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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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The movie traumatized me somewhere over the Pacific while sitting in a plane some years ago. This may explain why it took me so long to read the book.This sparsely written book yields yet another view of the holocaust – through two 9 year old boys on two sides of the fence, both physically and metaphorically. Specifics (such as the true nature of the camp) are withheld thus reflecting the knowledge of these 9 year olds who don’t necessarily know what is happening or the reasons. On the German side, Bruno, in all the singlemindedness and simplicity of a typical 9 year old, is a bit naïve, a bit self-centered, but kind and with good-intentions; his father is the Commandant who runs the camp. On the other side of the fence is Shmuel, born on the same day as Bruno, living in the inhuman camp that words can’t describe. From the start, I found the book engaging, stepping into the mind of Bruno provided unexpected humor. From his tutor, “… ‘To get your head out of your storybooks and teach you more about where you come from. About the great wrongs that have been done to you.’” “Bruno nodded and felt quite pleased by this as he assumed that he would finally be given an explanation for why they had all been forced to leave their comfortable home and come to this terrible place, which must have been the greatest wrong ever committed to him in his short life.” The innocent Bruno was jealous that Shmuel wore comfortable pajamas all day, and there are lots of kids to play with on the other side of the fence (not realizing they don’t play). He can’t understand why his friend seems to get skinnier day by day. I had moments where I wanted to shake some sense into Bruno, at which time I remind myself no one told Bruno what is happening. He learned of the word Jew for the first time from his sister, the “Hopeless Case”, Gretel. Though when asked “…if we are not Jews, then what are we?”, Gretel had no answer. Hints like these tell of the absence of understanding from the children, rather 9 or 12. The violence witnessed with a house servant, the numerous naps and “medicinal sherries” that mother partook, the fight between father and Grandmother over father’s growing military role further add to the lens-of-babes perspective. This would have been a 5 star book if there was a stronger depiction of Shmuel’s mindset. Why/how does he know what to share with Bruno and what to hold back? (Such as not telling Bruno that he sees Bruno’s dad at camp and consequently, what his dad does at camp). I wanted more Shmuel, a small ding from a 5 star rating.
The Sayings of Lao Tzu

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This book version: First, it is beautiful with inspiring/matching Chinese artwork including a texture look. Secondly, love that this version has English text with the Chinese text for each chapter every two pages, with the Chinese in the correct vertical from right to left with extra bonus points that the Chinese is done in calligraphy style. Thirdly, a very long introduction proved to be very educational and fitting. Now, the ding – the translation is too casual, using modern language that I personally don’t like, at one point using words like “me, me, me” in reference to selfishness. Hmm, I can read a little bit of Chinese, and I can promise you that’s not what the original text reads! The quotes below should give more flavors of this.Tao Te Ching (TTC), when read with my modern metropolis city girl mind, instructs “The Way”, “The Virtue”, and the “The Coda” as a reminder to the simplicity of life, easily forgotten as we plow forward with our day-to-day to-do list. Contrary to Chapter 41 where “Those who think that the Way is easy will find it extremely hard”, I think the Way is hard and still find it extremely hard! TTC also depressed me a bit (true statement). If life is supposed to be following the way of ‘nothing’, then I sure have been working my ass off for no good reason. If wisdom and knowledge is to be condemned and vilified, then part of my identity is evil. The unspoken expectation, then and now, was simply always be ‘more’, quite not the ‘Tao’. Of course, I’m not taking TTC literally. The complexities of living do not readily allow for it. (Try and explain TTC to the IRS.) Instead, I take from it a few nuggets that are meaningful. Here’s an abbreviated list:Introduction: 1) “Wu-Wei doesn’t mean just sitting about doing nothing. It means ‘being’, it means being receptive, and it means going beyond our egos in what we do and how we do what we do.” 2) “I see the essence of the Tao as poetic, with all that implies, and all we still have to learn – to really be here, and to let go.”Ch1 (Start of Tao): “Following the nothingness of the Tao, and you can be like it, not needing anything, seeing the wonder and the root of everything.” --- Meaning that nothing is something.Ch 2: 1) “Neither future nor past can exist alone.” --- Acceptance and remembrance of who you were and who you have become. 2) “Life is made – and no one owns it.”Ch 20: Seek and want nothing. “What do the people want? Money and things. And yet I find I have nothing, and I don’t care. I am as unambitious as any fool.”Ch 28: Learn to yield, learn to bend, learn to think anew. “Understand the thrust of the yang – but be more like the yin in your being… Be like a stream… Be newborn – be free of yourself…” Ch 38 (Start of Te): Reminded me of leadership, a truly good leader. “A Man of Te rules by Wu-Wei, doing nothing for himself or of himself… A man who rules with compassion, acts through it – and no one even realizes.”Ch 44: “If you’re not always wanting, you can be at peace. And if you’re not always trying to be someone, you can be who you really are.”Ch 67: “I have three priceless treasures: Compassion, Thrift, Humility… These days people scorn compassion. They try to be tough. They spend all they have, and yet want to be generous. They despise humility, and want to be the best.”
On Chesil Beach

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4 Stars for the book + 0.5 Stars for how I related to it.Captivating and sensual, yet so painful and disheartening, this concise writing outlining the relationship of a young couple hits hard on several targets. The differences of how men and women may approach sex. The imbalance in a relationship where someone is always pushing for more. Words said or unsaid, actions taken or not, can completely alter the course of a person’s life. Two people in love can hurt each other so deeply. Time provides clarity. My chest ached, relating to much of this.Edward and Florence, a young couple who met by chance, immediately drew to each other. Over 5 parts in the book, starting with their wedding night dinner, we learn about their past, their families, their ambitions, and their future. But the key is their wedding night, when so much is truly learned of each other for the first time, much that should have been learned earlier. Discover their trepidations, anxieties, and anticipations. While some of these are related to sex (very well written), the underlining message is simply the relationship between two people. You sense a train wreck coming, but you hope for the best anyway. Can’t two people so in love spend time with each other, work it through, talk over their differences, and identify a workable compromise? Excellent book. Some quotes:Her intense fear and disgust of sex. While extreme, it’s oddly relatable as ‘penetration’ is very, well, personal.“Her problem, she thought, was greater, deeper, than straightforward physical disgust; her whole being was in revolt against a prospect of entanglement and flesh; her composure and essential happiness were about to be violated. She simply did not want to be ‘entered’ or ‘penetrated’. Sex with Edward could not be the summation of her joy, but was the price she must pay for it.”Edward on Masturbation:“The goal was release – from urgent, thought-confining desire for what could not be immediately had. How extraordinary it was, that a self-made spoonful, leaping clear of his body, should instantly free his mind to confront afresh Nelson’s decisiveness at Aboukir Bay.”Florence on Old Age:“She revered the ancient types, who took minutes to emerge from their taxis, the last of the Victorians, hobbling on their canes to their seats, to listen in alert critical silence, sometimes with the tartan rug they had brought draped across their knees. These fossils, with their knobby shrunken skulls tipped humbly toward the stage, represented to Florence burnished experience and wise judgment, or suggest a musical expertise that arthritic fingers could no longer serve.”Pushing for more. (My mistake in life) Florence to Edward: “You’re always pushing me, pushing me, wanting something out of me. We can never just be. We can never just be happy. There’s this constant pressure. There’s always something more that you want out of me. This endless wheedling.”Time provides clarity:"Occasionally, he would come to a forking of the paths deep in a beech wood and idly think that this was where she must have paused to consult her map that morning in August, and he would imagine her vividly, only a few feet and forty years away, intent on finding him. Or he would pause by a view over the Stonor Valley and wonder whether this was where she stopped to eat her orange. At last he could admit to himself that he had never met anyone he loved so much..."
Never Let Me Go

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!! SPOILER ALERT !! Hey, the movie is out already…In this world created by Kazuo Ishiguro, we are challenged with the ethical question of breeding humans for the sake of their organs – “for donations”. Their lives are pre-ordained, and there is only one path ahead of them. They grow up in schools that are similar to orphanages, except there is no one coming to adopt them. They carry the same self-doubt as an orphan – what are their roots, who are they modeled after – their “possible”. They have mixed feelings and semi-thoughts that they don’t say out-loud, as they are not taught or exposed to ideas that suggest they will have a normal life, nor are they told everything explicitly, i.e. their future. These are ‘students’; the official C word is not introduced until very late in the book. They are genetically created to not be able to pro-create, as though pro-creation is what makes a human ‘human’. In the school where the main characters grew up, Hailsham, they are encouraged to create art, to be creative, thereby proving they have a soul and deserve better treatment. They don’t have last names, only a first name and a letter for the last name. This anonymity provided a cushion to their existence in society. This society wants them, needs them, but alternately loathes them or pities them, and ultimately would rather not know they exist. I felt such bigotry in selected passages. The entire book has such a haunting dreaminess. Rather you do or do not immediately comprehend the concept of donation from the beginning, the ‘acceptance’ of the situation is what haunts me the most. The book is written primarily as a monologue from the narrator, Kathy H. It’s flat paced, and it’s not meant to raise your heart rate. To me, this ‘flatness’ projected the acceptance of their lives from Kathy and in extension of all the students. They may have questions, they may get angry, but they don’t run away from their duty, the reason they existed. They may even choose to start their training sooner, thereby ‘completing’ sooner. The lives of Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy growing up in Hailsham reveal to us the possibility of this new human category; how would you view them? Mr. Ishiguro treads lightly on the ethics, but ultimately leaves it to us, the reader, to draw our own conclusions.Some Quotes:From Kathy – Describing the feeling of bigotry:“So you’re waiting, even if you don’t quite know it, waiting for the moment when you realize that you really are different to them; that there are people out there, like Madame, who don’t hate you or wish you any harm, but who nevertheless shudder at the very thought of you – of how you were brought into this world and why – and who dread the idea of your hand brushing against theirs. The first time you glimpse yourself through the eyes of a person like that, it’s a cold moment. It’s like walking past a mirror you’ve walked past every day of your life, and suddenly it shows you something else, something troubling and strange.”From Kathy – On Friendship and Betrayal, and I’ve made this mistake:~~ I’m sorry. ~~“And what made these heart-to-hearts possible – you might even say what made the whole friendship possible during that time – was this understanding we had that anything we told each other during these moments would be treated with careful respect: that we’d honour confidences, and that no matter how much we rowed, we wouldn’t use against each other anything we’d talked about during those sessions. Okay, this had never been spelt out exactly, but it was definitely, as I say, an understanding........ I wasn’t just cross. To me, it was a betrayal.”From Ruth – Bursting out with all her anguish and self-doubt about where they come from:“We all know it. We’re modeled from trash. Junkies, prostitutes, winos, tramps. Convicts, maybe, just so long as they aren’t psychos. That’s what we come from. We all know it, so why don’t we say it?......If you want to look for possibles, if you want to do it properly, then you look in the gutter. You look in rubbish bins. Look down the toilet, that’s where you’ll find where we all came from.” From Madam – “Never Let Me Go” – The song:“When I watched you dancing that day, I saw something else. I saw a new world coming rapidly. More scientific, efficient, ye. More cures for the old sicknesses. Very good. But a harsh, cruel world. And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go. That is what I saw….”From Tommy – On Love:“I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it’s just too much. The current’s too strong. They’ve got to let go, drift apart. That’s how I think it is with us. It’s a shame, Kath, because we’ve loved each other all our lives. But in the end, we can’t stay together forever.”
The Bell Jar: A Novel

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I read Bell Jar because I wanted to know more about suicide, especially the path that leads to it. The Bell Jar is a semi-autobiographical account of Sylvia Plath’s life in the summer and autumn of 1953 (college time), addressing her initial on-set of depression and her first major suicide attempt. She ultimately ended her life by sticking her head in an oven while her two young children slept, one month after this book is released in January of 1963. (Gruesome. Somehow attacking the little veins in her wrist is too cruel, but sticking her head in the oven is acceptable. Her version of poetic justice perhaps.) With these facts in mind, I found myself reading this book honing in on her sadness, self-deprecation, inadequacies, and exhaustion. Before reading, I wondered if the book is her last cry for help or does it represent her ‘brain-dump’ before she proceeds with her plans. For a book that should be sad, perhaps difficult to read/digest, the first portions flew by. I enjoyed the references to the 50’s (what is a pocketbook cover?), the beginnings of feminism, the ideals of the parents upon their children, marriage, perspective on sex and virginity. I found the writing to be honest, crisp, and direct, even though she jumped timelines as needed to address back stories. The later chapters were harder to process as the spiraling of this intelligent woman deepened – covering her shock treatments and institutionalization. I resonated with her writing style, ex: regarding the bad things in life: “But they were part of me. They were my landscape.” I underlined numerous details about her disappointments, rather it is at herself, the people around her, the society then, the expectations upon the female sex, and wondered when/how do these add up to be too much. The book doesn’t attempt to explain. It’s just her facts, her view of her life, and the evaluation of herself. This book, when interpreted with a current mind set, may represent the struggle of women to fit in and define an equal say in this world (still a huge gap) . She hated the idea of serving men in any way (via her job), doesn’t want to become a floor mat and to be brainwashed because of marriage. I find she expressed a lot of strength in her convictions. After reading the book, I think she simply succumbed to her demons one day. Despite one’s life successes, rather in the home and/or career, the sadness dominates us. Then we cave in, especially when we think our death doesn’t mean anything to anyone. Some Quotes: On Success but feeling empty and not in her control:“Only I wasn’t steering anything, not even myself. I just bumped from my hotel to work and to parties and from parties to my hotel and back to work like a numb trolleybus. I guess I should have been excited the way most of the other girls were, but I couldn’t get myself to react. I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”Tired of the rat race at the age of 19:“After nineteen years of running after good marks and prizes and grants of one sort and another, I was letting up, slowing down, dropping clean out of the race.”On Physics – this made me smile as physics was the first science class I had to really study to understand:“Physics made me sick the whole time I learned it. What I couldn’t stand was this shrinking everything into letters and numbers. Instead of leaf shapes and enlarged diagrams of the holes the leaves breathe through and fascinating words like carotene and xanthophyll on the blackboard, there were these hideous, cramped, scorpion-lettered formulas in Mr. Manzi’s special red chalk.”The view on women, as expressed by Mrs. Willard:“What a man wants is a mate and what a woman wants is infinite security. What a man is is an arrow into the future and what a woman is is the place the arrow shoots off from.”And Esther’s response:“That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.”More on Feminism: “The trouble was, I hated the idea of serving men in any way. I wanted to dictate my own thrilling letters. Besides, those little shorthand symbols in the book my mother showed me seemed just as bad as let t equals time and let s equal the total distance.”Marriage and Feminism:“This seemed like a dreary and wasted life for a girl with fifteen years of straight A’s, but I knew that’s what marriage was like, because cook and clean and wash was just what Buddy Willard’s mother did from morning till night, and she was the wife of a university professor and had been a private school teacher herself.”“And I knew that in spite of all the roses and kisses and restaurant dinners a man showered on a woman before her, what he secretly wanted when the wedding service ended was for her to flatten out underneath his feet like Mrs. Willard’s kitchen mat.”“I also remembered Buddy Willard saying in a sinister, knowing way that after I had children I would feel differently, I wouldn’t want to write poems any more. So I began to think maybe it was true that when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed, and afterward you went about numb as a slave in some private, totalitarian state.”In indication of much worse ahead, throwing her clothing away on her last night in New York:“Piece by piece, I fed my wardrobe to the night wind, and flutteringly, like a loved one’s ashes, the gray scraps were ferried off, to settle here, there, exactly where I would never know, in the dark heart of New York.”On Suicide, and the depth of it:“But when it came right down to it, the skin of my wrist looked so white and defenseless that I couldn’t do it. It was as if what I wanted to kill wasn’t in that skin or the thin blue pulse that jumped under my thumb, but somewhere else, deeper, more secret, and a whole lot harder to get at.”On Death: Do all women whose fathers died early have deep laden issues?“Then I remembered that I had never cried for my father’s death. My mother hadn’t cried either. She had just smiled and said what a merciful thing it was for him he had died, because if he had lived he would have been crippled and an invalid for life, and he couldn’t have stood that, he would rather have died than had that happen.I laid my face to the smooth face of the marble and howled my loss into the cold salt rain.”The Bell Jar – To be suffocating in it, selected references:“I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”“To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream.”“But I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure at all. How did I know that someday – at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere – the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?”
The Tao of Pooh

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The author used a conversational style with Pooh and the gang to share the philosophies of Taoism, providing Tao examples via translated Chinese text, and passages of Pooh stores to explain the philosophies. I’m not too familiar with all the Pooh stories, nor the philosophies. I found the parallels to be fun to read, even if a touch stretched at times. (And I should admit I’m not a huge Winnie the Pooh fan other than having a great appreciation for his kindness and gentleness.)Taoism is an appreciation of ‘it simply is’, the natural state of things, the “uncarved block”, the giant tree for the shade it provides, and that ‘Nothing is Something, and Something – at least the sort of thing that many consider to be important – is really nothing at all.’ The last really made me think of the materialistic obsessions of life. In the Foreword of the book, the author writes the Tao of Pooh is about “how to stay happy and calm under all circumstances”. After reading this book, I can’t say I feel particularly happier or calmer. But I do feel that I am reminded of the simpler things in life. I am a bit more educated about Taoism, but now I think I should read Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu to see if I agree with his comparisons. The correlations between Taoism and Pooh stories were amusing, although admittedly, I enjoyed the ancient stories and writings of Chuang-tse, etc. that the author included even more. In the end, I should simply say that this is a good intro to Taoism, which is just as much a purpose of this book. In his advocacy for wisdom and simplicity over knowledge and cleverness, the author mocked scholars (who use big words) and scientists – studying things that really don’t matter. I feel a sense of injustice in this regard. Perhaps I believe the world seeks balance, that there’s a place and time for everything. Heck, this whole ‘LibraryThing’ should be shut down if such learnedness is a blasphemy. I’m guessing that’s not what he’s trying to say. Some quotes:I like this simple summary and am asking myself if I’m paying attention to this…..“According to Lao-tse, the more man interfere with the natural balance produced and governed by the universal laws, the further away the harmony retreated into the distance. The more forcing, the more trouble.”On life, and I wish my cynicism would back off enough and allow me to appreciate this:“When you discard arrogance, complexity, and a few other things that get in the way, sooner or later you will discover that simple, childlike, and mysterious secret known to those of the Uncarved Block: Life is Fun.”The frog in the well, as I know it, is used to describe someone who thinks he is the king of his tiny, little world. This gave a different twist:“The Taoist writer Chung-tse worded it this way: A well frog cannot imagine the ocean, nor can a summer insect conceive of ice. How then can a scholar understand the Tao? He is restricted by his own learning.”I think the hardest step one in life is understanding oneself. How do I know my own nature when I’m so confused?“Everything has its own place and function. That applies to people, although many don’t seem to realize it, stuck as they are in the wrong job, the wrong marriage, or the wrong house. When you know your belong. You also know where you don’t belong.”On Wu Wei, the principle of getting things done naturally and/or effortlessly:“Wu Wei means ‘without doing, causing, or making.’ But practically speaking, it means without meddlesome, combative, or egotistical effort.”“The efficiency of Wu Wei is like that of water flowing over and around the rocks in its path – not the mechanical, straight-line approach that usually ends up short-circuiting natural laws, but one that evolves from an inner sensitivity to the natural rhythm of things.” “The Wu Wei principle underlying T’ai Chi Ch’uan can be understood by striking at a piece of cork floating in water. The harder you hit it, the more it yields; the more it yields, the harder it bounces back. Without expending energy, the cork can easily wear you out. So, Wu Wei overcomes force by neutralizing its power, rather than by adding to the conflict. With other approaches, you may fight fire with fire, but with Wu Wei, you fight fire with water.” “In the words of Chuang-Tse, the mind of Wu Wei ‘flows like water, reflects like a mirror, and responds like an echo.’”From the poet Lu Yu, to “enjoy our surroundings and appreciate being alive”:“The clouds above us join and separate,The breeze in the courtyard leaves and returns.Life is like that, so why not relax?Who can stop us from celebrating?”Caring and Compassion leads to Courage and Wisdom:“The two Fearless Rescues just mentioned bring us to one of the most important terms of Taoism: Tz’u, which can be translated as ‘caring’ or ‘compassion’ and which is based upon the character for heart. In the sixty-seventh chapter of the Tao Te Ching, Lao-Tse named it as his ‘first treasure,’ and then wrote, ‘From caring comes courage.’ We might add that from it also comes wisdom. It’s rather significant, we think, that those who have no compassion have no wisdom. Knowledge, yes; cleverness, maybe; wisdom, no. A clever mind is not a heart. Knowledge doesn’t really care. Wisdom does.”Appreciating “Less is More”:“In the forty-eighth chapter of the Tao Te Ching, Lao-Tse wrote, ‘To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.’”In Summary:“Within each of us there is an Owl, a Rabbit, an Eeyore, and a Pooh. For too long, we have chosen the way of Owl and Rabbit. Now, like Eeyore, we complain about the results. But that accomplishes nothing. If we are smart, we will choose the way of Pooh. As if from far away, it calls to us with the voice of child’s mind.”
The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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This is a 4 stars book, with an extra 1 star for the emotions that it invoked in me. It won’t be recognized as a literary great, or ingenious use of the English language. But it stirred emotions of a time long ago (i.e. I am not a high school-er), both good and bad. Easily compared to the Catcher in the Rye, Perks is written with shorter, terser, get-to-the-point styling, and perhaps one can pan Perks to be made for a movie (great movie btw). Sexuality, homosexuality, suicide, loneliness, molestation, death, drugs, alcohol, abortion, abuse, friendship, love, first kiss, mentorship, mistakes. The book is honest in addressing that Charlie was in fact incapable of dealing with the many emotions and drama in his life. His pain, his sensitivity, his conflicts present themselves clearly. The book is written in letters to an unidentified individual, all from Charlie’s perspective, sometimes short and direct, sometimes a word-puke of feelings in a semi stream of consciousness continuity. The book walks us through his freshman year of high school with letters dating from August 25, 1991 to August 23, 1992, beginning with a memory of his friend’s Michael’s passing, his finding friends amongst the seniors, and the many adventures in between. His sadness and loneliness throughout may be attributed to Michael’s suicide, but we eventually learn there is so much more, so many layers and complexities. I had paused and wonder if a teenager truly face all these difficulties, and then I realized it’s a simple yes. Perhaps that’s why this book is so needed. While it is far from being the literary giant that was Catcher in the Rye, it is updated to address the issues of today. Incidentally, Bill, the teacher, gave Charlie many books, including Catcher that has parallel issues. Another note is that the author created a set of characters that are entirely likeable: Charlie, Patrick, Sam, Bill, etc. All have multiple dimensions; most are wounded souls. What are the perks of being a wallflower? His quietness, introversion, inhibition made him the trusted observer, beloved friend and brother, that others relied upon for their many secrets. His unusual reward are adventures and exposures that no other freshman would have ever experienced. The lament, a lesson that Sam teaches him towards the end, is that he needs to be honest with himself and those around him, to speak his thoughts, and most importantly, to live his life. To Charlie – the sensitive, kind, observant, sweet, loved, considerate, insightful, thoughtful, innocent, trusted friend and brother, you touched me.To All – I hope you will have moments when you can exclaim, “I feel infinite!” and feel the magic of the tunnel.Some Quotes:Charlie chooses having a friend over having a date. That is loneliness!“I feel ashamed, though, because that night, I had a weird dream. I was with Sam. And we were both naked. And her legs were spread over the sides of the couch. And I woke up. And I had never felt that good in my life. But I also felt bad because I saw her naked without her permission. I think that I should tell Sam about this, and I really hope it does not prevent us from maybe making up inside jokes of our own. It would be very nice to have a friend again. I would like that even more than a date.”Bill giving Charlie, perhaps his most important lesson on love.“Bill smiled and continued asking me questions. Slowly, he got to ‘problems at home’. And I told him about the boy who makes mix tapes hitting my sister because my sister only told me not to tell mom or dad about it, so I figured I could tell Bill. He got this very serious look on his face after I told him, and he said something to me I don’t think I will forget this semester or ever. ‘Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve.’”Patrick referring to Charlie as the “Wallflower”, and more importantly, Charlie realizing he has friends. His joy! “’He’s a wallflower.’And Bob really nodded his head. And the whole room nodded their head. And I started to feel nervous in the Bob way, but Patrick didn’t let me get too nervous. He sat down next to me.‘You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.’I didn’t know that other people thought things about me. I didn’t know that they looked. I was sitting on the floor of a basement of my first real party between Sam and Patrick, and I remembered that Sam introduced me as her friend to Bob, and I remembered that Patrick had done the same for Brad. And I started to cry. And nobody in the room looked at me weird for doing it. And then I really started to cry. Bob raised his drink and asked everyone to do the same.‘To Charlie.’And the whole group said, ‘To Charlie.’I didn’t know why they did that, but it was very special to me that they did. Especially Sam. Especially her.” A poem that ended with suicide – the hopelessness, the despair, the end:“That’s why on the back of a brown paper bag he tried another poemAnd he called it ‘Absolutely Nothing’Because that’s what it was really all aboutAnd he gave himself an Aand a slash on each damned wrist And he hung it on the bathroom door because this time he didn’t think he could reach the kitchen.”On Sadness – Patrick tried everything to keep the sadness from sinking in:“The nights he would pick up someone always made him sad. It’s hard, too, because Patrick began every night really excited. He always said he felt free. And tonight was his destiny. And things like that. But by the end of that night, he just looked sad. Sometimes, he would talk about Brad. Sometimes, he wouldn’t. But after a while, the whole thing just wasn’t interesting to him anymore, and he ran out of things to keep himself numb.”On Being Special:From Bill to Charlie, “Charlie. Please don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not trying to make you feel uncomfortable. I just want you to know that you’re very special… and the only reason I’m telling you is that I don’t know if anyone else ever has.”Charlie reflecting: “When I was driving home, I just thought about the word ‘special.’ And I thought the last person who said that about me was aunt Helen. I was very grateful to have heard it again. Because I guess we all forget sometimes. And I think everyone is special in their own way. I really do.”
A Dog's Heart

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I always find satires the most enjoyable when it’s simply fun to read, rather or not I know what the underlying subject is. The novella, “The Heart of a Dog”, is humorous, a bit outrageous, made me look up what a pituitary gland is (don’t ask me to explain it), and of course, gave a glance into the complexities of then Russian life. Completed in 1925, it was not published in the Soviet Union until 1987, due to censorship. ‘Heart’ is an easy, fast read, if not for the educational pauses of my choosing, as I picked up bits of nuances of the Russian life then. Here are some samples: - That horsemeat in sausages is acceptable, sold by the Moscow State Food Store. - That ‘Dustmen’ is the lowest form of proletarian life. - A lover keeps a typist in silk stockings but “he won’t just want to make the usual sort of love to her, he’ll make her do it the French way”. (Hmm, what is that exactly?) - That Co-op is a ‘filthy store’, unfit for the gentleman that the Professor is. - That the Professor is despised for using 7 rooms for himself (not entirely true since the cook and the housekeeper also lives there, and his business is operated from there as well), during a time when Moscow did not have sufficient housing. - ‘Comrades’ has entered into daily salutation, which is rejected by the Professor, who prefers ‘Mister’, which in return, is rejected by the ‘Comrades’, which Sharikov barked, “I’m not mister – all the ‘misters’ are in Paris!”- Communism means the equal division of property where Sharikov has an ‘entitlement of thirty-seven square feet’ in the apartment. With communism, males and females are touted as equals, even though they never really are (and one can easily argue they still aren’t). Mr. Bulgakov blended in touches of this:- From the Dog, Sharik, “You’ve a good lunch under your belt, haven’t you, you’re a world-famous figure thanks to male sex glands.” - In a conversation between the Professor and the 4 members of the House Committee: “’Firstly, we’re not gentlemen, ‘ the youngest of them, with a face like a peach, said finally. ‘Secondly,’ Philip Philipovich interrupted him, ‘are you a man or a woman?’ The four were silent again and their mouths dropped open. This time the shock-haired young man pulled himself together. ‘What difference does it make, comrade?’ he asked proudly. ‘I’m a woman,’ confessed the peach-like youth, who was wearing a leather jerkin, and blushed heavily.”Lastly, with the transplants of the human testes (and the pituitary gland) into Sharik, I’ll forever have a new image in my mind, the next time I hear the derogatory “Grow a pair” or “ball-busting” type of slams.P.S. Note Mr. Bulgakov’s explicit use of ‘dog’ vs. ‘man’ and ‘Sharik’ vs. ‘Sharikov’ when he wants the reader to think of the character in the form of a dog vs. a man in the book.Some quotes:I simply laughed at this ‘you’re such an idiot’ speech from the Professor to Sharikov:“But she slapped me across the mouth,’ whined Sharikov, ‘She can’t go doing that to me!”“She slapped you because you pinched her on the bosom, ’shouted Bormenthal, knocking over a glass. ‘You stand there and…”“You belong to the lowest possible stage of development,’ Philip Philipovich shouted him down. ‘You are still in the formative stage. You are intellectually weak, all your actions are purely bestial. Yet you allow yourself in the presence of two university-educated men to offer advice, with quite intolerable familiarity, on a cosmic scale and of quite cosmic stupidity, on the redistribution of wealth… and at the same time you eat toothpaste…” This resonated with me, as it mirrors the concept of ‘problem solving’ that an engineers do. What problem are we trying to solve? In this case, it’s simply wrong to mess with nature.“I quite agree with you. This, doctor, is what happens, when a researcher, instead of keeping in step with nature, tries to force the pace and lift the veil. Result – Sharikov……..”“I would perform the most difficult feat of my whole career by transplanting Spinoza’s, or anyone else’s pituitary and turning a dog into a highly intelligent being. But what in heaven’s name for? That’s the point. Will you kindly tell me why one has to manufacture artificial Spinozas when some pleasant woman may produce a real one any day of the week?”“Theoretically the experiment was interesting…… But what is its practical value?”
The Tao Teh King, or the Tao and its Characteristics

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This book version: First, it is beautiful with inspiring/matching Chinese artwork including a texture look. Secondly, love that this version has English text with the Chinese text for each chapter every two pages, with the Chinese in the correct vertical from right to left with extra bonus points that the Chinese is done in calligraphy style. Thirdly, a very long introduction proved to be very educational and fitting. Now, the ding – the translation is too casual, using modern language that I personally don’t like, at one point using words like “me, me, me” in reference to selfishness. Hmm, I can read a little bit of Chinese, and I can promise you that’s not what the original text reads! The quotes below should give more flavors of this.Tao Te Ching (TTC), when read with my modern metropolis city girl mind, instructs “The Way”, “The Virtue”, and the “The Coda” as a reminder to the simplicity of life, easily forgotten as we plow forward with our day-to-day to-do list. Contrary to Chapter 41 where “Those who think that the Way is easy will find it extremely hard”, I think the Way is hard and still find it extremely hard! TTC also depressed me a bit (true statement). If life is supposed to be following the way of ‘nothing’, then I sure have been working my ass off for no good reason. If wisdom and knowledge is to be condemned and vilified, then part of my identity is evil. The unspoken expectation, then and now, was simply always be ‘more’, quite not the ‘Tao’. Of course, I’m not taking TTC literally. The complexities of living do not readily allow for it. (Try and explain TTC to the IRS.) Instead, I take from it a few nuggets that are meaningful. Here’s an abbreviated list:Introduction: 1) “Wu-Wei doesn’t mean just sitting about doing nothing. It means ‘being’, it means being receptive, and it means going beyond our egos in what we do and how we do what we do.” 2) “I see the essence of the Tao as poetic, with all that implies, and all we still have to learn – to really be here, and to let go.”Ch1 (Start of Tao): “Following the nothingness of the Tao, and you can be like it, not needing anything, seeing the wonder and the root of everything.” --- Meaning that nothing is something.Ch 2: 1) “Neither future nor past can exist alone.” --- Acceptance and remembrance of who you were and who you have become. 2) “Life is made – and no one owns it.”Ch 20: Seek and want nothing. “What do the people want? Money and things. And yet I find I have nothing, and I don’t care. I am as unambitious as any fool.”Ch 28: Learn to yield, learn to bend, learn to think anew. “Understand the thrust of the yang – but be more like the yin in your being… Be like a stream… Be newborn – be free of yourself…” Ch 38 (Start of Te): Reminded me of leadership, a truly good leader. “A Man of Te rules by Wu-Wei, doing nothing for himself or of himself… A man who rules with compassion, acts through it – and no one even realizes.”Ch 44: “If you’re not always wanting, you can be at peace. And if you’re not always trying to be someone, you can be who you really are.”Ch 67: “I have three priceless treasures: Compassion, Thrift, Humility… These days people scorn compassion. They try to be tough. They spend all they have, and yet want to be generous. They despise humility, and want to be the best.”
El arte de la guerra

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I read ‘The Art of War’, not because I wanted to know about warfare, or even the typically extrapolated purpose of business and politics, but because I’ve been looking for the source of a 6 character Chinese phrase that I’ve known since I was a kid. I think I found it. The 6 characters are:People Philosophy (or Principle)Earth Philosophy (or Principle)Heaven Philosophy (or Principle)Earth is commonly extrapolated to also mean the environment, your physical surroundings, and/or the situation you’re in.Heaven is commonly extrapolated to also mean the weather, fate, and other elements you can’t control but only can work around.While ‘The Art of War’ goes into strategies of planning/waging/winning a war, the commoners (i.e. the adults around me when I was growing up) used these six characters to explain the simple considerations in life, being cognizant of the people and the things around you. In the case of ‘Heaven’, life happens. You can’t get what you want. You can’t have everything you want. And it simply wasn’t meant to be. A hard lesson for a kid… and for an adult.The edition I read is a Collins Classic with a crisp, simple translation and a good intro. I would have liked a version with side by side Chinese and English text, but ah well. In 13 Chapters, with numbered lines between 14 to 68 for each chapter, this was an easy read. As alluded to above, one can extract many layers of meanings from the simple text. Quotes:Ch 1, Line 22 – Perhaps this is the modern day equivalent of pressing someone’s buttons.“If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.”Ch 2, Line 19 – I read this as results driven, in business terms.“In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.”Ch 3, Line 18 – People Philosophy. Replace enemy with anyone else, this might work for understanding the probabilities of a relationship, friendship, etc.“Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”Ch 4, Line 10 – This was very humbling.“To lift an autumn hair is no sign of great strength; to see the sun and moon is no sign of sharp sight; to hear the noise of thunder is no sign of a quick ear.”Ch 5, Lines 1 and 2 – This made me think about growing a team or an organization and managing them or taking on bigger challenges. “Sun Tzu said: The control of a large force is the same principle as the control of a few men: it is merely a question of dividing up their numbers.”“Fighting with a large army under your command is nowise different fighting with a small one: it is merely a question of instituting signs and signals.”Ch 6, Line 9 – One of the primary strategies in this book is deception. I’m guessing it is applauded for business and politics! Too brutal for my taste.“O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you we learn to be invisible, through you inaudible; and hence we can hold the enemy’s fate in our hands.Ch 7, Line 13 – Earth Philosophy. In the most literal sense for battle.“We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country – its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps.”Ch 9, Line 35 – This made me think of office gossip, and the negativity associated with it.“The sight of men whispering together in small knots or speaking subdued tones points to disaffection amongst the rank and file.”Ch 10, Line 24, 25 – My business translation: A leader that is not after title for himself/herself, but simply cares, and gives a damn, for the work and for his/her team.“The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.”“Regarding your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.”Ch 10, Line 31 – I believe this is the one line that envelopes the 6 characters, even though I hope to never mark anyone as my enemy.“Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.”
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