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Monday, July 30, 2018

The Great Escape

In The Great Escape, Paul Brickhill  details the time spent by him and other Allied air force officers being held by German forces during World War II.  Given the subject matter, it is surprisingly light hearted and comedic.  Having read Unbroken, which tells the story of an American POW in Japan, I was bracing myself for some grim reading.  It does get dark, but it's a fairly small portion of the book.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

A Passage to India

A  Passage to India is a novel by E. M. Forster that largely focuses on the tensions that existed between English and Indians living during the British Raj in the 1920s.  I mainly found the book depressing.  That shouldn't be surprising in a book that is mainly portraying an oppressed people having to deal politely with the representatives of their oppressors while often being treated as less than human.  When you add in allegations of sexual assault that certainly doesn't help.  It surprised me, although it probably shouldn't have, that many of the reviews when it came out were critical of how close the relationships were between the English and Indian characters.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Finnegans Wake

While it may have seemed difficult reading at the time, A Clockwork Orange was a model of clarity next to my second (and sadly not my last) James Joyce novel, Finnegans Wake.  Its often described as one of the most difficult works in the English language.  I believe that is intended as an accolade, though it's difficult for me to see it as such.  I might also contest the describing it as a work in the English language.  Before I go further, I'd like to be clear: I get that this book isn't designed to be enjoyed by simply reading through it as one would any other novel, if it's meant to be enjoyed at all.  It's supposed to be difficult and confusing.  I believe the intention is that there is a reward for having spent a hundred or more hours dutifully studying the text and available commentaries to pierce its veil.  This book is included on three of the eleven lists I combined to create my list of classic books, so clearly some people have found that reward.  Personally, I can't imagine it justifying that effort when I could easily spend the same amount of time reading War and Peace, Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, The Count of Monte Cristo, and, just in case I need something that's a challenge to read, A Clockwork Orange and Infinite Jest, including commentaries for both.

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Night Trilogy

A much more depressing book recommended to me by my friend Daniel is Night by Elie Wiesel.  Night is hard to classify.  It is, at base, an artistic portrayal of the time Wiesel spent in German concentration camps toward the end of the Second World War.  It's not quite memoir or autobiography, but it certainly isn't at the other end of the spectrum in the historical fiction category.  The author called it a deposition.  Regardless of what you call it, it's powerful.  It begins with the Jews being expelled to ghettos but largely living in denial, much like the rest of the world, about the danger and horrors that the Nazis have in store.  You then follow him and his father as they are moved to concentration camps and subjected to the horrors within.

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Monday, July 9, 2018

A Clockwork Orange

I generally don't watch movies based on books that I'm planning to read but A Clockwork Orange slipped through while I was making my way through AFI's 100 Greatest Films.  It was actually probably for the best.  I think the movie made it much easier for me to comprehend what was happening as I read the book.  Anthony Burgess's novel uses a made up slang with literally hundreds of words largely based on the Russian language.  It can be difficult to comprehend what is happening, especially because the narrator uses a somewhat forced and awkward formality.

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Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Checklist Manifesto

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande was the first of sixteen non-fiction books that my friend Daniel was good enough to recommend.  In addition to being an author, Gawande is a medical doctor and public health researcher.  The Checklist Manifesto recounts his attempts working with the World Health Organization to decrease the number of preventable deaths and complications incurred during surgery.  He makes a fairly compelling argument that basic checklists, thoughtfully crafted and diligently followed, can make a significant difference in the mortality rate and need for follow up care.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Fountainhead

I remember reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged at the height of my libertarian fervor.  I never thought it was that good, but it's been about a decade, so my memory probably isn't perfect.  From what I remember, the book posits a black and white view of the world where you have the productive people, who are uniformly attractive hardworking geniuses, and everyone else, who are ugly viscous people who just want to destroy the productive people.  Underscoring all of that is an utterly inhuman story of romance where people are immediately in love with the most productive person of the opposite gender they meet but completely understanding of that love not being returned because there's a more productive option.  The productive people are also completely aware of and in agreement on their relative ranking.  Now I've read The Fountainhead, where the people are slightly less black and white but the relationships are somehow remarkably less healthy.

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