Book Review of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in The Rye

William Faulkner understood The Catcher in the Rye as this, “His (Holden’s) tragedy was that when he attempted to enter the human race, there was no human race there…. until he either gave up or was himself, by himself, by his own frantic buzzing, destroyed.”

This book is a funny one. Not blatantly entertaining but surreptitiously so. If somebody hands you a classic, they hand you a perspective to go with it. And gradually, as you read it, your mind’s eye recedes and your understanding of the protagonist becomes submerged and buoyed in the immediate nature of the story. And a story like Holden’s, with its undefeated realism, seems stagnant. But is it really?

Holden is an intelligently sensitive character. He demands your complete attention or nothing at all. As a reader, you can only inhabit either one of the extremes. The story he narrates to you is but an echo through his own becoming. He reels you in in how carefully and incisively he tells his story. I observed that his telling of his own despair, his hopelessness, his aloofness, his angst, is ultimately how he shields that very depressive realism of the world from the world. Let me explain.

Depressive realism is the state of letting go of delusion. The very notion that a certain kind of living can make you feel happy, loved, worthy, and accepted is what’s challenged here. In Holden’s story, this is a fine education, women, friendship, and parenthood. Examples of this view are everywhere in the book. What if, on the contrary, you viewed Holden as not a tragic hero or a great American teenager, but as a flawed human being? You recognise his naïveté as a part of growing up. His pinching indifference as the drawing out of a psyche that is more complex than the world would want him to believe.

Book Review of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces

I remember contemplating Siddhartha’s spiritual journey in Herman Hesse’s novel as a solitary one. The ironic completeness of his protagonist through enlightened and carnal pleasures and Siddhartha’s conscious approach to living them. Through The Hero With a Thousand Faces, the portal of change and illumination is revealed once more. Though less lyrically and more symbolically. You can read it as a profound guide to the consistency and relevancy of myth suffused in history, religion, psychology, and spirituality.

There is something truly revealing about Joseph Campbell’s manner of writing. It questions modern psychology and myth through the lens of human plight. It threads the ascend and descend of human endeavor: highlighting its rusty and familiar bits. You read it not as a scholar would to cultivate an interpretation or hypothesis. The structure is not dogmatically dragging. It’s individual and consciously aware – it’s hopeful.

Self-reflection is never possible on a collective scale. It’s never about the others, it’s always about you. Such lonely and shape-shifting contemplation and confrontation with the self can seem alarming and intimidating. But this book makes it easier. So to reflect on the staggering and revelatory questions of life on a human level, to respond to it through your psyche alone opens up a new, deeper understanding. Then you have the tools to achieve self-reconciliation and gain back the beauty and terror of human nature.

It is possible, I believe, to awaken the memory of myth as it is to get closer to symbols and stories. To explore the labyrinth of self-expression and consciousness again, in its vital and resplendent capacities, and find in them the prophetic oneness of human psychology. Is it the otherness of human life that makes you understand yourself? Or is it your own reflection you are so afraid of learning about when you do?

Book Review of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea

“Why did they make birds so delicate and fine as those sea swallows when the ocean can be so cruel?”

To read Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea without remembering its contemplative and thrilling playfulness is difficult. I haven’t read much of Ernest Hemingway besides A Moveable Feast though I have all of his works; The Old Man and The Sea, in its entirety, is the loneliest book I’ve read in a long time. It’s more than enough to read about a gruesomely tiring tale of an old fisherman and a fish. But to have the little boy cast a spell of more solitude and persistence in the old man gives you, the reader, a deeper sorrow to swallow.

Hemingway once wrote, “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.” And that if a writer is good enough he is destined to “face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.” This is deeply and eloquently mirrored in Hemingway’s writing. Those simple words do more than their definitions to illuminate a desolate and cruel world. A world in which old age is often spoken about for longer than it is understood.

This book doesn’t speak of old age. Nor does it show you what it’s like for the world. The structure and language are omnipresent in that they offer you a voyage where you inhabit the vast nature of the sea and the undying and unforgiving nature of the old man. And how the roles keep reversing from one to the other.

You say this is just a story about an old man unwilling to let go. I say this is human nature. To find something that serves you and to see an image of yourself reflected in it, no matter how young or old and small or big it makes you, something that you know better than anyone or anything, and it knows you. I figured it doesn’t matter whether you lose or win to the world. You’ve already won by never giving it up.

Film Review of Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy

It may be that a film reminds you of a time spent in affection and the revelations it brings with it. But creating that cinematic language and fluency where a film can retain the yearning of a love reserved for a time ahead of yours is unique. Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy is one such gem. It’s intimate and perplexing.

The idea that you can go back to being a stranger to someone you’ve mapped your infinite and finite moments with. And to race ahead to recognize and share in a stranger’s closeness and sincerity as you would your own. Abbas Kiarostami shows you both possibilities and evokes in you a question, both timeless and wise: Does the difference between a piece of art and its copy matter?

The mirrored transparency of the question seeps into the philosophical and candid nature of Elle and James Miller. Their lucid conversation in Tuscany, the lanes that inhabit it, and the mysterious composition of it all – it’s intriguing and poetic. You never want it to end.

In films, we are so rushed to the climax, to the justification of all those sensations you felt throughout the film. But what this film wants you to do is to sit with those sensations. To stir in that wonder and curiosity that naming things and people usually erases. The walls we build up around people and label them depending upon how they make us feel. Only so that the experiences that contain them we can wrestle with for the remaining of our lives. God forbid we misplace our own identities were we to break down those walls.

Maybe watching a film like Certified Copy isn’t as simple as believing in one possibility. The film would gladly have an ending you want it to have. But in doing so, you would fail to grasp the universe the film inhabits. The language it so boldly wants you to learn; the depth of which no words can completely express. But you’re still holding on to what you can between the words and silences.

Book Review of Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other

Turning to the multicultural and labyrinthine narrative of Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, you’re reminded of the multi-faceted and myriad tendencies of a self. A book that reads like a journal into the lives of 12 women – connected somehow in kinship and affectation – is sketched in a fictively symmetrical format.

The first few stories embrace a perceptible current. They prepare you for what’s to come. You’re as much a part of it as you’re the chanced observer. There are no full stops in the book in that every sentence is broken into smaller pieces so that it feels as uninhibited as the flow of water. To me, it proves the spirit of incandescent and translucent honesty of the characters.

Reading this book is no simple feat. The succinctness of each woman’s story may trick you into believing so. What Bernardine Evaristo does is she embraces certain consistent motifs that run along the length of the book. And out of this emerges a few crocheted structures. Upon each thread, each stream of thought, a woman is willed into being. You read her life to fruition. If at some point you stop reading her story, this “girl, woman, other” who is a sentient presence, by setting the book aside, it’s as if you’ve completely erased her.

The book’s ideal reader is someone who appreciates a quick and light read. It unabashedly taps into feminism but remains as a fictive impersonation of it. The boundaries of which, for the sake of literary fiction, have been pushed to extremes. And this was a significant let-down. It also brings up questions of entitlement. But they’re posed simply as questions; the answers fail to surface as the story stretches in its narration.

Film Review of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia

If what meets the eye is believable, and is believed, can it be a coincidence that what doesn’t meet the eye has had bad luck? It seems the objective here – of human actions and of human behavior – is that everything is a sneaky coincidence. Because if it isn’t, and if it were up to fate, the lives we would create would be empty and emptier still right to the end.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia tackles the mightiest force of existence – and that is chance. The film has everything. The suppressed emotions, dying wish, waking desires, yearning, loneliness, and melancholia. It works together in one swift and heady motion to reimagine separate lives not by their staggering tragedies or incomplete-ness but by their harmonic and sincere and self-same peculiarities.

This somehow reminds me of something I heard in Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice, “We wait for something. We hope, we lose hope, we move closer to death. Finally, we die.” And that it’s all the same. We all hope. We all have missed chances. But we’re all rowing the boat the same on different currents of life. When you’re confronted with such extremes, the path of least resistance is the path of letting go.

Magnolia is an instinctual and emotive film. It evokes feelings of continued wonder of what’s about to happen next in each story. The aliveness of his characters enables you to discover your own identity in each of them. So that, at the end, when you breathe in the clarity and transparency of life and its many absurdities, you’re not just another “spoke in the wheel.”

Film Review of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner

The neon signs, continuous rain, ethereal billboards, and the one-dimensionality of it all. Blade Runner is one of the strangest dystopian sci-fi films I’ve seen. The story hides well the humanity of humans and seeks, instead, to find the humanity of robots.

Set in November 2019, the film fashions the future in a hedonistic and dismissive manner. It is cruel with its stranded, empty, and ghoulish rooms. So dense and desolate is the atmosphere where the film takes place that even the sun fails to shine on it. But Ridley Scott’s cinematic imagination doesn’t fail to show you that there is a sun. That the endless night is a metaphor for the ripening of a forgotten and ruinous hierarchy.

The skyscrapers deflect rather than protect. Everything you encounter in this film is desensitized, inhuman, and cold. I read in an article on BFI that Harrison Ford established that his character, Deckard was the only “human” on screen so that the viewer could develop an emotional bond with him. This, against the closeness of the “replicants,” the artificial people who their creator, Tyrell, wanted to manufacture as “more human than human,” feels intoxicating than ever.

But what really reels the film in is the intense background score. It does more for the film than the visuals because the latter alone, with its chaotic and color-dense personality, wouldn’t evoke feelings of terror and dystopia as the music did, by itself. Look forward to this film for its seasoned humaneness. Where the final end is not a test for mortality between human and android. The final end is living and whether one does it humanely or heartlessly.

Film Review of Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida

In my notes while watching this film, I wrote some lines, erased them, wrote over the split words, and found that what I wrote before, the first time, was right.

“The quietness and stillness of strength speak volumes.”

This is what Pawel Pawlikowski’s film, Ida, has given me. The understanding that a person’s display of strength when retracing their steps into the past has nothing to do with facing up to it. It’s a façade that you put up with to fool yourself, or perhaps to fool the world, that it’s okay; that you don’t fear what you’ve buried deep inside you that you now have to uncover only to find yourself.

The film uses silence and profound stillness to convey a feeling that even words would fail to evoke. The cinematography blends in rather than stands out with the way the film is shot. The car journey of Ida and her aunt to find where her family was buried when Ida was just a child is a solitary experience. The two journey to places as if they’re the only voyagers of lost souls in the world.

The way both worlds are imagined and plated for the viewer is unique. Ida’s orphaned and redeemed life story is felt through her aunt Wanda’s accessible and lonely lifestyle. Wanda feels deserted even though she’s a state judge who has sent people to their deaths. The ghosts of them, it seems, still persist as shadows clinging to her kitchen and bedroom. The film quickens your heartbeat to the point of complete fidelity to Pawel Pawlikowski’s style of filmmaking. It’s historically powerful. Every frame is a story to weigh in, to observe, to feel deeply.

Book Review of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway

“Did it matter then, she asked herself, did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely?”

If somebody told you that an hour is long enough, would you believe it? That, when measured against a string of forgotten, dry, and vain days, an hour is your only means of getting through life. The scales of time on a clock are well-defined, perhaps, to illustrate desire and the lack of it. The scales of time, however, inside our minds are not the same. They resist the temptation of passing. They grasp at what’s near; what’s remarkable and symbolic. Time asks nothing of us and still, we give to it our whole selves. So that later on, when we have become forgotten memories to time, time is somehow immeasurable to us.

Reading about age against the receding grains of mortality is thrilling. It’s disquieting as much as it’s the only thing sincere to the act of living. And Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, which is a book about a single day, is overwrought with the temporality of humanity. And why, as long as we are alive, living is a serious anomaly that most of us, for the most part, are oblivious to.

Mrs. Dalloway is a book about contemplation and presence. It halts the train of time so that it can offer you, in these troubling and uncertain moments, budding hope. Woolf’s embryonic stream of consciousness and awareness of time is insightful and inspiring. After reading To The Lighthouse and The Years first, my admiration for her work has only deepened.

The central theme of the book is time and its lasting effect. The narrative is perplexing; her language is determined to put you where her characters are placed; where their lives are given identity and also where they’ve been deprived of them. I wish I could have read this book in a single day. To live the entire story myself and walk the streets of London, past the urbanity of life. Precisely because it so redefines our idea of a normal life, considering the global pandemic. And helps us understand Woolf highlighting hers, in 1923, when Influenza was only a few years old.

Book Review of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own

In the meandering course of life, you need a book like A Room of One’s Own to ground you. The book reflects a lifelong yearning, to tirelessly be, to consider the self as an eternally shifting dimension, which comes together in the form of strength, conviction, and knowledge. This book contains the spirit of spirit itself. From beginning to end, it unshackles the imperfections of perfection.

The human mind, Woolf writes, must realize its masculine and feminine characteristics. This is what sets the foundation of all human experience. Only then is the being and becoming of a self primitive. Since its inception, a novelist is so absorbed in one’s own sex that it overwhelmingly devours one’s words and actions. That’s when ‘I’ becomes “a convenient term for somebody who has no real being.”

This ‘I’ in a self is also what defines a person in “the relation of stone to stone.” It’s lacking in emotion and truth. Woolf urges you to map your inner and outer world in “the relation of human being to human being.” This activates in each of us a beauty and familiarity that is profound and indispensable.

Read A Room of One’s Own for its stunning wisdom and honesty. It’s for the androgynous mind. The mind that, in its every crease, has an unfathomable depth. The mind that shares in the common language that Virginia Woolf so contemplatively inhabits. Her words, her stream of consciousness is, in its very being, a stroke of genius.