Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James

Henry James classic ghost story is on my "LOST" list of to read books, and, it being Halloween time, I thought it a perfect time to pick it up. And it was too, the chills provided here are slow but deliberate, much like a fog that creeps up on an evil night.

The story centers on a governess hired to watch over two charming children. The governess instantly falls in love with them, and believes they can do no wrong. Then she begins seeing apparitions, evil disturbing images that she finds resemble and very well might be the children's old caregivers, and she suspects that not only can the children see them, but that they might be in league with them. (Shivers!) Though the story is told by the governess, you never quite know if the ghosts are real or imagined, and as the weather turns cold, the children get mischevious, and the fog settles in, the air of disturbia wraps its warm cloak around the characters until you feel practically suffocated in its embrace.

James' writing is from another era, the Victorian, Gothic era. It is both beautiful and bold and very hard to understand. I found myself at times wondering what I had just read, and rereading, just to catch the meaning, and I think this took a bit from my enjoyment of the story. It's like being woken up by a cat in the middle of the night so you never quite get a full night's rest. Still, what James does is slowly layer the story with complexities that leave you unsure of what exactly happened, as if you encountered a ghost yourself and were unsure of whether it was real or not.

It's a fun book to read, delightfully twisted, and what better time to read it than the spookiest time of the year, when the weather turns and leaves die and the cold fog settles in late at night.

Monday, October 13, 2008

by Herman Hesse

Most of the books I read I like. It's hard because I've been recommended so many books and I'm always on the lookout for a new read that I'm usually excited by whatever book ends up in my lap. Sure, occasionally I'll cross a book that's bad, terrible bad, curl up in a ball and cry for your time back bad, but those are so few and far between that it's almost worth it. Or I just stop reading and donate it.

Siddhartha was a fantastic book. Big surprise, right?! Fantastic, though, for reasons I rarely see in liking a story. Every once in a while there is a book that you read, or a story you hear or see, that changes your outlook on a situation. Siddhartha, here and now, is that book for me. It was simply amazing. Perfectly clear and concise, the story rolled along. Reading it was like sitting and listening to the ocean.

Years ago I read The Alchemist, and like many other readers was profoundly affected by its messages. Without sounding hokey, the book was really insightful, and very provocative with its outlook that I've still not forgotten how it affected me and still adopt a philosophy very closely with its message. I've been meaning to reread it, but haven't had the chance.

A friend recommended Siddhartha to me last year, so I finally got around to reading it. Since The Alchemist, I have not been affected or found a book so spiritually inspirational. Its themes are perfectly in line with what bounces around in my small head most of the time, though much more clear and interesting, and it provides a perfect example of a life that is altogether human.

Siddhartha was the name of the real Buddha, but Hesse's Siddhartha is purely fictional. His life mirrors the Buddha's, but he takes his own path. The Siddhartha in the novel starts out as a member of the upper class that leaves the wealth of his family for a life of spiritual study with the shramanas, which are a band of traveling priests. He winds up leaving the shramanas with his friend Govinda to follow and meet the Buddha, a being he finds supremely spiritual and calls a saint. Siddhartha leaves Govinda behind because he realizes that he cannot find enlightenment in the Buddha's teachings, that his enlightenment path is different. He winds up becoming a wealthy businessman so he can learn the art of love from Kamala, and becomes sidetracked by the "child people", people wrapped up in their own life. Finally, he tires of this life and meets a ferryman where he ultimately finds enlightenment, but his path is not an easy one.

What I find most inspiring in Hesse's beautifully crafted story is its realism. Hesse does not make Siddhartha some mythical being, he makes him human. Siddhartha suffers through things I've suffered through, and he suffers through them again and again. Hesse shows life as a recurring cycle of events, something I find to be very true, but with every recurrence, Siddhartha grows a little more until, ultimately, he finds enlightenment. If I haven't said so, it's great, and sad, and yes, enlightening.

The simplicity of the cover is only half as simple as the inspiring story inside. If only I could do the lotus position!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

"Maps and Legends"
by Michael Chabon

I'm currently in Purgatory. I wake up, sleep through my day, and at night I flip open the pages of my latest book and weep. All because of Maps and Legends. It's just too good to follow.

In short, Michael Chabon's book of essays about everything from genre fiction (great essays!) to inspiration and the process of writing his early novels (fantastic!) to memoirs laced with lies to prove a point (get this guy a Guinness! brilliant!) has left me wanting more. Now I want a good mystery, a well thought out map, a journey through some fantastic land while being dragged along by carefully selected prose that brings the story to life.

I think the best books, and stories, inspire. Many of my revelations and enthusiasms have come from either films or books, be that a good or bad thing. And the best thing about Chabon's Maps and Legends is that it inspired me. Not only do I want to read a good mystery, or go back and walk through the forest of Mirkwood with Bilbo and Frodo, I'd love to write something. And even if it never sees the light of day, I'm thankful, because the fire that books like this ignite, the creative spirit they spark, is worth much more than the jacket price.

I say read this book. Not only does it have a really cool cover, what's in between isn't bad either.