Posts Tagged ‘books’

Gratitude & Judaism v Christianity when discussing existential psychotherapy & neurology!

12 March, 2018

GratitudeGratitude by Oliver Sacks

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a very short book. I had read two of the essays before, this time I got the audio book and listened to them. Sometimes it is a different experience. Just four essays written by Oliver Sacks before he died. All the links are to the essays as they were originally published.

The first essay, Mercury or the Joy of Old Age is a brief meditation on what it will mean to him to be very old, 80.

The second essay, My Own Life on learning the cancer from his eye has metastised and is now terminal. It’s quite moving.

The third essay, My Periodic Table relates his life, and the treatment for his cancer to the elements.

The fourth essay, though, the last one, is the one that stands out for me. In part because I come from a similar background, in part because my flat in London is quite literally around the corner from Sacks’ family home, although by the time I arrived there, it was only a Jewish area in a very small way. It was now an eclectic mix of young professionals, Londoners, Jamaicans and Irish. Still there was a very good bagel shop…

It is also my favourite because of a quote I have loved for a very long time, it’s by Chaim Potok, from his novel The Chosen. The quote is peculiarly apposite as Sacks’ cancer started in his eye.

“Human beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So it may be asked what value is there to a human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much, if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye?

I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing; but the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing; but the man who lives the span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life.

It is hard work to fill one’s life with meaning- that, I do not think you understand yet. A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here.”

The essay Sabbath is a perfect elucidation of that quote by a man who gave life meaning to many despairing people and after a long life well-lived, deserved his eternal rest.

Alev HaShalom, rest in peace, Oliver.


message 1: by Will
WillBeautiful. I read these NYT essays online just after finishing his autobiography and thought they were some of the most moving pieces he had ever written.

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message 2: by Choko
ChokoGreat review, thanks!

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message 3: by Caroline
CarolineWhat a wonderful review…

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message 4: by Kalliope
KalliopeI was eyeing this recently… Glad to encounter your review.

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message 5: by Forrest
ForrestThis review is inspiring!

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Petra XKalliope wrote: “I was eyeing this recently… Glad to encounter your review.”

The links to all the essays are there, so you can read the book like that. A freebie with no review required! If you do, I hope you enjoy them.

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Amy (Other Amy)Fantastic review, Petra. I will definitely be reading these when I get a quiet moment.

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message 8: by [deleted user]
Great review there, Petra

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Petra XThanks all. I really appreciated all those lovely comments.

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message 10: by [deleted user]
I’m sorry, when i commented i forget to like it.

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Iris PLovely review Petra, enjoyed it very much…

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message 12: by Michael
MichaelI love the wisdom you’ve found to answer toe Potok quote. Reminds me a bit of my favorite Leonad Cohen line: We are so small between the stars, so large against the sky. Still, the problem of suffering looming so large isn’t really answered, but as one of the largest unsolved problems from Job on down that’s quite understandable.

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Petra XMichael wrote: “Still, the problem of suffering looming so large isn’t really answered…”

I think suffering and pain have to be defined before answering the ‘problem’. Potok differentiates ‘pain’ as in the world. Well there is plenty of that. ‘Suffering’ is something personal. He puts ‘suffering’ up against ‘meaning’. Meaning, in the context of the quote is being successful at something, not a one off, but something that takes time and effort that has made a difference in the world. (Perhaps raising children successfully, perhaps discovering a cure for cancer). That would make us happy. And that offsets the suffering.

The pain of the world doesn’t need to be addressed because it is just part of the human condition, I think Potok means, and we can lift ourselves above it by giving life meaning.

Does that make sense? I know what I want to say but I don’t think I have expressed it well enough.

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message 14: by Michael
MichaelPetra X wrote: “Michael wrote: “Still, the problem of suffering looming so large isn’t really answered…”

I think suffering and pain have to be defined before answering the ‘problem’. Potok differentiates ‘pain’…”

Seems a germ of somethimg fresh yet connected to a long line of efforts to formulate why we are on Earth. Part of what people struggle for to account for resilience (Rabbi Kushner and Frankl before they invented the word). Lot of good juice from writers near their end sometimes, when their back is against the wall and they don’t want to go gentle into that good night. I got a lot of good clarity like that from Hitchen’s Mortality. Other writers get less clear and more mystical or hyperbolic. Grief over another’s loss, impending or in the aftermath, leads writers to look at the puzzle of life and death and suffering in a burst of creativity as well. Thinking of Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Harding’s Enon.

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message 15: by Petra X (last edited Dec 04, 2015 06:41AM) rated it 5 stars
Petra XChaim Potok, a Rabbi, was saying (to me) in this quote nothing with deeper meaning. That is the genius of the quote. It is clear and precise.

Christianity and Judaism are two completely different paths. Christians think there should be just one. That is part of their purpose and reason for being here. Jews think it is just one path and Christianity another (and Islam etc. others) and they can all run alongside each other. Perhaps this is because more than anything Jews started off as, and remain, a tribe who live in a certain (and endlessly obsessive way) and tribes can coexist with others.

It is very Christian to ask ‘why are we here’ and therefore to look for the purpose of their existence (and meaning) in life. I know that is an essential part of Christian life and it generally comes out as ‘to serve’, to convert people to also being Christian, to get them to ‘see the light’, to find the reason God put them here. The corollary is that if you see the light you will not be punished in the hereafter with all those that do not recognise Jesus, but will be ‘saved’ and lived for all eternity.

But there is nothing like this in Judaism. It is a much more existential take. There isn’t an aferlife to be saved for, so Jewish philosophy doesn’t include the why are we here, how do we divine our God-given purpose and what do we need to do to save ourselves and others?

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message 16: by Michael
MichaelPetra X wrote: “Chaim Potok, a Rabbi, was saying (to me) in this quote nothing with deeper meaning. That is the genius of the quote. It is clear and precise. Christianity and Judaism are two completely different …”

Fascinating. Thanks for taking the time for the synthesis. Was always fascinating how Sachs could parse how his patients made meanings through the distortions of the altered neural experience. I never thought of how his Jewishness might have affected his lens. I loved to get some of his family origins from “Uncle Tungsten” and think I will enjoy these essays. I keep thinking about the characters who come to your bookstore looking a certain books to inform their search for meaning on quirky paths.

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Petra XMichael wrote: “ his patients made meanings through the distortions of the altered neural experience. I never thought of how his Jewishness might have affected his lens…”

I think his Orthodox upbringing did. Christianity is directed towards salvation and earning an afterlife through believe in Jesus, Fate, “things happen for a reason” and “God never sends you more than you can bear” and the idea of being tested or being here for a purpose are all foreign to Judaism.

Jews aren’t even allowed to question an afterlife being as we cannot know, all that is said is “eternal rest” .* Everything else is continually questioned and there is no authority, any rabbi or none is an authority. So Jews are entirely of this life.

The questioning of everything starts very young perhaps as soon as we can read. Sitting in the synagogue following the passage of the Torah being read in the Chumash is kind of boring. The passage is printed in Hebrew and English and the bottom of the page is Rashi, who interprets the passage word by word. Later, in Cheder (Hebrew school analagous to Sunday school but four nights a week plus Sundays) Rashi will be d questioned and other viewpoints including the students own will form part of the discussion. There is never a right answer, not even Rashi’s. It’s the arguments that count, you believe something means whatever it does to you. I think that’s where Sacks was coming from.

*There is the somewhat mythological resurrection that will happen ‘some day’ but this appears to have arisen in medieval times. Also there is plenty of belief in the afterlife among individuals no doubt derived from the desire that all is not lost with loved ones after death and influenced by popular culture.

I’m an existentialist, I don’t believe in any religious stuff at all. I just know it because of my upbringing. But in a non-religious way I did apply it to my son, maybe that’s why he’s become a lawyer. (Argumentative!)

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Stamboul Train

25 February, 2018

Stamboul TrainStamboul Train by Graham Greene

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like Greene, I liked that the book was entertaining, social commentary and political all at the same time, a hallmark of Greene novels. What I didn’t like and what really upset me, is the marking out of someone as Jewish. Rant follows! If you are not Christian, not White or not able-bodied you might well identify with it.

I have no idea if anyone else in the story, in many, many stories, newspaper articles, tv reportage, online news sites, are Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist or White. But Jews, Jews have to be identified. Especially if they are in finance, although in Greene’s story, he wasn’t. Bankers and other financiers who are not Jewish are not identified by their religion, only Jews. Are there more Jews in banking than any other industry? No. In London there is a joke that on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, you can’t catch a taxi. Who would think of mentioning that a taxi driver was Jewish?

It isn’t necessarily anti-Semitism in any shape of form, but something of the Nazi doctrine remains (yes, I know it dates back to Roman times but this is the 21stC and we know about genetics now) that Jews, whether they are from Zimbabwe, Eastern Europe or Malaysia are all really one race and no one should forget that and all that the writer wants to imply (usually negative stuff).

That’s some baggage there for all of us born Jewish whatever religion or philosophy we actually espouse.

It is no longer considered polite or politically-correct to point out that some woman is actually a transgendered pre-op male. ie. A man. We have to rightfully consider not only their feelings but that (unless you are going to sleep with them) it really doesn’t matter anyway. But somehow being Jewish does.

I am a redhead with green eyes (see my profile pic). I have been married twice, once to a White Catholic and once to a Black, Anglican guy from the island. When people write books or newspaper articles, they don’t mention things like my first ex was White or a Catholic or my second was Anglican. My present partner is White and an atheist. They would probably mention that my second was Black and definitely that I was Jewish.

Why is Catholic not important? Why is Anglican not important? Why is atheist not important? Why is Black important? Why does my mixed race son who looks White have to have it pointed out in articles that he is Black, and Jewish, do people think he might pass as a White Christian which is somehow wrong, somehow fooling people if it wasn’t pointed out?


message 1: by Hanneke
HannekeYou are quite right to point that out, Petra. It is certainly very strange that it gets mentioned and not if you are of a different denomination.
Mia (Parentheses Enthusiast)I haven’t read this but definitely have noticed the phenomenon. It’s really prevalent with race in fiction, I’ve found—it’s always assumed that the protagonist in an English-speaking country is white, even if their skin colour is never mentioned, but people of colour are always identified by their “chocolate skin” or their “cinnamon skin” and all manner of other identifiers.
message 3: by Greta (last edited Feb 23, 2018 06:18PM)
GretaI’m glad someone finally draws attention to this. It bothers me too. If it’s not relevant, there’s no need to mention race, religion, skin color or whatever. I recently read a memoir written by an “Arab-American” man. The description and half of the reviews mentioned this, although it wasn’t in the least relevant, so I didn’t mention it in my review, and referred to him by his name, like we normally do. What also annoys me, is that women in fiction are mostly referred to by their looks, and to which guy they belong : “A clever detective and his beautiful assistant” ; “an average guy and his beautiful girlfriend”; “a charming man and his beautiful wife”. It makes me so angry sometimes that I want to (ab)use my power as a librarian and change the description 🙂

Petra XGreta wrote: “It makes me so angry sometimes that I want to (ab)use my power as a librarian and change the description 🙂 …”

I don’t see that as an abuse of power. Do it!

I do see Arab-American from the point of view that very large numbers of Americans, it seems to me, want the prefix as in African-American, Italian-American etc.

“The beautiful glamour model turned up for the meeting dressed in a form-fitting and revealing red Victoria Beckham bandage dress to give evidence against Harvey Weinstein”

Why not, “against fat, ugly, Harvey Weinstein wearing a navy Brooks Brothers suit that bulged at the seams”?

LOL it would be funny wouldn’t it if men were described like that.

message 5: by Ivonne
Ivonne RoviraIt’s amazing how many novels from the 1920s through the 1950s have gratuitous mentions of Jews. It’s jarring to 21st century readers. As you noted, they don’t randomly identify people as Catholics or other Christian denominations.
message 6: by Lyn

Lyn ElliottI agree that allocating labels to mark Jews, blacks, Muslims as different, at best, is intrinsically racist, no matter what the context or the outcome.

message 7: by Jonathan

JonathanEarly Agatha Christie books often have negative, stereotyped Jewish characters too. Come the late 30s they disappeared, hopefully due to some feelings of compassion and remorse. Books help us remember what people who were other than white Christians had to deal with – and read about. Still winds me up too though!

 message 8: by Ina
Ina Cawlthe old Jewish stereotype and most people who believe in it have never met or befriended Jewish person.
being Somali i get a glimpse of when your identity is stereotyped into something negative

Petra XJonathan wrote: “Early Agatha Christie books often have negative, stereotyped Jewish characters too. …”

Agatha Christie was a racist, homophobic, classist and very anti-Semitic. She was a horrible, horrible person. Her depictions of Jews were invariably nasty, she wrote about servants as “simple” and “vapid”. In 1939, despite being told that the word was offensive (in the Uk, even back then) she called a book, Ten Little Niggers. This was later changed to Ten Little Indians and eventually became, And Then There were None.

Petra XIna wrote: “being Somali i get a glimpse of when your identity is stereotyped into something negative”

Agatha Christie was vile about Muslims, Arabs and anyone not white too, Agatha Christie – ten racist moments.

Ina, if you came to the US you would get more than “a glimpse” of what it means to be Black and Muslim, it would be full in your face.

message 10: by Petra X (last edited Feb 24, 2018 05:07AM) rated it 4 stars
message 11: by Greta (last edited Feb 24, 2018 05:21AM)

GretaPetra X wrote: “Greta wrote: “It makes me so angry sometimes that I want to (ab)use my power as a librarian and change the description 🙂 …”

“The beautiful glamour model turned up for the meeting dressed in a form-fitting and revealing red Victoria Beckham bandage dress to give evidence against Harvey Weinstein”

Why not, “against fat, ugly, Harvey Weinstein wearing a navy Brooks Brothers suit that bulged at the seams”?

LOL it would be funny wouldn’t it if men were described like that.”

Laughing. You should be a librarian and change the book descriptions. You definitely have more imagination!

Greta wrote: “Laughing. You should be a librarian and change the book descriptions. You definitely have more imagination! …”

It substitutes for having a life!

message 13: by Ina

Ina CawlPetra X wrote: “Ina wrote: “being Somali i get a glimpse of when your identity is stereotyped into something negative”

Agatha Christie was vile about Muslims, Arabs and anyone not white too, Agatha Christie – ten…”
i really know that,this is not the best time to be black and Muslim in Western world as you would feel the racism in the airport before even before you even enter the country

message 14: by Greta

GretaPetra X wrote: “Greta wrote: “Laughing. You should be a librarian and change the book descriptions. You definitely have more imagination! …”

It substitutes for having a life!”

Ah, but you’re larger than life, Petra!

Petra XGreta wrote: “Ah, but you’re larger than life, Petra! …”

On a diet!


The Metamorphosis, or My Unfaithful Cockroach of a Husband (ex)

2 February, 2018

The MetamorphosisThe Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A paraphrase. When my ex-husband went out one evening from unsettling dreams of how faraway his wife was, he went out drinking and whoring. Next morning he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin. A cockroach. Much he knew it though. None of his friends recognised it, in fact they preferred the cockroach to the person he had been and he had a great time. When it was time for him to come home, armour-plated as he was he crushed his wife underfoot (well fists and kicks, but same thing).

Unlike Kafka’s poor cockroach whom no one could come to terms with and is destroyed by their ultimate hatred of creepy, crawly insects that roam the house, my ex was embraced by all and became the most popular party person. Although at one stage I did have to fight off a woman who was swinging her handbag at me and tell a Spanish prostitute that my husband’s unwanted attentions were no business of mine.

The moral of the story is that there is more than one type of human cockroach and Kafka only wrote about one. It’s all in the shell, if you are ugly, big, brown and with six legs you are hated. But handsome, big brown and with only two, you are adored.

Read this book back in 1999 and loved it. Social isolation for visible or invisible characterists reverberated with me, as did the cold gang mentality that rules once each has identified itself as a sympathetic member.

5 star book
2 star ex husband (I did get my son so he gets a star for that).

The Dictionary of Cliches

22 July, 2017

The Dictionary of ClichesThe Dictionary of Cliches by James T. Rogers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My life at times has been like a soap opera. This review, you might call news of a kidnapping with apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

This is an entertaining sort of book for pulling out at odd moments or when you need a topic to talk about, or for me when I need reminding about lurrrve, kidnapping, people who forge Chippendale chairs and that I once had a life.

I was sitting around the swimming pool in a marina, not looking glamorous in a bikini and owl-eye shades, but wearing beat-up shorts and flip-flops, sailor’s clothes, when I noticed this man looking at me. Not my type, not really, so I didn’t respond. He got up to get a drink and when he came back he took the lounger next to mine, smiled and opened his book. This book. A few minutes later he said, “I could say do you come here often, but that would be a cliche,” and on we went from there.

Grahame was a very nice man, a Canadian, he owned and captained a big dive boat trimaran that had a crew of six and chartered throughout the Caribbean. We went out for drinks a few times but nothing much else because I was mad for another man, Richard, who was equally mad for me but his wife was rather an obstacle, even after she’d left before we were even together. So we were just mad for each other and often at each other, and having drinks and long, soulful talks.

I heard that Richard was sailing away soon; he wanted to sell the classic wooden yacht he’d restored with the same techniques he used for forging the antique furniture he sold for huge amounts of money, and in desperation I decided to kidnap him. I got a seafront villa on a deserted beach where the sea is so wild few people go. I stocked the fridge with champagne, grapes and chocolates and a joint in case that was his poison, and put in my bag his favourite brand of cigarettes. At the bar I induced him to come to the car and was just going to drive it off when he said, “I’m not going ANYWHERE with you” and got out of the car and went back to the marina bar. So did I. I was furious and humiliated. Revenge would come publicly and instantly.

I radioed Grahame on his boat to come and meet me in the bar and a couple of minutes later there we were, arms linked, going to my car, ‘something wrong with the handle that opens the bonnet’ I said and he got in. And I drove off.

It was a night filled with the most passionate, vengeful sex. I was so angry, he was so crazy. Everything I did was to spite Richard, but Grahame was off in his own head, complaining of extreme pain where others feel joy, telling me of the creepy thoughts of death he always had with sex.

Next morning I took him back to the marina in time for breakfast and Richard and I resumed our strange circling of each other. We always contrived to be in the same place day and night. Occasionally Grahame would persuade me to have a drink, but my interest, such as there was, had gone.

One day Grahame wasn’t there anymore and a friend came over to tell me that he had bought the trimaran and Grahame had gone home to Canada, voluntarily going to a mental home, but that he’d left me a book. This one. A dictionary of cliches.

(What happened after that with Richard involved voodoo and curses and more rubbish like that, but I never heard from Grahame again).

This story was full of cliches Do you believe any of it?


(It was all true and considerably toned down!)


The Perfect Storm

14 May, 2017

The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the SeaThe Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn’t see the film so I came fresh to the book. It had a lot of impact on me because I have been in a small boat, a 34′ catamaran in a 4 day storm out in the Atlantic before Brazil. It wasn’t a ‘perfect storm’ but it was still rough, with huge seas and a constant exhausting beating against the wind. It prevented us going into Fernando do Noronha, our next stop, we couldn set a course for the archipelago at all. So I could not just see but feel what a difficult position they were in.

I know quite a bit about sword-fishing. I’ve read Linda Greenlaw‘s books. An aside – there are very few countries and vessels in the world where a woman would have the opportunity to swordfish let alone be a captain. It is an extremely physical job, setting hooks and squid bait, on spooled longlines hat run for miles and rip your fingers. The hooks are so big they could rip right through a man’s palm if the spool should run on. Then there is the killing of the swordfish when hauled in, gutting and icing them. As well as directing the crew, a hard-drinking group of macho men, maintaining the boat, it’s structure, mechanics and electronics. The electronics, depth sounders, radar and the like are not just for navigation but crucial in working out where the fish are. This was Linda’s strength, this finding the schools of swordfish.

Not only was Greenlaw one of an infintessimally small number of women swordfishing, but she was the most successful captain of all time. Where the normal catch is 1 ton a day, for seven days straight she hauled in 5 tons each day. The money from the catch on a boat is 50% to the owner, then the expenses are taken off and a set formula applied to the rest where the captain takes the most and the newest deckhand the least. That month the deckhand took home $10,000.

How do I know about swordfishing? My ex-husband was Chief Fisheries Officer and used to supervise the boats that came to fish in our waters. Because the permits they bought were limited in what they could do and the by catch could not be sold, a local would always be on the boat with them, sometimes my ex. It was all quite fascinating.

Swordfish have a long, barbed extension to their jaw that is both a weapon of attack and used to slash prey fish to weaken them. When they are hauled on board alive, they are very brave and will attack to the last. They can kill a man, or almost as bad, a wound from the sword will almost always become infected and the boat might be very far in distance and time from home.

There are always by-catch pulled up with the swordfish. There are the tuna. If you’ve only seen one dead held aloft by a fisherman it’s as if you’d only ever seen a rose browned with frost and never in it’s full bloom. Sailing across the ocean, three Atlantic blue fin tuna, each about 15’ swam in front of the boat maintaining an exact distance for more than hour. They were gorgeous, a rainbow of shimmering colours like sunlight on oil, like just beneath the surface. But the tuna aren’t a problem, they are gutted and thrown on to the ice along with the swordfish – generally a perk of the fishermen, the boat owner doesn’t get a share of by-catch.

The problem is the live sharks pulled up. They are vicious and their carcass is dangerous. It alone will rip the skin from a man. It’s not smooth, it’s not even sandpaper-like, it’s actually covered in tiny teeth, denticles. Sharks have to be shot as they being pulled up. The fishermen sometimes take the teeth as mementos and to sell. The flesh has to be thrown overboard immediately before it spoils and stinks of ammonia, piss. If shark is bled within minutes of being caught, and then iced, it is delicious. It’s a firm, white fish with a mild flavour. Very nice deep fried in the Trinidadian style of bake and shark with chives, thyme, garlic and hot peppers.

The book was a blow-by-blow account of the storm and how it affected the crew, their family on shore, and the boat, Andrea Gale, Linda Greenlaw’s sister ship. Linda’s boat was the Hannah Boden, both owned by Alden Leeman. The boat foundered amidst terrible seas and all crew were lost and never found. It was a harrowing story, and because I knew the subject so well, I lived through it and felt it and it upset me a great deal. The author, Sebastian Junger, has that power to bring you into the story and involve you. I did enjoy it, but perhaps not in quite the way one usually uses the word “enjoy”.


24 April, 2016
The BFGby Roald Dahl

April 2016

Do you know what the BFG stood for before his publisher told him he had to think of other words for the acronym? Dahl wasn’t joking either, not at all. This story is of a man’s interest in a prepubescent girl. The first thing he does is enter her bedroom in the middle of the night and kidnap her. Taking her away from the orphanage she lives in to the land of the extremely unfriendly giants who, in the original draft forced the little girl to look at their giant ‘clubs’. But the BFG’s different, he’s friendly….(grooming!)  It all ends with the little girl giving the BFG kisses and living next door to him and everyone is very happy. Dahl sees himself as the BFG giving Sophie, children, a new way to think, different from human adults, who don’t even believe in giants let alone let themselves be loved by them.

It is an inventive story without doubt, and all fairy stories require you to absolutely suspend disbelief. Lots of them include sexual and violent elements which children either don’t notice (sexual) or thoroughly enjoy (violent). When Disney gets hold of them, they lose both and become the anodyne Barbie-doll princesses (cue violins-in-the-background) we are used to. In that tradition, the BFG succeeds.

In the mid-to-late 20thC there was less emphasis on paedophilia than there is now, and I wonder if it this book could have been written at all in the 21stC. Ironically, this book is banned in some educational districts in the US for ‘teaching poor moral values’ and cannibalism. Ridiculous. Children laugh at those sort of things. I don’t believe in banning books, but Dahl was an unpleasant character and it is wilful blindness to ignore the feet of clay our heroes sometimes have as we place laurel wreaths on their brows.

Misogyny: Dahl’s misogyny, especially in his adult stories, is quite extreme, and, in shades of Harper Lee and Go Set a Watchman being turned into To Kill a Mockingbird at the publisher’s insistence, the first draft of Matilda:

“Painted the protagonist as a devilish little hussy who only later becomes “clever”, perhaps because she found herself without very much to do after torturing her parents.”Dahl’s editor Stephen Roxburgh completely revised Dahl’s last novel and, in doing so, turned it into his most popular book.”

Anti semitism,: ” In a 1983 interview with the New Statesman, he said, “There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean, there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason. I mean, if you and I were in a line moving towards what we knew were gas chambers, I’d rather have a go at taking one of the guards with me; but they [the Jews] were always submissive.” Buzzfeed

Racism and rudeness. Remember the Oompah-Loompahs? The NAACP objected that in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the manual labor, performed by characters called Oompa-Loompas, are described by Dahl as African Pygmies, essentially brought-over slaves running the chocolate factory. Look at the original illustrations for the first edition of the book on Bidnessetc In the BFG, one of the giants, the Fleshlumpeater is supposed a black character, certainly another of them likes eating Turkish people.

There is also a discussion on Bignessetc on his general misogyny and unpleasant character leading his publishing company, Knopf, who made a lot of money from him to write,

“You have behaved to us in a way I can honestly say is unmatched in my experience for overbearingness and utter lack of civility.”

Dahl used to belong to the only country club in South Wales that allowed Jewish members. My father and grandfather were members in their time. He once objected very loudly to the number of Jews dining there and how it fouled the atmosphere. The management threw him out and banned him. He is supposed to have done something similar at a gambling club in London with the same result!

I think he worked on the principle that everyone male, white and Christian shared his views on women, non-whites and Jews. I get it here, those sort of whites say racist things to me thinking because I am white I will go along with it. My clerks, always black, say they get complaints about whites from other blacks thinking they are bound to sympathise, but they don’t. But most of us aren’t racist or hate any group of people. Trouble is most people aren’t vocal about that in a conversation and are likely to nod and just file it away. We need always to speak out.

Perhaps the best link of all to Roald Dahl is This Recording. He was without doubt a horrible person, but equally without doubt, a tremendously talented writer with an extraordinary imagination. I’ve enjoyed on some level all of his books and the films made of them.


24 April, 2016

Untouchableby Mulk Raj Anand

April 24, 2016

This is only a short book and the first two-thirds are quite interesting – a day in the life of a downtrodden Untouchable latrine cleaner and his rat-eating family. The preaching of the last third rather spoiled it though. It is true that flush lavatories would solve the problem for the toilet-cleaning caste, but it is hardly a solution for the Untouchables, no matter what name Gandhi gave them.

Part of the problem of the Untouchable caste is that it isn’t actually a problem at all for anyone who isn’t Untouchable, in fact it’s desirable to have them. Since they, the pariahs of society, do all the work that no one else wants to do, and at minimum wage, and all this exploitation can be justified as being in the name of religion, in the name of not interfering with the Infinite plan there is no impetus from society to improve these people’s lives.

It’s not so far from the way the US treats illegal Mexican immigrants. It allows them to stay to do the work that no one else wants to do for those wages in those conditions. They live in fear of everything and everyone. If they are beaten, robbed or raped they have no redress. They daren’t complain. So just as with the Untouchables not being a problem if you aren’t one, neither are the illegal immigrants.

There are two ways, from a religious point of view, of looking at them. Either they must have done something pretty dreadful in their previous lives to get born an Untouchable and this is Divine punishment, or alternatively, these people must have been really good dogs, cockroaches or whathaveyou to have become human in this life and who are mere humans to interfere with this great Cycle? When looked at in this way, it’s a pretty clever organising of society, of religion, to get the work done. Another way of putting it, one more familiar to us, is the richer get richer and the poor live in ghettos and clean the houses, shops, subways and streets for them.

One of the solutions proposed is Christianity, which has the great advantage of not having a rebirth system so a lowly caste becomes a class problem for which education can provide a ladder up and out. Another solution, one partly in effect now, was Gandhi’s renaming the caste Harijan, or Children of God, and his movement to include rather exclude them from society.

The third solution isn’t sadly as widespread as it ought to be, the flush toilet. The poor who live and sleep on the pavements still shit in the gutter, those living in slums and tenements crap into plastic bags which they launch far into the air earning them the nickname of parachutes and those slightly less poor than that have flush toilets but no running water. So whether its cleaning latrines or cleaning (un)flushed toilets, or sweeping the streets clean of ‘parachute’ bags, this caste of Untouchables, these Children of God, are still plying their traditional trade.

Sometimes I wonder if everything evil under the sun couldn’t find its justification in one religion or another?

I don’t like being lectured to, and I don’t care what literary device is used to pretend that it’s just the story not a didactic excursion by the author, I just don’t like it. I would probably never have finished the book but my computer broke down and it took an hour to fix with all the endless waits while it checked files and rebooted. Lucky aren’t I, to have a bookshop and only a slightly iffy computer to annoy me rather than having to live with broken flush toilets and crap to clean from the streets?

Heavily revised 24th April, 2016. Originally reviewed Dec. 1, 2011

The Picture of Dorian Gray

14 March, 2016

The Picture of Dorian Grayby Oscar Wilde


Possessing eternal youth and beauty produces exactly the same effect as sentencing a man to life without the possibility of parole. Both have nothing to lose and morals disappear before the desire for immediate self-gratification in all things. And so it is with Dorian Gray. It’s a moral story so eventually his evil catches up with him and he dies, as does the criminal.

Is Oscar Wilde saying that it is man’s essential nature, to be so internally psychopathic and selfish that so long as he can keep his reputation he will wreak havoc on people’s lives and not care in the process of enriching his own?

Oscar Wilde was a man who held some very nasty views and only cared when extremely similar ones were turned upon himself. (He was imprisoned for homosexuality, but felt it was ok for Dreyfus to be imprisoned on a trumped-up crime but really because he was Jewish. He chose the wrong side on that one and lost even his best friend). I don’t like the author, but I do love his prose.

I read this book years ago. But the psychological story of a man’s realisation that there are no consequences to his actions, nothing is forbidden, everything is permitted, you never forget.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

11 March, 2016

by Mark Twain

Feb 10, 16


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark TwainThis is a rant. I found Huckleberry Finn on my bookshelf had been changed for Huckleberry Finn Robotic Edition. Some very pc “authors” and “editors” took it upon themselves to change the N word (view spoiler) to ‘robot’. They then rewrote the book to take away any mention of humans and to ‘roboticise’ words such as ‘eye’ which becomes something like ‘optical device’. The illustrations have also been changed. I have no problem with this.

However I have a big problem with the librarians who think think this is close enough to the original that it should be combined and therefore share the ratings of Mark Twain’s original book. There was a long discussion in the librarian thread where some librarians thought it was essentially the same book, perhaps most. So it was combined and the edition of the book I read was changed to that one. I DID NOT read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Robotic Edition.

This robot edition was a Kindle book. Think about it and the danger of these ‘authors’. If this is acceptable and it is to a lot of the librarians, why not politically correct Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Agatha Christie (oh she’s been done already. It was 10 Little N words, then 10 Little Indians, now it’s Then there were 10, lol). Sooner or later print books will be in used bookshops, research libraries and old people’s houses. They will become not books to be read but collector’s items. For reading it will be the ebook where changes can be easily and instantaneously made.

And if politically-correcting everything becomes Amazon policy then the whole publishing world will follow and your children will never know the original story that Mark Twain wrote. They will never understand how N word people were treated.

They will never know that Jim, a grown man who would not normally be expected to hang out with 13 year old boys, kowtowed to Tom and Huckleberry not just because they all liked each other, but because he was not free, he was a slave, property, and was subject to the usual treatment of property. He could be ordered to do anything no matter how stupid or harmful, he could be sold or mistreated not even for punishment but just because he had no human rights whatsoever.

Changing N people to robots negates all this. Yes it is more politically acceptable to Whites but how would a Black person feel having their history taken away from them? This is not pc as much as sanitising history and is wrong on every level.

Do you find this acceptable? A lot of GR librarians don’t see a damn thing wrong with it. But I do.

See Fahrenheit 451

Hurricanes & Hangovers: And Other Tall Tales and Loose Lies from the Coconut Telegraph

18 February, 2016

by “Dear Miss Mermaid”

Why have I one-starred a book that really isn’t too bad? Because I know the author and she once tried to get my son to take a wrapped parcel into the US with him. A gun? Drugs? Either were likely. For sure it wasn’t books otherwise she would not have had a problem with the parcel being open. That was only some of the trouble she caused us. Not only us. A lot of people. But it was never her fault. She lived by nickels and dimes and if you had a dollar, she wanted it.

This is a book full of stories, essays and ramblings from a lady who had in her day many adventures in the Caribbean and the States mostly accompanied by wine. I later heard that one of the bars she used to hang out in to get free drinks from tourists was one of her major sources of stories, stories that happened to other people.

Nonetheless, it’s not a bad book. Some of the stories show the funny side of island life, although it is also about the author’s life in the US. You can read it without feeling that you have to ‘Begin at the beginning and then go on ’til the end. I knew that the author was given to not just exaggeration but outright invention too, so take it all with a pinch of (sea) salt.

I used to sell her book, in quantity, but then she accused me of not paying her and all kind of things. For years we shared a post box then she left the island and bills behind her and several years the post mistress told me that she had put a divert on to her address in the US. I could have lost thousands of dollars worth of books that way if the post mistress hadn’t told me and continued to give me my boxes while I changed my address.

So it’s the author gets a one star and she doesn’t even deserve that.  She always uses a pseudonym for everything, I suppose anonymity is key if you have upset a lot of people and/or owe a lot of money.  Her real name is Cynthia Rose Keeton.