Monday, October 06, 2014

Splash du Jour: Monday

How so many absurd rules of conduct, as well as so many absurd religious beliefs, have originated, we do not know… but it is worthy of remark that a belief constantly inculcated during the early years of life, whilst the brain is impressible, appears to acquire almost the nature of an instinct; and the very essence of an instinct is that it is followed independently of reason.
-- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man --

Have a great Monday!

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Three Recent Reads...

My suitcase is packed, and now I have a few minutes to write about some recent reads. In the morning I will be flying away for a week in Atlanta, on work-related business. I'm not sure what I am more excited about -- Atlanta itself, which was such a blast last year, or just the fact that I will not be really working for a week!
I'll be taking along The Remains of the Day to read on my flight. Hopefully it's a good book.
The first book in the above picture is The Spinoza Problem, by Irvin D. Yalom. 

I love this author, having read two of his books now. Yalom likes to take real historical figures and basically elaborate a bit on their life stories. In this one, the subjects are 17th Century philosopher Baruch Spinoza, and 20th Century Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg. How in the world can these two figures be juxtaposed? Well -- here's how it goes. Rosenberg, a frothing at the mouth anti-Semite, discovers that all of the great German philosophers he worships, all, in their own right, were influenced by Baruch Spinoza. Then Rosenberg finds out that Spinoza was a Jew. This fact, this "problem" --  completely knocks his ideology for a loop. Each chapter alternates between what is going on in the life of Spinoza and Rosenberg in their different centuries of life -- and when Rosenberg is assigned [via Hitler] the title of Official Looter of Occupied Territories, his main task becomes the confiscation of Spinoza's library. It is an amazing story. I thoroughly loved it.
The second book is The Humans, by Matt Haig. 

Picture this -- an alien civilization finds out that humanity has discovered the answer to a mathematical problem that will launch them [us] into realms we have no business getting into. So they transmorph one of their species to look exactly like the scientist who discovered the equation -- they send him to Earth, and abduct the other guy. Now the alien is Professor Andrew Martin -- running around naked like a lunatic -- slowly learning the ways of the world. His task is to kill anyone else to whom Martin has divulged his discovery , even if that means his wife, and his son. But the alien takes a liking to the ways of the Earthlings, and begins to question his commitment to kill Martin's family. It is a hilarious book, but also serious. And well worth reading. In the end, the alien writes 97 pieces of advice to "his" son. 
Here are just a few of them listed, but they are all as equally profound:
    #33. You are not the most intelligent creature in the universe. You are not even the most intelligent person on your planet. The tonal language of the humpback whale displays more complexity than the entire works of Shakespeare.
    #19. Read poetry. Especially poetry by Emily Dickinson. It might save you. Anne Sexton knows the mind. Walt Whitman knows grass, but Emily Dickinson knows everything.
    #24. New technology, on Earth, just means something you will laugh at in five years. Value the stuff you wont laugh at in five years. Like love. Or a good poem. Or a song. Or the sky.
    #36. One day humans will live on Mars. But nothing there will be more exciting than a single overcast morning on Earth.
    #42. In a thousand years, if humans survive that long, everything you know will have been disproved. And replaced by even greater myths.
    #44. You have the power to stop time. You do it by kissing. Or listening to music. Music, by the way, is how you see things you can't otherwise see. It is the most advanced thing you have.
    #46. A paradox. The things you don't need to live -- books, art, cinema, wine and so on -- are the things you need to live.
    #50. At some point, bad things are going to happen. Have someone to hold onto.
    #52. If you are laughing, check that you don't really want to cry. And vice versa.
    #60. Obey your head. Obey your heart. Obey your gut. In fact, obey everything except commands.
    #65. Don't think you know. Know you think.
    #76. In your mind, change the name of every day to Saturday. And change the name of work to play.
    #77. When you watch the news and see members of your species in turmoil, do not think there is nothing you can do. But know it is not done by watching news.
    #84. You are more than the sum of your particles. And that is quite a sum.
    #86. To like something is to insult it. Love it or hate it. Be passionate. As civilization advances, so does indifference. It is a disease. Immunize yourself with art. And love.
    #90. Know this. Men are not from Mars. Women are not from Venus. Do not fall for categories. Everyone is everything. Every ingredient inside a star is inside you, and every personality that ever existed competes in the theatre of your mind for the main role.
    #91. You are lucky to be alive. Inhale and take in life's wonders. Never take so much as a single petal of a single flower for granted.
    #92. If you have children and love one more than another, work at it. They will know, even if it's by a single atom less. A single atom is all you need to make a very big explosion.

    The third book I read recently is the memoir At Home In The World, by Joyce Maynard. 

Joyce is a bestselling novelist currently residing in the San Francisco area. The main point of interest in this memoir however, involves somewhere else she once resided. J.D. Salinger's home in Cornish, New Hampshire. When Joyce was eighteen years old she wrote an article for The New York Times that caught the attention of the already venerated and reclusive Salinger. A correspondence developed, initiated by him. At 53 years of age, Salinger invited Joyce to come and live with him. The freshman student at Yale packed up her gear and became his mistress, two years senior to his own daughter at the time. At Home in the World is a very engaging story of how this crazy-ass relationship, so suddenly [and so mercilessly] ended on the beaches of Florida, affected Joyce forever. Many people criticize Maynard for writing so forthrightly about this affair, claiming that a man who guarded his privacy so diligently should be afforded the privilege of silence concerning his dealings with such a young and impressionable girl. I disagree. I think that she has every right to be telling it. A devastating, inspiring, and triumphant story.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Splash du Jour: Thursday

If a man would follow, today, the teachings of the Old Testament, he would be a criminal. If he would follow strictly the teachings of the New, he would be insane.
-- Robert G. Ingersoll --

Have a great Thursday!

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Tortilla Curtain

A couple of weekends ago I was just sort of rambling through my bookshelves, looking for a new read. Do you ever do that? Browse around in your own home -- as if you are at a bookstore? I picked this one T.C. Boyle book out from among them and ZOWIE -- I was hooked. I mean, check out the first line of Chapter 1:
Afterward, he tried to reduce it to abstract terms, an accident in a world of accidents, the collision of opposing forces -- the bumper of his car and the frail scrambling hunched-over form of a dark little man with a wild look in his eye -- but he wasn't very successful.
Doesn't that make you want to know more? Well, for the rest of the whole weekend I could not put the book down -- and hence, finished it in two days.
T.C. Boyle is a terrific writer, and in this, his most popular book [according to his website] he explores the problem of illegal immigration from Mexico to the U.S. via what is known as "the tortilla curtain." Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher lead an upscale success-filled existence on the outskirts of L.A. They enjoy a basically trouble-free life in their hilltop community of Arroyo Blanco. He is writer for a magazine, and she is a five-star realtor. But from that first sentence onward, their lives are about to be changed forever as a result of a run-in with some of the other umm… non-tenanted residents of the area. A man named Candido, along with his 17-year old pregnant "wife" [they aren't officially married] live in the canyon down below the properties. Their life is one of profound hardship, scrabbling for piece-work each day down at the labor exchange. Often subsisting on… well, garbage. The dream of coming to America and becoming even semi-prosperous has [to say the least] not worked out at all -- and it does not help that Delaney smashes into the man with his new Acura! Now the injured Candido has to rely upon the young girl for the few dollars she is able to bring back to their camp each night.
The story is searing. You just want something to work out for Candido and America [that's the girl's name] -- but things just go from worse to…. more horrid, each and every day. Meanwhile, the community [and understandably so] takes greater and greater measures to exclude these fence-jumpers from having any hope of getting ahead. 

Are we suppose to pity them? Well -- you be the judge. I know I did.
More than proposing any right attitude toward the "problem" [and admittedly, it is a severe problem] -- the author just presents a horribly realistic look at [as Barbara Kingsolver put it] "the smug wastefulness of the haves and the vile misery of the have-nots."
I was captivated by this novel from start to finish. And what a crescendo of a finish it is. 

I highly recommend this book -- my favourite of the Boyle books I have read thus far.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Splash du Jour: Monday

Teach a child to play solitaire, and she'll be able to entertain herself when there's no one around. Teach her tennis, and she'll know what to do when she's on a court. But raise her to feel comfortable in nature, and the whole planet is her home.
-- Joyce Maynard --

Have a great Monday!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

Love is scary because it pulls you in with an intense force, a supermassive black hole which looks like nothing from the outside but from the inside challenges every reasonable thing you know. You lose yourself, like I lost myself, in the warmest of annihilations.
-- Matt Haig, The Humans --

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Splash du Jour: Monday

Eye contact between two women during negotiation turns out to lead to a more creative outcome, while eye contact between two men actually prevents them from coming to terms. Men are handicapped by the threatening hierarchical implications of looking into someone's eyes. Feel free to use this practical tip to your advantage.
-- D. F. Swaab, We Are Our Brains --

Have a great Monday!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Splash du Jour: Thursday

“When someone seeks," said Siddhartha, "then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.”
-- Hermann Hesse, Siddharta --

Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Lowboy -- Quite The Interview!

There is this new novel called Lowboy, by John Wray and I'm here to say I know absolutely nothing about it. But after watching this very insightful interview with the author… I know even less about it. Admittedly, I possess a sort of pre-elementary, pre-Neanderthal sense of humor. Forgive me, therefore, but I think this clip is so hilarious I have to share it with you.
OK, first of all, I love Zach Galifianakis. And in this clip the actual author of the book [John Wray] interviews Zach as if he is the author. In other words, Wray is introducing himself as Zach. It's so crazy.
I myself have a book in the works, very much in the germinal, gestation stage -- and so, as I go forward, I'm thinking of utilizing a few of the pointers I learned in this interview. Especially the one about the use of pasta.

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

Our imagination permits us to understand what it is like to be someone else. I don't think you could have even the beginnings of a morality unless you had the imaginative capacity to understand what it would be like to be the person whom you're considering beating round the head with a stick. An act of cruelty is ultimately a failure of the imagination.  Fiction is a deeply moral form in that it is the perfect medium for entering the mind of another. I think it is at the level of empathy that moral  questions begin in fiction.
-- Ian McEwan --

Have a great Wednesday!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Splash du Jour: Monday

Behold two horses that appear of the same size and shape: How do you know which is the mother and which the son? Give them hay. The mother will nudge the hay toward her son.
-- The Teachings of Buddha --

Have a great Monday!

Friday, September 05, 2014

It's Possible... But Not Really

Once I missed out on winning a ten million-dollar lottery by a margin of just one number. The next morning I posted a photocopy of my ticket, super-imposed on the winning numbers with the caption underneath:
"This is why I am at work today!"
I work in a very exact profession which involves a minimum of eight daily hours of dealing with precision of numbers, and so I am a bit obsessed with the phenomenon of probability. No mistakes are allowed. I am forever thinking of probabilities, in one way or another. And I like trying to find analogies that will better illustrate the improbability of probabilities. The other day I came up with a new one that [to me, anyway] just accentuates how much "luck" [or whatever] one might need to win a lottery. To win any national lottery, the chances of you winning are well in excess of one in many many millions, sometimes hundreds of millions. But for now, let's focus on what it means to foist your chances on say "one in a million".
One in a million. Let's say you have a one-in-a-million chance of… winning something. 

Or of something specific happening.
Let's say that there is an amateur thief out there waiting for a moment… the one night in which you forget to lock your car. He wants to steal your signed first edition of Salinger's "Catcher In The Rye" that is sitting there on the back seat. [Who wouldn't?] He has no thief-tools to do the job. The only factor involved in his success is that he is walking past your car on that one night of the year that you leave it unlocked. Obviously, if one specific year was chosen for this event to happen, his chances of being rewarded would be one in 365.
But what if his chances were set by the parameters of "one-in-a-million"?
It would mean that this thief had to walk past your unlocked car on that exact day of the year in any given span of 2,740 years!
And yet… I continue to buy lottery tickets. The epitome of wishful thinking!


Thursday, September 04, 2014

Splash du Jour: Thursday

Mirage After Mirage

A sly joy in not owning anything, we drove on.
A sudden thrill in our unknowing, we listened.
Generations of guilt washed away -- sailing
toward mirage after mirage in that rented car.

Your hair a pennant whipped out the window
destination undestined. Thinking ourselves on
the Vermont Trail we landed in New Hampshire
-- not even a shrug of mistake between us.

Checking in, we owned a town unknown to us.
Ate Chinese food uneaten in China. I gave you
your nickname. Mira. Short for mirage. Dreams
shivering on a highway ahead of us, in the sun.

©Ciprianowords, Inc. 2014

Have a great Thursday!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth

Have you ever had a book that sat on your shelf for years and years and you always wanted to read it, but just never seemed to get around to it?
Well -- I had one. And finally got around to it.
Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth, by Gitta Sereny.
In all honesty, it was a fellow blogger that got me to dust this thing off. 

And sadly, I forget who you are, so if you are reading this, please remind me in the comment section. You listed it as one of your favourite reads of all time. And now I would have to add it as one of mine, also. 
So, thank you.
This is a big heavy book. If it were a household cleaner, it would have as a sub-title: Industrial Strength! It took me a while to get through it, but not because of lack of interest. It's the story of Albert Speer, sometimes referred to as "the good Nazi". He began his career as an architect in Germany, landing, while yet an amateur, a few key commissions from Hitler. From the get-go a special relationship developed between them -- and years later, Hitler appointed him as Minister of Armaments. Speer, having no political aspirations at the time, was as shocked as anyone else around him to be thrust into the very highest ranks of Nazism. As it turns out, no one was better suited for the job. Speer's organizational brilliance was boundless. He succeeded beyond even Adolf's wildest dreams.
But little did he know of Adolf's wildest dreams!
As Germany moved eastward into Russia and suffered staggering defeats, it became obvious [to Speer and many others] that Hitler's goals would never be realized. And as we all know now, and some knew then, Hitler's dreams were nightmares, in reality.
This book is about how much Speer was privy to the nightmares. What did he really know about Hitler's goal of eradication of the Jewish race? What did he know of Treblinka and Sobibor -- of Auschwitz -- of so many other places involved in a horror that staggers the imagination?
Toward the end, as Hitler himself came to reluctantly accept the fact that Germany would not prevail, he adopted a policy of "scorched earth", in which he would seek to destroy Germany itself. It is impossible to summarize in a review the scope of this book, but suffice it to say, Speer, along with many others, had to come to a place of deciding whether they were for "Germany" or for "Hitler."
Speer chose Germany, and the German people, over his former idol, the Fuhrer.
He then began to deliberately countermand Hitler's own orders of self-destruction.
But history's greatest question remains. What did Speer know of what was going on when it came to the extermination of the Jews? What did Speer know of the horrors experienced by the millions upon millions of slave workers that were essentially under his command?
In the postwar Nuremberg Trials, Speer was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, while his direct subordinate Fritz Sauckel was sentenced to death. Did Speer manipulate his way around a death sentence? Or was he, as he for so long claimed to be, truly completely unaware of what manner of atrocities were being committed?
This is what this book explores, and it is truly fascinating. It is based on meticulous research and the author's private interviews with damn near everyone that never shot themselves, hanged themselves, or bit into the cyanide capsule before she could get to them.
She definitely [and definitively] got to Speer. That much is sure.
It is an amazing -- worthwhile book. Dust it off if it's sitting around your place, bowing the shelf down amid less worthy books on either side of it.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Splash du Jour: Friday

We treat desire as a problem to be solved, address what desire is for and focus on that something and how to acquire it rather than on the nature and the sensation of desire, though often it is the distance between us and the object of desire that fills the space in between with the blue of longing. I wonder sometimes whether with a slight adjustment of perspective it could be cherished as a sensation on its own terms, since it is as inherent to the human condition as blue is to distance?  If you can look across the distance without wanting to close it up, if you can own your longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed? For something of this longing will, like the blue of distance, only be relocated, not assuaged, by acquisition and arrival, just as the mountains cease to be blue when you arrive among them and the blue instead tints the next beyond. Somewhere in this is the mystery of why tragedies are more beautiful than comedies and why we take a huge pleasure in the sadness of certain songs and stories. Something is always far away.
-- Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost --

Have a great Friday!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Splash du Jour: Monday

I'm not against religion in the sense that I feel I can't tolerate it, but I think written into the rubric of religion is the certainty of its own truth. And since there are 6,000 religions currently on the face of the Earth, they can't all be right. And only the secular spirit can guarantee those freedoms, and it's the secular spirit that they contest. 
-- Ian McEwan --

Have a great Monday!


Monday, August 18, 2014

Splash du Jour: Monday

I once had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalog: no good in a bed, but fine up against a wall.
-- Eleanor Roosevelt --

Have a great Monday!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Splash du Jour: Thursday

Liking is probably the best form of ownership, and ownership the worst form of liking.
-- José Saramago, The Tale of the Unknown Island --

Have a great Thursday!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Splash du Jour: Monday

I don’t think it is worth explaining how a character’s nose or chin looks. It is my feeling that readers will prefer to construct, little by little, their own character—the author will do well to entrust the reader with this part of the work.
-- Jose Saramago, The Paris Review: Winter 1998 --

Have a great Monday!

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Thinking of Jose Saramago

As most of you reading this will already know, one of my favourite writers of all time is Jose Saramago. He died in 2010, and was the author of some the best novels I've ever read. Books like Blindness, All The Names, and The Cave [from which I purloined my own blog-alias, Cipriano] just to name a few.
I'm thinking of him tonight because well, he was Portuguese.
And tonight I sat out on my balcony while all around me things from Portugal exploded in the air.
See -- there is an annual event in my city called The Casino Lac-Leamy Sound of Light show. For a three week stretch in August there are fireworks competitions every Wednesday and Saturday night and it's really spectacular. Each night is hosted by a different country, and tonight it was Portugal's turn to blow up! In the past, I used to have to take the screen out of my kitchen window and sort of wedge the top half of myself out there [14 stories up] to watch the fireworks over on the Quebec side, at Lac Leamy. But beginning this year they relocated the event to the Ontario side of the river and now I can see them perfectly from my balcony without even risking my life. It's grand.
So, here is a bit of what went on as the homeland of Saramago lit up my back yard.