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Monday, June 29, 2009

Nine Stores by J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger was in the news lately with his lawsuit over a proposed unauthorized sequel to Catcher in the Rye a book I read and reviewed earlier this year.  The stories about him getting crazier and more isolated in his time in New Hampshire have been most fascinating.  Yup that's what this frozen place does to you, but still a small price to pay to avoid income and sales taxes.

Nine Stories was one of the many gifts that the big box of classics from Ebay provided.  The headline story is A Perfect Day for Bananafish which I hated.  After reading this trite clunker I was tempted to write off Mr. Salinger's stories as trite, try too hard literature that was published because of the success of Catcher.  I couldn't have been more wrong, and not only because banana fish predated Catcher by five years.

I especially liked The Laughing Man and Down at the Dinghy which are great stories about when innocent childhood and the adult world mix.  Teddy is a story that has a mystical kind of sci-fi vibe and De Daumier Smith's Blue Period is a hilarious growing up story, if part of your growing up period was a little larcenous and liberal like mine was.  For Esme-With Love and Squalor was one of the best WWII short stories I've read.  For those alone I would recommend this book.
Some of the real gems however are the ones about upper middle class New York. Salinger seems to know what photographers and F. Scott Fitzgerald know.  Poverty makes us look beautiful even when you expect to find unsightliness, while wealth provides a background of opulence that highlights the ugly and tragic parts of ourselves.

poverty ugly

Friday, June 19, 2009

Relax, You're Already Home

When I first started this book I must admit that I started to yawn.  I'm a huge fan of Taoism, it's philosophy and it's values however this book was sounding more like a lecture than a guidebook.

Fortunately  Dr. Barnett toned it down a bit after the introduction.  Just a bit though, you have to be prepared for a bit of didactic content if you make your way through this book.  Dr. Barnett seems to have a lot of musts but I seem to think that the Tao doesn't.

So yes I would recommend this book it was a nice education into Taoism and into Chinese life and I'm glad that I read it.
But anyway, this was a good peek into Chinese life and Taoist philosophy/religion for me.  I had always rejected the religious aspects of Taoism,  I'm not really into pantheons of multiple heavenly hosts myself and I'm a long way from shamanism.  Dr. Barnett did a great job explaining the reasons for the traditions and ways to understand them.  I'm not as much of an objector now.  For example "ancestor worship", it's not as much worship as it is showing respect for people that have come before you, and the worship part is more about trying to harness the energy of those that have come before you.  We have similar traditions here in the US with for example President's day.  I don't see any harm in honoring George Washington and hoping that I can show the same level of humility, restraint, and ability to give up power when it could become corrupting.  I guess I see the wisdom in honoring your ancestors a little more and it actually helped me to want to connect with my ancestry a bit more.

I also liked the chapters on traditions like letting things go in the new year and settling past business.  I think I'll make that a tradition as well.  I'm within striking distance of being out of debt (except for my mortgage dammit), so it would be nice to get a new start by the time Chinese New Year rolls around in a few months.