Posts Tagged ‘books’

Full Human Lives

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Time is lost when we have not lived a full human life, time unenriched by experience, creative endeavour, enjoyment, and suffering. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This sentence, from the book Letters and Papers from Prison, was written by Bonhoeffer three weeks before he was hanged on Hitler’s personal orders in 1945. Hitler had already spelled out his own worldview:

Nature is cruel; therefore we, too, may be cruel.

Bonhoeffer and his brother-in-law lawyer, Hans von Dohnanyi, resisted the Nazi’s control by recording their crimes, helping victims and finally, plotting against Hitler.

Hitler had no greater, more courageous, and more admirable enemies than Hans von Dohnanyi and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.– Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern (read the full story here)

Italian Twilight Zone

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition. And, it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. – Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone)

Catastrophe, the strange stories of Dino Buzzati (1949) is a brilliant collection of surreal stories. Each deals with a disaster and many have an allegorical mood. People are trapped on a train rushing towards an unknown cataclysm; a reporter searches for a elusive landslide; a rich family refuses to believe there’s a flood outside their house.
Buzzati wrote Catastrophe after WW2 and it reflects the fears of the time. My favourite is a kind of parable about dictatorship in which a bat-like creature terrorizes a household. A more satirical story has an epidemic of ‘state influenza’ which attacks only those opposed to the government. The scariest tale is about a hospital with seven floors that lead a patient either upwards or downwards, towards life or death.
These bizarre, suspenseful stories reminded me of the best of The Twilight Zone which also walked the fine line between real and imaginary (eg. the episode Nick of Time) .

Fantasy should be as close as possible to journalism.– Dino Buzzati

Across Many Mountains

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Book review: Across Many Mountains by Yangzom Brauen is the remarkable true story of three generations of women from one Tibetan family, who encompass cultural extremes from old Buddhist Tibet to Hollywood glitz. The first part of the book is a gripping account of an escape, via the Himalayas, from the brutal Chinese invasion of 1950 ( which fulfilled a 1,200 year old Buddhist prophecy: ‘The Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the face of the earth‘.) Part two is fascinating because of the culture clash when the Tibetans experience Western ‘civilisation’. When the family finally return to Tibet in the 1980s they find ‘a country that has been robbed of its soul’. The Chinese have suppressed the language and culture (and still do). But the book is even-handed and also has a warts-and-all picture of Old Tibet where Buddhism was influenced by folk religion. The 90 year old grandmother-nun, Kunsang, is the heart of this inspiring book.

Book group discussion notes.
Recent news about Tibet

Weapons of Mass Instruction

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Imagine a world where instead of weapons of mass destruction, governments made weapons of mass instruction. Instead of spending $1.5 trillion a year on lethal weapons they could spend it on books. Here’s a better invasion strategy: Literacy Drones fly over villages and identify those without libraries; vehicles called Book Tanks (photo) move in to give away books to children; finally Seuss Troops visit schools to read aloud to them. Delivering books instead of bullets to children is a more effective way of fighting terror and raising living standards. Artist Raul Lemesoff already has a prototype Book Tank delivering free books all over Argentina, including to rural areas where there are few schools. Read about him in English or visit his Spanish website.

Exploring the Afterlife

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Sum, Forty Tales from the Afterlives, by David Eagleman, is a hugely entertaining, often thought-provoking book. Each very short story describes a quirky version of life after death. There is an afterlife populated only by people you remember; one where you are split into different ages; another where God is a married couple. Listen to Stephen Fry reading one about a highly ordered afterlife. The stories are not so much about theology or God (although He, She, and They do appear as somewhat fallible characters) as about treasuring the life we have now – plus a bit of humour and sci-fi just for fun. Here’s a video interview with Eagleman (a neuroscientist) who describes himself as a ‘Possibilian’– one who explores new ideas. (More novels about the afterlife).

The Boy Who Went To War

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

I’ve read many books about Hitler’s Germany but none as remarkable as Wolfram, The Boy Who Went To War, by Giles Milton (Hodder, 2011). It overturns clichés about the War and helps answer the old question ‘Why didn’t more Germans resist Hitler?’

Wolfram was the child of freethinking, artistic parents who resisted by not joining the Nazi Party and refusing to display a swastika flag – their Gestapo file described them as ‘dangerous eccentics’. Wolfram was 9 years old when Hitler came to power in 1933 and spent his childhood trying to avoid the Hitler Youth so he could draw and sculpt. Through his peace-loving family we see how the Nazis tightened their grip through brutality, laws, and a system of local informants.

One can’t help ask, ‘Would I have had the courage to resist?’ Wolfram was conscripted and became part of the War nightmare in Russia and Normandy. The story of his survival is completely gripping. (Note: not a children’s book, but would interest teens.) Wolfram is still alive and you can see his stunning paintings here.

This is a study in enforced conformity as Milton shows how the Nazis became increasingly intrusive in the lives of ordinary Germans Guardian review

Book People

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Alone we are one drop, together we are an ocean Ryunosuke Satoro

Honey bees are a super-organism: each one working for the health of the whole. In the same way many people contribute to a book. At the writer’s end: family, friends, writing group, experts, research subjects. At the publishers: editor, proof-reader, designer, publicist, education coordinator, accountant. In the world: distributors, retailers, reviewers, website designer, media, networkers and most importantly, readers. Readers are the book’s power — an unread book will wither like a hive without a queen.

Photo: Swarm by Sarah Anderson


Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Emma Neale’s new novel Fosterling, is about a yeti living in Dunedin. No, it’s not a children’s book or a fantasy but a realistic, compassionate treatment of what it’s like to be an outsider. The writing is elegant. Original similes abound: one confused young man looks like ‘a 16 year old whose name has been called in class when he’d been happily thinking about the pie he’d ordered for lunch; and subtle feelings are described with precision. I  wanted a more upbeat ending, but that’s my bent (and one reason I like writing for children). The yeti, Bu, is a sensitive soul – a reminder of that other misunderstood Boo in To Kill a Mockingbird. And I thought of my favourite yeti tale, Tintin in Tibet , in which the creature also shows his ‘humanity’, but is treated as a beast. Fosterling reminded me that there are Bu’s in every city, often hidden in ‘half-way’ houses.  I can see this multi-character story being made into an Altman-style movie.