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Flowers for Algernon #1–Short Story and Novel (a Short Review)

IMG_1888 When I was in the depths of despair, this summer, I happened upon a PDF of Daniel Keyes’ short story Flowers for Algernon and, before I knew it, I’d read it in one sitting. A day or two later, I even went and wrote up a blog post about it, but I was going through a lot at the time and I didn’t feel like posting it, so I didn’t. Fast-forward to October, I was at a book sale when I came across the novel version of Flowers for Algernon, and my heart leapt for joy! 🙂

So now I’ve also finished the novel and I’ve just had another look at what I wrote in July, and, well, I feel like posting it now. 🙂

July 20, 2017

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As per the pledge on the side of my blog, I don’t usually read short stories unless I have a printed copy, but the other night, before I really knew what was happening, I found myself reading and finishing Daniel Keyes’ twenty-two page, heartbreaking, masterpiece of a short story Flowers for Algernon. I cried a whole lot as I read the last entry. It probably wasn’t the best thing for me to read at this moment, but I’m still glad I did.

If you’ve never heard of Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon (the short story version), it’s a first person narrative story told in the form of “progress reports” written by a 37-year-old, mentally-challenged man who undergoes a procedure to triple his intelligence. As a short story, it’s pretty much flawless and epitomizes exactly what a short story should be. There is a whole lot of insight to be found in it’s it’s twenty two pages about the human condition and it leaves you with a broken heart, but broken in a way that should give you greater sympathy and understanding for yourself and others. It’s bittersweet and tragic and beautiful.

I don’t know if the subsequent novel version of this story is as good as the short story (I will probably read the, at some point in time, just not right now), but I think this is a short story that everyone should read, at least once.

In answer to my July self, I would say the novel version is as good as the short story. There are slight plot differences between the two, but in essence they’re both the same story and Charlie is the same person. It’s funny, this time I knew how the story would end, yet, as I read the last entry, I still wept nearly as much as I did the first time.

That said, if I had to choose one version to recommend, I’d choose the short story. What Daniel Keyes manages to pack into twenty-two pages is, in itself, a work of staggering genius. The novel version, with it’s additional 200 pages, fleshes things out and adds more food for thought, but the heart and impact of the story is all still contained in the original twenty-two pages.

There’s more I’d like to say about Flowers for Algernon, but for now, I’ll just reiterate what I said earlier, I think the short story version of Flowers for Algernon, is a story everyone should read, at least once. And if you do read it and find yourself moved by it, I’d highly recommend reading the novel as well. 🙂

Ps. If you are interested, here is a link to a PDF of the short story

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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 another one of these posts.

Here’s a look at the books I’ve completed 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
    Not Pictured
  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, which I was very glad to do, but it also meant the books I was interested would have to wait, as our tastes in books are very different, and, 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 thought was 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. 🙂

Jordan B. Peterson’s Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief Audiobook

This post is really just for one Intended Reader (you know who you are 🙂 ), but it’s also for any die-hard Jordan B. Peterson fans out there who may appreciate this too.

About a week ago, I discovered that some talented and blessed soul has started to record an audiobook version of Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief! 🙂 

So far, there are 5 parts (I’m halfway through the fourth) and Mr. Narrator has gotten to the end of section2.2.2. Unexplored Territory: Phenomenology and Neuropsychology”, which is nearly fifty pages into the book–definitely enough to get started! There are a little over 250 view counts for part 4 and 150 view counts for part 5. The more views this audiobook gets, the more likely it will be that Mr. Narrator will continue to record, so feel free to help out. 🙂

Summer is in full swing and I don’t really have the time, at the moment, to write much more about Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief or this audiobook or Dr. Jordan Peterson. Maybe I will at some point. I just wanted to share this, as soon as I could, with my Intended Reader, as well as anyone else who may be intending to read Dr. Peterson’s book who may benefit from and appreciate and love this as much as I do.

If you aren’t familiar with Dr. Peterson, he’s a clinical psychologist and psychology professor at the University of Toronto. I wouldn’t really recommend this audiobook as an introduction to him, but I would suggest checking out his 2017 Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief UofT lectures as well as his current series “The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories”. Both lecture series are jam-packed with wisdom and insight into the human condition and what it takes to create order out of chaos, become a brave and well rounded individual, and find truth and meaning in this crazy world. I’d highly recommend his lectures to anyone interested in becoming, as Electric Youth (and College) so aptly put it in their brilliant tribute to Captain Sully, “a real human being and a real hero“. 🙂

 

Reading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling #1 (and Other Thoughts)

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If you’ve hung around me long enough to hear me talk about my philosophy regarding book reading, you’ve probably, at some point, heard me talk about my belief in the importance of reading a book when the mood strikes as opposed to arbitrarily reading it.

Something I don’t really talk about much, but that I actually think is far better than reading when the mood strikes, is reading a book when you feel it’s an absolute necessity to read–i.e., when you’re in a sea of despair or confusion or in the darkness and something draws you to a particular book and seems to say that it just might contain a lifeline or a light to help you find the truth, or wisdom, or consolation, or comfort, or faith, or the answer that you need at that moment. Sometimes, one passage at the right time is enough to resuscitate. I guess the reason I don’t usually include “reading out of necessity” in my philosophy about reading is because, the times that I find myself reading out of necessity are, for the most part, times that I really wouldn’t wish on anyone. The finding a lifeline part is great, the feeling like you’re drowning part not so much.

I’ve had a pretty rough month and a nightmare of a last week. It’s been difficult to find something I’m in the mood to read, because, really, I haven’t been in the mood to read anything. But read: I must. So I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what would be good for me to read right now.

I think I found my answer last night, when I suddenly felt it was incumbent on me to read Soren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. It isn’t too surprising as, lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about sacrifice and faith. I’ve also been feeling a lot like Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac, trying not to look at the horror of the thing, but instead trying to hold on to the faith and belief that it’s the right thing to do and that somehow it will all work out for the best. I don’t know how Abraham did it. My sacrifice seems to make far more sense and, yet, half the time, having faith that “all manner of thing shall be well” still feels impossible. But all that to say, if ever there were a perfect time for me to read this book, that time would probably be now.

This actually isn’t the first time I’ve tried to read Fear and Trembling. In early 2014 I  started reading it, but I skipped the 30 page introduction and jumped right in. That was probably a mistake, as I didn’t really understand what Kierkegaard was doing and what he was trying to say and I ran out of motivation to continue reading after about twenty pages. It was also probably just a matter of it not being the right timing too. I was pretty comfortable with my life and not being asked to make any leaps of faith or momentous sacrifices at the time. I came at it from a place of intellectual curiosity, but definitely not out of necessity. Right now, though, it feels like a necessity.

I’ve gotten twenty pages into the introduction, today, and, so far, everything I’ve read has confirmed that this is the perfect paper path for me to tread at this moment. I’ve also found myself thinking that this might be a good book to blog about, so I’m gonna try that, but I make no promises. I’ve tried to do this in the past, alas, so far, without success. Hopefully, this time around, I’ll be more successful. I guess time will tell.

Disclaimer disclaimed, consider this the first installment. 🙂

I Said to My Soul, Be Still…

I was reading T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets today when this section from “East Coker” hit me right in the heart like a jolt from a defibrillator.

On it’s own, it’s an amazing and brilliant passage. But, in addition to that, it pretty much sums up everything I’m going through and everything I need to hear right now.

“I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing—
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.

                                        You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again,
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
  You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
  You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
  You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
  You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.”
—T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets: “East Coker”

I can remember thinking, when I read it the first time, that this was a brilliant and deep passage, but it didn’t quite jump out at me. I guess I didn’t need it as much then. This time, reading it was like being resuscitated. Everything about it is perfect for me, at this very moment. It’s as if it were written just for me.

I’ve been learning to be still and sit with the discomfort, but it isn’t easy and I still needed someone to “say it again.” Who better to have say it than the supreme T. S. Eliot? 🙂

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Spent a rainy day reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

I don’t know exactly what I expected going into it, perhaps a whole lot more doom and gloom. I think I expected something more along the lines of the Nazi death camps. Everything I’d read about prison camps, up until this book, had been about the Nazi camps, which were, pretty much, set up for the sole purpose of extermination. Russian camps, on the other hand, were more along the line of slave labor camps, and while the reasons for incarceration and conditions and treatment of prisoners were still inhumane and terrible, when compared to a Nazi extermination camp, it’s terrible and weird to say, they seem relatively humane.

I think I was also expecting more of an exposé of the ideology behind the Communist/Stalinist regime, something more along the lines of what I imagine (since I haven’t read it yet) Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago is. I guess I hadn’t really taken into consideration the fact that One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was personally given the stamp of approval for publication by Nikita Khrushchev. I should have realised, for that reason alone, it wouldn’t be a blatant and searing indictment against Communism and the ideologies that led to the prison camps (though I can definitely see it being the beginning of a crack in the armour).

Instead, what I found was, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is exactly what it’s title professes it to be: one ordinary day in the life of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, a prisoner, in a freezing Soviet labor camp. From the moment reveille sounds to the moment he goes to sleep, we follow him and get a close-up look at his life and thoughts and interactions with his fellow human beings. It’s a story of humanity and hope; a tribute to the dignity, strength and survival of the human spirit in the bleakest of circumstances.

There is a lingering theme through the book, put both at the beginning and end, first as a question and then as a statement:

AGNH6214rs“How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand one who’s cold?”

A man who is warm can’t understand a man who’s freezing.”

Yet, despite the impossibility, in this little novella, without any chapters, Solzhenitsyn, somehow, makes us feel and understand. He also opens our eyes to the gift of life and the treasures and wonders we have all around us, from moment to moment, and in the tiniest of things.

I have a lot more to say about this book, but, alas, time fails me. So, for now, I’ll just say, I highly recommend it. This is also one of those books that you really have to read until the last paragraph, to fully appreciate, but it’s a quick read (my book is 142 pages) and could easily be read from start to finish in a day.

I haven’t done much research into translations, but from the little I have done, I’d recommend the Ralph Parker translation (which is the one I have) over the Max Hayward/Ronald Hingley, translation which seems to be rather poorly translated with some blatant errors.

If you decide to read this book or if you already have, I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about it. 🙂

What I’m Reading #10

After my last frustrating experience photographing a year’s worth of reading, I figure it’s probably a better idea to get back to doing my What I’m Reading posts more regularly. 🙂

Here’s a look at what I’ve read, so far, in 2017.DSC_8949rs

  1. The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
  2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  3. A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle
  4. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
  5. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
  6. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
  7. The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
  8. Nevsky Prospect, The Diary of a Madman, The Nose, The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol (four out of six of the St. Petersburg Tales), Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
  9. Oddkins by Dean R. Koontz
  10. The Martian by Andy Weir (Not pictured because I borrowed it from a friend)
  11. Rise of Endymion (Hyperion Cantos #4) by Dan Simmons (Not pictured; I listened to the audiobook)

I’m having a bit of a dilemma regarding Nikolai Gogol’s works; I’m not exactly sure how to count or list them, as his tales are collected/listed differently depending on the publisher. I think I’ll just wait until I’ve finished reading the other two St. Petersburg Tales and then count all of them as one book. In that case, so far, I’ve finished reading ten books this year (1/3 of the way through my reading goal for the year, yay! 🙂 ). All of them were great reads, though I’ve only managed to blog about one. Hopefully, I’ll eventually get around to blogging about a few more of them.

These are the books I’m currently reading.DSC_8974rs

How to be Decadent by George Mikes
I and Thou by Martin Buber, Ronald Gregor Smith (Translator)
Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
Notes from Underground (A Norton Critical Edition / 1st Edition) by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Michael R. Katz (Translator/Editor)
The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
St. Petersburg Tales (The Portrait, The Carriage) by Nikolai Gogol, Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright

For the last few weeks, I’ve been focusing on Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. I’ll be meeting up with a friend this Sunday to discuss it, so I’ve been using that as impetus to really dig in and finish all the critical essays and background information included in my Norton Critical Edition. In addition to that, I’ve also been re-reading Notes from Underground for the second and third time simultaneously. (As you can see I’m somewhat obsessed. 🙂 ) I’m actually not exactly sure how you would count it, as I’m reading two different translations simultaneously (i.e. I finish a chapter in the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, and then I read Michael R. Katz’s translation of the same chapter). I don’t think I could manage to pull off this kind of simultaneous reading with any other book, but Notes from Underground is short enough and such brilliant piece of work, I’m finding it’s actually a really interesting way to read it. 🙂

I’ve been slowly making my way through George Mikes’ How to be Decadent and Martin Buber’s I and Thou for about a year now. I actually started reading Buber’s I and Thou last May, but it was a tough read and hard to follow. I only got about 20 pages in before I put it down. I figured maybe it was problem with Ronald Smith’s translation and decided to wait till I could get my hands on a Walter Kaufmann translation instead. But, recently, I came across a few paragraphs from I and Thou that I really liked that turned out to be a section from the Ronald Smith translation just a few pages down from where I left off. So I figured maybe I’d just stopped before the good stuff, and decided to have another go at it. I’ll still likely still buy the Kaufmann translation, eventually, but I’m gonna give Ronald Smith another go and we’ll see how that turns out.

N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God is a tome I’ve been meaning to read for nearly a decade now. I finally bought a copy as a sort of Christmas present to myself last year and figured I’d make it my Lent reading project this year. Unfortunately, that plan got hijacked, by my Notes from Underground reading project. Still, I’ve been slowly chugging along at it. I’m only 50 pages in, so there’s no way I’m gonna finish it by Easter, but I’m determined to slowly make my way through it this year.

I haven’t started reading Dostoevsky’s The Gambler or the last two of Gogol’s Petersburg Tales, but they’re up next, after I’m finished with Notes from Underground.

Aside from those books, in celebration of National Poetry Month, I’m hoping to dig into some of the poetry of my two favourite poets T. S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

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I especially want to focus on T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, and possibly “Ash Wedsnesday”. But definitely Four Quartets, which I think is the best of T. S. Eliot’s best. I’ve been wanting to really dig into to it ever since I read it for the first time in November, 2015.

It’s such a deep and profound and beautiful and perfect collection of poetry, I think I could explore and meditate on it for a lifetime and still have more to discover and explore. I feel like it will take me years to even begin to scratch the surface of it’s depth, but I’m looking forward to making some progress towards that this next month. 🙂