01/04/2015 by syrbal-labrys
I WAS a bad reader last year. I was too busy with tearing apart an entire kitchen, rebuilding a whole new kitchen, refinishing enough furniture for about four rooms, painting, moving/shifting entire rooms AND households. Nonetheless, I will wrap up what few books I did finish, and the first book-foray of the new year will get my particularly venomous attention! That nasty little graphic there? It is directed at the author of that final book, he pissed me off, but worse, he disappointed me. I wanted to like his fucking book and he fucked it up!
Onward — first books that don’t piss me off!
#16 of 2014: The Black Count by Tom Reiss — This bio of the father of novelist Alexander Dumas, a French general of the same name reads like an adventure novel! It is full of such exceptional exploits that one easily can see where Dumas fils pulled material for his novel “The Count of Monte Cristo”! To see the son of a dissolute French noble and a black woman from the sugar islands of the New World rise to be a general of the French Revolution in such inspiring and rollicking ways was marvelous. To see how the Revolution betrayed him later was a lesson in racism and classism that depresses one to the depths. Five stars!
#17 A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson – Imagine an author who looks like one of the Dr. Who incarnations who collects bumblebees to try saving them from extinction!? I admit the intro is very very zzzzzzz boring. But past that bit, it fascinates with history of imports of invasive species and the resultant damage. The blissful description of the author’s final farm home in France being re-naturalized was an exploratory vacation for the mind. Four stars because of boring intro.
# 18 & # 19 Our Lady of Darkness and Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber — classic science fiction/fantasy of the ooky spooky sort. “Conjure Wife” was rather amusing, especially to a neo-pagan who considers magic/witchcraft a remnant of pre-scientific practice. The story of a college professor and the secret sub-culture of witchcraft using wives controlling the political/professional currents of the campus was suitably engaging. “Our Lady of Darkness” puts forth the idea of cities creating paranormal intelligences — egregores, so to speak. I found the book confusing, not sure if I read it too fast, or was too distracted. I may read it again one day to determine which. I’d give these maybe three stars.
#20 Death in the City of Light by David King – Another violation of my 2014 idea to read only fiction — most of the last books were non-fiction because I found my novel selections disappointing. This is the gripping history of a serial killer in Nazi occupied Paris. A French doctor lured people with the promise of escape to a German free zone — he took their wealth and robbed them. At his trial in post-war Paris, he claimed they all were traitors and that he was the ultimate French Resistance fighter! The trial was a circus, he was no Resistance member, but nobody found the money he took — much of it from frightened fleeing Jews. Three stars.
#21 Motiba’s Tattoos by Mira Kamdas – This book begins very entrancingly with a young East Indian-American woman musing over her (converted)Jain grandmother’s tattoos. But while the history of her family, professional tradesmen, was interesting and illuminating on being the “odd (trades)man out” in India and Burma (during WWII), she never did trace Grandma’s tattoos — so the title was a tease that never fulfilled itself. Also, disturbingly, her tale reveals her family to be what I would call economic nomads — others might less charitably call them ‘carpetbaggers’ — they go where the money is, but feel no need to participate in their adopted country’s hardships like defense, etc. A good/bad example of why Indian tradesmen have often been despised around the world, if you ask me. Three stars.
#22 Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand – Yes, the book made into the movie by the Tomb Raider, herself. Gripping tale, you find yourself swearing off Japanese made cars…or ANYthing at certain points in the book. It is the tale of a boisterous Italian-American boy who ran in the 1936 Olympics and then became a bambadier on a B-24 in the Pacific. He survives harrowing events at sea after being shot down, and even worse ones in a series of Japanese POW camps. The book only begins to disappoint post-liberation, post-war as PTSD reduces poor Zamperini to a drunk. That was NOT the disappointing part; my bullshit detector began to ping when it became clear his biographer only knew him when everyone else who had ‘been there’ was already DEAD. So when he told her his PTSD and alcoholism was cured by a single Billy Graham sermon and “God” and she lets that stand as, well, as gospel? Yeah, way to kick every other PTSD damaged veteran of ANY war right in the gut –– because why doesnt’ “God” just cure them, too? That bit sank it to a mere two stars for me.
And now? Number 1 of 2015 – a book I wanted badly to like as I generally admire the author – atheist Sam Harris. I am now reconsidering that ‘liking’ and admiration, let me tell you! You know that page “Fundaments” that I wrote on my other blog? Where I tell how some atheists piss me off — not because of their lack of belief, but because of their approach TO those who do believe? Well, Harris went to the top of that list with this book — he not only made me feel proselytized at, but in a nasty cheating appeal to authority way that made my hackles raise. It depresses me no end that this book made it onto a list of the “best books” of the year — talk about a book critic without enough brain cells functioning in the top 50% range!
#1 Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris
I once had an atheist friend who called religion, collectively, “The Great Whore”. Mr. Harris, she would have said, wants to fuck that whore without (1) looking her in the face and (2) admitting to fostering prostitution. Basically, he says that since he is a doctor of the brain, you should believe everything he tells you about your brain and how it works (appeal to authority) and he cherry picks non-theistic Buddhism for his alleged spiritual gold while discarding the religious reason FOR Buddhism – escaping the wheel of reincarnation. He brags about the many famous Buddhist teachers he had and then labels as “crap” most of the reasons they DO what they do. This offended me with surprising intensity and it took me a while to figure out why.
Finally, it dawned on me, that living in a culture that is now waking up (pun intended, Sam, you bastard!) to recognize cultural appropriation as a nasty bad neo-colonial era behavior — that what Mr. Harris has done is a variant of that. A metaphysical cultural appropriation, if you like. Some might say, “Now, Labrys, he is merely being syncretic!” Yeah, good luck with that, religious syncretism IS common and if you ask me it is often legitimate behavior by seekers. But IF Mr. Harris is going to claim to NOT be after a religion, then he can’t go around ripping one off while laughing out the other side of his mouth AT his teachers. Bad form, Mr. Harris — flat out TACKY.
He says meditation saves your
soul “consciousness” – which is all that matters because your ego/self/personality is all an illusion. He does say wait till you HAVE some personality under your belt before you go after the Buddhist path of eliminating it — which from a neurological specialist’s point of view would really make no sense if it really IS just your brain fooling itself. He doesn’t see any incongruity in insisting that although he has spent YEARS learning meditation, he still can only get “glimpses” of pure consciousness; which seems intent only (as I’ve always insisted is a fault of Buddhism) turning OFF the brain to just BE where you actually are.
I don’t think Harris would much like me; I feel like I am ALWAYS just where I am — the things he insists are true of everyone except his simultaneously exalted and dismissed guru types are NOT generally true of me. He might say this is because I have practiced meditation — but certainly not the mind-empty sort he enthusiastically espouses. (I prefer the focused mind meditations or moving ones like yoga, ecstatic dance, or ass-busting work that silences the mind’s extraneous chatter in the need to keep moving exhausted muscles.) He claims we need to embrace Buddhist style meditation stripped of religious content because there is no Western paradigm that enables one to deal with the miserable complexities of our existence.
This made me wonder how the hell he got a degree in philosophy without discovering either Stoicism or Existentialism. Because it seems to me that either one of those would lend perfectly adequate coping skills without necessary recourse to
raping and plundering stealing and stripping a religious philosophy. The fact that neither of those non-god-mediated philosophies was even mentioned by Mr. Harris was the final straw — I accuse him of cooking his philosophical books, assuming his readers are all too under-educated to call him on his lacks. So, atop presumption and logical errors (such as dissing both Jung and Freud — but JUST like them deciding what is normal based on the antithesis of abnormal!), I add condescension to what I consider his literary sins in this book.
Two stars, and only because the things he says about “finding a teacher” (yep, sounds like religion to me) in Chapter Five were very sensible and far more reasonable and rational than the rest of the book. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not disliking Harris and this book because he is an atheist but because I think his approach reeks of theft, dishonesty, and semantic slight of hand!