A Book A Week Challenge – Week 39

“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M Pirsig is one of the best sold philosophical books of our generation.

First published in 1974 by William Marrow & Company, after being rejected by 121 publishers, the book was sold over five million copies. An absolutely tiring travelogue with a detailed deep dive into philosophy(‘es) puts different questions, opinions, and theories on the table left to one’s inquisition for a better happy living.

Wasn’t that what we all wish for?”  

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Week: 39

Title: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M Pirsig

Pages: 392 (Excluding Author’s Note and Afterword)

32 chapters narrate the 17-day long road trip of father and son starting from Minnesota to Northern California but the subtext talks about metaphysics of quality and the aspects of Motorcycle maintenance.

It is no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It is not very factual on motorcycles either.

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But, the book never tries to disguise itself as only a travelogue or a philosophical read. If you were ever been on a long distance road trip, you would exactly experience the content being delivered. In that sense, travelogue can be considered to be the section that is rather easy to comprehend than the philosophy.

Talking about philosophy, Robert Pirsig even though puts his eggs more on one school of thought compared to other. But, never scared to present the opposite view. All the available thoughts are put across and he even goes ahead to describe the standard scientific approach to evaluating the reasons – Statement of problem, hypothesis, experiment, expected results, observed results and conclusions. He applies his approach to every comparison he makes- from motorcycle repairs to philosophical schools to Euclidean geometry to religion and even to the death.

As they say, any book that motivates the readers to comprehend and analyze than experience it would stay on against the test of times. Well, that was exactly what this book achieved- as he also points out the differences between classical and romantic reasoning. The book goes back and forth referencing to Phaedrus, the ghost who chases the ghost of rationality. In the afterword of this book, Robert addresses this saying:

They (ancient greeks, who form the forefather group of modern day philosophical ideologies) saw the future as something that came upon them from behind their backs with the past receding away before their eyes.

This statement in itself needs a deep inquisition as he would demand all the way through in this book.

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There are quite a few pages exclusively dedicated towards schools of philosophical thought from ancient Greeks – Aristotle, Plato, Copernicus and many so. Robert doesn’t shy away from being critical of each school of thought. Few words would take on the ideological recommendations of the Aristotelean school of thought face on. Even though he agrees himself being a Platoean, he questions some of that recommendation either.

Basically, the book covers various topics that need an open and inquisitive discussion and a deep dive structural analysis over and beyond classroom grade based system (he even promotes his proposal of how no grade based system improves the involvement of student in learning):

  1. Classical vs. Romantic analysis
  2. Inductive vs. Deductive logic
  3. Oriental Philosophy
  4. Euclidean Geometry
  5. a priori knowledge
  6. Object vs. Subject
  7. Inner peace of mind – means of achieving
  8. Gumption and the traps
  9. Subject vs. Method

Rhetoric vs. Dialectic thinking

Even though, I am nowhere close to completely comprehending all the ideas put forward. There are three sections that are immensely capturing:

  1. Quality: After reaching halfway through the book, we are introduced by to the concept of Quality. It takes over the complete discussion moving from mechanical exercise to deep surgical analysis on different schools of thought. He refers to Indian ideology of Tat Avam Asi (Thou Art Thou) to lead up to proposing Dharma (Quality -Virtue). He refers to Virtue as the form of absolute truth unlike in Greek philosophical fundamentals truth is referred to as a function of time.
  2. A Priori: This is my most favorite bit in this book. He quotes the example of someone born without senses and his association with the real world. He brings in the doctrine proposed by empiricism which depends immensely on human knowledge gained through only senses. These two sections focus on ‘ZEN’.
  3. Motorcycle maintenance vs. Systemic hierarchy: This is the best analogy of how the motorcycle is linked itself with the systemic hierarchy that is actively practiced in our society.

In India, however, Dharma is most often preached or rather promoted and discussed as a part of the religious congregation, which some sections could not be accessed to. It throws away the basic underlying principle of ‘Duty Towards Self’ down the drain, which Robert tries to resurrect.

The book at times moves into the zone of questioning what reality is and the Afterword put the question in a much structural fashion than the main book. He takes the example of Chris, who we later know is murdered. He uses his and his wife’s association with the thought of Chris as a reality and if so, physics laws fail to explain where the physical entity has gone once he passes away. He doesn’t take long to circle back and refer to human life is about patterns. We search for patterns in life, success, reasonings, emotions and even death only to cling to something materialistic so that is romantically appealing.

Overall, ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ is not completely factually true about Zen or Motorcycles. But, Robert gives his everything to change the way we, as humans, appreciate, criticize, comprehend and practice the most fundamental philosophical ideologies which were masked as our characters/ personality. He puts forward the reasoning to use extremely classical approach for a structural thought that could only be confirmed through inductive inferences into quality. Rather than promoting the philosophy, he opens a lot of questions that we need to seek answers for in order to achieve that elusive piece of mind.

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A Book A Week Challenge – Week 38

This Book is a part of Man Booker 2016 Shortlist Read Series

Madeliene Thien’s “Do Not Say We Have Nothing” is her debut novel at Man Booker Prize. The book takes you through the lives of two musical families, or rather two families that have music in their hearts but only one of them fulfills it. The story that is spread over from the 1940s until the present day is interwoven with the forgettable undeniable history of China with Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen Square Protests.

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Book #: 38

Title: Do Not Say We Have Nothing” by Madeleine Thien

Pages: 463

The book starts off with an intriguing first line:

In a single year, my father left us twice. The first time to end his marriage, and the second, when he took his own life.

 449 pages later:

“He’s already dead,” she said at last. “What more do you want from him? I gave my life to the Party. I gave my life. What more do you want from me? I have nothing more to say”

What happens between is something musical, lyrical and magical. Madeliene Thien’s story of “Sparrow” with the backdrop of revolution, music, story, immigration and redemption is probably one of best books that I have read this year. I might not be exaggerating any book to say that this is the closest anyone got to the genius of “One Hundred of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez.

Ai-Ming, daughter of an extremely genius but unsuccessful musician who was lost during the troubled times of Chinese communist uprising, arrives in Canada to stay with the family of her father’s student. The story of every immigrant to Canada and the United States is summarized with the life of Ai-Ming, who wants to be educated and settle down in the University under the New Amnesty Programme.

The story starts off with Ai-Ming coming to live with Jian Ji-Ling (Marie) and her mother. As the book unfolds you go deeper and deeper in times to the days of the 1940s followed by Mao Zadong’s regime and to recover from the troubled re-education camps where any landlord is overthrown of his land and left to survive in the desert, if not killed on the streets.

What pushes the story forward (in “writing” terminology, what motivates them)?

Firstly, “The Book of Records” is the story of May Fourth and Da-Wei traversed through the short stories of Big Mother Knife narrated to us by Ai-Ming followed by multiple different versions of chapters updated by Wen, the Dreamer and Swirl, the Aunt and briefly organized by Zhuli, the Cousin and latest reinstated by Jian Ji-Ling, daughter of a student.

“I assumed as the Big Mother Knife’s stories finished, life would go back and I would go back to being myself. But it wasn’t true. The stories got longer and longer. And, I got shorter and shorter.”

As the accessibility to the Book of Records ran the risk of destruction and wiping off from the face of the earth, what does one do to resurrect it – to update the book with the characters from it but with events that transpired in real time?

It would drive us to the basic question – Is all our history learned through books true? How far is it from what happened and do we even care? Even if we care, do we have any way of validating the facts? If the story reinstates the faith and hope ( a reference to all our mythological folklore), if it maintains the harmony in the present-day society, I would not need to validate it. It doesn’t matter. Does it?

Second, The Music. Even though the story tracks the life of Sparrow, who was once believed to be the prodigy in the Chinese world- with the likes of Beethoven, Shostakovich, and Bach, went on to working in a factory that built radios. Is he protesting a communist system that is trying to behold the free flow of music or is he just trying to survive?

He is a protestor in his own form but what he sacrificed might not make sense to someone like Kai, his student, who admired him to the core. But, option for Kai, are very limited. It is him to survive or his master’s work that needed the visibility. He chose the first.

The novel lists multiple references to various music in terms of Symphonies and magical lyrics that go along the flow of the story. I am planning to list this collection to celebrate the magic of music. May be a reread version article?

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Third, The Revolution. Let go of folklore. Let go of music. The book narrates the story of Revolution and Counter- revolution as it takes multiple shapes, sizes, volumes, and effects. The key events capture the Cultural Revolution, Land Acquisition, and Modern Day Communist uprising. These events either destroyed the promise delivered by the Conservatory or the lives of many thousands of students at Tiananmen Square.

What remains of the end is a history as quoted by Indian revolutionary writer, Srirangam Sreenivas Rao (Sri Sri) in his famous anthology of poems called “Mahaprastanam” (The Great Journey) as:

Whichever country’s history you see                                                                                                                        What is the reason to be proud of?
Entire history of human race                                                                                                                                        is exploitation of others.

Entire history of human race                                                                                                                                       is an exercise in mutual destruction
Entire history of human race                                                                                                                                       is drenched in the blood of the wars 

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 As they say, the best things always come in the end and that’s the hope humans live with. Overall, Madeliene Thien’s “Do Not Say We Have Nothing” is an epic novel, a masterpiece, that would remain as a piece of literature that has its core at the center of Chinese cultural and political evolution that uses music and stories as the medium.

This is my pick for Man Booker 2016 Prize.

Man Booker Shortlist Series:

His Bloody Project” by Graeme Macrae Burnet

The Sellout” by Paul Beatty

All That Man Is” by David Szalay

Eileen“- Ottessa Moshfegh

Hot Milk”- Deborah Levy

A Book A Week Challenge- Week 37

This Book is a part of Man Booker 2016 Shortlist Read Series

“Hot Milk” by Deborah Levy is her second novel to make it to the Shortlist of Man Booker Prize. “Swimming Home” was her debut at the Man Booker back in 2012. Similar to that book, Deborah Levy sticks to her strengths. Set in the backdrop of a family drama, “Hot Milk” deals with the life of a young anthropology doctorate dropout who is torn between her aspirations and family.

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Book #: 37

Title: Hot Milk” by Deborah Levy

Pages: 218

Having finished reading Ottessa Moshfegh’s “Eileen” only the previous week, I could not help but draw comparisons between Eileen and Sofia – both of them bound by their own shackles, trying to live in the realism of their own, only to be liberated by a catalyst – Rebecca and Ingrid respectively. But, the challenges and emotions of Sofia dig way too deeper than Eileen and so is the line of narration.

Earlier this year, Jaume Collet- Serra’s survival thriller movie “The Shallows” tracked the life of Nancy Adams (played by Blake Lively) as she struggles to survive the attack of a great white shark. Nancy Adams is probably the closest visual representation that could imagine for Sofia’s character. The comparison might not only end with her love for her mother – one seeks redemption and the other retribution, but there are Medusa jellyfishes in either case.

In “Hot Milk”, Deborah Levy tries really hard to subtle down the underlying abstractness but couldn’t resist herself from making it explicit, at least in the dialogue. The book takes off with Sofia quoting “this laptop has all my life” when it shatters on the concrete floor of a bar built on the beach in Almeria, Southern Spain. Even though the constellations’ screensaver was referenced multiple times in the book, there is no real role of “life valuable” laptop has to play in the book.

Sofia and Rose, her mother, are in Southern Spain, living off in a flat above the noisy bar off the beach. But, they are here not for a holiday but for a treatment of assumed paralyzed legs of her mother. They are here from England for a treatment from Mr. Gomez, whose physical description takes way too much space in the book than his skillset. Of course, he is not a regular expert that would motivate someone to come across the countries for treatment, but even in his absurd way, he is not essentially treating Rose but Sofia herself.

He insists her to be bolder, recommends her to steal fishes and try things she never did before. He states that she is using her mother as a protective cover to all her insecurities. Even though Ingrid is a much more charming character and much attractive (both physically and mentally) than Gomez, there is a lot of inconsistency that she brings in. If Gomez is an initiator to bring Sofia back to realism distant from the one that she has in her mind, Ingrid is his catalyst. Even though they do not have any interaction between them, they play their respective roles which tie up to the greater cause.

Memory is not always reliable. It is not the whole truth. Even I know that.

The book swifts away from its objective more frequently than you would have wished for. There is her father who abandoned them when she was five only to be married to someone who is almost 20 years older than him. The reference to her father runs multiple ways, even though she still adopts his last name, her impression of him sways from hatred to adjustment to resentment.

The most intriguing part of the book is the self-assessment notes of Sofia.

Identity is always difficult to guarantee.

Her character drives much stronger point than her physique and mental strength- the relativity of emotions we face. The world tries to operate in absolute terms where the life has to run in relative means.

What shade of Bold was I after?

There are more acceptable shades of wrong.

The word is more violent than that.

On the surface, “Hot Milk” seems to focus its attention on a family drama with a strained relationship among its members, but the deeper you dig, it is a pursuit of seeking answers to the eternal question “Who are You?”

I am other things too. I have a first class degree and a master’s. I am pulsating with shifting sexualities. I am sex on tanned legs in suede platform sandals. I am urban and educated and currently godless. I do not resemble an acceptable femininity from my father’s point of view. I’m not sure, but he thinks I am not honoring the family. I don’t know the details.

You cannot escape from the description of a time when you speak of relativity.

We would have to move around in time, the past, the present, and the future, but we are lost in all of them.

Overall, “Hot Milk” by Deborah Levy explores multiple aspects of oneself that dig much deeper than the actual story in itself. Even though subtlety makes way for absurdness at times, it would require much deeper analysis of situations and behaviors to appreciate the beauty of its characters. It sways from flashes of absolute genius to prolonged idiosyncrasies.

 

Man Booker Shortlist Series:1006

His Bloody Project” by Graeme Macrae Burnet

The Sellout” by Paul Beatty

All That Man Is” by David Szalay

Eileen“- Ottessa Moshfegh

“Do Not Say We Have Nothing” – Madeleine Thien

A Book A Week Challenge – Week 36

This Book is a part of Man Booker 2016 Shortlist Read Series

“Eileen” is a debut novel from Ottessa Moshfegh which reflects the life of an unhappy New Englander. As the judges’ panel put it together “(these books) reflect the centrality of the novel in modern culture – in its ability to champion the unconventional, to explore the unfamiliar, and to tackle difficult subjects”

If this was the criteria to be met to make it to the shortlist, “Eileen” ticks most of the requirements with enough grace and a bit timidity.

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Book #: 36

Title: Eileen” by Ottessa Moshfegh

Pages: 272

“How are planning to celebrate your Christmas?”

If Christmas is four days away, it is absolutely difficult to keep your nerves calm. There is joy all around you, decorations, excitement, and celebrations. Those will be the days that you look forward to but not for Eileen Dunlop. It is a non-exciting premise not only for her but for the entire of Dunlop family. Back in the day when her mother was alive, they used to have some celebrations with her aunt, the only person who even cared for a prayer.

But, this time, back in the 1960s, a 24-year old Eileen had a surprise. She was not expecting anything exciting to follow up in her already awful life. Ever since we were introduced to Eileen, we know that there is something going to happen to her. She refers to herself as “unnoticed”, “unexciting” and “non-attractive”, with the law of averages catching up, she had to be someone who draws attention and gets to do something more exciting that Christmas.

She suffered from some sort of inferiority complex- driven mainly by the way her father treated her. Her mother was someone she liked but never missed her after she passed away next to her on the bed. She might be the one who actually got benefitted out of it. She got to wear all her mother’s clothes, even though they misfit her, she never cared for the aesthetics of it.

She worked at a children prison with great observation skills. She had a crush on the security guard, Randy, only to be distracted by a strong attractive female Rebecca who brings excitement in her life. Rebecca is a class apart from the women she met so far in that life. She defeated her desire of quit the X-Ville and run away from all this.

“Eileen” is petite in nature and so is the novel. It takes you a bit of patience to bear through the negativity surrounding the protagonist. But, she has an opinion on everything quite contrary to what a present girl would have. She needed a trigger and Rebecca is the trigger. Your patience pays off when Rebecca enters the story. She draws the attention of not only Eileen by every reader too.

In an unexpected twist at the end, it shifts from a sad biography to a crime fiction- and the switch is super quick and surprising. Does it excite you? Yes, it does from the context of the story narrated until then. As a standalone, I doubt. But, the narration is meant to be a part of a long awful story of Eileen.

Read it once and move on.

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Man Booker Shortlist Series:

His Bloody Project” by Graeme Macrae Burnet

The Sellout” by Paul Beatty

All That Man Is” by David Szalay

“Hot Milk”- Deborah Levy

“Do Not Say We Have Nothing” – Madeleine Thien