Monday, November 20, 2017

Book Review

Breakfast at Tiffany'sBreakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“’s better to look at the sky than live there. Such an empty place; so vague. Just a country where the thunder goes and things disappear.”

Read Breakfast at Tiffany's. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. It's a short novel(I LOVE short novels) that you could read in a night; a few hours if you're fast. But don't. Like most great writing it's tempting to gobble it up like so much hot fudge sundae. But force yourself to slow down. Digest it slowly, savoring every bite. Read Holly Golightly as Audrey Hepburn spoke with her pauses and stresses.

Holly Golightly is a woman-child with earth-mother people skills and handwriting that's a childish scrawl. She's gone through hell and come out a pure soul who can only be herself. She's totally present in the moment and doesn't hold a grudge. She appreciates all of people, focuses on the good and isn't offended by the flaws.

A friend recommended reading Truman Capote, but I didn't think I was up to In Cold Blood. And it's brilliant. The writing is complete, not sparse like Hemingway. But there's no excess back story that should've been left in the author's notes. The story is a character driven snapshot of these people's lives. Through the author's eyes you fall in love with Holly and through Holly's eyes you love all of the souls who swirl around her. It's not tied up neatly with a bow like the movie, but that's the brilliance of books; they don't have to be. This book isn't more complex as much as it's more colorful. And more satisfying.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Book Review

AwakeningsAwakenings by Oliver Sacks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As World War I drew to a close, besides the great Spanish Flu epidemic there was also an epidemic of a 'sleepy sickness' or encephalitis lethargica in which patients would be unable to stay awake and would sleep for days, weeks, or even months. Often they would seem to recover fully and live full lives for a decade or more only to be struct with a kind of Parkinsonism. They would spend the remaining decades of their lives rigid, catatonic, or a variety of other symptoms that prevented them from interacting normally with their environment. Unable to be cared for by family or even most institutions they ended up in long-term chronic hospitals.

In 1966 Dr. Oliver Sacks joined of Mount Carmel Hospital in New York where over 80 such patients were housed and having their basic needs seen to. Instead of dismissing them or avoiding them Dr. Sacks took an interest in his patients, saw their humanity through their disabilities, and set about doing what he could for them. A new drug, L-DOPA, had possibilities to relieve the Parkinson symptoms. "Awakenings" chronicles the history of the epidemic, Dr. Sacks' and his patients' experience with L-DOPA, and what they learned from their experience.

"Awakenings" is a good example of what Maria Popova calls "the everythingness of everything" of Oliver Sacks. He saw his patients as complete people, not the sum of their symptoms. He chronicles how everything affects their responses to their disease: the hospital environment of space, light and air, hospital policies, family relationships, the emotional investment the staff made in the patients, and the patients' own curiosity and humor towards themselves and their lives. He discusses many theories of people and events, not just medical theories but also physics and the catastrophic threshold of chaos theory.

My take away from the book, besides wishing very much to have a doctor like him who listens and observes and is interested in everything affecting my life, is how everything has a direct effect on peoples' lives; space, light, air, love, respect, support. And how our tendency to want to compartmentalize people's lives and expect exemplary behavior under horrible circumstances has no basis in reality.

Highly recommended

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Friday, September 01, 2017

Quote: Rumi

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Book Review: 11/22/63

11/22/6311/22/63 by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I'm really glad I read it, I didn't always enjoy the reading of it. To me, it's over written. Every thing and every action is completely described leaving nothing to the imagination of the reader. The first few chapters especially needed to be run through the editing process a couple more times. I much prefer authors who know how to provide all necessary details while leaving enough out for the reader to be fully intellectually engaged. Not every question needs to be answered.

The second thing not completely engaging about this book is the main character. I never sympathized or identified with him in any meaningful way. But there is something of a literary tradition of uninteresting main characters. Dickens' David Copperfield, who's interesting as a child but boring as an adult, is my favorite example. And like David Copperfield, Stephen King's other characters are all interesting, three-dimensional people readers will have no problem identifying with and caring about.

The other thing Stephen King has done incredibly well is research the events leading up to and after the main event. The movements, history, and people around Lee Harvey Oswald are all brought to vivid life and is, alone, worth reading the book. This book also brings the era, 1958 - 1963, to life in incredible detail putting the reader into the middle of American culture; food, music, clothes, cars, the easy hospitality and respect, the clean air, the quiet nights, the mills belching toxins into the air 24/7, the restrooms marked Ladies, Gentlemen, and Colored with an arrow pointing around back to a board with a hole in it over a ditch. Except for that one mention everything else in the book involves white people.

Spoiler alert: While the ending generally rings true, the changes after Kennedy is saved seem extreme; world wide earthquakes? the rending of space/time? the collapse of the universe? I found all that hard to buy.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Book Review

The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's WorldThe Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's World by Alan Downs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“What was once a feeling has become something deeper and more sinister in our psyches—it is a deeply and rigidly held belief in our own unworthiness for love. We were taught by the experience of shame during those tender and formative years of adolescence that there was something about us that was flawed, in essence unlovable, and that we must go about the business of making ourselves lovable if we are to survive.”

I had thought I had my internalized homophobia well in hand. Being gay has long been the one part of my life that I'm most comfortable with, most secure in, and most willing to protect and demand respect of. I've long been aware of internalized homophobia, have examined my own, and kept a watchful eye out for the tiny ways it surfaces throughout my life. But still that line from the Friends theme song; "your job's a joke, you're broke, your love life's DOA" is totally me. I had never associated those gaps with internalized homophobia. But in The Velvet Rage Alan Downs connects those dots in a direct line. He shows how the early message of "be this, not that" and the absence of a mentor or a sympathetic ear gets into our DNA and travels with us into adulthood, prompting us to foreclose on fulfillment in many areas of our life and not just in our sexual expression.

Based on a lifetime working with his own therapy clients, this is an amazing important book that remains imminently readable despite the complex ideas discussed. Best of all he includes a list of skills, actions we can take in order to move towards a more fulfilling life and he emphasizes that moving from shame to acceptance is a skill, a practice, something you do rather than something you think about.

Highly recommended, possibly required reading for all gay men.

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Book Review

On the Move: A LifeOn the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dear Oliver Sacks, or I should say, Dr. Sacks: Thank you so much for the gift of your book. It will forever remain one of my most treasured. Your love and joy and gratitude and curiosity infuse every part of it. I don't know how you do it because on the surface your writing is very straightforward, observational, but somehow that transparency allows all of your wonderful warmth to come through. Reading your book is such a pleasure that I did it in little segments, stretching it out so that I wouldn't finish it too soon. And at the end I had a true sense of a full, complete life; a life that left the world a better place.

My regret at finishing your book is tempered by the knowledge of the dozen other books that you wrote and the further chance to live in your world where life and people are endlessly fascinating. I can't decide whether to jump back to the beginning of this book and read it cover to cover again or start right in on Awakenings or make myself read something completely different in order to come back to you afresh. A hardcover edition of Awakenings is proving difficult to obtain, but luckily it's easily available as an ebook.

I'm sorry I didn't get to meet you in person. I have quite a crush on you. I would've loved to hear some of your stories, although I have little to offer you other than my attention.

Yours truly,

Tim Dominic

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Monday, May 22, 2017