Monday, September 29, 2014

The Tortilla Curtain

A couple of weekends ago I was just sort of rambling through my bookshelves, looking for a new read. Do you ever do that? Browse around in your own home -- as if you are at a bookstore? I picked this one T.C. Boyle book out from among them and ZOWIE -- I was hooked. I mean, check out the first line of Chapter 1:
Afterward, he tried to reduce it to abstract terms, an accident in a world of accidents, the collision of opposing forces -- the bumper of his car and the frail scrambling hunched-over form of a dark little man with a wild look in his eye -- but he wasn't very successful.
Doesn't that make you want to know more? Well, for the rest of the whole weekend I could not put the book down -- and hence, finished it in two days.
T.C. Boyle is a terrific writer, and in this, his most popular book [according to his website] he explores the problem of illegal immigration from Mexico to the U.S. via what is known as "the tortilla curtain." Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher lead an upscale success-filled existence on the outskirts of L.A. They enjoy a basically trouble-free life in their hilltop community of Arroyo Blanco. He is writer for a magazine, and she is a five-star realtor. But from that first sentence onward, their lives are about to be changed forever as a result of a run-in with some of the other umm… non-tenanted residents of the area. A man named Candido, along with his 17-year old pregnant "wife" [they aren't officially married] live in the canyon down below the properties. Their life is one of profound hardship, scrabbling for piece-work each day down at the labor exchange. Often subsisting on… well, garbage. The dream of coming to America and becoming even semi-prosperous has [to say the least] not worked out at all -- and it does not help that Delaney smashes into the man with his new Acura! Now the injured Candido has to rely upon the young girl for the few dollars she is able to bring back to their camp each night.
The story is searing. You just want something to work out for Candido and America [that's the girl's name] -- but things just go from worse to…. more horrid, each and every day. Meanwhile, the community [and understandably so] takes greater and greater measures to exclude these fence-jumpers from having any hope of getting ahead. 

Are we suppose to pity them? Well -- you be the judge. I know I did.
More than proposing any right attitude toward the "problem" [and admittedly, it is a severe problem] -- the author just presents a horribly realistic look at [as Barbara Kingsolver put it] "the smug wastefulness of the haves and the vile misery of the have-nots."
I was captivated by this novel from start to finish. And what a crescendo of a finish it is. 

I highly recommend this book -- my favourite of the Boyle books I have read thus far.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Splash du Jour: Monday

Teach a child to play solitaire, and she'll be able to entertain herself when there's no one around. Teach her tennis, and she'll know what to do when she's on a court. But raise her to feel comfortable in nature, and the whole planet is her home.
-- Joyce Maynard --

Have a great Monday!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

Love is scary because it pulls you in with an intense force, a supermassive black hole which looks like nothing from the outside but from the inside challenges every reasonable thing you know. You lose yourself, like I lost myself, in the warmest of annihilations.
-- Matt Haig, The Humans --

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Splash du Jour: Monday

Eye contact between two women during negotiation turns out to lead to a more creative outcome, while eye contact between two men actually prevents them from coming to terms. Men are handicapped by the threatening hierarchical implications of looking into someone's eyes. Feel free to use this practical tip to your advantage.
-- D. F. Swaab, We Are Our Brains --

Have a great Monday!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Splash du Jour: Thursday

“When someone seeks," said Siddhartha, "then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.”
-- Hermann Hesse, Siddharta --

Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Lowboy -- Quite The Interview!

There is this new novel called Lowboy, by John Wray and I'm here to say I know absolutely nothing about it. But after watching this very insightful interview with the author… I know even less about it. Admittedly, I possess a sort of pre-elementary, pre-Neanderthal sense of humor. Forgive me, therefore, but I think this clip is so hilarious I have to share it with you.
OK, first of all, I love Zach Galifianakis. And in this clip the actual author of the book [John Wray] interviews Zach as if he is the author. In other words, Wray is introducing himself as Zach. It's so crazy.
I myself have a book in the works, very much in the germinal, gestation stage -- and so, as I go forward, I'm thinking of utilizing a few of the pointers I learned in this interview. Especially the one about the use of pasta.

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

Our imagination permits us to understand what it is like to be someone else. I don't think you could have even the beginnings of a morality unless you had the imaginative capacity to understand what it would be like to be the person whom you're considering beating round the head with a stick. An act of cruelty is ultimately a failure of the imagination.  Fiction is a deeply moral form in that it is the perfect medium for entering the mind of another. I think it is at the level of empathy that moral  questions begin in fiction.
-- Ian McEwan --

Have a great Wednesday!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Splash du Jour: Monday

Behold two horses that appear of the same size and shape: How do you know which is the mother and which the son? Give them hay. The mother will nudge the hay toward her son.
-- The Teachings of Buddha --

Have a great Monday!

Friday, September 05, 2014

It's Possible... But Not Really

Once I missed out on winning a ten million-dollar lottery by a margin of just one number. The next morning I posted a photocopy of my ticket, super-imposed on the winning numbers with the caption underneath:
"This is why I am at work today!"
I work in a very exact profession which involves a minimum of eight daily hours of dealing with precision of numbers, and so I am a bit obsessed with the phenomenon of probability. No mistakes are allowed. I am forever thinking of probabilities, in one way or another. And I like trying to find analogies that will better illustrate the improbability of probabilities. The other day I came up with a new one that [to me, anyway] just accentuates how much "luck" [or whatever] one might need to win a lottery. To win any national lottery, the chances of you winning are well in excess of one in many many millions, sometimes hundreds of millions. But for now, let's focus on what it means to foist your chances on say "one in a million".
One in a million. Let's say you have a one-in-a-million chance of… winning something. 

Or of something specific happening.
Let's say that there is an amateur thief out there waiting for a moment… the one night in which you forget to lock your car. He wants to steal your signed first edition of Salinger's "Catcher In The Rye" that is sitting there on the back seat. [Who wouldn't?] He has no thief-tools to do the job. The only factor involved in his success is that he is walking past your car on that one night of the year that you leave it unlocked. Obviously, if one specific year was chosen for this event to happen, his chances of being rewarded would be one in 365.
But what if his chances were set by the parameters of "one-in-a-million"?
It would mean that this thief had to walk past your unlocked car on that exact day of the year in any given span of 2,740 years!
And yet… I continue to buy lottery tickets. The epitome of wishful thinking!


Thursday, September 04, 2014

Splash du Jour: Thursday

Mirage After Mirage

A sly joy in not owning anything, we drove on.
A sudden thrill in our unknowing, we listened.
Generations of guilt washed away -- sailing
toward mirage after mirage in that rented car.

Your hair a pennant whipped out the window
destination undestined. Thinking ourselves on
the Vermont Trail we landed in New Hampshire
-- not even a shrug of mistake between us.

Checking in, we owned a town unknown to us.
Ate Chinese food uneaten in China. I gave you
your nickname. Mira. Short for mirage. Dreams
shivering on a highway ahead of us, in the sun.

©Ciprianowords, Inc. 2014

Have a great Thursday!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth

Have you ever had a book that sat on your shelf for years and years and you always wanted to read it, but just never seemed to get around to it?
Well -- I had one. And finally got around to it.
Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth, by Gitta Sereny.
In all honesty, it was a fellow blogger that got me to dust this thing off. 

And sadly, I forget who you are, so if you are reading this, please remind me in the comment section. You listed it as one of your favourite reads of all time. And now I would have to add it as one of mine, also. 
So, thank you.
This is a big heavy book. If it were a household cleaner, it would have as a sub-title: Industrial Strength! It took me a while to get through it, but not because of lack of interest. It's the story of Albert Speer, sometimes referred to as "the good Nazi". He began his career as an architect in Germany, landing, while yet an amateur, a few key commissions from Hitler. From the get-go a special relationship developed between them -- and years later, Hitler appointed him as Minister of Armaments. Speer, having no political aspirations at the time, was as shocked as anyone else around him to be thrust into the very highest ranks of Nazism. As it turns out, no one was better suited for the job. Speer's organizational brilliance was boundless. He succeeded beyond even Adolf's wildest dreams.
But little did he know of Adolf's wildest dreams!
As Germany moved eastward into Russia and suffered staggering defeats, it became obvious [to Speer and many others] that Hitler's goals would never be realized. And as we all know now, and some knew then, Hitler's dreams were nightmares, in reality.
This book is about how much Speer was privy to the nightmares. What did he really know about Hitler's goal of eradication of the Jewish race? What did he know of Treblinka and Sobibor -- of Auschwitz -- of so many other places involved in a horror that staggers the imagination?
Toward the end, as Hitler himself came to reluctantly accept the fact that Germany would not prevail, he adopted a policy of "scorched earth", in which he would seek to destroy Germany itself. It is impossible to summarize in a review the scope of this book, but suffice it to say, Speer, along with many others, had to come to a place of deciding whether they were for "Germany" or for "Hitler."
Speer chose Germany, and the German people, over his former idol, the Fuhrer.
He then began to deliberately countermand Hitler's own orders of self-destruction.
But history's greatest question remains. What did Speer know of what was going on when it came to the extermination of the Jews? What did Speer know of the horrors experienced by the millions upon millions of slave workers that were essentially under his command?
In the postwar Nuremberg Trials, Speer was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, while his direct subordinate Fritz Sauckel was sentenced to death. Did Speer manipulate his way around a death sentence? Or was he, as he for so long claimed to be, truly completely unaware of what manner of atrocities were being committed?
This is what this book explores, and it is truly fascinating. It is based on meticulous research and the author's private interviews with damn near everyone that never shot themselves, hanged themselves, or bit into the cyanide capsule before she could get to them.
She definitely [and definitively] got to Speer. That much is sure.
It is an amazing -- worthwhile book. Dust it off if it's sitting around your place, bowing the shelf down amid less worthy books on either side of it.