Friday, August 15, 2014

Veronika Decides to Die

Veronika Decides to Die – Paulo Coelho

24-year-old Veronika leads a predictable life. She works in a library, rents a room in a convent, and goes to the same bars and meets the same type of people. Nothing has ever changed, nor is there any indication that it will change, so she decides to commit suicide because she has already experienced everything she can possibly experience in life. However, she realizes her plan didn’t go as expected when she awakes in an ICU, then again a few days later in a notorious mental hospital. The doctors inform her that she has less than a week to live because her suicide attempt caused irreversible damage to her heart, so rather than the immediate death she planned for, she resigns herself to a few more days of not feeling, not experiencing, and not living. She quickly stops building barriers, though, as she learns that the world of the insane is one that offers liberation, freedom, and life. With no reason to do what others expect them to, the people she meets in the mental hospital pursue their impulses and passions without inhibition. Even as she faces her death sentence, or perhaps because she faces her death sentence, Veronika finally learns what it means to live.

“Veronika Decides to Die” is another masterpiece from the ever-inspiring Paulo Coelho. Before addressing the “human condition” discussed in this novel, it is worth noting that Coelho explores several important tangible themes, including the stigma and stereotypes of mental illness, ethical concerns of treatment, and the politics of money. Discussing concrete examples of the impacts of injustice gives weight to Coelho’s discourse on mental health by providing very real illustrations of how people live with the consequences of societal norms. Social justice aside, the novel explores the philosophical meaning of being “insane” or “crazy.” As always, Coelho writes with validation, forgiveness, and liberation, offering reassurance that everyone has value in their individuality and hope that a better future is possible through the pursuit of passions and dreams. This book is fodder for hours of contemplation about why society acts the way it does and what that means for the individual within society.

Although I find Paulo Coelho’s books to be hit or miss, I absolutely loved this one. Mental health is a very prominent aspect of social work, so this book was very relevant to what I am learning in school. Several times I had to stop reading to consider the implication of something Coelho had just written, which is one of the highest compliments I can give to a book. There were a few times where I couldn’t quite follow his reasoning and the argument was a bit murky, but overall, I think I would be able to describe his main points, and I agreed with them all. I also thought of several people who might gain something from reading this book, so I already have my recommendations lined up. If I’m already planning for someone else to read it, that should be reason enough for anyone to read it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Salmon of Doubt

The Salmon of Doubt – Douglas Adams

This posthumous collection of essays, articles, interviews, and sundry quips and excerpts is a sampling of Douglas Adams’ work from across his lifetime. In fact, it starts out with what is believed to be his first published piece of writing: a letter to the editor expressing anticipation and gratitude for his favorite magazine when he was 12 years old. Many pieces in the collection are articles or columns propagating his absurd yet astute philosophy and observations on how the world works. Others are essays or quick little thoughts, calling attention to the irritations of technology or the slight but significant difference between things like “fried eggs” and “Fridays.” My personal favorite is an ode to Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, in which he eloquently attempts to describe the sheer inadequacy of words to capture the essence and art of music. Brilliant and beautiful, this is undoubtedly Adams at his finest, funniest, and most insightful.

 “The Salmon of Doubt” by Douglas Adams is a little tricky to review because the pieces included in the book are so varied, so instead I will just tell you why you should read it. Adams has long been one of my favorite authors because he is sarcastic without being cynical, and his jokes are incredibly clever. I was reading this book over a lunch break and although there were other people in the room, I was almost constantly chuckling with occasional bursts of outright laughter. His writing is characterized by his intelligent, bizarre, and profound observations that always manage to draw attention to things most often taken for granted (especially gravity). His ideas are so far out of the box that the box probably doesn’t even exist in another universe, which makes his stories and characters unique in every way. Have I convinced you yet that you need to read everything he has ever written? Because you need to.