Out of the Silent Planet

In fact, I’ve Out-of-the-Silent-Planet-9780684833644I’m not a big science-fi fan. I rarely read the genre, but I loved C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet. I’ve already ordered book two in this tragedy.

In Out of the Silent Planet, average Joe, Dr. Ransom, happens upon and old schoolmate Devine and Devine’s new evil scientist buddy Weston. Ransom had been tramping around the countryside and, as a favor to a woman he met, went to this house to see why her son, a servant there was late and her mother was apprehensive. It turns out that she had good cause. When Ransom arrived, the two men were fighting, physically, with the boy. In the end Weston and Devine were in the process of abducting the boy. In the end the boy is freed and Ransom, when he comes to after being knocked unconscious. Ransom realizes he’s hurtling through space kidnapped by Weston and Devine.

Ransom overhears Weston and Devine. They’ve been to Malacandria, the planet they’re heading to, before and were returning to offer up Ransom to the aliens there. They’re hoping to load up on valuable resources and hand over Ransom to the sorns, a species of aliens on Malacandria.

Ransom’s forewarned and planned to escape. He manages to run off though a bizarre environment with pink sticky earth, odd food, three homo sapien species that can see angels and that get along with each other. As a philologist, Ransom is quickly able to learn the aliens’ language. (Well, one of them, as it turns out each species has its own language and one shared language.)

As Ransom evades and eventually is captured by the aliens, he learns to look at life in a completely different and wise way.

This is a book I relished. Lewis has such a gift for language and made me want to improve the book I’m working on currently. The themes are related to Christianity, but even if that’s not your faith, it makes you think about human life and our foibles.

I read that C.S. Lewis once criticized sci-fi because in most stories the writer takes you to the end of the universe, but everything is basically the same with the substitutions being basically the same as what we now have. For example, here we have guns while in outer space in most stories they just use lasers and use them in the same instances we  would. In Out of the Silent Planet, the aliens’ philosophy and approach to life is just about completely different from humans. They’re quite impressive on the whole.

Good Quotations

“And how could we endure to live and let time pass if we were always crying for one day or one year to come back–if we did not know that every day in a life fills the whole life with expectation and memory and that these are that day?”

“A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hmán, as if pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing.”

“But Ransom, as time wore on, became aware of another and more spiritual cause for his progressive lightening and exultation of heart. A nightmare, long engendered in the modern mind by the mythology that follows in the wake of science, was falling off him. He had read of ‘Space’: at the back of his thinking for years had lurked the dismal fancy of the black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness, which was supposed to separate the worlds. He had not known how much it affected him till now-now that the very name ‘Space’ seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam. He could not call it ‘dead’; he felt life pouring into him from it every moment. How indeed should it be otherwise, since out of this ocean all the worlds and all their life had come? He had thought it barren: he now saw that it was the womb of worlds, whose blazing and innumerable offspring looked down nightly even upon the earth with so many eyes-and here, with how many more! No: Space was the wrong name.”

The Screwtape Letters

screwtape-lettersC.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters has been on my mental list of books I should read for years. Boy, do I regret not getting to this witty, wise book sooner.

Written from the point of view of a modern devil, Lewis’ book is a collection of letters between Screwtape, an uncle mentoring Wormwood, a young tempter as he tries to win a human over to the side of evil. The letters are clever as well as perceptive. Screwtape must make his thoughts on temptation and salvation clear to Wormwood, who’s something of a blockhead. Screwtape makes it crystal clear that for the Devil to win, he doesn’t care about the “quality” of the fallen as much as about the quantity and the modern world where people’s thinking have become sloppy and morality fuzzy, allows for evil to win boatloads of souls. The book takes you on an interesting journey as Wormwood bungles his mission.

Reading from Screwtape’s point of view was tricky. I had to constantly remind myself that for him the “Enemy” was God and that he flipped his opinion of Above (heaven) and Below (hell). I’m used to seeing as the Above being the home of the good guys.

Much of the book examines modern British society’s failings but Lewis’ criticisms are still true, at least they fit in the US where morals have been shrugged aside as irrelevant, education’s been watered down and the word “democracy” is misunderstood.

Here are a few quotations:

“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,…Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.”

“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”

“Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is finding his place in it, while really it is finding its place in him.”

“When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that. Bring fully into the consciousness of your patient that particular lift of his mother’s eyebrows which he learned to dislike in the nursery, and let him think how much he dislikes it. Let him assume that she knows how annoying it is and does it to annoy – if you know your job he will not notice the immense improbability of the assumption. And, of course, never let him suspect that he has tones and looks which similarly annoy her. As he cannot see or hear himself, this easily managed.”

The Adventures of Sally

The-Adventures-of-Sally-2789701

When Sally Nichols inherits a fortune and leaves New York to . She’s dreamed of going to France and off she goes. she’s the sort of girl every man falls for, through no fault of her own.

Soon she winds up in in London and gets roped into helping her hapless brother Philmore, who’s constantly bungling into financial difficulty whether it’s through a disastrous theatrical production or some hare-brained business venture. She meets red-haired Ginger, who falls for her, but whom she keeps at a distance prior to discovering that her fiancé has married. Shortly after unconsciously winning Ginger’s love, she meets his grouchy uncle on a train and he’s soon smitten. The story goes on to follow the ups and downs of Sally’s financial and romantic life. It’s a pleasant, witty story that had me laughing out loud.

I was a worried that I wouldn’t enjoy a P.G. Wodehouse book without Jeeves, but while I think the Jeeves stories are of a higher order, I did enjoy The Adventures of Sally.

I listened to the Jonathan Cecil’s narration and highly recommend that audiobook.

Quotable Quotes:

“And she’s got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.”

“Boyhood, like measles, is one of those complaints which a man should catch young and have done with, for when it comes in middle life it is apt to be serious.”

“It seems to be one of Nature’s laws that the most attractive girls should have the least attractive brothers. Fillmore Nicholas had not worn well. At the age of seven he had been an extraordinarily beautiful child, but after that he had gone all to pieces; and now, at the age of twenty-five, it would be idle to deny that he was something of a mess.”

 

Jerusalem Chronicles

jerusalem

Guy Delisle’s wife’s job with Médecins san Frontières took the family to Jerusalem giving Delisle plenty of material for another graphic memoir, Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City I enjoyed his account of his year in Israel, which allowed him a lot of time to travel to spots like Hebron, Gaza, the Tomb of the Macabees, Eilat and more. When he must travel to Rome, he runs into all sorts of trouble getting through immigration. They’re very suspicious of him because his lives in Jerusalem and when he tells the official that his wife works in Gaza, the wait gets prolonged.

120425_BROWBEAT_jerusalem183.jpg.CROP.article568-large

I like Delisle’s drawing, which shows everything in a very human scale. Delisle approaches his encounter with Jerusalem and the conflict in the region very authentically with what appears to be an open mind. I did come away with the impression that he tilts towards sympathy for the Palestinians, however he does try to show fully each side. It’s clear enough what he thinks, but he doesn’t knock you over the head with agitprop.

Jerusalem-interior-art-1Delisle’s an atheist, but more of a lost soul than a big time, passionate, atheist who has to proselytize every chance he can. He has a budding curiosity about religion mixed with a “can you believe what these religious folks do” sensibility.

Mainly, what I got from reading this book is what the daily routine and the opportunities to participate in the culture were for this one man. The book belongs with memoirs not with history or educational books. Delisle shows us his travails with picking up his kids in bad traffic, making friends with a priest who lets him use church space as a studio, the trouble his nanny experiences when her house is going to be demolished, his workshops for art students, his sightseeing journeys that never turned out as he expected (which is part of travel most anywhere). I appreciated Jerusalem Chronicles as one of many books on the region. This book was three times the length of Delisle’s other books that I’ve read, which goes to show there’s a lot to say about Jerusalem.

The Wings of the Dove

th

It seems like I’ve been grudging through The Wings of the Dove by Henry James forever. Every summer and winter my friend Bill and I read a classic novel and discuss it online. Our last book was Zola’s Germinal, which was full of blood, sweat and tears. James’ writing is the opposite in every way imaginable. Zola was earthy and real. James is ethereal and intellectual. Zola crafted characters with whom I sympathized, even his villains had their reasons and adversity. I don’t like a single character in The Wings of the Dove.

I haven’t finished and though I’m just 30 pages from the finish line and have now given myself permission to skim, I dread my daily reading. The situation in Wings of the Dove is that Kate Croy can’t marry her love Merton Densher because he’s too poor. She lives with a rich aunt who’s going to marry her off well. When Milly, an orphaned American heiress with a terminal mystery disease arrives, Kate plots to get her lover to cozy up to Milly. She figures if Milly leaves Densher her fortune, then after Milly dies, which hopefully will be soon, Kate and Densher can marry. How charming.

It bugged me that we never know what Milly has. If it’s in the book it’s hidden amongst the long-winded writing that includes few concrete description. James wanted to convey the psychology of his vapid characters. I could not care less about what they thought. Also, I don’t think he succeeded in conveying true consciousness since most the time when I’m thinking, my mind is wandering. I may think about a work situation when I’m bored in a conversation or unable to listen at church. Whenever we’re privy to Kate or Milly or some other characters’ thoughts, they’re in the situation.

I thought Densher was weak, and hence unattractive, for buying into this insipid plot. I’d say the same for Kate, who didn’t realize her plan might not go as she figured. Had she never heard the cliché, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”? Evidently not. Milly seemed like a will o’the wisp who floats through the story allowing herself to naively be taken advantage of.

I thought watching the movie would make reading easier or the characters more sympathetic, but it didn’t. I didn’t like the movie much either. While I read, I often just plowed through content to miss a lot. Sometimes I’d consult a reference on the story to see if I was missing something, but my take on the chapters captured all the key events.

I can’t wait to read something else. I know some people must love James or his work  wouldn’t be considered classic, but I don’t care for him at all.

Zzzzzzzz.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

Dan-Pink-book-1
When’s the best time to have surgery? What can you do if you want to get back on track with the New Year’s Resolutions you’ve forgotten about? What is the importance of “middles”? Dan Pink answers all these questions and more in his book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.  Pink packs in a lot of research and shares in an entertaining way.

After reading When, I’ve learned that healthcare workers tend to get tired as the day wears on and are apt to make more mistakes in the afternoon, but if they stop before performing a task and go through a checklist for readiness, the number of errors decreases. The same is true of students. Often they’ll do worse on tests in the afternoon and if you give them breaks and a go through a checklist that more or less wakes them up and cues them into the need to be extra careful, then their performance will be on par to their morning results.

The chapter on syncing describes the benefits of working in unison. If you run with others the health benefits are greater than if you run alone. More surprising, if you join a choir and regularly sing with others the benefits equal those of exercising. Most likely you’ll have better blood pressure and other positives.

I learned that there breakfast isn’t the most important meal of the day. Lunch is. There’s no research that proves that breakfast is more important than other meals. Your results may vary.

The book goes into detail on expected subjects like napping, beginnings, midpoints, and endings, but in all the sections, I learned something new. I read the audiobook narrated by Pink. His voice was friendly and energized. The book came with PDF files so you get all the files that are in the book and help you figure out whether you’re a lark or night owl, etc. I’ve come away with a greater understanding of managing my energy levels, but it’s still hard for me to manage a daily nappuccino.

Leaf

leaf
A beautiful, wordless book, Leaf by Daishu Ma captivated me. In this environmental tale, a young man discovers a mysteriously glowing leaf which propels him on a journey in search of understanding. Along the way he explores a city that reminded me of a set from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, without the bleak vibe and a scientist who studies extinct plants.

Though Ma’s palette includes only yellow, gray, blue and a touch of white, the illustrations are mesmerizing. The book doesn’t preach, but does take readers on a magical journey that’s sure to bolster one’s appreciation and wonder at nature.

SaveSave