Maria Remarque says on the first page "This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped, were destroyed by the war."

The book starts out five miles behind the front where they have had a short relief and their bellies are full.  As the battles rage on, Paul faces not just war, but the time between battles where they search for food. The author refers to these young men saying: "We are not youth any longer. We don't want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing from ourselves, from our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces."

Paul has a short leave to go home and, even thought the town hasn’t changed, he finds that “he doesn’t belong here anymore”. He spends some time with his dying mother and feels she is the only one he still feels connected too.

When Paul returns he is glad to be back with his comrades and they go on patrol.  Paul for the first time kills a man. It is hand-to-hand combat and he winds up watching the man slowly die, after hours of pain. He feels broken and asks the dead man for forgiveness.

Soon he is assigned to help guard a supply depot. It is considered a good assignment because now, rather than starving in the trenches, he now has easy access to food.  The depot is soon destroyed by artillery and he is reassigned back to the front.

In the Autumn of 1918 the war is nearing its end and the German Army is retreating.  Paul is one of only 7 left from his class and they are talking about the peace and an armistice.  Paul accidently swallows some gas and it leads to 14 days of rest for him. He starts to believe that the end will really come.  He returns to the front on a remarkable peaceful day; one that is reported from the frontline with the simple phrase: "All quiet on the Western Front." Paul is shot on this day and his body displays a calm expression on its face, "as though he was almost glad the end had come."

Erich Maria Remarque captures the realism of this book, “with searing attention to every small moment of terror and tyranny, of filth and meanness, of savagery and tenderness, of cowardice and grandeur the experience, of a group of bewildered young German soldiers.”

Reviews

From Germany: The greatest war book that has yet been written-Redakteur Stour

From England" Surely the greatest of all war books. It stands pre-eminent- Manchester Guardian

From France: It shoud be distributed by the million and read in every school. - Monde

From Sweeden: It is a great document. A powerful work of art. All books about the war become small and insignificant by comparision.- Albert Engstrom

From America: It is to me the greatest book about the war I have ever seen.- Christopher Morley, Saturday Review

From America: Unquestionably the best story of the world war.- H.L. Mencken

All Quiet on the Western Front
By Erich Maria Remarque

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

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Jon Meacham’s book, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, focuses on the balance of a practical politician, and those of an inspiring philosopher. He was presented as a man of principle, and given credit for the inspiration of the Declaration of Independence. What seems remarkable is how his sentiments were measured, with no regard to the lack of inclusion in those ideals that women and slaves held. The power and strength of his intellect has not be disputed to this day.

President John F. Kennedy assembled the Nobel Prize winners of his day in a dinner at the white house. His comment in addressing these intellectuals at that dinner is included at the beginning of the book. It declared, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

Meacham shows Jefferson as willing to comprise principles when required, and at the same time he was seen as upholding his position in all sincerity. The author praises Jefferson’s talent for this, but the contradiction, or elephant in the room, is the issue of slavery. He was born to a rich father and he was referred to by the author as a “fortunate son”.  He was cared for by slaves from the day he was born. He had a relationship with Sally Hemings, one-time slave and mother of several of Jefferson’s children.  The only slave Jefferson every freed was Sally Hemings and it didn’t happen until after his death.

John Adams was politically an opposite from Jefferson and his comment about Jefferson is also included in the beginning of the book. He said, “A few broad strokes of the brush would paint the portraits of all the early Presidents with this exception- Jefferson could be painted only touch by touch with fine pencil, and the perfection of likeness depended upon the shifting and uncertain flicker of its semi-transparent shadows.

Looking closer at Jefferson’s work the author feels that he left America, and the world, a better place than it had been when he first entered the arena of public life. He was key in putting together the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the creation of the University of Virginia. He loved his home at Monticello and he loved Paris.

Jefferson was shown as a man who sought out the latest art and science accomplishments. He loved to converse with the leaders of his day, as well as with beautiful women on both sides of the Atlantic.

Jefferson died on July 4th,1826.  Six hundred miles away, John Adams, ninety years old, had also died the same day. Both died in their own beds. On his own death bed Adams final words were said to be about his old rival and friend, Thomas Jefferson. Both Adams and Jefferson were felt, at the time of their death, to be remembered mostly for the Revolution of 1776.

Quotes by Thomas Jefferson

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.

Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever. 

When you abandon freedom to achieve security, you lose both and deserve neither. 

 

The Last Wild Men of Borneo by Carl Hoffman

published 2018

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Carl Hoffman was doing research for his book, Savage Harvest, which was about the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller, in New Guinea, in 1961. He made two trips to New Guinea and spent several months there living with former headhunters in a small village that could only be reached by boat.

It was on these trips that the story of Bruno Manser became known to him. In 1984 Bruno had left his life as a sheepherder, to avoid Switzerland’s mandatory draft, and had gone to Borneo where he wanted to meet the indigenous Penan nomads. He learned their language, hunted with them using a blowpipe, and lived with them. 

Money was not a motivator for Bruno because he was looking for something to make a difference in his life. He found something that mattered to him, when he found the Penan, and saw the threat that the logging industry efforts to clear-cut and destroy their lands was, to their culture and lives. 

He taught the Penan to resist the loggers, but what fascinated the author most was how their efforts to do so were seen and embraced around the world. Unfortunately, the forests are now mostly gone, and Bruno eventually just walked into the forests and disappeared. 

Hoffman was just learning about Bruno during a visit to Bali, when he met an American named Michael Palmieri. Michael was older than Bruno, had left America also to avoid the draft, and he too had migrated to the rain-forests of Borneo. Both were stories that Hoffman felt he should follow. Both were looks at Borneo, and how two people had seen it as a destination where the primitive culture of an unconquered people could help them fulfill their own dreams and escape their own past cultures. 

Michael’s story makes up the other half of this book. Michael learned quickly and understood what had value in the art and scared items. He was willing to go deep into the country, and if needed go alone. He knew the language and gained trust among the people. 

Other traders had not sought out the old wooden carvings, but he was one of the first to understand their value. Even though art was part of the peoples lives, he was patient and built relationships, which lead to much success. 

Beginning in 1974 he made over 150 trips in and out of the country, loading up each time with art and native crafts, and then selling all that he had. He had bought from the source, knew his art, and much of it made it into the world’s greatest museums. Michael told Hoffman that he had met Bruno once in 1999 in Borneo. 

Bruno cared deeply about the people he found and devoted his life to helping them. Michael spent his life trading in the Dayak’s art, he loved the art, and made a fortune. Perhaps they were two halves of the same whole-Both obsessed with Borneo’s people and their cultures. 

Pictures: Bruno, far right. Hoffman in the 1st & 3rd pictures

The Last Wild Men of Borneo is the best book about the ‘Western hunger for Eastern solace,’ as Carl Hoffman neatly puts it, you’ll probably ever read. ... Eloquent.” — William Finnegan, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Barbarian Days

 “Compelling. … A first-rate adventure story. … Part of the magic of this book [is] that in the hazy equatorial air of a place peopled by such outsized characters, anything was possible.” — Outside magazine

 

Duma Key by Stephen King

See reviews of "The Stand", "On Writing", "Under the Dome", "IT", "End of Watch", "11/22/63" / "The Gunslinger, the Dark Tower", "Joyland" /             Go to Past Review Section                                                                

 

 

Before Stephen King wrote this book, his wife said to him, “Are you ever going to write about anything besides writers?”—so in Duma Key his artist is a painter.

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Edgar Freemantle is a successful contractor in St. Paul, Minnesota but one day at a job site his truck is crushed by a crane and, he loses his right arm, has severe head injuries, and serious mood changes. His rage destroys his marriage and he, based on a travel brochure, decides to a small island off the coast of Florida and stay for a year. To fill his time, he decides to try to revive an interest in painting that he once had. 

When he arrives at the island he moves too Salmon Point and names his pink house, Big Pink. The closest neighbor is Elizabeth Eastlake, and elderly women, who has spent her entire life on the island and owns half of it. He becomes friends with her  and her live-in helper, Jerome Wireman. He learns from Elizabeth about many of her family, who lived on the island before and had violent endings.

His paintings all include scenes from the island, but his psychic influences him, and he brings parts of his family into the pictures and eventually the paintings also reflect Elizabeth’s memories. When he paints he seems to feel his lost arm and when that feeling is strong the paintings come fast and reflect things that he did not know about his family, and the past on the island.

Elizabeth tells him of losing her two sisters when they were young, almost 90 years ago. She tells him that the island is no place for daughters, when she learns that one of Edgar’s daughters is coming to see him.

Edgar begins to understand that his paintings allow him to change events, places, and people. Miss Eastlake, even though normally not conversant because of her Alzheimer's, does have clear spells and encourages Edgar to paint, and then to use a local gallery to sell them. She cautions him to make sure they are sold and taken off the island where she fears that they might do harm.  

The local gallery loves the paintings and arranges a show. Edgar’s family and past friends all come. Elizabeth gets well enough to attend the show, but she dies right after the show, and Edgar’s daughter is killed by a women who bought a picture at the show. It becomes clear that those who have his painting are in danger.

 Edgar learns that as a child Elizabeth had the same experiences painting at Duma Key and she even painted many of the same paintings. The paintings point to an influence named Perse. That name had been on some of the paintings. Edgar finds paintings from Elizabeth’s youth and understands what has happened. She also had her reality changed with her paintings and she lost loved ones.

Edgar, along with Wireman and Jack go to the house Elizabeth lived in as a child. At this point Edgar knows what Perce’s weaknesses are and how to fight back against the forces of evil she unleashes. They find Perce and destroy her.

Edgar and Wireman both leave the island. Edgar continues to paint, and his final painting is of a storm destroying Duma Key.

Quotes

“We fool ourselves so much we could do it for a living" 

 “Life is like Friday on a soap opera. It gives you the illusion that everything is going to wrap up, and then the same old shit starts up on Monday.” 

 “A person's memory is everything, really. Memory is identity. It's you" 

“The truth is in the details.”

 “Do the day and let the day do you.”

Duma Key: A Novel
By Stephen King
 

Camino Island by John Grisham

Camino Island by John Grisham

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Princeton University really does have some original F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts, probably in a high security vault, and they are Grisham's target for of a gang of thieves who plot to steal them in this book.

Their plan works and then they have to find a way to sell them. The manuscripts are reported to be priceless, but 25 million is a starting value.

The thieves vanish, and the FBI’s Rare Asset Recovery Unit starts to investigate, and so does the insurance company. Both know that Bruce Kable, a successful book dealer who has a well known book store on Camino Island could be involved. This business is a dark business but Bruce likely knows the players.

Mercer Mann is a young woman, collage English teacher, and a struggling writer, burdened by debts. She had spent many summers as a kid on Florida's Camino Island in her grandmother's beach cottage.

Mercer receives an offer she can't refuse: to return to the peace of the island, to write her novel - and get close to a certain infamous bookseller, and his interesting collection of manuscripts.

Mercer and Bruce get to know each other and it leads to findings that without her would not have been found. Her time with the book dealer is an interesting sub story.

No lawyers or judges in this book.  This fact is unusual for John Grisham, since the law, lawyers, and judges are a key part of his formula for success, but it is a very exciting book without that element.

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Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

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It is interesting to look at Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, and 1984, by George Orwell, and compare the way they see the future. Orwell felt people would be controlled by inflicting pain and Huxley thought inflicting pleasure was the way. Orwell looked back at history and wanted to rewrite it and Huxley was more flexible. Orwell feared those who would ban books and Huxley feared that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. 

See thoughts about Orwell by Huxley in a letter Huxley sent in 1949 right after the publication of 1984 in Daily Comments Section.

The novel opens in the future, 2540 AD, in London which is called a World State City. The population is engineered in artificial wombs, into one of 5 different life states, and childhood indoctrination programs prepare these predetermined classes for their planned lives.

Lenina Crowne, a hatchery worker, works and has a relationship with Bernard Marx, a psychologist. Bernard does not approve of the state keeping its citizens peaceful with the forced consumption of a drug called "soma" and subliminal indoctrination, and gets himself in trouble talking about it. 


Bernard and Lenina come up with a way to get away from repercussions and too much scrutiny, and plan a trip to a Reservation in New Mexico where they plan to observe natural-born people, disease, the aging process, languages, and religious lifestyles. They find a woman, Linda, formerly from London where she had known Bernards boss and a young man, John, her son, living on the reservation. 

John grew up on the reservation and was taught to read by his mother using just two books, a scientific manual and the complete works of Shakespeare. His communication, feelings and thoughts reflect much of Shakespeare’s writings. John and Linda want to return to London, feeling out of place on the reservation. On return, Bernard becomes the "custodian” for John who is now treated as a celebrity, but considered a savage. 

Linda finds her interest in the state sponsored mood drugs and goes into a permanent "soma" state, while John refuses to attend social events, organized by Bernard, appalled by what he perceives to be an empty society. Lenina and John are physically attracted to each other, but John's view of courtship and romance, based on Shakespeare, is utterly incompatible with Lenina's freewheeling attitude towards sex. 

John’s mother eventually winds up on her deathbed and when he rushes to her side it become a scandal because he is not reflecting the correct attitude about death.  Bernard is exiled to an island because of their antisocial activity and John asks to go with him pleading his “right to be unhappy”. His wish is denied, and he tries to isolate himself, but he just attracts sightseers. Eventually depressed he hangs himself. 

Huxley felt that the Brave New World, failed to consider man's “almost infinite appetite for distractions” and that by doing so it would lead to a regime that would break because it could not bend. 

Quotes

“But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

“If one's different, one's bound to be lonely.” 

“I want to know what passion is. I want to feel something strongly.” 

“I am I, and I wish I weren't.” 

“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them" 

“...most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.” 

Brave New World
By Aldous Huxley