“The Beautiful and Damned” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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I have always been on the Blair Waldorf team. I genuinely admire Blair’s determination to succeed on her own regardless of her ways and means of doing so. She is set on becoming somebody, dedicating her life to a certain career and following her heart. Serena, in contrast, is much more spontaneous and unpredictable – all bright qualities I find so curious precisely because they are in great dichotomy with the life I have chosen for myself. With the progressive development of the character of Ms. Van der Woodsen, I began to enjoy her involvement in the plot more and more. So the couple of explicit referrals to “The Beautiful and Damned” as her favorite book impelled me to rummage through all the bookshops in the city in search of it. Yes, I decided to read a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald thanks to “Gossip Girl”.

“The Beautiful and Damned”, like most of his other works, is set during the thrilling Jazz Age. The novel revolves around the tale of romance of Anthony Patch, a Harvard boy intent to live off his grandfather’s fortune, and Gloria Gilbert, a baby vamp whose favourite topic of conversation is her legs. Both of them are perched at the top of the social ladder: they have the looks, they have the cash and they have the contacts. They regard themselves so well-off that they contempt life and all its aimlessness. “I do nothing, for there’s nothing I can do that’s worth doing” However, in their obdurate refusal to rise up to the challenges of work, they gain no hands-on experience. They gather their knowledge, principles, opinions and morals from books and hypothetical conversations and consequently so they remain only theoretical.

In the midst of exhilarating cocktails, joyful dancing and insolent flirting Gloria and Anthony are disillusioned with their love and their marriage. Striving to return back to the mirth of the past, they squander away in a drunken stupor both money and days. They spiral down the social ladder, appalling their friends, encouraging gossip and rumours and trying desperately to mend their lives until they end up in a flat in a destitute neighborhood, alone and put off by each other, deprived of their inheritance.

We have all secretly craved at some point to foray into the 1920s for a night and revel into the glory and splendor of the parties and dresses and elegance of it all. “The Beautiful and Damned” offers a brilliant insight into the not-so-glamorous side of the Jazz Age – a time entirely absorbed with distorted nihilism and superficiality – looks, clothes, money, appearances. Gloria and Anthony are an apotheosis of the depravity and falseness of that era. The sole purpose of their delusive lifestyle is to preserve their social status, have fun and retain the frivolity of their youth. It seemed to me from the very beginning of the novel that they are incessantly trying to shield themselves from the truth about the meaninglessness of their own hollow existence with pretentious repartee cynicism and nihilism. “Same old futile cynic. It’s just a mode of being sorry for yourself. You don’t do anything – so nothing matters”

Reading “The Beautiful and Damned” prompted me towards the realization that in one way or another we all struggle to keep up appearances, trying to re-enact a part of ourselves, or our past that no longer exists in an unavailing effort to dodge reality. However, “beautiful things grow to a certain height and then they fail and fade off, breathing memories as they decay” and accepting this poignant truth is part of learning to let go of the light when the candles flicker off and saying goodbye when the moment passes. It’s part of learning how to live full-heartedly.

But what astounded me most in the novel is the measure of vanity present in the life of all characters. Every decision they make, every dream they harbour, every desire they have is tainted by vanity. They read books in order to appear intellectual. They dance and sing in order to seem up-to-date. They dine at the most luxurious restaurants in order to verify their social status. They even write in order to be discussed and celebrated. Meretriciousness is inherent in all their actions. It is imponderable how ostentatiously, bogusly and conceitedly one can live and not realize it, even love it!

BEAUTY: (_Her lips scarcely stirring, her eyes turned, as always, inward upon herself_) Whither shall I journey now?
THE VOICE: To a new country — a land you have never seen before.
BEAUTY: (_Petulantly_) I loathe breaking into these new civilizations. How long a stay this time?
THE VOICE: Fifteen years.
BEAUTY: And what’s the name of the place?
THE VOICE: It is the most opulent, most gorgeous land on earth — a land whose wisest are but little wiser than it’s dullest; a land where the rulers have minds like little children and the law-givers believe in Santa Clause; where ugly women control strong men —-
BEAUTY: (_In astonishment_) What?
THE VOICE: (_Very much depressed_) Yes, it is truly a melancholy spectacle. Women with receding chins and shapeless noses go about in broad daylight saying “Do this!” and “Do that!” and all the men, even those of great wealth, obey implicitly their women to whom they refer sonorously either as “Mrs. So-and-so” or as “the wife.”
BEAUTY: But this can’t be true! I can understand, of course, their obedience to women of charm — but to fat women? to bony women? to women with scrawny cheeks?
THE VOICE: Even so
BEAUTY: What of me? What chance shall I have?
THE VOICE: It will be “harder going,” if I may borrow a phrase.
BEAUTY: (_After a dissatisfied pause_) Why not the old lands, the land of grapes and soft-tongued men or the land of ships and seas?
THE VOICE: It’s expected that they’ll be very busy shortly.
BEAUTY: Oh!
THE VOICE: Your life on earth will be, as always, the interval between two significant glances in a mundane mirror.
BEAUTY: What will I be? Tell me?
THE VOICE: At first it was thought that you would go this time as an actress in the motion pictures but, after all, it’s not advisable. You will be disguised during your fifteen years as what is called a “susciety gurl.”
BEAUTY: What’s that?
(_There is a new sound in the wind which must for our purposes be interpreted as _THE VOICE_ scratching its head._)
THE VOICE: (_At length_) It’s a sort of bogus aristocrat.
BEAUTY: Bogus? What is bogus?
THE VOICE: That, too, you will discover in this land. You will find much that is bogus. Also, you will do much that is bogus.
BEAUTY:(_Placidly_) It all sounds so vulgar.
THE VOICE: Not half as vulgar as it is. You will be known during your fifteen years as a ragtime kid, a flapper, a jazz-baby, and a baby vamp. You will dance new dances neither more nor less gracefully than you danced the old ones.
BEAUTY: (_In a whisper_) Will I be paid?
THE VOICE: Yes, as usual — in love.
BEAUTY: (_With a faint laugh which disturbs only momentarily the immobility of her lips_) And will I like being called a jazz-baby?
THE VOICE: (_Soberly_) You will love it….
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“Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates

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“Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates was first published in 1961 but the solemn truth about life which it divulges still reverberates within the walls of each family house. So brilliant in its honest attempt to depict the dreadfulness of all human relationships, it has also been turned into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. I have not seen the cinema production yet, but I can promise you that the novel would revolutionize your perspective. It is such a genuine portrayal of the purgatory of matrimony.

Frank and April Wheeler appear to be the perfect couple in the bright 1950s. They are smart, fun, open-minded and awfully in love. But the glossy exterior of their life is grossly misleading. As all other married people, forced together by adventitious circumstances, they have waged a myriad of skeletons in the closet of their immaculate suburban house on Revolutionary Road. Yet, a delusion can survive only so long. After a sordid fight in the middle of the road, at the dead of the night, they come to the realization that all they have been sweeping so cautiously under the carpet for the last 6 years has now become a cause of calamity. . Their consummate image of love, matrimony and amity is irrevocably shattered. In long silences and blazing arguments, Frank and April drift apart and are impelled to go to drastic measures to preserve their integrity.

Unlike all the other novels which portray affability and relationships, “Revolutionary Road” didn’t begin happily only to diverge into tragedy later on. It was solemn from the very first chapter till the end and even the sporadic elements of bliss that stole their way into the Wheeler’s life were marked with spuriousness. What made the novel poignant the universal truth that loomed in every action and decision of its characters.  It was scintillating to read about the absolutely drab, appalling side of human nature: the failed expectations, the unrealized aspirations, the helplessness of each individual and the meretriciousness of one’s alter ego. Richard Yates is the first person I have met who has dared to acknowledge the fallacy of marriage, friendship and camaraderie so simply.

At some level I have always sensed the falsehood of all interactions, yet simultaneously I continually harbored the flickering undying hope that there are few relations which transcend the pettiness of our ephemeral nature. However, the suburban nightmare is diffusing in our urban lives as well. There is no complete accomplishment of the notion of the American dream. Instead of liberating and inspiring people, it binds them to the fetters of social conventions and anachronistic stereotypes. Smiling, being polite, staying in one’s good graces, going out and keeping up the ever so fake tone of conversation – those are necessities preliminary for our survival and a guaranteed participation in the act of a decent, respectable society. Our innate need to be accepted and approved upon lands us the lead role in that abysmal stage production.

The only people who peek behind the decorum are deemed as irrational and even insane as so often proves the case in literature (“Hamlet”, “Don Quixote” etc.). It is but treacherous, however, to believe that our reality differs at all from the apocryphal world. We are also stuck in a nightmarish existence feeling that our life passes by too quickly in a perpetual fear that we will never rise to the wisdom and vigor of the golden people. A fear that is well based. For we will not become the images we bear of ourselves unless we halt the pretense that we are happy and satisfied with our presence. We have to concede the awful truth to be able to live with ourselves uncompromisingly, and perhaps alter our final destination. We have to strive infinitely so as not to end up as stereotypes.

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“Rainbow” by Rainbow Rowell

Lately I haven’t had the remotest urge to sit down and review-slash-analyse even books that have immensely impressed me. It’s not that my passion for literature has ditched me in the midst of the school term but that I have ignominiously failed to muster the courage to write simply because I can or I want to. Perhaps it turned out so because I was so disappointed with my IELTS writing result or because I am adept at convincing myself I am too busy to let halt crowding out all the words bubbling up in my mind unless I have a deadline. However, if I am to be completely candour with you and myself, the aforementioned reasons are collateral damage to a mild case of dementia. I had forgotten how amazing it is to let an apocryphal world linger in the words you have used to depict it and the keys you have pressed to share your experience with other people. How amazing it is to transform the universe of a stranger’s imagination into a part of your life, yourself and the one more personal and precious activity – writing.

“Sometimes writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can’t quite keep up with gravity.” 

Fortunately, books do not exist solely to fulfill these purposes, but also to remind you of them when push comes to shove. ‘Fangirl’ by Rainbow Rowell is one of those inspiring novels. Its story is quite simple and straightforward which made reading it all the more smooth and relaxing. It also made devouring it in two days easier! It centers around Cath who is an epitome of the nerd girl. She is obsessed with Simon Snow to the point where she lives to live in his magical world by writing fan fiction. But as a freshman in college she is bludgeoned into reality where the villains cannot be transmuted into charming benign gay characters with a clatter of the keyboard.

“It felt good to be writing in her own room, in her own bed. To get lost in the World of Mages and stay lost. To not hear any voices in her head but Simon’s and Baz’s. Not even her own. This was why Cath wrote fic. For these hours when their world supplanted the real world.” 

Cath and her twin sister Wren (Cather and Wren! Get it?) are forced asunder as one strives to remain true to herself, her past and the passions and the other succumbs to the pressure to fit in with the vapid masses of drunken freshmen. Boy troubles, hospitalization, coruscating dialogues, emergency dance parties and some deep family tragedies made it impossible for me to give ‘Fangirl’ a wide berth.

“I feel sorry for you, and I’m going to be your friend.”
“I don’t want to be your friend,” Cath said as sternly as she could. “I like that we’re not friends.”
“Me, too. I’m sorry you ruined it by being so pathetic.” 

It lacked all that usually impess me in a novel – a complicated writing style, a lot of highlights, sombreness etc. However, the striking resemblance between Cath’s and my own life took the escapism to a whole new level. It endowed reading with a pungent taste of reality. I realized that I was at school persistently ignoring the vain conversations of my classmates but simultaneously Pound Hall felt so tangible for I knew it might be me there betaing brazen Nick’s unreliable narrator. It was an unprecedented experience for the complete 14 years that the peculiar characters on the page have been making sense!

“Real life was something happening in her peripheral vision.” 

Cath’s refusal to give up on her fanfiction ‘Carry On, Simon’ despite the consuming demands of her education inspired me to sit down and write a tad different review of ‘Fangirl’ even though it is the middle of the night. The novel prompted me to realize that there is always a way to make time to write about the literature you adore and to find people who not only accept your zest for the written world, but understand it. Moreover, it gave me a whole new appreciation of fanfiction and the marvel of fandoms!

This was nothing like my typical reviews. However, ‘Fangirl’ isn’t a typical book, either. It’s not as thought-provoking and meaningful as ‘The Beginning of Everything’ or ‘Looking for Alaska’ but it is much more real and pertinent to a young adult’s life. Cath is by no means a manic dream pixie girl. She is simply a girl and that’s why it is effortless to root for her.

P.S. The ‘Simon Snow’ series by Gemma T. Leslie doesn’t exist despite my absolute conviction it was real while reading the book and writing the review. That explains its similarity to ‘Harry Potter’ which no one else seemed to notice.

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“A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess

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Last week (22 September – 29 September) was the time of year when we celebrate nowadays’ freedom to read by reading books that have been banned in previous centuries. I have already shared with you my enchantment with prohibited novels, so it is anyone’s guess that I participated in the event with unbridled enthusiasm.  I had heard a lot of talk about the book that I picked: some people acclaiming its ingenuity, others wondering what all the bustle was about. As its reception, “A Clockwork Orange” is also enormously contradictive and highly debated. Knowing little about the plot, the rendition and the characters, so many aspects of the book came as a complete surprise.

The story is actually quite simple. Alex is the epitome of a hooligan. He and his posy, albeit in corrective schools, continually perpetrate atrocities against innocent civilians. They burgle, they batter, they rape and they bash even each other in a perpetual crescendo of violence. It comes as no revelation that people ready to cause so much anguish to others are not happy with themselves. In a bloody attempt at coup d’etat , Alex is arrested for voluntary manslaughter. And his life takes a turn for the worse as he is enrolled in a special programme which is meant to refine and redeem all miscreants transmuting them into exemplary, yet devoid of will, citizens who cannot withstand violence and therefore become automatically benign and helpless.

“Goodness comes from within, 6655321. Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man… He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.”

Anyway, even though Alex is a recidivist, he is astonishingly erudite. He has a proclivity for classical music and knows all about the lives and work of Mozard, Beethoven, Bach etc. – quite atypical for a jailbird. ‘Symphony #9’ overwhelms him with exaltation and is his personal definition of happiness. Nevertheless, after successfully completing the reforming programme, his love for music morphs into abhorrence. Being deprived of the moral choice between delinquency and diplomacy, his appreciation for all that brings about joy in one’s life dissipates.

 “Delimitation is always difficult. The world is one, life is one. The sweetest and most heavenly of activities partake in some measure of violence – the act of love, for instance; music, for instance.”

Being someone who is incredulously ignorant of the notion of news and current affairs, I am not consciously aware of the vice and crimes all over the globe. My realization of murder, malignity and physical suffering is so ephemeral and tenuous that I do infallibly abate in a fabulous world of unicorns, elves and rainbows. Reading about all the bloodshed in “A Clockwork Orange” made the malevolent and bellicose side of humans more than just a hypothesis and a universal motif in s deluge of novels, but some people’s reality.

Not all of us get to worry solely about the grade of their math exam and perhaps the choice of good and evil is not really a choice, but a forceful result of the environment about you. Especially, as teenagers we are tremedously affected by our friends and urroundings. The older one gets, the more peer pressure attenuates, the more clearly one’s own phenotype is expressed. Being sixteen and thinking you have figured out who you are is a common sighting and a common misconception. At that age you are more a product of your environment than your genes. So in a convoluted, yet cunning, way being a teenager is equal to having taken part in that reforming programme. We are deprived of the possibility to express our true nature – we are all, or have at least been, clockwork oranges.

“Youth must go, ah yes. But youth is only being in a way like it might be an animal. Not, it is not just like being an animal so much as being like one of these malenky toys you viddy being sold in the streets, like little chellovecks made out of tin and with a spring inside and then a winding handle on the outside you wind it up grrr grrr grrr and off it itties, like walking, O my brothers. But it itties in a straight line and bangs straight into things bang bang and it cannot help what it is doing. Being young is like being like one of these malenky machines.”

That is an unprecedented combination of the living and the robotic. Even though the orange is capable of developing and maturing on its own, it has a clockwork mechanism to determine its growth and its proliferation. The orange isn’t able to make choices, as far as we are concerned, so the ethical problem is not the privation of options but the privation of freedom to express his own nature with all its mutation, delays and malignancies.

I gave “A Clockwork Orange” only 3 stars because reading about brutality wasn’t a pleasurable experience and because the rendition was far from beautiful. Nevertheless, it is a brilliant novel with a unique argot, called Nadsat – a fascinating amalgam between contemporary English, Russian and Shakespearean English. I had a whale of time deciphering the language, which was not as difficult for me provided that my native language is quite similar to Russian, and I think I have mastered it.

Reading “A Clockwork Orange” is a challenge from all perspectives. It is nearly as hard to get the hang of Alex’s dialect as to perceive our innate proclivity for violence and our susceptibility to biochemistry.

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“Franny and Zooey” by J. D. Salinger

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I am one of those appalling bibliophiles who just don’t comprehend the hustle and bustle around “The Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger. It was banned shortly after its publication and it even got a teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma fired for assigning it in class, but even though I proclaimed my fascination with outlawed  novels, I find no rationality and logic behind Holden Caufield’s actions and decisions. Withholding that this may precisely be the beauty and gist of a story about teen angst, it is also my reason for disliking.

Nevertheless, when I glimpsed over the minimalistic cover of “Franny and Zooey” by J. D. Salinger wedged amongst outstanding classics as “War and Peace” and “Ulysses”, I found it irresistible. Such a miniscule book must harbour a lot of , I thought, so as to be shelved among the paramount works of literature (I am yet to read). My inkling didn’t lead me away.

Divided in two parts “Franny and Zooey” depicts another adventure of the Glass family, who are a common subject of Salinger’s short stories. It is told by Buddy, the eldest living sibling. He relates his little sister’s mental breakdown, what triggered it and how she recovered from it. The novella revolves around religion and its implications in art and daily life. But as the narrator points out in the introduction: “I say that my current offering isn’t a mystical story, or a religiously mystifying story, at all. I say it’s a compound, or multiple, love story, pure and complicated.”

In the very first pages of the book we are introduced to a young attractive girl who is supposed to have a whale of time with her boyfriend during the weekend. But there is something peculiar about Franny’s conduct, atypical for the mirth and joy commonly associated with the 1950s. She doesn’t keep her end of the conversation. She berates the pretentiousness and duplicity of her sanctimonious boyfriend and lines up everyone under a common denominator: “It’s just that for four solid years I’ve kept seeing Wally Campbells wherever I go. I know when they’re going to be charming. I know when they’re going to start telling you some really nasty gossip…”

Franny is disillusioned about the world we all live in, pursuing unattainable dreams and attempting to be remarkable in every aspect just like everyone else. “I’m just sick of ego, ego, ego. My own and everybody else’s. I’m sick of everybody that wants to get somewhere, do something distinguished and all, be somebody interesting. It’s disgusting.” So in her not-so-dissembled disappointment and abhorrence of human nature and propensities, she seeks reprieve in religion. She forsakes her illustrious career in acting and neglects any zeal for beauty and success. She spends her days lying on her parents’ coach until her brother Zooey reconciles her expectations and aspirations with the reality of the world.

In a lengthy, but gripping, dialogue, Franny discovers the real source of her exasperation with the world. She is incensed by the disregard of people for all the onerous efforts that go into the creation and production of any piece of art. She despises people for the lack of appreciation and their hasty to judge and criticize. But as Zooey confides in her that “An artist’s only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else’s”, she finds it in herself to forgive laymen for their privation of sophistication.

And so the story of a mental breakdown morphs into a multifarious love story whose moral story is that we all need to accept and tolerate each other in all our hideousness and absurdity. It is absolutely necessary if one desires to prosper in our ruthless society to love one’s public and to persevere for one’s own self. Thus, the question of whether we should write/draw/play for ourselves or for the others is rendered irrelevant. We should love the human in each other despite the mutations and protrusions sticking out on the surface for we all crave for the same: to be admired and appreciated.

J. D. Salinger, himself, is an epitome of an artists who shoots for perfection on his own terms. His novella “Franny and Zooey” comes over as written gracefully in a flourish of inspiration by the fireplace. His rendering lacks any pretentiousness and ostentation but enchants with its simplicity and approachability per se.

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“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley

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I find a certain kind of enchantment in reading books that have been banned in the past because of the controversies they arouse. Perhaps this is because I feel like a 20th-century recidivist, compulsively devouring illegal literature and breaking the law, or it is simply due to my penchant to challenge the foundations of the world as we know it. “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley gave me the opportunity to do both simultaneously. As any other dystopian novel, it questions the worthiness of our moral values and the obstinate fixity of our lives. It helps us break out of the rigidity of our mindsets and see what was, what is and what could be from an alternative perspective.

“O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world. That has such people in’t!”

The brave new world Aldous Huxley depicts is not an alluring angelic place. It is a world where children are not conceived and born, but manufactured and decanted; where moral lessons are not inferred from fairy tales and hidings, but are subliminally memorized during sleep; where rhymes connote not poems and lyrics, but government hypnopaedic slogans. Religion, love, bliss, free will, family and sorrow are outlandish terms for in a society conditioned to like its inescapable social destiny, there are no dreams, tears and need for support.

As newborns the future citizens of the World Stare are shaped accordingly to their future roll in the mechanism of their reality. They are divided into classes, degrading in the following orders: Alphas, Betas, Deltas, Gammas and Epsilons. They are impelled subconsciously to adhere to the customs of the ‘Utopia’ and the rules set forth by His Fordship. What is instilled in them – rewarded promiscuity, death as a cause for celebration, addiction to somma (an amalgam of the paramount narcotics), humility and thoughtless submissions, renders all unaware of the ethereal existence of the concepts truth and beauty.

In such a prosaic environment only the ultimate consumerist society can plod on for centuries. Its people could never experience depression or withdrawal for people are only solemn in their pursuit of absolutes. When one has had solely material desires inculcated into one’s being, one can only desire to acquire them, thus enhancing the World State’s economy.  “You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We’ve sacrificed the high art.”

Henry Ford’s name – the industrialist who introduced the conveyor belt assembly line in the 20th century, is chanted and adulated in “Brave New World” instead of the name of Jesus Lord who purportedly died to expiate our sins. The former is the man who gave rise to the ‘Utopia’, restored order and spread away bliss. With his first mass-production he begot consumerism – materialistic suppression of the absolute truth, cloaked behind the meaningless of our lives.  Depriving people of the nitty-gritty of science, he urged them to bath in its practical applications and forget its glorifying beauty.

“It isn’t only art that is incompatible with happiness; it’s also science.”

The novel juxtaposes the attitudes and beliefs of the citizens of the World State and John – a savage from a reservation in America who bears the same morals as contemporary people. His respect for women, his admiration of Shakespeare, his attachment to his mother and his sense of beauty make him incongruous in the world he has always dreamed of. A misfit among the indigenous tribes and among the sophisticated erudite consumerists, he resists again the mindless, narrow existence of Alphas and Epsilons equally. However, in the struggle of principles that follows there could be no winner because we are “completely part of something else… just a cell in the social body” and even as individualists we are dependent and easily influenced by the society we live it. It either turns us into abhorred pariahs, or a copycat of our neighbour whose happiness is measured by his number of acquisitions.

In a magnificent dialog between His Fordship and Mr. Savage the nuts and bolts of the World State and our own world are divulged. Philosophy, religion and science intertwine to expound the appeal of consumerism, the possibility of a reality, deprived of Shakespeare, Beethoven and Van Gogh, and the indefatigable firmness of instilled values. “Brave New World” is a novel that would quake the foundations of your existence and call into question all that you have ever perceived as rational and undoubtedly true.

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“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Saenz

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Secrets are not necessarily mendacious. Most secrets are actually the truth – the truth kept hidden deep inside our hearts and minds, concealed not only from the others, but from ourselves as well. Such secrets are essential and definitive to our existence. They imply who we are; who we want to be; who we love; where we derive from; how we envision ourselves in society. They are the hardest truths to accept but you can’t live in peace with yourself until you come to terms with them.

Such secrets are gnawing at the heart of Aristotle, a 15-year-old Mexican pariah. He is a bitter teenager, condescending towards his peers and perturbed by the skeletons in his family’s closet. His closest friend is his own mother and even though he is never bullied at school kids ostracize him. He is fascinated by the mysterious air around his brother who has been imprisoned, but his parents’ reluctance to talk about it engenders yet another secret to frown over.

Aristotle meets Dante while trying to learn to swim without the help of any instructors. Not only do their names complement, but so do their personalities.  Dante hates wearing shoes and is extremely vehement about animals. He falls in love with paintings and lyrics and inhabits a world completely different from that in El Paso. “Dante’s face was a map of the world. A world without darkness. Wow, a world without darkness. How beautiful was that?”

 Unlike Aristotle, Dante is enchanted by the world, its wonders, its beauty and its infinity. He leaps at every opportunity and never avoids social contact. Their unconventional friendship changes both their lives irrevocably. It defines their present and their future and endows their past with a meaning. It is a spectacular portrayal of the sacrificial and altruistic part of love.

As the story traces the growth and maturation of those two innocent boys, it questions whether we ever truly get to know ourselves and the world we live in. It depicts life as an incessant strive to take control over your feelings and actions, and accept everything that makes you up. “High school was just a prologue to the real novel. Everybody got to write you – but when you graduated, you got to write yourself”

What defines us is all the inner conflicts and contradictions which beget our deeds. It’s not what you do that makes you – you, but the reason you do it. “Because when you do something, you have to know exactly what you are doing.” It is the driving force that distinguishes us from each other and determines what we would delineate as beautiful, inspirational, worthwhile or scintillating. Thus, we are fundamentally different in our purpose to go on breathing. “We all fight our private wars.”  and within those ruthless struggles our brilliance and uniqueness arise.

The novel describes how two boys acknowledge what propels them forward. It alleges that the secrets of the universe: why do we live? what is the point of our existence? what purpose do we serve? do we matter?; are actually the secrets of the self. The meaning we bestow upon our lives is the meaning we bestow to the universe.

As Aristotle says “Summer was a book of hope” and so is this novel. “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” offers a captivating glimpse in the Mexican culture and the struggle to outgrow one’s Hispanic heritage. It is one of those books that you get glued to and can’t put down for a second. Once you embark upon it, there is no quitting, so I strongly suggest reading it during the summer holidays.

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“Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” by Robin Sloan

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I decided to read “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” thanks to all the adulatory reviews it had received on Goodreads and Youtube. I thought that a novel so praised couldn’t bear any concealed disappointments and I was right. As any rabid booknerd, I love reading books about books, and this one happened to be particularly special. And so it came to pass that now it is my turn to contribute to the plethora of commendation for Robin Sloan’s ingenuity.

Clay Jannon has been duped out of his job in the virtual realms of web design and the pixels of logos of burger behemoths by the Great Recession. Unemployed and chronically bored with life, he whiles all his days away surfing the net for adverts and reading over and over again “The Dragon Song Chronicles” by Clark Moffat (who, dear Whovians and Sherlockians, may be Steven Moffat’s relative since he is dead and entirely apocryphal). One night, though, serendipity and curiosity lure him into Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which waged right next to a strip club cloaks a global conspiracy – the secret of immortality.

Clay’s extraordinary adeptness at climbing ladders lands him the plum job as a night clerk in the most peculiar bookshop-slash-library in San Francisco. While he catters for queer bookbats who barge in in the middle of the night to request novels from the deep end of the store, the protagonist becomes more and more fascinated with the Waybacklist as he refers it. In that dim and obscure section of the library are nestled books brimming with codes and enigmas instead of mysteries and punch lines.

“Turning the pages of this encoded codex, I realize that the books I love most are like open cities, with all sorts of ways to wander in. This thing is a fortress with no front gate. You’re meant to scale the walls, stone by stone.”

And as you correctly surmised during his inextinguishable attempts to popularize and contemporize the bookstore, he will as well, try to break into the fortress with the help of his unique friends. They , the warrior, the wizard and the rogue, will embark on the quest they have always contemplated – the quest pertaining to their favourite adventure book and the quest to immortality. But will they manage to live up to other praised heroes or will they fail ignominiously?

Well, I’d love to tell you but all my friends condemn me for being a huge walking spoiler. All I can disclose that in all certitude, the right book at the right time may alter the course of one’s life.

“Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” stands out from the rest of the literature about literature for it entangles the written world with the online one – something most bookworms are reluctant to do. The friendship that sparks up between old Penumbra, his ancient books and Clay, and his high-tech friends binds those two apparent opposites in a symbiotic relationship. It attests that books and technology may not merely coexist but thrive off each other.

A virtual world, on the one hand, constantly inundated and updated with information cannot exist without the traditional and old knowledge that resides in the ink of all pages around the globe – there would, otherwise, be a perilous precipice on the path of curiosity.  One can, on the other hand, benefit from the technological advances in order to decipher books better; I mean, Sparknotes, Cliffnotes, Goodreads, Booktubers and Bookbloggers. Thus, the novel renders the ubiquitous dichotomy between paper and electronics groundless. Here, we are after all, collaborating in our appreciation and fondness of books via technology.

This glorious unification answers the question I found most compelling and poetic in the whole read: “How can you stay interested in anything- or anyone- for long when the whole world is your canvas?” The answer is simple – you needn’t to. When you have so much notions, ideas, facts and information at your disposal, you simply can’t restrain to eat solely vanilla when you can have any other incredible flavor you hanker for. And by broadening the variety of your passions and interests, you could preserve people in your life much longer. Variety is the spice of life, right?

“Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” will take you on a wild ride across the picturesque San Francisco to the buzzing metropolitan New York. It will introduce you to some of the weirdest and nerdiest characters you will ever meet and divulge to you secrets kept clandestine for centuries. I promise, you’ll have the time of your life reading it.

“After that, the book will fade, the way all books fade in your mind. But I hope you will remember this:
A man walking fast down a dark lonely street. Quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need. A bell above a door and the tinkle it makes. A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.”

Mery

Mery

“Catch-22” by Joseph Heller

catch-22_cover

“Catch-22” figures high on the list of mandatory literature for my last year in high-school. So as any other compulsory read, it was pretty low-prioritized, giving way to amazing novels whose reviews would soon be published. However, one day as I was browsing through, perhaps, the only independent bookstore in my town, I serendipitously lit upon an old copy of the book. Its cover was slightly battered and its pages were yellowed and stained with marks of the years gone by.

It was love at first sight.
The first time I flicked through its pages, I fell madly in love with it.

“Catch-22” is no ordinary book. The arrangement of the novel is extraordinarily cunning! The words: consistency, chronology and succession do not apply to its case. All the events are jumbled up and the story is held together by myriads of tenuous strings of iron-clad associations which are revealed solely to those who persevere till the end. Yet every sentence is astounding in its meaningfulness and pertinence to the motives in the novel.

“Catch-22” is not merely a thrilling read, but a fascinated puzzle in which so as to connect dots you should start after you’ve finished.

Yossarian is a 28-year-old soldier in the Air Force squadron on the island of Pianosa who is quite agog for the prospect of being grounded. He spends most of his days lying in various hospitals, feigning non-existent symptoms of unheard ailments so as to evade combat duty. He takes World War II to heart and is convinced that everyone is out to kill him: “Strangers he didn’t know shot at him with cannons every time he flew up into the air to drop bombs on them and it wasn’t funny at all.”

Faced by the inevitability and finality of death, he is going out of his way to defy the implacable bureaucracy, its malign exertion of control over all troops and its grandiloquence in order to preserve his personhood. “He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt.”  Everything he does is out of sheer selfishness, yet he proves to be one of the most reasonable and honest men in his squadron.

As the story unravels, the deterioration of moral values, the blurred contours of right and wrong, the accumulation of unpunished delinquencies and the despicable distortion of truth during the time of war are becoming more and more blatant and shocking. The distrust and havoc that rule over the hearts and lives of all men are emphasized by the disarray of the novel itself. The more dialogues we witness, the more conspicuous the hypocrisy of language and deeds become. The ambiguity of words when used as weapons by the blindly ambitious bureaucracy is juxtaposed with the impotence of the tongue when coping with the stark reality. “There, there” is an effete consolation when life is slipping out of you.

And in all the misery, doom and hilarity, paradoxes spring up like mushrooms. “Anything worth living for is worth dying for.”  However, among all the self-contradictory nonsense that the characters utter or detect, Catch-22 is the most abominable. It is an illogical, paradoxical curlicue of reason that entangles its victim in its loop of irrationality and serves those who comprise the judiciary. Catch-22 is also present implicitly in the stories of all the characters, apart from the clearly defined unwritten laws.  It is an underestimated, and often neglected, part of all our social conventions, inveigling us to conform to society’s expectations despite their anachronistic or desultory aspects.

But the novel “Catch-22” exudes hope. It attests coruscating that any crazy bastard can  contest and overcome the insanity life challenges us with.  “It’s better to die on one’s feet that live on one’s knees.”

Mery

Mery