Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reflections: Three Men in a Boat

Fans of P.G.Wodehouse have to read Jerome K. Jerome - especially this book. It is a witty account of the (mis) adventures of three men (and a dog) taking a two-week-long vacation riding on a boat. There isn't much of a plot, but that doesn't in anyway affect the reading experience! The narrator's reflections and ruminations  are laced with satire and wit. In fact, I found Jerome's satire to be even more sarcastic than Wodehouse's - and the contrast was good! Jerome's humorous anecdotes are often packed in wise words on human nature and life. So the book is more of a satirical social commentary on life and people of the 19th century. 

A couple of memorable quotes:

"Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need - a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing."

"How good one feels when one is full -- how satisfied with ourselves and with the world! People who have tried it, tell me that a clear conscience makes you very happy and contented; but a full stomach does the business quite as well, and is cheaper, and more easily obtained.

We are but the veriest, sorriest slaves of our stomach. Reach not after morality and righteousness, my friends; watch vigilantly your stomach, and diet it with care and judgment. Then virtue and contentment will come and reign within your heart, unsought by any effort of your own; and you will be a good citizen, a loving husband, and a tender father — a noble, pious man."

 I loved the book and highly recommend it for a light, refreshing read!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Memorable Books: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

I'm beyond happy and honored to be posting this marvelous review written by my talented friend, SS. To me, she is the glorious symbol of an elder sister I never had. Even before I think about standing up for myself, this affectionate powerhouse of energy and knowledge will enter the fray to defend, support, and fight for me :). I'm forever indebted to her for helping me pick up the pieces.  And when it comes to books, she knows them all - and I mean, all. It's a privilege to have her exquisitely poignant and beautiful words grace this space.  
There’s a familiar anxiety that comes with reading most good books, wanting to race to the finish and at the same time, stop and soak in the glorious words, savoring each sentence. This week for the first time ever, I encountered a book so good I pulled up short in my race to the finish, too out of breath to do anything but stop and breathe. And thus, this long overdue post for my friend’s blog:

“The spirit catches you and you fall down” by Anne Fadiman has been on my ‘to-read’ pile for almost a year now. It came highly recommended by a truly great writer, but the thought of reading about an epileptic child seemed too depressing. But this book is so much more.

It is the story of Lia, a child born with severe epilepsy. It is the story of her parents, refugees rooted in a different culture settled in Merced, in 1980s California. The story of so many good doctors who tried so hard to heal this sickness, with everything they knew and had. The story of traditional medicine systems that root society and healing and tradition so deeply in one another that there is no telling them apart. Of cultural assimilation. Of clinging to roots. Of racism. Of family. Of pain of every sort. Of language. Communication. Most of all, it is a story of love. Of love broken by physical torture and sickness, and the people who piece it together.

Lia’s parents are Hmong refugees, who have escaped, walked hundreds of miles through jungles, swam across rivers with children tied to their backs, lived in refugee camps and fought to make their way to the Central Valley, California. Like several Hmong refugees, they have likely lived through “fifteen major traumas, including watching a loved one tortured or dying”, as the medical terms for classifying post-traumatic stress phrase it. And yet, when their daughter is born with a rare, severe form of epilepsy that they must treat with Western medicine, her mother thinks this is the worst disaster of all. Lia’s doctors remember her case still, you can even find a review for the book by one of them on Amazon. The book is a clash of these colliding worlds, told in the manner of “If you want to bake an apple pie from scratch, you must start by creating the universe.” For to understand Lia’s illness you must understand first the story of Shee Yee, the shaman who conquered demons and the one who aids Hmong healers still. And to understand her doctors’ desire to heal her, you must remember also that Western medicine saves lives, even if it does not always listen to the soul.

The voice that twines these stories together speaks in many tones: quiet acceptance of the rhythms of a ritual drum beaten in the streets of Merced, wonder and rational skepticism when dealing with modern biomedicine and traditional healing. Anne Fadiman walks the fine line between being narrator and story, part of the whole and yet removed enough that at the end of the book, you are left with the voices of a multitude in the words of one woman.

You are left clutching this book with both hands as you stand on a crowded train, because you cannot stop reading even in this uncomfortable place, but it will shake you hard enough that you must stop reading, at least once. A rare book, that leaves you standing at a place where two cultures collide and intellect and soul clash, and still, turn this into a place not just of viewpoints, but one of acceptance of both science and faith, even when you don’t completely understand either. 
Fascinating! This is a review that is probably much better than the book itself! I am more than convinced of reading the book right away. The colliding space between Science and Faith is one of my consuming interests. I have had many enlightening discussions with SS on this topic. So her recommendation is golden to me in more than one regard! Thank you so much for obliging my request and presenting this gorgeous review, SS!

If you would like to contribute to this feature, please leave me a comment. I would love to post your thoughts on your memorable book/s.