Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

MSfMBook #20.

I didn't expect to like this book because self-help stuffs don't usually appeal to me but this one's good.

Man's Search for Meaning is divided into two parts.

The first part speaks of the extreme suffering the author himself, Viktor E. Frankl and his inmates, endured in Nazi concentration camps. He survived no less than four camps and described various stages and situations he and his fellow prisoners have been through and turned his experiences and observations of how they respond in times of adversity into a psychological study. He didn't at all consider the importance of chance or even luck to his survival.

The second part is basically an introduction to logotherapy. Using his observations and experiences while in the camps, he lays out his ideas/theories. The very core of it is a will to meaning, contrary to that of Freud which is will to pleasure or that of Adler which is will to power. He tells us that there are a lot of possible meaning of life and that it can change from day to day, from time to time, from one individual to another — a task we must frequently undertake.

According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

Moreover,

Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual. These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. 

It's a short and engaging book, it may even make you see things or life differently. Life ought to have meaning and I admire Frankl's view of it as well as his view on what joy we can derive through acceptance of our sufferings. I think it's pretty extraordinary that he was able to explore and study what must have been the darkest period of his life, he seemed like a heck of a man to do so without bitterness.

Recommended to everyone. Solid choice for anyone facing adversity or anyone who simply wants to reflect on the content and direction of the life they're leading.

Rating : 4/5 stars

Quotable Quotes :

"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way."

"Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true."

"Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible."

"No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same."

"A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the why for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any how."

The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by Jose Saramago

img_4671Book #13.

This controversial book tells the tale of Jesus Christ since his birth up to his death. It basically follows what’s written in the Bible but with some very notable changes. Here we see Jesus as human just like all of us, that Mary Magdalene is his lover, God’s working relationship with the devil and more.

The Gospel According to Jesus Christ is my first Saramago read and I must say I found it very interesting. While reading this, part of me kind of believed this was actually the real story but thanks to the humorous and sarcastic interruptions every now and then that it reminded me it’s not. The writing style was new to me, the narration are in very long sentences and paragraphs with almost no breaks but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this. What struck me the most I guess is the part towards the end where God, Jesus and the devil had a conversation on the boat. This is where Saramago tells us that if God exists, He is an egomaniac and not the God we assume He is nowadays. Soon enough, Jesus was disappointed as he realized that he was a victim of God’s pride, a sacrificial lamb as Saramago puts it.

I do understand the controversy of this book as Jesus is not as righteous as Christians think he is in Senhor Saramago’s pen. This will insult and shock many but this is how he writes. Take it or leave it.

Quotable Quotes :

“The time for miracles has either passed or not come yet, besides, miracles, genuine miracles, whatever people say, are not such a good idea, if it means destroying the very order of things in order to improve them.”

“For human words are like shadows, and shadows are incapable of explaining light and between shadow and light there is the opaque body from which words are born.”

“This is how everyone has to begin, men who have never known a woman, women who have never known a man, until the day comes for the one who knows to teach the one who does not.”

“Somewhere in the infinite that He occupies, God advances and withdraws the pawns of the other games He plays, but it is too soon to worry about this one, all He need do for the present is allow things to take their natural course, apart from the occasional adjustment with the tip of His little finger to make sure some stray thought or action does not interfere with the harmony of destinies.”

Rating : 4/5 stars

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

img_5990Book #19.

I started reading this a couple of months ago, a birthday gift from a dear friend. I’ve loved the cover since I’ve laid my hands on it. A man’s face full of pain which is exactly what your heart’s gonna feel once you open it.

I’ve been staring at my PC since this morning trying to find the words to say about this book. It’s not easy. But let me try.

The story follows the life of four friends: Malcolm, the architect and the quiet follower of the group; JB, the artist and the self-proclaimed alpha of the set; Willem, the actor and the most compassionate; and Jude, the lawyer, the abused, the vortex of this foursome. The characters are fully fleshed out. I’m not a particularly immersive reader but I like the book more when I get attached to the characters. I love reading about their lives. I love them. Survivors in their own way. Their friendship built a home that stood a long time, it grew and changed to accommodate more characters, friends and partners, but sadly, it can’t protect them all forever.

This is an emotionally draining read. I haven’t felt emotionally exhausted by a book since I’ve read The Kite Runner, but A Little Life did just that. There were parts that I think were too much that made it difficult to go on reading. Wrenching. And not just the heart, even the brain and stomach. Full-body-wrenching read. I’ve truly wanted Jude to be happy but at some point, it was becoming clearer that it’s not going to happen. Then from the end of The Happy Years chapter until the end of the book? I mean, seriously, why? Oh my God! It broke me. Absolute sadness that I felt like I’ve also lost all my dear friends.

So just like everyone’s life, it’s a story about a life simply lived and was helped shaped by the people and things around it. There’s love, happiness, tragedy and disappointments. Life is such a fragile thing, we never know exactly how the things we do may affect others or not, whether we do them good or we damage them, it’s not always visible to us and more often, we have no idea what our actions did to them. It’s a cautionary book, as the aphorism goes, “Be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

There are a lot of things to say about this book but I still can’t articulate any at the moment, I’m still at a loss. It’s simply too hard. This book isn’t little in any way. It is large in every way. Hanya Yanagihara’s writing was mostly intense, immaculate, fluid and honest. Very realistic and harsh at some point. No silver lining.

It’s a bit confusing to say that I love this book because how can I love a story which depicts other people’s pain? But it is definitely captivating, engaging, powerful. It consumed me. I highly recommend this specially for readers who like an emotional book. It’s a difficult read in more ways than one but it’s worth reading.

Quotable Quotes :

“Let me get better, he asks. Let me get better or let me end it.”

“He knew it was the price of enjoying life, that if he was to be alert to the things he now found pleasure in, he would have to accept its cost as well. Because as assaultive as his memories were, his life coming back to him in pieces, he knew he would endure them if it meant he could also have friends, if he kept being granted the ability to take comfort in others.”

“…the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.”

“…things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”

“He was frightened of everything, it sometimes seemed, and he hated that about himself. Fear and hatred, fear and hatred: often, it seemed, that those were the only two qualities he possessed. Fear of everyone else; hatred of himself.”

Rating : 5/5 stars

 

 

 

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

images (1)Book #18.

Marcus Aurelius is the fifth among the five good emperors of the Roman Empire. Meditations is pretty much his self-reflective diary or his collection of “notes-to-self.” He didn’t intend to publish his writings as he was only writing for himself but in 1559, centuries after his death, the first print came out. (Makes me wonder how he’d feel when he finds out it’s read by millions of people already.) 🙂

Meditations in a nutshell: coming out on top, if not better, after overcoming/enduring the many stresses of the world. We can not control other things except ourselves. Appreciating life in a larger context. Accepting things (and people) as they are and not how we want them to be.

Having been able to peek into the mind of an emperor from one of the greatest empires of history, this is a fascinating read. I personally think though that Marcus Aurelius is a bit too forgiving or lenient so not everything he wrote resonates with me and the Stoic philosophy is not everyone’s cup of tea, however, it’s a book you can go back to time and again, worthy of a deep and thoughtful read to be able to absorb the wisdom that is offered.

Recommended!

Quotable Quotes :

“The tranquility that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do. Not to be distracted by their darkness. To run straight for the finish line, unswerving.”

“Don’t look down on death, but welcome it.”

“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”

“For it is in your power to retire into yourself whenever you choose.”

Rating : 4/5 stars

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

img_5689Book #17.

Ending my reading hiatus is my first W. Somerset Maugham read. Narrated in the third person POV but mostly of Kitty’s, is pretty  much a morality tale but is actually more complex.

The husband and wife in this book are Walter and Kitty Fane. Walter is a bacteriologist, charmless and cold. Kitty is an upper middle class shallow girl, views the world like a child which I think is her tragedy. Time is creeping up on her as her younger sister is almost getting married, so she married Walter and head off with him to Hong Kong where she started to despise him and then fell in love with Charlie Townsend, a charming womanizer. Walter eventually discovers the affair and didn’t pretend to know nothing so he decided to work in Mei-tan-fu, a remote area where there’s cholera outbreak and Kitty was left with no choice but to go with him (though she knows that Walter wants her to die there) since Charlie refused to leave his wife for her.

Maugham’s writing is simple and elegant. This is a very introspective work and this book seemed to be his voice to tell his opinion about adultery and so much more. It speaks of love, betrayal, forgiveness, reconciliation, understanding other people, understanding one’s self, one’s place in this world, the very universal truths about relationships, and the true meaning of life.

It’s a wonderful read, I’d probably watch the movie and compare.

Quotable Quotes :

“How can I be reasonable? To me our love was everything and you were my whole life. It is not very pleasant to realize that to you it was only an episode.”

“If a man hasn’t what’s necessary to make a woman love him, it’s his fault, not hers.”

“I always find it more difficult to say the things I mean than the things I don’t.”

“One can be very much in love with a woman without wishing to spend the rest of one’s life with her.”

“One cannot find peace in work or in pleasure, in the world or in a convent, but only in one’s soul.”

Rating : 4/5 stars

Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami

danceBook #16.

Our nameless narrator from A Wild Sheep Chase is back once again in this book as he starts to feel nostalgic about the Dolphin Hotel in Sapporo where seemingly good things happened to him. Something from within him strongly urged him to have a vacation and visit the place again. On this trip starts a series of strange events.

Interestingly, the characters have names now, except for the narrator. 🙂 Most of the characters have a mysterious side in them. Kiki, who just disappeared. Gotanda, our narrator’s former classmate whom I felt like hiding something since the beginning but was an interesting character for me. Yuki, a thirteen-year-old psychic. (I really liked Yuki and the narrator’s bantering. Pretty much a comedy!) Yumiyoshi, the receptionist in the new Dolphin Hotel. The Sheep Man. And several others.

Dance Dance Dance addressed a lot of themes such as aging, death (a very common theme in Murakami’s books), life’s meaning, illusion, reality, boredom, the importance of human connection, etc. These are themes more inclined to the heavy side but still there are also moments that will make you smile and laugh.

Typical of Murakami’s works as well are the loose ends that he leaves us with. And for me, I am still left contemplating about who the sixth skeleton is. That scene where he was driving in Hawaii with Yuki and he suddenly saw Kiki and he soon came running after her and was led to a room with six skeletons. I can account to five but who’s the sixth? Is it the Sheep Man because he’s gone from the mysterious room of the Dolphin Hotel? Or is it the narrator himself? Anyhow, it’s sort of a happy ending.

Murakami is such a brilliant writer that he always, always makes me doubt which of these things happened and which did not. In any case, this was another surreal ride but for the meantime, I will have to take a break before I start dreaming about the skeletons or the Sheep Man…

Quotable Quotes :

“People have their own reasons for dying. It might look simple, but it never is. It’s just like a root. What’s above ground is only a small part of it. But if you start pulling, it keeps coming and coming. The human mind dwells deep in darkness. Only the person himself knows the real reason, and maybe not even then.”

“People fall in love without reason, without even wanting to. You can’t predict it. That’s love.”

“Life is a lot more fragile than we think. So you should treat others in a way that leaves no regrets. Fairly, and if possible, sincerely.”

“Friends don’t need the intervention of a third party. Friendship’s a voluntary thing.”

“People leave traces of themselves where they feel most comfortable, most worthwhile.”

Rating ; 4/5 stars

A Reread – A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

downloadBook #15.

I’ve decided to reread A Wild Sheep Chase since I’ve just finished the first two books of The Rat Trilogy just recently and it felt like reading it for the first time… twice! I can say I appreciate this book more now. I was able to understand it better as well and it opened my eyes to things I wasn’t able to grasp on my first reading.

In this final book of the trilogy, we still have our unnamed characters from the previous books and we finally have one named character, too! Kippler, the cat. 🙂 It was also while reading this that I realized how much I care for the characters in Murakami’s books. They are mostly intriguing that I really care about what’s going to happen to them. Moreover, Murakami has a way of describing the characters’ feelings like no other.

In a nutshell,  we have our protagonist who’s living a mediocre life, haunted by a whale’s penis, who doesn’t seem to be affected with his wife’s betrayal which led to their divorce, and soon meets a girl with unusually beautiful ears. Then the disappearance (and reappearance) of his friend, the Rat. We also have the sheep professor who locks himself in one of the rooms of Dolphin Hotel owned by his son. An Ainu youth who helped some early Japanese settlers in Hokkaido. A dying wealthy man known as the Boss, who sent his secretary/representative to our narrator to go find a mystical sheep with a star mark on its back. What do all these characters have to do with each other? They’re all a part of a wild sheep chase…

I didn’t really realize it the first time I’ve read this but I noticed that aside from the mystical sheep, war is also something we find in common among three notable characters here — the Boss, the sheep professor and the Ainu youth. They’re all remarkable characters in their own ways which is in contrast to our narrator who seems to be unaffected with his divorce, no ambitions and there doesn’t seem to be anything of significance to him. This I think, once again is an example of how Murakami was again able to explore the meaning of life and the meaning of living through the eyes of a mediocre Japanese guy disappointed in a modern world and in this life. There were several instances when the narrator feels nostalgic about music and the simple life he had when he was younger thus he struggles with the changes and modernization happening around say for example, the Boss’ right-wing. It’s also quite notable that Murakami probably felt that the modernization and corruption that happened to Japan is mostly because of western/foreign influence thus he used the sheep which was a new livestock brought to Japan, nobody knew about it, no historical connection in the lives of the Japanese, but was able to make big changes. The sheep though is something I see as a driving force for people who are weak to try to be as successful or productive as they can be. It somehow represents ambition and will to be powerful. Well it really depends on the reader what the sheep is trying to represent and this is just what I think but it’s the same thing that made our narrator and the Rat uneasy and troubled.

When the book ended, it made me want for more, though probably, as far as the Rat is concerned, I think the story has ended. And it’s sad. But still, as is what’s expected of every Murakami book, there are far more unanswered questions left behind. I’m not sure if Dance, Dance, Dance has the answers to these questions but I’m certainly looking forward to reading it soon.

Quotable Quotes :

“I was feeling lonely without her, but the fact that I could feel lonely at all was consolation. Loneliness wasn’t such a bad feeling. It was like the stillness of the pin oak after the little birds had flown off.”

“The song is over. But the melody lingers on.”

“Some things are forgotten, some things disappear, some things die.”

“I guess I felt attached to my weakness. My pain and suffering too. Summer light, the smell of a breeze, the sound of cicadas – if I like these things, why should I apologize?”

“Body cells replace themselves every month. Even at this very moment. Most everything you think you know about me is nothing more than memories.”

Rating : 5/5 stars

Pinball, 1973 by Haruki Murakami

downloadBook #14.

Pinball, 1973 is the second book in The Rat series and just like Hear the Wind Sing, this is also a short read. So we have here the same unnamed narrator, now a few years older and got addicted to pinball, his acquaintance, the Rat who is still lonely and had a strange affair with a certain woman, J the bartender and a few additional unnamed characters like the twins who just one day appeared in the narrator’s apartment.

Pinball generally talks about loneliness and being alone. One trying to distance himself from people and one who can’t open up himself to others. Here we see how deeply his girlfriend’s suicide from the first book affected our narrator. The Rat on the other hand continues to struggle with his own life, not knowing exactly what to do and whether to stay or leave. The narrator and the Rat never met in this book but it seemed like their loneliness kind of connected them and that same loneliness consumed me.

Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball are a good warm-up to Murakami’s first full-length novel A Wild Sheep Chase which I happened to read back in 2015. I thought then that I didn’t seem to miss on anything without reading the first two books but now that I’ve read them, it is very likely that I’ll read it again and will somehow enjoy and understand it more.

It’s very interesting to see the author’s writing progress in this second book of his. Pinball is better than its predecessor and we can see more signs of Murakami’s strangeness already and most importantly how his characters contemplate about the important questions in life and how they deal with it, which in a way makes us readers rethink about how we deal with our lives as well. I kind of wished it to be a little longer too because when it started to get better, that’s when it ended.

Another Murakami work that gave me something to chew on.

Quotable Quotes :

“Sometimes I feel like a caretaker of a museum — a huge, empty museum where no one ever comes, and I’m watching over it for no one but myself.”

“I could go on like this forever, but would I ever find a place that was meant for me?”

“We fell silent again. The thing we had shared was nothing more than a fragment of time that had died long ago. Even so, a faint glimmer of that warm memory still claimed a part of my heart. And when death claimed me, no doubt I would walk along by that faint light in the brief instant before being flung once again into the abyss of nothingness.”

“Happiness is a warm friendship.”

“There are — how do you say — things in this world our philosophy cannot account for.”

Rating : 4/5 stars

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida

the reason i jumpBook #12.

This book was written by an autistic boy, then thirteen-year-old Naoki Higashida. It is very remarkable that he was able to share with us his inner voice through this book which he wrote using an alphabet grid prepared by one of his teachers.

Structured as a series of questions commonly asked by non-autistic people, young Naoki answered and shared his thoughts as best as he could like, 1) Why are you so picky with what you eat? 2) When you’re on one of your highs, what’s going through your mind? 3) What’s the worst thing about having autism?

The book focuses on the importance of understanding people with autism. He mentioned that they need more understanding with their reasoning, their emotions, their behavior. He asks for more tolerance and love.

This is a very interesting read since it gave me a unique look of what’s going on in the mind of someone with autism. It really brings you into an autistic’s world. Very surprising how Naoki’s mind works actually!

Quotable Quotes :

“Everybody has a heart that can be touched by something.”

“We can put up with our own hardships okay, but the thought that our lives are the source of other people’s unhappiness, that’s plain unbearable.”

“True compassion is about not bruising the other person’s self-respect.”

“I’ll always cherish the part of me that thinks of nature as a friend.”

“Unchanging things are comforting, and there’s something beautiful about that.”

Rating : 4/5 stars

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

The_Guernsey_Literary_and_Potato_Peel_Pie_SocietyBook #11.

Quite a title, huh?

The book is set right in the aftermath of the second World War in both the island of Guernsey and London. The intertwined stories are told through a series of letters and most of them from an English writer, Juliet Ashton. The first letter came one day from a farmer and carpenter, Dawsey Adams. Juliet learned of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society from Dawsey (as he is the founder) and thought that it has potential to be a subject of an article. (I will leave it to you to read and learn how they came up with that name.) The correspondence continued and the other members also started writing Juliet their stories. Little did they know how their lives would later mean to each other.

This is an epistolary novel full  of warmth, love and humor. All the characters were given a strong, unique voice that made them seem real, makes me want to meet them all specially, Isola. The letters not only reveal the horrors during the Nazi occupation in Guernsey but the kindness of people as well despite their situation.

I liked the simplicity and charm of this book. You’d be laughing out loud one minute then you’d be tearing up the next. It left me wanting people to still be writing personal letters to each other and not just emails or text messages. It may sound a bit old-fashioned but the connection between people seemed more intimate and true.

It’s an easy read and I enjoyed it!

Quotable Quotes :

“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”

“I don’t want to be married just to be married. I can’t think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can’t talk to, or worse, someone I can’t be silent with.”

“Men are more interesting in books than they are in real life.”

“Have you ever noticed that when your mind is awakened or drawn to someone new, that person’s name suddenly pops up everywhere you go?”

“Humor is the best way to make the unbearable bearable.”

Rating : 4/5 stars