Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Tsukuru Tazaki, Stoic

“In this dream, though, he burned with desire for a woman. It wasn’t clear who she was. She was just there. And she had a special ability to separate her body and her heart. I will give you one of them, she told Tsukuru. My body or my heart. But you can’t have both. You need to choose one or the other, right now. I’ll give the other part to someone else, she said. But Tsukuru wanted all of her. He wasn’t about to hand over one half to another man. He couldn’t stand that. If that’s how it is, he wanted to tell her, I don’t need either one. But he couldn’t say it. He was stymied, unable to go forward, unable to go back.

He woke up, his body quaking. It took a while before he understood that it had been a dream. He tore off his sweat-soaked pajamas and dried himself with a towel, but no matter how hard he wiped the sweat away, he couldn’t rid himself of that slimy feeling. And he came to a realization. Or maybe felt it intuitively. So this was jealousy. The body or the heart of the woman he loved, or maybe even both, were being wrested from him by someone else.

Jealousy– at least as far as he understood it from his dream– was the most hopeless prsion in the world. Jealousy was not a place he was forced into by someone else, but a jail in which the inmate entered voluntarily, locked the door, and threw away the key. And no another soul in the world knew he was locked inside. Of course if he wanted to escape, he could do so. The prison was, after all, his own heart. But he couldn’t make that decision. His heart was as hard as a stone wall. This was the very essence of jealousy.” – Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

I just started reading the new Murakami. It’s good so far. It’s every bit as psychological as his other books but, so far, lighter on the surrealism. I’m always impressed with the detail with which Murakami fleshes out the interior world of his characters. Only a few chapters in, and I’m starting to build an intuitive, almost empathetic understanding of the main character. This, despite the Tsukuru’s own pointed reluctance to try to understand himself or the interior world of those around him.

My one (minor) quibble is that Murakami still refuses to use 5 words where 25 will serve just as well. Sometimes his florid prose is in good service to theme or character, but just as often it seems to just pad out an otherwise compact, well-plotted scene.

I was struck, when reading the above scene, to the following:

“What, then, is the punishment of those who do not accept [their circumstances]? To be just as they are. Is one peevish because he is alone? Let him be in solitude! Is he peevish with his parents? Let him be an evil son and grieve! Is he peevish with his children? Let him be a bad father! ‘Throw him into prison.’ What sort of prison? Where he now is. For he is there against his will and where a man is against his will, that for him is a prison. Just as Socrates was not in prison, for he was there willingly.” – Epictetus, I.12.22ff.

Now it would be entirely unfair to compare Murakami to Master Epictetus, but it’s interesting to see the same Stoic idea echoed by so different an author, in such similar terms, but inflated five-fold in the interests of couching it as a character’s own profundity.

“…space was taken…”

“In regards to the present narration, I feel compelled to defend myself against a certain sort of prejudice endemic to our times. ‘You,’ my gentle detractors will say, ‘who purport to tell the stories of these real men, are but a work of fiction.’ This I do not deny: I stand before you every bit as fictional as longitude and latitude, as the Roman calendar, as the sixty-second minute, and I encourage you to dispose with all of these to the extent that they offend you. The Prime Meridian, an act of imagination, runs over Arctic sea ice, Mediterranean waters, the sands of the Sahara. Do you doubt the sand because you doubt the line? For be assured, in the world I describe, space was taken. The fighters were heard by human ears, each word faithfully recorded. Real fingers ran over the stitches in Sean’s brow. Real tears fell down the face that watched him fall.

Now those who ask that I be as real as Sean have a curious faith in the ability of people with birth certificates and tax IDs to free themselves from the fetters of deception. My (admittedly neurotic) progenitor, on the other hand is so conscious of her own tendency toward self-confabulation that she hesitates to all anything she says of herself a fact. She has never known a real person who saw herself with even passable clarity; never known a storyteller who could tell of a trip to the supermarket without self-gratifying sins of omission. All narrators, I say, are fiction. All. The reliable ones have the decency to admit it.” – Kerry Howley, Thrown

1Q84: A Technically Accurate Synopsis

Three people are transported to an alternate reality. One of them kills a priest. The second has sex with a minor. The third desperately tries to bring the first two to justice.

Of course the reality is far weirder and more complex than that synopsis implies. A weird, wonderful, and highly recommended book.

“…like bees make honey, spiders make webs, and war makes widows.”

“The wind rushed between the branches of the zelkova tree, making a piercing howl, like the coldhearted breath leaking out between the teeth of a person who has lost all hope. Tengo gazed at the moons, not paying much attention to the sound of the wind, sitting there until his whole body was chilled to the bone. It must have been around fifteen minutes. No, maybe more. His sense of time had left him. His body, initially warmed by the whiskey, now felt hard and cold, like a lonely boulder at the bottom of the sea.

The clouds continued to scud off toward the south. No matter how many were blown away, others appeared to take their place. There was an inexhaustible source of clouds in some land far to the north. Decisive people, minds fixed on the task, clothed in thick, gray uniforms, working silently from morning to night to make clouds, like bees make honey, spiders make webs, and war makes widows.” – Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

“You’re so wrong. God, I love how wrong you are.”

Given that I’m a sucker for an unreliable narrator, a book composed entirely of dialogue between unreliable characters should be like catnip for me. So I’m a little surprised at how ambivalent I am about Dave Eggers’ newest book, the exhaustingly-titled Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?.

On the plus side, the book is engaging, well-paced, and genuinely funny1. I’d read almost half of it before it even occurred to me to put it down (being trapped on an airplane at the time helped), and I found myself genuinely identifying with many of the characters. In particular, Kev’s softly-softly attempts at getting Thomas to make a mistake and the congressman’s apparently genuine concern for Thomas not to get himself killed came across as honest, very human responses to an implausible, inhumane situation.

One thing that’s not in question is Eggers’ stylistic skills. The characters in the book are remarkably complex and well-rounded, despite existing only in intermittent, strained relation to the protagonist, Thomas. The dialog (which makes up the entirety of the book), is pleasing blend of punchy and plausible. The characters react convincingly to the situation of being chained to posts in disused Army barracks by an otherwise kind, but unstable young man.

Where the book starts to go off the rails is when Eggers tries to hard to drive home a message that his protagonist can’t fully articulate. Perhaps the scattered, inchoate rage is meant to be a message all on its own, but it comes across as a bad combination of sloppy and preachy. Thomas seems obsess with meaning and message, but when it comes to articulating his own purpose in kidnapping a series of notable characters related to his life, the best he can muster up by way of unifying thesis seems to be, roughly, “someone else should have given me a purpose.”

In a way, though, that might be praising the book with faint damns. To find a crazy main character’s message itself coherent and sloppily presented is probably more of a reflection of the strength of Eggers’ characterization, than any weakness of plotting. And while there are certain other elements of the book that seem ad hoc or unnecessary (the whole section with Hansen is a good example), it’s possible that the disjoint and unreliable message actually makes for a better book. On that point, I’m not yet decided.

One thing I am decided on, is that it’s an interesting book, and well worth reading. If nothing else, it’s damned funny and very well written, and to see a novel so unusually structured pulled off so well is refreshing.

In short, it’s definitely worth your time, as long as you’re prepared to be preached insensibly by a crazy serial kidnapper.

1 It’s a strong early contender for “Best Comedic Use of a Taser, 2014”.

“Standing by the front door, she turnd for one last look, aware that she would never be coming back. The thought made the apartment appear unbelievably shabby, like a prison that only locked from the inside, bereft of any picture of vase. The only thing left was the bargain-sale rubber plant on the balcony, which she had bought instead of goldfish. She could hardly believe she had spent years of her life in this place without question or discontent.

‘Good-bye,’ she murmured, bidding farewell not so much to the apartment as to the self that had lived here.” – Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

William Pitt on Anglosphere Liberty

“The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake, the wind may blow through it, the storm may enter, the rain may enter; but the King of England cannot enter; all his force dare not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement.” – William Pitt the Elder, 1763

I ran across this quote while reading Daniel Hannan’s book Inventing Freedom. The book has been extremely interesting, especially for its focus on the Anglosphere as a coherent cultural and political body. He focuses on the factors that make the Anglosphere countries alike, draws out the history of those unique qualities, and offsets them against continental Europe and other cultures to draw a compelling picture of a unified Anglophone history and way of life.

I definitely recommend the book to history and politics buffs alike (Hannan, being a British MEP, has a definite political position, but it’s well supported by the evidence provided and doesn’t come across as polemical). It’s an interesting history and a fair presentation of a perspective that doesn’t get much airing these days.

QotD from Daniel Hannan’s The New Road to Serfdom

A few months ago, I found myself addressing the Republican committee of a rural county in a southern state. Its members looked much as I had expected members of the Republican committee of a rural county in a southern state to look: rugged and sunburned. During the question and answer session, I was asked why the GOP, having dominated late twentieth-century politics, was faring so badly.

I replied that, as far as I could see, one of the party’s most serious mistakes had been its retreat from localism. The Republicans started winning in the 1960s when they embraced states’ rights and the devolution of power. They started losing forty years later when they abandoned these principles. The audience growled its approval and son, perhaps incautiously, I began to list the areas where the Bush administration had wrongly extended ventral power, ranging from the rise in federal spending to the attempt to strike down state laws on same-sex unions. When I mentioned same-sex unions, a rustle went through the room, and I winced inwardly: This, I thought, was perhaps not the wisest example to have offered the Republican committee of a rural county in a southern state.

Sure enough after I had finished, a man with a beard and a red baseball cap sauntered up to me.

“Son,” he said, “Ah ‘preciate you comin’, an’ Ah ‘greed with most of wut you said/ But Ah must disagree with your position on so-called homosexual marriage.”

He paused to hitch his jeans up his great belly, looking into the middle distance.

“Far as Ah kin see, not bein’ under any pressue to git married is one of the main advantages Ah enjoy as a gay man.”

Radley Balko, Rise of the Warrior Cop

As an attentive reader might have inferred from my prior quoting of the book, I rather enjoyed Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces. Balko provides a thorough, well-cited history of the increased militarization of America’s law enforcement, including the development of SWAT teams, the funneling of equipment and training from the military to law enforcement agencies, and the erosion of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th amendments to the US constitution.

I was particularly interested in Balko’s history of the erosion of Castle Doctrine in the latter half of the 20th century. As someone who has an interest in the second amendment and firearm rights, I was mostly familiar with Castle Doctrine as a principle of self-defense. Balko does a great job of explaining the history of the Castle Doctrine not as an element of self-defense jurisprudence but as being a core part of the 4th amendment and the right to citizens not to be unduly searched or harassed in their homes by law enforcement officers.

The book also does a great job of showing how a major driver of the erosion of civil liberties in America is the War on Drugs and the perverse incentives it creates for police officers. Much of the funding for local agencies comes from drug war mechanisms that encourage raids on low-level offenders (which are safer and can net asset forfeiture proceeds) rather than extended investigations on high-level manufacturers and distributors.

I highly recommend Balko’s book to anyone interested in law enforcement in America today or who is interested in the drivers of the erosion of American Civil Liberties. The book is well-written, well-researched, and a compelling argument for immediate changes in the way in which American police agencies go about their day-to-day operations.

Can’t imagine why they’d question, Sheriff

“…in Montgomery County, Texas, ‘the sheriff’s department owns a $300,000 pilotless surveillance drone, like those used to hunt down al Qaeda terrorists in the remote tribal regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.’ A couple of months before the [Center for Investigative Reporting] report, the sheriff in Montgomery County had broached the possibility of arming his drone with rubber bullets, or possibly teargas. ‘No matter what we do in law enforcement, somebody’s going to question it, be we’re going to do the right thing, and I can assure you of that,” he said. Five months later, the department made headlines when its DHS-funded drone accidentally crashed into its DHS-funded [armored personnel carrier].” – Radley Balko, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America

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Magic Blue Smoke

House Rules:

1.) Carry out your own dead.
2.) No opium smoking in the elevators.
3.) In Competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.
4.) A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place.
4a.) Penalty one stroke.
5.) Pilsner should be in Roman type, and begin with a capital.
6.) Keep Calm and Kill It with Fire.
7.) Spammers will be fed to the Crabipede.