The Perks of Being a Wallflower

July 15, 2008

by Stephen Chbosky.

Here’s how the novel starts. If such a beginning can leave you indifferent, you’re very unlike me.

August 25, 1991
Dear friend,
I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have. Please don’t try to figure out who she is because then you might figure out who I am, and I really don’t want you to do that. I will call people by different names or generic names because I don’t want you to find me. I didn’t enclose a return address for the same reason. I mean nothing bad by this. Honest.
I just need to know that someone out there listens and understands and doesn’t try to sleep with people even if they could have. I need to know that these people exist.

Charlie is a high school freshman caught between the colliding forces of inner turmoil and outside influences. The novel tells the story of a year in his life, in the form of letters to an anonymous friend. While it was difficult, at times, to believe that such deep thoughts could have originated from a 15-year-old, that didn’t stop me from feeling and relating with the character.

One could say the novel is a testimony of the friction between two desires: to embrace life, and to run away from life. But it is discussing a lot more than that. Since I have not grown up in an American high school environment, I cannot think of this in terms of “realistic” or “non-realistic”, but it certainly opens a clear and honest window into the world of a teenager.

I find it very lucky, if not downright miraculous, that Charlie manages to find a mentor (Bill, his English teacher) and friends (Patrick and Sam), who are older than him. Bill tells him to participate and stop using thought to remove himself from life. V fubhyq yrnea fbzrguvat sebz gung…

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Stumbling on Happiness

June 10, 2008

You may have noticed how ridiculously small the TV-screens are in most old sci-fi movies. Or how that low exam score moved from “catastrophe” to “oh well” within a few hours. Or how that long-awaited vacation is so disappointing now that it’s finally there. Or how an I love you written years ago seems so fake now. You may have wondered how you could possibly have had such thoughts or made such decisions. Now you’ve got answers.

From the also-available-in-audio shelf comes Daniel Gilbert with his great non-fiction book called Stumbling on Happiness. The author tries to answer the question of why happiness is so elusive and unpredictable.

What the book basically tells you is:

  • experience is subjective;
  • your imagination lies to you all the time;
  • your memories lie to you all the time;
  • your predictions can never be accurate;
  • you make ridiculous choices all the time;
  • you can never be sure of anything, past, present or future;
  • you are not unique.

Pretty tough truths, huh? Well, I’ve actually exaggerated quite a bit. Besides the fact that it points out uncomfortable things, I loved everything about this book:

  • It’s written in a very accessible and succinct style. If your attention slips for even a few seconds, you’ll have to rewind.
  • The author has a great sense of humor (I rarely laugh out loud).
  • Every chapter starts with a quotation from Shakespeare.
  • It will not trigger your “citation needed” alarm. In fact, it has such a solid scientific basis that the most frequent word combination after “for example” is probably “in one study”.
  • The examples given are logical and straightforward. Hey, the guy’s a Harvard professor!
  • The audio version is read by the author himself. That’s a plus because his tone of voice shows you exactly what he means.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to find out the inner workings of memory, imagination, and future prediction. It’s so good that I’ll probably want to go through it again in a few months. For a more thorough summary check the Wikipedia page.