Paper Towns

January 9, 2009

papertowns-rightJohn Green’s latest and greatest novel. After an inspiring debut and a less relatable second novel, Paper Towns was a very pleasant surprise. It is definitely the best young adult book I’ve read this year; and it will be interesting to see if another will take its place as the year unfolds.

In the first part, the book takes us on a dizzying to-do list of adventures (I tend to like novels that contain lists). It promises to be a page-turner with tons of fun and no  deep moral. But the second part makes a character disappear, veering away from such a prediction completely. There is a lot of meditation on understanding other people, and in particular, on misimagining others by seeing them as idea[l]s.

The hunt for clues left by the missing person continues almost until the end, making this another novel for whose answer-in-the-lack-of-answers ending I feared. Although the characters do finally reunite, the message Green sends out is not one that inspires comfort. Basically, he puts Maugham’s tower of brass into words intelligible to the impatient Google generation. True and complete understanding between people is impossible; you cannot be someone else.

The novel ends with a brilliant metaphor about human suffering and understanding.

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“A Clockwork Orange”, by Anthony Burgess

July 6, 2008

After reading 1984 nearly a year ago, I spent good hours sifting through the Google search results for “dystopia novels”. I think that’s how I got to this one, but I couldn’t be sure. Books often spend months at a time on my to-read list, and (un?)luckily I don’t keep track of who recommended what.

With its weird Russian-influenced Nadsat English, A Clockwork Orange became interesting pretty quickly. Here’s a sample paragraph:

“They viddied us just as we viddied them, and there was like a very quit kind of watching each other now. This would be real, this would be proper, this would be the nozh, the oozy, the britva, not just fisties and boots. Billyboy and his droogs stopped what they were doing, which was just getting ready to perform something on a weepy young devotchka they had there, not more than ten, she creeching away but with her platties still on.”

As you can see, even my not-enough-to-speak knowledge of Russian helped make this a lot of fun. It took me nearly half the audio book to figure out that “horrorshow” meant “хорошо” and not “horror show”. (That pun is actually used in the book, too.)

In the end, it turned out to be more of a coming-of-age story than an earnest dystopia. (Perhaps that’s why the ending caught me off-guard.) But if you asked me what other book I could compare it with, I wouldn’t have an answer, and this is enough to make it a great read.

  • Goodness comes from within, 6655321. Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.
  • What does God want? Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some ways better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?
  • It’s funny how the colours of the like real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.

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.