This book is not for everyone…

I have just finished reading Blueprints of the Afterlife by Ryan Boudinot. This book is not for everybody. It is heavy on bad language (really heavy) as well as sex and violence. If you find those things offensive, just ignore the rest of this post. I find those things offensive too, but then I find a lot of things offensive, and yet they continue to exist and—in some instances—are thrust in my face.

The novel is set in a future where the end of life as we know it is no more than a distant memory and where the internet is retro. In this dystopian future, the human body is networked and cures for most of what ails humankind can be uploaded at the click of a button. Unfortunately, humans can also be hacked, remotely controlled and superimposed. There is also a full scale mission underway to recreate Manhattan in Puget Sound and to recreate New York’s last moments before the end of the world (which is known as the FUS), the lives of it’s former residents handed out to those who wish to move in.

It is a strangely disturbing look at the future, one I hope is not prophetic but which is, at the very least, entirely possible. I can’t say I enjoyed it—there are images that will take a while to be wiped from my memory files (a process that is quite simple in Bodinot’s futuristic earth)—but it made me think….and I can cross ‘expand my scope of reading material’ off the list for a couple of years!

And it has a cool cover.

In conclusion, I leave you with a small excerpt which I thought was quite descriptive!

For a sliver of a moment, passing so quickly he didn’t register what was happening until much later, all was darkness and silence. As dark and silent as if he had spelunked the depths of a cave and then, reaching the deepest, darkest place in the cave, stuck his head down his own throat and disappeared inside his own body. A darkness final and unremitting,  a darkness that offered no acknowledgement that there could ever be any illumination, an absolute  black, a backness so extreme it coated him and penetrated his skin, rendering everything that might have colour when exposed to light completely transparent and thus only a vessel for this categorically absolute absence of light.

 

I bet you thought I’d dropped off the end….

….of the planet/page/line. But I didn’t, I’m still here and adjusting to life in the real world again. It’s amazing how good a full night of sleep feels.

I have been reading Yannick Haenel’s book, “The Messenger” . It is a fascinating combination of historical fact and interpretive fiction. The book is about a man called Jan Karski, a Polish Resistance fighter who played a vital role in the Polish Underground during WWII. Mr Karski was rescued from the hands of the Gestapo and charged with a mission to carry a number of messages to the Allies on behalf of the Polish Government in Exile and the Jews of Europe. He was to become The Messenger and, ultimately, the message.

Y’all know this is a particular favourite concept of mine, and that what happened to the Jews during WWII is something that fascinates me for a number of reasons. This book is a unique take on both of those subjects. It intrigued and irritated me in equal proportion.

I watched the footage of Jan Karski’s testimony for Claude Lanzmann’s benchmark movie  about the Holocaust: Shoah. (Thank God for You Tube.) It is hard not to see a man tormented by what he saw in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw and the Izbica Lubelska concentration camp, a man tormented by the messages he was sent to deliver tot he Allies; messages they chose to ignore.

This book raises more questions than it answers. There were questions I never thought to ask, answers I never thought to question. For example, why, when the Allies had sufficient evidence of the mass extermination of the Jews of Europe, did they fail to respond. Why, when the war was over and 6,000,000 Jews had been exterminated, did the Allies hold the Nuremberg trials where they passed Judgement on the Nazi’s for these crimes against humanity at the same time as perpetrating an equal crime against humanity by dropping atomic bombs on Japan. I am ashamed to admit that the hypocrisy never once crossed my mind. And yet there it sits, mocking.

I’m not a particularly political person, but I am fascinated by the idea of what it means to be human, and how humans behave and think. This book is a disturbing exploration of whether or not such a thing as Humanity can still exist in a post-WWII world.

Another unanswerable question.

People still slaughter other people all over the world for no reason than their otherness. The rest of the world still looks on despite evidence of these inhuman crimes. We argue against war, we rail against laying the lives of our sons on the altar of foreign wars, we preach against the slaughter of animals for food. But men still kill and rape and torture other men and women and children. And all over the world, we turn away those who seek refuge from us, those whose lives are under threat, those who fear what history has taught us humankind is capable of. We turn them away, and fail to act. All for good reason, all in defense of our own rights as humans. In the name of humanity, we do the inhuman.

“[I often thought of a sentence by Kafka]:’Far, far from you, world history is unfolding, the world history  of your soul.’ This sentence was intended for me, as it was for all of my students, and for you. We think that world history is happening far away from us, it always seems to be occurring without us,  but in the end we realise that it is the history of our souls.”

Jan Karski carried messages that he was faithful to deliver, but the world was unwilling to hear. He delivered messages that carried the hopes of millions into the ears of the powerful. The messages themselves were powerful.  The hope of the desperate was powerful. But the power of those who had the most potential to act was impotent. Jan Karski delivered his messages and then became the message: if we who have the power to act fail to, we have lost our humanity, lost our conscience.

The book infuriated me. And challenged me. And grieved me.

There are more questions than answers, and that is a little uncomfortable. good, but uncomfortable.

Never let me go…GM, little boys with boobs and Kazuo Ishiguro

I know why I don’t like to eat genetically modified food: I don’t know what it’s going to do to me…or to my family.

In a rapidly expanding world where populations increase exponentially and natural resources are depleted in response to this rapid growth, it’s hard to argue with innovations that could lead to the production of viable and sustainable options re the production of food, fuel and drinkable water.

Increasing percentages of these expanding populations are suffering from cancers, dementia and other diseases making it is hard to argue with innovations that could lead to treatment options whether it be stem cells or organ transplants. Who would have thought we’d welcome (with ooh’s and aah’s no less) an ear grown on the back of a mouse! We did.

A few years ago I read a book called Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. I don’t know that I can recommend it entirely because I found it both confronting and uncomfortable . Over time I have come to realise it was almost prophetic in its foresight. Online executions, the explosion of internet porn and voyeuristic sex online and the outbreak of new viruses, to name but a few, appeared alongside creatures bred and modified, cloned and mutated for convenience or practicality.

Not all of these things exist only in the world of fiction. We see terrorist executions online, internet porn and leaked sex tapes are an everyday viewing option in thousands of homes and little boys are growing boobs because they are being fed meat that is so high in oestrogen.

How does all this fit in with Kazuo Ishiguro? He wrote a book called “Never Let Me Go.” It deals, in a very human way, with the other side of a very topical debate.: How do we provide for the desperate need for healthy transplant organs for those fighting for their lives.

This book (and the movie of the same name) looks into the moral issues surrounding the issue of cloning and raises questions as to the very nature of the ethics by which a society chooses what it perceives to be the best course of action. Unfortunately, I can’t really tell you too much without ruining the story, so you will have to watch it yourself…then let’s have a really good chat about it, shall we?

If you thought the Nazi take on eugenics was wrong, if you can’t imagine why cloning is an issue, if you found the movie The Island terrifying or fascinating, you’ll find this book/movie food for thought. (warning, it is not GMO free and may contain traces of nuts.)

Book review: Room by Emma Donoghue

This was my pick for my Christmas present this year and I was not disappointed!

Room,  By Emma Donoghue is about Jack, a little boy who lives in a single 11 x 11ft room with his ma as he has done for all of his five years of life. As the story unfolds through Jack’s innocent eyes, we discover how it is that he and his ma came to be confined to this room, and how he remains innocently unaware of the rest of the world that exists outside of it.

I don’t want to tell you anything more and spoil the story that unfolds at the pace of a nail-biting thriller. I will tell you, however, that I was profoundly affected by this book and that it was unputdownable (if that is even a word). Emma Donoghue has created an utterly believable plot and characters that are not only believable, but compelling. As the mother of a little boy who is the same age as Jack, and not unlike him, it was both a painful and triumphant read. If you are a student of human nature or the decay of society, if you believe in the power of the human spirit to survive,  if you are a believer in the power of love —or want to  be—read this book. It’s going straight to my list of regular reads! I cannot recommend it more highly!

As author Audrey Niffenegger says of it’ “Room is a book to read in one sitting. When it’s over you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and the feeling lingers for days.”

I bought my copy at The Whistling Fish bookshop in Robe, South Australia. It’s more than just a bookshop, it’s heaven for book lovers! From the shelves and shelves of books interspersed with quirky decor, to the coffee shop out back, it is the closest I’ve come to the feeling of magic that books inspire for me. I wanted to be there all day. As much as it appeals to me to save a few dollars by buying books online, nothing compares to the sheer joy of picking up a book in my hand, sensing how thick it is, how good the quality of the paper is and being able to flick open to a page and test the style and skill of the writer. The shop’s proprietor, JJ Aitken, has spared no effort in sharing his passion for books. Three tables fill the centre space of the shop and there are small piles of books stacked on them, each pile with a string-wrapped copy of the book on offer and a hand-written review or comment that JJ has done himself. His passion shows in his selection of books and his treatment of them. I’d rather pay a few dollars extra and support his passion, not to mention a local business, and share those few moments of magic with like-minded people in the world’s best bookshop! Go check out his website and see what I mean.

Monster Blood Tattoo

I cannot recommend these books too highly

1. Because they are written beautifully. They have a Dickensian feel mixed with Tolkein’s inventiveness and Austen’s wit. I LOVE THEM.

2. They are illustrated…beautifully…gorgeously…

3. The author is from and lives in Adelaide, South Australia…my home town…

4. They are addictive…and long…so they last.

5. JUST READ THEM!!!!

I am the messenger….

About a year ago, I read an amazing book called “The Messenger” by a very talented Australian author called Markus Zusak. It changed me….good books can do that. I gave a copy to a friend last night because some of the things he has been saying made me think that this is a book he needs to read; maybe it’s a book you need to read too.

A few times a year, there are people who knock on our front door to deliver a message. I’ll give you a hint: they always arrive in pairs, they dress very smartly and, in my case, they usually either have a Canadian or Irish accent….to be sure. They have something they are sure I need to hear, a message they feel compelled to deliver- all I feel is compelled to slam the door (which I’ve never actually done, though I have developed a great line that sends them packing…) because whatever it is they are saying, whatever they are ‘selling’, it doesn’t look all that attractive to me. Most of the time they look dour and serious and like they are under compulsion, like my life depends on my accepting what they have to say…or at least a pamphlet about it.I don’t want to knock the people. They have to be sincere to face the ridicule and possible aggression of the strangers on whose doors they knock. They are sincere and it’s nice to think that someone cares enough about my soul to want to go out of their way to tell me about it…but do they? And do I want what they have? If it makes me look like that, and by ‘that’ I mean the look that is a perfect cross between “What is quantum physics about anyway?” and serious constipation?

What “The Messenger” taught me is this: I am not the messenger. My job is not to deliver some mystical message that, with enough clever arguments or catchy cliche’s, will convince people of the truth of what I have to say, will change their lives and make everything better. I have no message. I AM THE MESAGE.

They said that I’d end up in a mental institution, and that was before I wanted to kill myself. I should really be there, but I’m not, I’m happy and I love life. I don’t need to sell you anything. I don’t need to convert you to anything. I don’t need to convince you of anything.If you stop long enough to get to know me, you’ll find out why. If you look closely enough, you will see the handwriting on the pages of my life and you’ll know for yourself. I’m not perfect, but I’m open. Read me if you can….

“I stand before it, heart beating in my chest, sweaty palms, shaking hands. This book so old it’s ancient, its cover battered, worn and faded- bearing the marks of its journey through many hands.
Extending trembling fingers toward its once blood-red cover I pause. Am I worthy of its secrets? Will its mysteries leap unbidden from those unseen pages? Can I learn the truth I so desperately seek?
I touch it and turn the page. There is no epiphany. There are nothing but unreadable symbols scrawled across the paper, locked from me in the sweat-stained pages, thumbed on every corner.
I know there should be something here, I was told there would be. Others have come searching here- I can tell by the absence of dust, of mildew or the smell of neglect. Others have come and I followed but there are no answers for me here.
The rustling of my search has faded, the fanning pages kiss my face with a farewell breeze…and then I see it-the handwriting in the corner and a name, and I know the book is me.”

How could I not…

How could I not love an author who weaves together a touching and terrifying tale of a boy and his tree…to be accurate, the boy is only one and a half millimetres tall and the tree is his home. Toby Lolness finds himself alone and on the run, pursued to the ends of the known world by a mob of angry tree citizens and terrifying insects. Faced with the perilous terrain of gigantic leaves, spiders and weevils and betrayed by those he thought he could trust, Toby must escape if his family is to survive.

This is story for children but it is the most heart-warming, eye-opening book I have read in ages. I have a pile of papers on my desk littered with quotes from this unassuming book, “Toby Alone” by Timothee de Fombelle. It is a ripping yarn but with oodles of heart and seasoned with wisdom that is both deep and rare. I LOVED this book. I want to own this book…I wish I had written this book. It hides some deep and pressing truths behind an exciting adventure and intelligent humour. The story touches on complex issues such as the destruction of our planet and the existence of life beyond ourselves, the pervasiveness of capitalism, the loss of community and of faith, and family and personal loss as well! And it is spattered with fantastic characters and adventures. How could I not give it to my nine-year-old son? How could I not want his intellect brightened and expanded by it?

“His mother had taught him to read when he was three, teaching him that words are the enemy of darkness. If you choose to be their friend, they will help you out all your life. But if you don’t, they’ll block your path. Maya had explained that was why people talked about being ‘familiar’ with a word or language. They were like family to you.”

“It’s very important to kiss your wife and son. That’s not irrelevant, it’s the heart of everything.”

“From watching Maya that day, Toby realised that when you mourn somebody, you also mourn what they didn’t give you. Maya was mourning the mother she’d never had. From now on, one thing was certain, she would never have a perfect mother in her life. And that was why she was sobbing. It was as if, right to the last, you hold out for a gesture or a word that will make up for everything. As if death also kills the gesture that was never made, or the word that was never said.”

How could I not recommend that you go out right now and buy (or at least borrow) a copy of this book and read it for yourself and give it to others and make it’s words part of your family?!!? I have a sneaking suspicion that this book could become a children’s classic… with ten literary awards, it should be!

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