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Posts Tagged ‘Classic Literature’

Of Mice And Men  (1937©)  —  book review
Continuing my efforts to die an educated man, over the weekend I finished one of the many “classics” I eluded in high school English class, “Of Mice And Men” by John Steinbeck.  The novel is the story of two friends who share a dream of owning a small farm of their own and “live offa the fatta the lan“.  The dream escapes them – and everyone else in the book too.
Written during the middle years of the Great Depression, the book is an ode to loneliness, the weakness of innocence, and the ultimate futility of tempting Fate by trying to make plans for the future.  The book “seems” full of characters who represent symbols of generalized Man in all of our various (yet very specific) facets: the competent and understanding “Slim”, the injured by work and beaten by age “Candy”, the broken, isolated, yet still proud “Crooks”, the un-named and objectified young beauty of Mrs. “Curley”, the foolish bullying of the Napoleonic “Curley”, and of course the simple, innocent strength of Lennie Small and the lost plan of George Milton.  I suppose it is too much to believe Steinbeck sat and created a “lion” (Leonard / Lennie) of a man with the intellect of a toddler (“small” child) and his best friend George (Greek for farmer) Milton (the author of “Paradise Lost“).   I suppose…
As I’ve stated in some of my other posts, there is a saying in the martial arts: “when the student is ready, the master will appear.”    I believe I am fortunate not to have read this book in high school.  Without the extra forty odd years of experience, this would have simply been a predictable story of accidental death and Karmic retribution.  It is that.  It is also a fine wine of subtle hope and deep friendship in the face of depressing reality and personal loneliness.  It is a man viewing a homeless mouse facing the coming of winter…  Coming for both of them.
Final recommendation: a “classic”.  Mildly to extremely depressing (be warned), but still highly recommended – if for nothing else, then so you’ll understand other people referencing the title.
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On This Day In (Leap Year):
2012 Stingray – TV Series Review (This is my most popular post since starting my blog – hands down! It still draws hits almost every week. The hits seem to come mostly from Central Europe. I guess the show must be in syndication there.)
A Single Thread

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Today I completed reading “The Doors Of Perception” (1954©), by Aldous Huxley.  This is a “classic” because it was written by a famous / distinguished author.  It is a very short work of less than eighty pages; well written and easy to zip through.  This is my second reading of the book.  I guess I first read the book back in the mid to late 1970’s, but it may have been as late as the early 1980’s – certainly before I reached thirty years old.  I have remembered almost nothing of the book, so it didn’t leave much of an early impression the first time through.  I had previously underlined a few excerpts to be included in my journal at some point.  I found many more interesting statements this second time through.
The book is essentially about a day spent “high” on peyote / mescaline.  The author read about the drug being used to treat some forms of mental illness and decided to try it under supervision (a doctor and his – Huxley’s – wife).  The book is a record of the experience and his thoughts immediately after the experiment.  At the time of the experiment, the drug was not illegal or on the controlled substance list.
Full disclosure: although I had a misspent youth experiencing multiple controlled substances, “magic” mushrooms / peyote / mescaline was not one of them, so I have no direct experience to personally compare with Huxley’s.  I would say generally, Huxley’s description of “altered” states seems accurate, perceptive and well written.  Perhaps, too well written, as erudite writers sometimes beat you over the head with their education and sophistication.  Huxley is borderline here.
I believe I actually found Huxley’s after-the-fact comments and observations more interesting than his in-the-moment ones.  Huxley offered me a number of insights into human nature and the role of drugs in society and religion, which I confess gave me pause for thought.  You’ll read some of these in the next few months.  I haven’t decided whether I’ll comment on them or simply post them as written.
Final recommendation: highly recommended reading!   The book is short, well written and offers interesting comments on the nature of man’s experience in the universe.
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On This Day In:
2014 A Wall Too High, A Bridge Too Far
2013 Glory = Danger
Chicago Magic
Feelin’ It
2012 How Did We Get Here?
2011 Labor Day Weekend Mishmash
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Book Review:
We all have books we KNOW we should read.  Some of us own books we know we should read.  And, occasionally, we actually get around to reading them to see what all the fuss is/was about.  Thomas Frank’s “What’s The Matter With Kansas?” (2004©) is one of those books.  I’ve heard the book discussed on TV for seven years.  My daughter has owned it for several years.  And, I finally saw it on the $2 rack at my local used book store, so I thought, “What the heck?”
Frank is a Kansan who was raised a conservative (“Reagan”) Republican.  He admits to knowing little of the working class and nothing of work as he grew up.  He goes to college and is snubbed by the “better” classes of people at school and he discovers Democratic ideas/ideals.  The book explains this conversion and, more significantly, explains why he can’t understand why so many of his fellow Kansans continue to support Republicans when it is – he feels – clearly in their best economic interest to support Democrats.
In the end, the most telling comment is that the Democratic Party has abandoned its most effective arguments for holding onto its largest base (the working class), by adopting a soft on business economic policy which is “Republicanism lite”.  Frank says this happened during the Clinton era as an attempt to lure yuppies and other higher paid professionals and manual workers into the Democratic block.  It seems this worked during the Clinton era, but failed during the Gore and Kerry runs for the Presidency.
The book also spends a great deal of time discussing how once economics are removed from the contrast, Democrats lose to Republicans on “values” issues.
In hindsight, the analysis seems correct.  Unfortunately, Frank fails to offer any workable suggestions for either moving back to economic class struggle or converting folks on values.   As a matter of fact, even just finishing the book, I’m struggling to recall ANY suggestions.
It is easy to see why the book is considered a “classic” in modern terms and I believe the judgment will stand the test of time.  I would, however, note it was not a particularly “good” read for me.  The cover implies the author is humorous/funny.  I did not find him so.   At times he seems particularly bitter about the disappointment / disillusionment of his early adulthood – the world simply wasn’t the way he believed it to be when he was growing up.  This came across as a bitter tone through much of the book.  Today, I spent some time looking at Frank being interviewed and he does, in fact, seem funny and not bitter at all.  I admit this also surprised me…
Anyway, EVERY Democratic politician and political operative should definitely put this book high on their “must read” list.  I believe it does offer honest insight and serves as a cautionary tale for what may be facing us in 2012 and the future should the country fail to re-elect President Obama and turn over the Congress.  Given the number of Democratic Senators up for re-election, it seems almost certain the Republicans will gain the majority in the Senate.  (I don’t think they will get 60, though.)  The Democrats will do well to simply take back the House.  There will almost certainly be at least two seats opening on the Supreme Court during the next five years.  It behooves every patriotic American (Democrat and Republican) to not just vote, but to actively participate in the next national election.  The last thing we need is another “unelected” President or one elected by questionable voting procedures (read: Florida and Ohio).
The future will tell…
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