Friday, June 20, 2008

"King, Warrior, Magician, Lover"
by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette

My reading theme this year seems to be "pairs." This is my companion piece to Iron John. A friend lent it to me after we were discussing Robert Bly, and since I'm very interested in Jung, it sounded like a win win.

King, Warrior, Magician, Lover
is about the shared archetypes of humans, what Jung referred to as the collective unconscious. These four types show up in stories, myths, and religions for as far back as knowledge of our species reaches, and it is very easy to relate to what the authors are talking about because the archetypes are so relevant.

The argument is quite the same as Iron John's, in that most men are stuck in boy psychology, or in stunted versions of these four archetypes, and the authors point out examples of each. It's because of the lack of positive male models, or Kings, Warriors, Magicians, and Lovers, in present day society, that we have so many problems in the world. Leaders who don't consider the good of everyone, wars fought without conscience, and abusive relationships. Men aren't just "tough guys", and being a man doesn't mean not talking about your feelings, it means lots of things, many which are not obvious because of a lack of initiation.

What the book does is give descriptions of each of the poles of these archetypes and their infantile counterparts, then it gives practical applications on how to access these important archetypes. It's a great book, and actually a great follow-up to Iron John. I'd recommend both, though I'm sure there's plenty of literature out there on these topics to broaden your scope a little. Either way, if you're a man and you are interested in learning and furthering yourself. I highly recommend these books. To borrow a line from one of my favorite radio shows, "They're good for your constitution!"

"The Third Policeman"
by Flann O'Brien

In the wake of the Season 4 Finale of LOST I've been searching for stuff to keep my mind occupied and off of what may happen in the final two seasons of my favorite show. Which basically means I've frantically been trying to come up with an explanation for the whole mystery of everything on that show.

Okay, it's not that dire. I can wait to find out, in fact, that's part of the fun. But, really, in the meantime, I need to keep myself occupied. Luckily, the show is so rich with references that there is no shortage of cool stuff to read and find fun references in the show.

The producers, among other things, have planted several well-chosen books throughout the episodes, and Damon Lindeloff, one of the creators of Lost, has stated that the one book that had the most influence on him in the writing process is The Third Policeman, which, he says, is because you find out at the end that the main character has been dead for the bulk of the novel.

He didn't give anything away, if anything, knowing that the main character was dead shed a little light on this confusing novel. But not much. The narrator and main character, unnamed throughout the novel, has killed a man in a botched robbery and when he goes back to collect the money, everything changes. Suddenly he finds himself in a two-dimensional police station facing mind-bending riddles by three bizarre and over-weight detectives. He discovers that he has a soul and that its name is Joe, that, in this world, people turn into bikes by way of the Atomic Theory, he can reach eternity, ask for anything he wants and it will appear (though he cannot take it with him), relates everything he sees to the fictional philosophy of a man named De Selby (whose work the main character has catalogued extensively, and is partially the reason for the murder), and that nothing is what it seems.

The back flap of The Third Policeman claims it as solidifying O'Brien as one of Ireland's great comic geniuses. I didn't laugh or find any of the situations of the novel funny, but they were extraordinary. If by comic they mean surreal and kafka-esque (yes! I used that word!), then they would be dead on.

There are a multitude of mind-bending puzzles in this novel, not the least of which involve the second policeman, who has invented several objects "too small to see" and boxes that make men crazy and things full of colors that can't be described by any words we have for colors. The novel is, if nothing else, full of imagination and vigor. That I liked.

As for fans of the show, you'll notice a few similarities, which I'll leave open if you want to read it (I don't want to give all the details away - plus, my wife hasn't seen past season 3 and I don't want to give anything away). I will say though that the influence for Jacob's character is quite clear, as is the ability for the Island to produce visions for each of its visitors.

And I've got a theory on Lost now too, one that I won't be disappointed with if it's true. Mark this one of the long list of Lost-inspired books to read. Among the next on my list are The Dark Tower series by Stephen King, Valis by Philip K. Dick, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Watership Down by Adams, and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.

All have cool covers.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

"The Conde Nast Traveler Book of Unforgettable Journeys"
Great Writers on Great Places

I've been reading a lot of articles lately about how vacation isn't going to be much of one this year. High gas prices make road trips hard and plane fares even harder to cope with, and the price of everything seems to be going up.

So if you're not taking a vacation, I've the solution. Read this book!

You'll be able to go anywhere (sort of like the Reading Rainbow, or perhaps by way of...). And, oh, the places you'll go.

The Big Island of Hawaii, Iceland, The Himalayas, a happy jaunt around France, to the mystical world of Ethiopia, the famous but elusive city of Jinn in Jordan. You'll relax in Georgia and set out on a dangerous safari in Tunisia.

This book is a collection of articles from the Conde Nast magazine over the past several years. I've never read Conde Nast before, but I gather that it's a pretty good magazine, and this collection in particular is well worth the time. The only gripe I have is that it sometimes seemed like the writers were traveling very luxuriously, and were accustomed to that sort of travel, something I find hard to relate to. Still, it rarely detracts from the places, and the places are quite amazing. Each article is even followed up with tips for traveling in those particular parts of the world.

And even if you don't read it, the cover is well worth it. You can stare at the tiny drawings and imagine yourself in other parts of the world for hours and hours on end. It's a great way to kill time. Trust me.

"A Short History of Nearly Everything"
by Bill Bryson

I can't even begin to say how much I enjoyed this book.

After a fair amount of disappointment in A Walk In the Woods a few years ago (he didn't finish the Appalachian Trail, a feat that disappointed me), I decided not to read any more Bryson for the time being, even though many people had recommended him.

And so a few weeks ago I checked this one out from the library, plodding it home like some sort of homework assignment, promising myself that I'd at least start it, but I didn't have to finish it. I'd give it a shot, but if he decided to take a rocket ship to the moon and ended up backing out, I would definitely be writing a letter. Without even starting, my hopes were not high.

It was a Big Bang (pun intended), filled with a whole bunch of knowledge, clever insights, and, well, history of the earth and universe. If I were a teacher in any sort of social sciences, this would definitely be required reading - it's far more interesting and effective than any textbook I've ever picked up (and readable). I couldn't put it down.

What Bryson does is take something we all have a passing interest in, science, and make it fun and understandable at the same time. He introduces all the eccentric characters, mentions long lost facts that most people overlook, and explains all the difficult concepts in a very easy-to-grasp sort of way. From the first page I was hooked, and my imagination was buzzing with ideas.

I'm sure you're interested now, so the obvious question is, What will you learn?

Well, tons of great stuff, to be sure. Like everything we know about how the universe started and some theories on it's expansion (some scientists think the universe expands and contracts infinitely, like breathing), the vastness of space, concepts of physics (including a brush-up on Newton and Einstein, both interesting fellows), the history of life on this planet (from bacteria to trilobites to dinosaurs to us...and what may be beyond). You'll learn everything you've ever wanted to know about nearly everything.

And then, if you're like me, you'll forget it all. But it will have inspired and excited you so much that you won't be able to sleep but for the buzzing of science fiction ideas in your head. The kind that kept you up at night when you were younger, when you would just wonder about, well, stuff, and when that stuff was still new and untouched by textbooks and school.

Read this book.