Looking for Alaska

July 27, 2008

by John Green.

A novel which made me wonder about so many things.

Miles “Pudge” Halter, 16, decides to leave his friendless and uneventful home town and seek the Great Perhaps at an out-of-state boarding school. There he meets Chip “The Colonel”, Alaska, and Takumi, and their undying love for mischief soon introduces him to the world of smoking, drinking, and pranking. Miles notices:

The phrase booze and mischief left me worrying I’d stumbled into what my mother referred to as “the wrong crowd”; but for the wrong crowd, they both seemed awfully smart.

It’s interesting to see how Miles becomes a different person (in many ways) by associating himself with these people. But this is just the setup scene for what is about to happen, and it will leave nobody unaffected.

This is about as much as I can tell you without spoiling your reading pleasure. So you’d better stop here and read the book.

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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.


“Gluma”

January 20, 2008

Încă o carte de geniu a autorului ceh Milan Kundera. Personajele: Ludvik, trădat şi trădător, bântuit de trecutul pentru care vrea să se răzbune, Jaroslav, martor al decăderii folclorului în care şi-a căutat refugiul, Kostka, ajungând să nu mai fie sigur de nimic, Helena, disperând în faţa deşertăciunii, (Lucia, înfierată din copilărie, şi celelalte nume episodice), sunt plasate atent pe pânza romanului, surprinzător de densă şi elaborată (deşi poate greu de urmărit). Printr-ul joc al imaginaţiei prozatorului, aceste schiţe de caracter trec prin nişte evenimente şi reflecţii care le aduc pe fiecare în faţa adevărului şocant al vieţilor lor: vieţi deşarte, lipsite de sens, pierdute în vârtejurile trecutului revoltător, ale prezentului meschin şi ale viitorului apatic. Ludvik, căruia îi revine cea mai mare parte a povestirii, vede că nu are rost să mai lupte cu trecutul său, dar în acelaşi timp nu vede nici o lumină în viitor (totul va fi dat uitării, nu există nimic semnificativ). El este întruchiparea nimicniciei umane conştientizate, distrugătoare. Jaroslav este dezgustat de panta pe care a luat-o lumea din jurul său. Susţinător al folclorului, el priveşte decadenţa şi corupţia acestuia ca pe un lucru inevitabil, prezentul diluat de timp, devenind trecut, continuând să se dizolve, pierzându-şi mesajul. Kostka, cugetând asupra deciziilor sale din trecut fără să accepte faptul că nu există răspunsuri, îşi pune la dubiu religia, piatra de temelie pe care stătea toată viaţa lui de până atunci. Helena, dezgustată de inutilitate, de trădare, încearcă să se sinucidă. În cuvintele autorului, toate aceste universuri personale sînt surprinse în momentul descompunerii lor: patru forme de dezintegrare a comunismului, ce simbolizează şi prăbuşirea celor patru aventuri europene.

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