Monday, October 27, 2014

The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
Holden Caulfield is being expelled yet again from another school, so rather than finish out the last few days of the term he decides to head home early for the holidays. However, he does not want to break the news of his expulsion earlier than necessary to his parents, so he decides to wander around New York City for those few days before returning home. With his illicit freedom, he pursues life with reckless abandon, following impulses rather than a plan. From meeting up with old friends to getting drunk at a popular bar and even sneaking into his own home to visit his sister while his parents are out, Holden’s days are full of adventures. The one thing that is missing, though, is his little brother, Allie, who died a few years ago. Despite all his carousing, Holden finds himself fed up with all the phonies in New York. His friends from childhood, the actors in the show, and everyone from every school he has ever been kicked out of. Rather than put up with it, Holden resolves to leave town without notice and make a new life for himself. His sister convinces him to stay, and instead Holden finds himself in another hospital similar to the one he stayed at after his brother died so many years ago.

“The Catcher in the Rye” is a compelling story of teen angst, overpowering loss, and all-encompassing frustration at the state of the world and the people in it. Salinger narrates Holden’s adventures in a highly conversational tone and it is easy to become caught up in a world of phonies where everything is either depressing as hell or so ridiculous that you end up laughing like a madman. Salinger seamlessly transitions between adventures so that Holden’s somewhat less-than-logical decisions show smooth connection and believable reasoning. As a reader, you only receive quick glimpses into Holden’s past; Salinger remains focused on Holden’s present life and decisions. He offers an interesting perspective on the world, simultaneously sorrowful and resigned yet almost objective in his universal rejection of others. By creating such a melancholic world, Salinger evokes sympathy, pity, and also a keen eye for the positives, however slight or fleeting they may be.

I remember reading this book for the first time in high school, but I cannot for the life of me remember my reaction to it. Whatever it was then, I’m sure my response is drastically different now. I want to “social work” everything these days, so I spent the entire story tracking Holden’s behavior, making note of duration, severity, and frequency of depressive symptoms. I also found myself questioning his perception of the world because it was so pervasively negative. As a result, I was highly engaged with the story throughout the entire book, and it was a notably different reading experience. Diagnoses aside, I like this book but I don’t love it. It would be good to read if you have time, but not necessary if you don’t.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Hyperbole and a Half

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened – Allie Brosh

 And yet another atypical book and book review. “Hyperbole and a Half” is a collection of some of the more spectacular and hilarious blog posts from Allie Brosh. Brosh chronicles everything from childhood escapades in the name of cake, to failed attempts to raise adequately well-behaved dogs, to the sheer terror of finding yourself suddenly trapped in your own home by a goose. She also addresses some weightier concerns like one too many adult responsibilities, learning how to cope with life when it refuses to follow your expectations, and admitting that you might have suicidal ideation. That last one was more serious that most, but equally deserving of attention and written with the same tone as her other stories. Brosh approaches all of these situations with a cavalier attitude while sharing her vulnerabilities, frustrations, and random thought processes. And did I mention that there are pictures? Yes, pictures! Not only is this book evocative and relatable, but also endlessly entertaining! I frequently found myself laughing out loud, and so had to restrict myself to reading this book in private but not right before bed because it was too funny. Well worth the read.

The Gift

The Gift – Hafiz

 This is another atypical book, so it also will not receive my typical book review. ”The Gift” by Hafiz is a collection of poems that have endured several centuries and been translated into numerous languages throughout that time. Most poems in the book are not explicitly religious, but all of them have some degree of spiritual undertone. Through clever metaphors and hilarious tangents, Hafiz accurately and often painfully captures the fundamental contradictions of being human and trying to make meaning out of life. I cannot make it clear enough how much I love this book. I love this book so much that I can’t hold onto it. I regularly give away my copy because it is so urgent to me that someone else read it RIGHT NOW. Since I first read this book, I think I have purchased 5 copies for myself that have ended up in other hands, and 3 more intentionally as gifts for someone else. I finally gave in a bought a copy of it on my kindle, but even that wasn’t good enough, so I went and bought another paperback copy and I already have plans for who will receive this one. READ IT. If you don’t, then it is entirely reasonable that you should expect to receive my own dog-eared copy one day.

Wherever You Go, There You Are

Wherever You Go, There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn

This isn’t exactly a typical book, so it will not receive my typical review. “Wherever you go, there you are” is more or less an instructional book for practicing mindfulness and meditation. In short chapters no more than 3 or 4 pages long, Kabat-Zinn describes various steps in the process of sitting back, observing, and letting go. Illuminated with “tips for practice” and personal stories from his own experience with mindfulness, this book is understandable, relevant, and not at all intimidating as an introduction to mindfulness practice. When I first began this book, I undertook reading it as I would any other book, which turned out to be a mistake. Because the substance of this book invites reflection and deep thinking, I quickly found myself losing track of what was covered in each section. After that, I decided to read no more than one or two sections at a time so I could fully process what Kabat-Zinn offers in each of his suggestions for practice, and the book made much more sense. I highly recommend this book because it is simple yet profound. And also because I’m neurotic and I find it helpful to incorporate many of his suggested strategies into my life.