Thursday, December 31, 2015

Robinson Crusoe (Extra Book)

What a way to finish the old year… with another classic read, this one, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.  In much the same vein as my last read, it is the story of the journey of one man, Mr. Crusoe.  Crusoe is the youngest of three boys who leaves home at the tender age of 18 for an adventure of a lifetime.   However, his voyage is cut short when his ship is wrecked at sea.  This accident only adds to his desire for the sea and he sails again, but this time his voyage is taken over by pirates and he escapes with a captain to Africa, where he earns a plantation. 
On his next voyage a few years later, to bring slaves out of Africa his ship is wrecked and he is the only human survivor landing on an island, which is thought to be Tobago.  The dog and two cats of the ship’s captain also manage to get ashore.  This is where the bulk of the story takes place during Crusoe’s time on the island attempting to survive.  Crusoe struggles at first wondering if he can live a life of solitude, but he turns to God for support and learns that he can thrive on the island, by utilizing the various elements of the land.  He turns to scripture, a copy of the Bible is found from the wreckage, and helps him to develop his spirituality.  His daily rituals and ability to communicate with nature is impressive.  He uses the land to survive, eating berries, using the skin from captured animals for colder weather and building a home to live.  He creates a calendar to track his time in isolation and notes the trends in weather and nightfall as the years pass. He is visited by native “cannibals” who want to eat him alive, and gains a companion, named “Friday”, who stays with him after the natives leave the land.  A few years pass and eventually Friday and Crusoe escape the island with the help of Friday’s father who happens to also make an expedition to the island as part of the natives’ annual visit from the natives.  It was a 25+ year timeframe of living on the island for Crusoe, who later shows the natives how he lived on the land. 
There are a few more voyages left until he returns to his native land with wealth he had received of his estate from Brazil, as his parents thought he was dead and did not leave anything for him in their will.  Crusoe’s story is one of human will being stronger than the odds of failure that surely were against him.  This is an iconic story which sets the stage for the “cast-away” sailors that come in rapid succession in later years (movies, TV shows, and other books) and even today’s reality shows, like Survivor and Running Wild with Bear Grylls, have the element of being captive with only your own hands, your faith, and ingenuity to make it on your own.  I enjoyed the Crusoe’s days alone contemplating life and what is truly important.  I guess in many ways, Crusoe’s life is very much like our own, though we don’t have the island piece.  Defoe writes a story that illustrates man’s search for meaning when there doesn’t seem to be any.  Great book.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Gulliver's Travels (Extra Book)

I keep on reading (listening) to the classics.  This time it was Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.  The story of an Englishman who takes great voyages to far away regions of the world, sharing lessons learned about culture, people, and his experiences.  The book is broken into four parts, the first (my favorite) tells of Gulliver being washed ashore when his ship capsizes.  He finds himself stranded on the island of Lilliput where he is the giant amongst a land of “little people” and is captured until he assists in the battle against a neighboring clan of rivals.  After Gulliver helps in the battle, he is seen as a hero to the villagers and receives some accommodations by the King.  

Gulliver’s trips take him on a number of voyages including:  Brobdingnag, Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, Japan, and his last (as the captain of the ship) to Houyhnhnms.  The last, and my favorite, is where he meets the savages, called the Yahoos!, after his crew desert him.  At first he adjusts to their culture, but finally is driven away and rescued once again by a ship heading to his homeland. 

Back home, he reconciles with his family, who he has spent minimal time with due to his travels around the globe.  Gulliver’s days at home are not easy as he can’t seem to let go of his time away.  He slowly becomes insane as he is incapable of speaking to family and starts to communicate with animals.  Lots of metaphors presented by Swift, whose prose is outstanding and story-telling abilities top-notch.  Some of the themes center on issues Swift encounters in his own life and society, such as, are people really good or bad, what should the role of government be in how it manages its people, is there a better society and should we be looking for it ourselves?  Thoughtful commentary on Swift’s day.  A great read.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Treasure Island

With some free time at this time of the year, I decided to embark on four classic reads from the New York Times 100 best fiction novels of all-time. 
The first one I read was Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.  Hard to believe I never read this book, but I certainly have heard/seen the tale which presents the search for the missing treasure by a young lad and all whom he involves along the way.   The story begins at an inn run by a family, the Hawkins.  Early in the story, Mr. Hawkins dies and a visiting old sailor (known as the captain), who seemingly has no money, asks to stay at the inn until he is visited by some old pirates.  A fight ensues and the old sailor (Billy Bones) is left for dead, and eventually dies.  The person who is looking for “Billy Bones” appears at the Hawkins Inn, prior to that, young Hawkins (Jimmy) and his mother, decide to look through the chest of the dead man as they realize he is hiding something and others are coming to find him.  Jimmy finds a map that appears to reveal the location of a treasure, since he found the key on Billy Bones’ dead body.  Jimmy tells the local doctor (Livesey) about the treasure map and the key, and how he plans on finding the treasure allowing Livesey to join his team to sail and find the riches left behind by Captain Flint.  Livesey assembles a team for the voyage, some are old sailors and others friends that want to partake in the voyage.  One of Livesey’s companions tells others about the treasure, which is sure to attract unsavory people on the voyage, which it does.  Finally when the team and the boat are acquired, off they venture to find the treasure.  Jimmy overhears some of the crew plotting to overtake Livesey and the Captain once the boat approaches land.  Of course between their own mutineers and pirates who also heard of the voyage, Livesey and his small group of supporters have to fight to hold off the enemies.  Jimmy plays a key role in the fighting, as does Ben Gun, a young sailor who was stuck on the island for three years before this crew arrived.  Eventually good defeats evil, but it has its cost.  Livesey, Ben Gun, and of course, Jimmy are on the winning team who not only find the treasure, but escape the island and head back to England to live the high life!  Always enjoy happy-ending stories where the good-guys outlast the bad guys.  Fun read and much better than I anticipated.  Also, a fun read for a parent to read to their child as a bed-time story.  Dreaming of the missing treasure?  Why not, it does exist somewhere out there

Saturday, December 12, 2015


I really enjoy author Haruki Murakami’s books and his latest, Colorless is a deep read on the burgeoning of friendship and what happens after it all falls apart.  Murakami presents the reader with a flawed protagonist in Tsukuru Tazaki, but it isn’t all his fault for what happens in his life.  Tsukuru’s story begins in high school as a member of a tight group of five classmates, three boys and two girls, all whose surname when translated represents a color, except for Tsukuru, whose name translates into “create” (This fits him well as Tsukuru desires to be a railroad engineer, which he does attain as a profession). Tsukuru and his four friends are inseparable.  They are the perfect example of friendship always supporting each other and together as much as they can.  This all ends when Tsukuru decides to attend an engineering college away from their hometown.  When he returns for the summer between his first and second year, everything changes.  He calls upon one of the friends, who notifies him never to call again, and Tsukuru accepts this and doesn’t, though for the next sixteen years he is left wondering what happened. 
Enter Sara, a young woman he has just started a relationship with, which he hopes will develop into a lifetime love.  Sara is not convinced that he is ready for a relationship as there appears to be something he has never dealt with… and so Sara learns of the group of five friends and that the friendship ended abruptly, without Tsukuru knowing why.  After she hears of the story, she says she will only see him again if he meets with the four to learn what actually happened.  The rest of the book delves into Tsukuru’s journey into his past.  What he learns along the way will bring him face to face with his subconscious fears and much more.  Even Tsukuru is alarmed at what he learns, as is the reader.  Will Tsukuru survive his new knowledge, what happened to the four others, and will his hope of a lifetime love with Sara actually remain after his journey with his past?  Great questions and more.  Love how Murakami leaves the ending for the reader.  What’s next?  I know there will be lots of interpretations as to what is left for Tsukuru after his journey.  So worth reading.  A journey story of a thirty-something, what could be better?  Need to add this one to the RA Book Club someday.   

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Art of Fielding

The RA Book Club read The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach this semester.  Below are some of their thoughts on the book!
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach is an easy to read story of illicit love, university life, and the sacrifices made for college sports.  It is a must-read for students, or anyone else, who find themselves feeling lost and hoping for an extrapolation about the unpredictability of life.  Although the story does have some slow points, Harbach’s technique of flipping between stories each chapter keeps the novel moving and keeps the reader’s interest.  Harbach writes what seems to start as a baseball story without presuming any knowledge of the topic and ends the novel as more of a story about the determination and persistence required to play baseball successfully. – SDR
I had a very rich experience reading Harbach’s The Art of Fielding. In it lies such a great balance between character development and the incessant experience surrounding a game that is so relatable on many levels. For the Ball player who identifies with the spiritual crisis, for the common folk who appreciates an author’s attention to the minor details. The Art of Fielding ends each paragraph with the reader wanting for more. –DJM

Chad Harbach’s stellar novel was slow to start, but as I kept reading I found that I couldn’t put it down. At first, I assumed it would be a story about baseball, and, in many ways, it was. But more so, the novel focuses on the how baseball can stand as a metaphor for the human condition. We all have our individual struggles: mental block, smoking, alcoholism, the fear of failure, the fear of exclusion, but we are together in our struggles to make it to the bottom of the 9th inning, to dig deep and fight as long as we can.
I found Harbach’s prose to be phenomenal; it was easy to read, but deeply insightful. I found his use of metaphor to be selective, but powerfully so, and I found his descriptions of life at Westish to be masterfully done. Many times, while reading, I found myself transported to that world. I found the characters (for the most part) endearing and engaging: I particularly loved Owen and Affenlight- the modern day scholars, with old souls and youthful dispositions. I approved of Schwartz and Henry, though I found it odd that there was no antagonist (beyond the mental issues they each experienced). There was obviously tension in the novel, but I wanted to pin it on someone, or something other than the fear of failure.
The ending, I found to be touching, if a little unrealistic, compared to the strict plausibility of the rest of the novel. Henry was, in my opinion, not supposed to be a pro baseball player: I wanted him to have a clean separation from the game of his youth. I also found Affenlight’s burial touching, but a little contrived.
All in all, I would rate this novel a 7/10 for it’s engagement and entertainment, but that’s about it. It isn’t the grandest novel, and I don’t feel change by it, but it is enlightening, funny and entertaining in all the right ways. – GE

It's all too infrequent in life that you come across a book that really makes you feel something. I'm not talking about a book that makes you cry for one scene or that has a joke that makes you laugh, I'm talking about a prolonged sensation that carries you through chapter after chapter. For me, Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding feels like home. The book left me with a lingering sense of warmth and care co-mingled with the drama and grief that signals family and being home. On surface level, The Art of Fielding is a book about college baseball, but, if you just barely scratch the surface, it becomes immediately clear that what it's really about is relationships. It is an exploration of the way different people interact with their family, their friends, their childhood heroes, and, perhaps most importantly, themselves. If you're looking for a relaxed, fun, easy read, this book might not be for you. If you're looking for a 521 page emotional roller to suck you in and spit you out a few days later with an odd desire to go hug someone and toss around a baseball even though you hate sports, they have a copy of The Art of Fielding in Bobst, go check it out. –KMJ

As for The Art of Fielding, I have to admit that while I enjoyed some parts of the book, I didn't connect with the overall message as much as I would have hoped. My biggest praise for the book is the character development. I feel that Harbach did a great job in creating authentic, believable, and essentially, human characters. I definitely know a Pella, a Henry, and a Mike Schwartz in my own life, and the characters made the message of the book much more relatable to me. However, while the book started out as being driven by factors that weren't baseball, the book lost me in the last 200 pages or so because the plot was very much driven by the games and I just didn't connect with that style of writing. The overall themes were very universal -- failure, determination, persistence, and growing up -- but I felt that I could connect with them only on a superficial level because each theme in the book was conveyed in the framework of baseball, a relatively uninteresting game to me.
Also, I'm not sure if this is a fair critique to make, but I didn't feel that the book represented women very well. I might be currently hypersensitive of these issues simply because of recent events that have taken place in my life, but in the future, I would prefer to read books that represent women in more diverse circumstances than sexual ones. Pella was the only focal female character in the book, and we only got to see her through the lens of her relationships with other men. The Art of Fielding was written by a man, about men...which is interesting considering the majority of book club this semester was women! All in all though, I truly looked forward to each Sunday that we met. I'm in a purely science program, so it's not often that I am given the opportunity to read good fiction novels and talk about them and I appreciated the chance to do this once a month! -MN

Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding was not a book I was entirely excited to read. All I knew was it centered around college baseball, and I don't follow any sport besides triathlon. But, I love the community of book clubs and gave it a go. And I am glad I did. This book is so much more than a story about baseball, it covers complicated questions and thoughts that every college student has about life, love, difficult decisions and how passion can be a driving force to both success and downfall. This novel was well written and followed each story line in a readable and interesting manner. I enjoyed the writing style as much as the story and was especially impressed with Harbach's character development. There was not one character who was "textbook good or perfect". Everyone had flaws which made them relate-able and easy to connect with while reading. As a graduating senior, I appreciated reading this book because it validated many of the thoughts I have had as an involved college student, and the fears and insecurities I have about going into the real world. My favorite character was Mike and I felt like I understood a lot of the struggle he felt as being a great captain and leader, but never the star athlete. His character development throughout the book was not drastic, but subtle, realistic and powerful to me. -MP