Walk Away

I just added another book read to my list. Without a doubt this was the most painful book I ever forced myself to read. The cover picture of a couple of kids on a bike sucked me into it. I am a sucker for bikes and bike riding. The author Viet Thanh Nguyen is a refugee from the Viet Nam War, or as he referred to it The American Wa.. He speaks eloquent english and writes the same. I found myself opening the dictionary to understand some of his word selections. The last word I had to look up is solipsism. I never heard it or saw it used before. Solipsism is a view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist.

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The last time I heard a speaker talk to me this way was in college when I took metaphysics. I didn’t understand it then nor did I understand much of what this guy was telling me. I was sooo tempted to return the book without finishing it. I kept hoping the next chapter would be the one that made sense, it did not happen. I finally understood the Epilogue because it he wrote it as a narrative about his life.

If you are into philosophy you will enjoy this book. If you like a regular everyday story like I do you will walk away from it.

All through the read I kept remembering the professor I had at Saint Joseph’s College who taught metaphysics. I kept telling myself that guys like Viet Than Nguyen are teaching at our colleges(he is Associate Professor of English and American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California) and warping the minds of our youth. None of what he wrote made sense and I wondered how he ever found a publisher to take this book on, then I saw it was the Harvard University Press.  I have too little time left on this good earth to waste my minutes with unsatisfying work such as this. I have nobody to blame but myself.

 

Senior Musing

About a year ago a friend recommended a book whose title I jotted into my phone. My short term memory is waning and if I don’t write something down it gets forgotten immediately. Last week I finished a book titled The Jolly Roger Social Club, and immediately began searching for my next read. The usual trip to the library failed to produce a current title that struck my fancy so I opened my notebook on the i-phone. I found a title called Recessional recommended by my friend Tom an avid reader. The author,  James Michener is one of my favorites.

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The story revolves around a Senior living complex in Florida, and the characters are all my age. The complex has three levels. The first is apartments for totally independent residents. The second is for people who need some form of assistance with care, and the third is long-term care. Thankfully the story begins with characters that are full of life and amazingly active. I learned a new word, tertulia meaning a group of people gathered to discuss the arts, or any other current topic of interest.

One of the benefits of this type of living is that the residents can prepare their own meals in their apartment or order from the kitchen to eat in, or they can assemble in the dining room to eat any or all three daily meals. A group of four men eat at the only round table standing in a corner of the room. Comprised of a Senator, Ambassador, Editor, and a business President. They were considered the brains of the home. I took a liking to this group because it resembles the group I belong to made up of widowers who meet regularly to discuss anything and everything. These characters took their friendship one step further by convincing the management to allow them a workshop in which the planned to build an airplane. That is my kind of retirement living.

Michener always teaches the reader something. In this story he covered retirement village living and management, AIDS treatment, living wills, and hospice care. It didn’t surprise me that he wrote the book just three years before he died at age ninety. He was most likely one of the characters in the story. Michener began writing when he was forty years old and his very first book Tales of the South Pacific won a Pulitzer Prize. Over the next fifty years he wrote forty-one books. Most of them are epic one thousand page stories. The man never let up either he was writing or researching. His most popular book is Hawaii with 45 editions. Can you imagine running out of a title and having to print more forty-five times, I can’t.

This story was a can’t put it down read, but because it was about my life, or rather my future life, it saddened me whenever one of the characters died. Most died of natural causes, but one man committed suicide after his wife died so he could be with her. The bulk of the characters and the plots they appeared in were for the most part uplifting, and the book is well worth the time to absorb, and there is much food for discussion in a tertulia setting.

Re-reading a Classic

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A couple of weeks ago Peg and I watched the movie South Pacific. I have seen it four times since it was made, and I love it more each time. I love it so much I decided to re-read the book it is based on “The Tales Of the South Pacific” by James Michener. I often tell this story about how I learned about Michener. A Polish engineer from work told me he had just read a great book about the history of his country. Since my wife was of Polish descent I borrowed the book. Most James Michener books are a thousand pages and Poland was a long thick thousand page book. I began the read on a holiday weekend and was mesmerized. I could not put it down, it had my interest. At the five hundred page mark I set the book down on the end table next to my chair, and there it sat for the next twelve months. By that time I was concerned that I had the book for a year and I should return it, so I picked it up again. The same thing, I read non-stop to the end. I enjoyed the book that much. I learned of other Michener narratives and set a goal to read all of them. After the third one, I asked myself where did this guy begin, what was his first book? I found a list of his published books and learned that Tales of the South Pacific was his first and he won a Pulitzer prize for that work.

I borrowed the book from the library and was surprised to see that is was of normal length. It was obvious to me why he won the prize. Published in l947, it was fresh off WWII, and it is a story about his personal experience in the Pacific. After reading it I non-stop I was moved emotionally. Many years later when I watched the movie of the broadway musical South Pacific it seemed very familiar to me. The play is based on the book.

I haven’t finished re-reading yet, but I am already emotionally involved. Hearing the stories of the hardships these men endured while protecting our country has evoked some memories I would rather forget. I was nine years old when this story published, and I lived the war from FDR’s declaration until the boys came home. I still remember hearing stories my Mom told about the sons of friends who returned and were all screwed up. They left for war as teenagers but returned as hardened men who were quite different.

Michener did an outstanding job of telling a series of totally independent short stories that were filled with characters in a a way as to tell a much bigger story.  I still give this book four stars, and I highly recommend it to everyone.

There Goes the Neighborhood

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It has been several months since I read a book. The men’s bookclub selection this month was a novel titled “The Gold Coast” by Nelson DeMille. At first I thought this a five hundred page story, it will take me a month to finish. Well, it took one week. This is the kind of story that can’t be put down. I found myself actually shutting off the TV in favor of becoming engrossed. I always set a bed time, but on several evenings I stayed up way past the scheduled time. This is not a new book(1990), but I had never heard of it before. The setting is Long Island, New York in a place where the really, really rich lived and played called the Gold Coast. It is often compared to the Greta Gatsby era when the Roosevelts, Vanderbilts, Astors, Rockerfellers, and J.P. Morgan lived opulent lives which cannot be duplicated except by maybe some Saudi Princes.

The story of how these people lived in their fifty room mansions on their two hundred acre estates fascinated me. Even the gate houses and guest houses were mansions. Today, if I pass by a  very pricey sub-division and see a gate house it is usually the size of a phone booth and not a mansion. The driveways from the gate house to the mansion were usually  tree lined winding country lanes that took a few minutes to drive.

I found DeMille’s characters depicting the stodgy, snooty, Gatsby era citizens very believable and real. Not that I have a lot of experience with these sorts of characters, but I fraternized enough with the upper echelons of some huge  Corporations to be able to know who was real and who was not. Having never had more money than I needed to survive I did find it hard to imagine people so wealthy that they could afford to keep not one but several houses of this magnitude.

Author DeMille cleverly crafted a plot that depicts a neighborhood that is slowly evolving into something less than it once was. Developers are the only ones who can afford to buy the large tracts and often a single estate is split into many smaller ten acre lots. In this story one of the estates is spared by a new guy moving in. As we often say when that happens, “there goes the neighborhood.” In this story, the guy who spoils the neighborhood is a Mafia don from New York who is known to everyone in the Gold Coast via newspaper accounts of  his purported crimes.

If you like a good story this is one I recommend. This story would make a really good movie.

A Revolutionary Concept: Earth Revolves Around the Sun

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Finally, I finished reading a book called Galileo’s Telescope. It took a month, but I did it. Whenever it takes me that long to read something it is because it is a difficult read. Three author’s were required to tell this short story of how Galileo’s discovery of Jupiter’s moons became known to the world. The time frame was 1590 through 1620. That alone gives a clue about how hard it must have been to research the events that unfolded.

A Dutchman who made eyeglasses for a living  invented the telescope. The novelty of the device spread quickly across Europe and ultimately landed in Galileo’s lap. The early telescopes were crude devices with poorly made lens but had a 3:1 magnification. People were astounded by being able to see things far away come close. Galileo was a mathematician and immediately recognized the value of studying the heavens with a telescope. He took it upon himself to improve the device. He didn’t believe anyone else but he could do the job. He learned how to grind lens, and sent to Venice for the finest glass available. His math skills enabled him to calculate the lens curvature needed to yield a 30:1 magnification.

He first examined the moon. He learned the surface had mountains, valleys, and desert. He made the first pencil sketches of the moon’s surface. Then he focused on Jupiter and realized that four moons spiraled the planet. He published his findings in a book titled Sidereus nuncios.

The story told focuses on how the world rejected Galileo as the inventor of the telescope which is correct. He never claimed he invented the device. There is a short discussion on how he used the scope, and the rest on how he spread the news.

During that era, the Catholic Church taught that the universe revolved around the earth, and they excommunicated scientist Copernicus for teaching that the earth revolved around the sun. Many people of Galileo’s time warned him to present his findings as a mathematical phenomenon, and not as a Philosophical one for fear of being rebuked by the Church. Jesuits were the renowned philosophers of the time, and they still are today. They set up the Inquisition to keep people from deviating from Holy Doctrine. The current Pope Francis came to mind throughout this reading. He is a Jesuit and has the same stubborn stance on Global Warming as the Jesuits of the sixteenth century had about Earth being the center of the universe.

Anyway, this book  told the story in two hundred and forty-six pages. I would have condensed it into ten (The words in this post are enough for me). The story contains too many difficult Italian names, dates, and places. We won’t see a movie on this one for sure. As hard as it was to read, I enjoyed the story.

Read the Book, Or See the Movie, Not Both

Last week I did it again. I watched the movie after reading the book. The Men’s book club chose Ender’s Game as the month’s selection. I had never heard of it, but what the heck why not? It is science fiction and I am in the throes of writing a book which is fantasy, science fiction, so I thought it might be a great read. As always I began with the Introduction. The copy of the book I had is a new edition, and the author added an introduction. I suffered through it, and thought if this is what the rest of the book is like I am in deep trouble. Thankfully, it was not. The author had me hooked within a few pages, and I couldn’t put it down.

Ender’s Game takes place one hundred and fifty years from now. An alien civilization attacks Earth, and nearly wins had it not been for a courageous warrior who saves the planet. To avoid another attack, Earth’s rulers search for another commander who can take out the aliens in the future. They do so by monitoring little kids from age three on. By the time they are six, Big Brother has an idea of what characteristics the kid will have. Ender is one of those kids. At age six and a half he is taken from his family to go to Battle School. The school is a huge ship in orbit around Earth. Educators teach the tactics of war as a game. To cut this story short, Ender is in command of the entire army by the time he is eleven. The school put him through a relentless grind of battle after battle with little time between, and Ender continues to come up with winning strategies.

I described this scenario to my son and he told me that there is a movie of this story. I found it in the library and thought I would really enjoy it. Although, the movie is well done, the story is way too big to tell effectively in two hours. The author Orson Scott Card wrote the screen play so his story would be told accurately, but he had to cut so much the movie lacked. The visual effects were as good as those in Star Wars, and the action scenes were exciting, but it left me wanting more of what I read. This is one case where reading the book is the better choice over watching the movie. Both stories are good, but I preferred the book version over the film.

Killing Russians As Revenge for Viet Nam

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Two weeks ago in a discussion with my Lion friends the subject of Charley Wilson’s War came up. I remembered seeing a movie by that name, but could not remember what it was about. Two days later my friend Rod dropped off a book with the same title. I finished reading the story today, and feel compelled to express myself about it. Before I do I have to say that the reason I couldn’t remember what the story was about from watching the movie is because the story is way too big to cover in a two hour movie. The producers chose to concentrate on Charley’s womanizing and his relationship with a specific CIA agent named Gust Avrakotos. Both Wilson’s womanizing and Gust’s CIA association are major parts of the story, but their involvement in driving the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan and the eventual downfall of the USSR was complicated and confusing in the film.

Here is my opinion. All presidents from George Bush the second and every president after him should read this piece of history. Had Bush absorbed the message of Jihad played out in the story he would have thought three times before declaring war on Afghanistan. In Obama’s case it is worse. He is a muslim sympathizer yet he fails to recognize the drive and fervor of jihad. His foreign policy regarding muslim nations would have to be different if he understood the message of this book.

The Russians spent billions under the guise of liberating Afghanistan, but they really wanted to own Afghanistan and to open a path to the Indian Ocean. They lost 28,000 young men, and their engagement is compared to our Viet Nam. They killed over a million muslim jihadists, and they might have won had the CIA not gotten involved.

What was the message I got? That muslims on a jihad are crazy zealots for revenge and for driving infidels from their countries. Almost as soon as the door hit the last Russian in the ass as he left Afghanistan, the mujahideen shifted to the USA as their new enemy. It hasn’t stopped since then, and we all know that things are not getting better.

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This book is an interesting and enjoyable read. The history covered is relatively obscure because the USA, namely the CIA kept it so covert that neither the Afghans or the Russians knew we were involved.

The second thing I got from the book is that a single Congressman with abilities similar to those of Charles Wilson who wanted revenge for the Russian involvement in Viet Nam against us could appropriate so much money for a program that was never approved by Congress, or the President. In my opinion Charley Wilson was a hero  for bringing down the Russians, but he should be in jail for how he went about doing it. The reason he never went to jail is that he had too many other Congressmen in his pocket.

In retrospect, what Charley Wilson did amounts to peanuts compared to what Obama does daily in the name of redistributing wealth.

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