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What I’m Reading #11

In light of my commitment to try start doing these What I’m Reading posts more regularly, again, I think it’s a good time to do one.

Here’s a look at the books I’ve finished reading since April.

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  1. Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
  2. How to be Decadent by George Mikes
  3. Murder in the Cathedral by T. S. Eliot
  4. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  5. A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis
  6. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  7. Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot
  8. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
  9. Why Men Love Bitches: From Doormat to Dreamgirl—A Woman’s Guide to Holding Her Own in a Relationship by Sherry Argov
  10. Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator) (I just realised I photographed the wrong version)
  11. St. Petersburg Tales (The Portrait, The Carriage) by Nikolai Gogol, Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
  12. The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
  13. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
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  14. The Miracle Worker by William Gibson (I read a PDF version)
  15. Full Moon (Blandings Castle #7) by P.G. Wodehouse (audiobook)
  16. Pigs Have Wings (Blandings Castle #8) by P.G. Wodehouse (audiobook)

If you’re like me, you may have immediately noted a rather jarring title in this list of books and thought that it seemed incongruous and a bit of an eye sore. 😦

A few months ago, I was telling a good friend about this very title and my struggles with the idea of including it on my “2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge” list of completed books. It was such a jarring and off-putting title and I didn’t want my friends to think that was the sort of book I’m interested in reading, because it really isn’t and it isn’t a book I would have chosen to read for myself. At the same time, I wanted to be transparent and unashamed about the books I read.

The truth is, during my trip to L.A., in May, I met up for brunch with a friend I hadn’t seen or been in contact with in years. Before we met up, I’d suggested that, after brunch, she could drop me off at at a nearby Barnes and Nobel, and I’d be happy to wait there for my ride. After brunch, she suggested we go to the bookstore together. It sounded like a great idea, but, at the same time, it also meant the books I was interested would have to wait, as our tastes in books are very different; instead, I’d be spending my time hanging out with her.

When we got to the bookstore, I asked her to show me the books she was interested in and off we went to the self-help, marriage and relationships section. Once we were there, she looked around for a minute, then said, “Ah!” (or something like it) and pulled a book titled Why Men Love Bitches from off the shelf. I don’t think I’ve ever had quite as quick of a knee-jerk reaction to the title of a book before. 🙂 I cringed and said that the title seemed exactly like a book I would definitely not be interested in. 😦  She immediately explained that the author’s definition of “bitch” is a strong, confident woman who knows what she’s worth and stands up for herself.

My friend wanted to sit down and read the introduction with me right in the bookstore, so we did. 🙂 We read and discussed and I still wasn’t very keen on it or interested, but eventually came round to saying that the book seemed sensible enough, if you could get past the title. She, however, was so passionate about it and interested in reading it (and yet she said she never buys books for herself). I really wanted to get her a copy, but I knew that the only way I could get her to accept it as a gift, from me, was if I also bought one for myself and made it a “reading project” of sorts. So that’s exactly what I did.

I still remember cringing as I went to the cash register with not one but two (!!) copies of Why Men Love Bitches in my hand. It was the first time I’ve ever been embarrassed about buying a book. It was such a weird and foreign feeling. I even deliberately chose the woman cashier over the man to avoid further mortification. 😦 Anyway, that’s how I came to be the conflicted owner of a book titled Why Men Love Bitches. 🙂

At the time, I also thought it could be a good way to keep in touch with my friend, i.e., we could read the book and discuss our thoughts. That last idea didn’t exactly turn out, as she’s not much of a committed reader. But I finished the book, immediately after my return home, and thus ensued the struggle about adding it to my” Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge” list, which I resolved, by just owning my decision and adding it to my list. Struggle resolved, I forgot all about it. Or so I thought…

Fast-forward to to the other day, when I uploaded the above picture on to my computer. I hadn’t noticed it when I’d taken the picture, but looking at the picture in Lightroom, all I could see was the jarring and garish title of Why Men Love Bitches sticking out like a sore thumb; every other title faded into the background. (Tom, see what I mean!? :() Immediately, the struggle returned stronger than ever. I can’t quite explain just exactly how jarring the effect was on me, but, suffice it to say, it was significant and the desire to retake the photo, sans the source of my mortification, was extremely strong and tempting. However, in the name of authenticity I resisted and decided, instead, that I would post the picture and tell my story. 🙂

And since I’ve said so much about the the title, I should probably dedicate a few sentences to what the book is actually like. It isn’t all as bad as it sounds. There are some good parts, pretty basic, nothing too revelatory. There are also plenty of bad parts which are, well, bad, cringe-worthy and dumb. For example, there’s a chapter called “Dumb Like a Fox”, that is exactly as dumb as it sounds. As something all “bitches” should strive to emulate, Sherry Argov gives an example of a woman who turns off the breaker in her basement and acts like a damsel-in-distress so that her man can feel manly by fixing it (!). 😦  I would hope that any man I was with would be secure enough in my opinion of his manliness for me not to have to resort to going around and making up problems for him to fix–life has enough problems as it is. As you can tell, I think it’s a pretty stupid and a completely inauthentic way to have a relationship. I felt like I lost several brain cells reading that chapter. 😦 Overall, it’s not really a book I would recommend to anyone.

Anyway, enough about bad books. 🙂

Getting back to the book list, sixteen books here, plus the ten books I’d completed in April makes for twenty-six books this year. Four more books to go and I’ve completed my goal of thirty books for the year. 🙂

These are the four books I’m hoping to have completed by the end of the year.

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Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard
Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot
Dove Descending: a Journey into T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets by Thomas Howard
The Divine Comedy
by Dante Aligheri

If I’m successful, it will mean, that I will have read T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets twice in one year. Though, by the time I’m finished Thomas Howard’s Dove Descending: a Journey into T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, I’ll likely have read it far more than twice this year, as I’ve been going over each section of each poem several times as I read Thomas Howard’s commentary.

Looking at the books I said I was hoping to read, in my last post, some I haven’t touched, but I actually managed to get around to finishing quite a few.April to readrs.png

I’m also going to try to finish the last few chapters of Notes from Underground (A Norton Critical Edition) by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Michael R. Katz (Translator/Editor) before the year is out. I will likely also read some of the T. S. Eliot essays and commentary.

But N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God, Martin Buber’s I and Thou and Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Poetry will be sitting out the rest of 2017. Maybe I’ll have another go at them next year. 🙂

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Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon #1–Spoiler Free Review and Initial Thoughts

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I just finished reading this brilliant and under-appreciated masterpiece and have plenty of thoughts and a lot say about it. Too much, in fact, for one blog post, especially since I’m swamped with work and a tight deadline. I can’t say much more than a few paragraphs about it at the moment, so I thought I’d start with with a simple, spoiler-free review and some initial thoughts. Hopefully, this will be the first in a series of posts on this book. 🙂

This statement, by Arthur Koestler, that precedes the novel, pretty much sums up everything you need to know going into Darkness at Noon.

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The “so-called Moscow Trials” were a series of three show trials, held in the Soviet Union between 1936-1938, in which Stalin had several leading Bolsheviks from the Russian Revolution and top officials (anyone who could who could possibly threaten his power) arrested, tried for treason and found guilty. Most of those convicted were given the death sentence and shot. One of the most bewildering things about these trials were the seemingly voluntary and willing confessions of guilt obtained from the accused. The trials were a sham, the accused were hardened men, heroes from the revolution who had not committed the crimes they were accused of, so why did they confess (especially when confessing would almost certainly lead to their death)?

Darkness at Noon is Arthur Koestler’s 200 page attempt to answer that question and he does so with an insight and brilliance that is pretty amazing. Set during the time of the Moscow Trials, in the Soviet Union, we follow the story of Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov, an Old Bolshevik leader, as he is arrested, imprisoned, interrogated and tried for treason against the very government he helped bring to power and devoted his entire life to. While in prison, Rubashov deliberates on the question of whether or not to confess to crimes he has not committed and if so: why? and if not: why not?

Rubashov is a fictional person, but the people and events that the book is based on were real. Koestler, himself, was once enamored by the idea of a Communist utopia and an eager and fanatical member of the Communist Party.

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“I went to Communism as one goes to a spring of fresh water, and I left Communism as one clambers out of a poisoned river strewn with the wreckage of flooded cities and corpses of the drowned.”

—Arthur Koestler, The Invisible Writing

Drawing on his seven years as a member of the Communist Party, Koestler gets to the heart of the ideology behind the thoughts and struggles and actions of those committed to the Revolution. He creates an extremely well-rounded and lifelike portrait of someone who has rejected his conscience, made the Party his god, and spent his life sacrificing others for the Cause on “the principle that the end justifies the means–all means, without exception”–only to find that the Cause now demands that he be sacrificed (and there are no exceptions).

Something I thought about a lot as I was reading, that has continued to baffle me since I finished, is the question of why this book is not more well known. I imagine the answer may have something to do with the fall of Communist Russia, perhaps people think that it’s no longer that relevant. This is probably a subject to expound on in another post, but I’ll just say here that I think this book is as relevant today as it was when it was written because it deals with human nature and our tendency, as humans, to justify our means to get our ends, our tendency to see others as means to an end instead of an end in themselves, our tendency to paint the world in black and white and form tribes and groups that value the collective over the individual and it clearly shows the terrible place all that leads to.

Another thing about this book, that took me by surprise, from the get-go, was the undeniable connection and similarity I kept seeing between Darkness at Noon and Nineteen Eighty-Four. I even stopped to confirm that Nineteen Eighty-Four was written after Darkness at Noon and that it wasn’t the other way around. This is definitely subject I want to explore further in another post, because there’s stuff in Darkness at Noon that I’m sure George Orwell drew on in writing Nineteen Eighty-Four (and possibly Animal Farm, as well) and I think he was influenced by Koestler in a significant way.

That said, comparing Darkness at Noon to Nineteen Eighty-Four is a bit like comparing two of your favourite kinds of oranges against each other. Both have their merits, but Darkness at Noon is in no ways inferior; it can easily hold it’s own and is even superior in ways.

Like I said, I think this book is completely under-appreciated, so I’m determined to do my part to make sure this book does not fall into complete obscurity. 🙂 If you’re interested in politics or philosophy or psychology or literature; if you’re a fan of George Orwell or Alexander Solzhenitsyn or Dostoevsky, it’s highly probable that you’d like this book and I’d highly recommend it!

And if you do read it or if you’ve already read it, let me know what you think! I love to hear your thoughts about it. 😀