Book Review of Goethe’s Faust Part One

Where do I begin? My first reading of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Goethe’s Faust (Part One) is a story of such grave and unredeemable sensibility. A poignant work of drama that’s not meant for reading but performing. Be that as it may, I read it to the point of absolute necessity. As if the time spent not reading this book is time spent in a state of total uselessness and disorientation. So yes, it’s not meant for reading but performing. If performing means to fulfill an act as acute as ingesting Faust’s yearning and desperation for adventure, desire, and passion.

Mephistopheles, the Devil incarnate, strikes a bet with God. To lure a vain, scientific, and intellectual man, Faust, to become a beguiled and shallow captive of pleasure. In exchange, Mephistopheles receives Faust’s soul and allegiance. The exchange is greedy and impulsive. As Faust travels through these stages of exploration, he finds himself despairingly holding on his past self, yet impatient and greedy; in search for something greater, larger, something that anchors him to the ground beneath. A stab in the dark. Ironically, to redeem his soul.

What anchored me to this story was Faust’s frustration. The “shadow of a life” he lived, as described by Mephistopheles. Faust’s quest for knowledge, as omniscient as it is, was not enough to satisfy and titillate his soul. It was all a delusion, once sweet and heroic, later became the source of his uneasiness and impatience. Perhaps the passion he so craved was yet another delusion. A truth that is so painful to swallow: that desire and loathing are inseparable beings; one cannot be felt without the other.

“Sometimes a place is very hard to leave-
But it’s just not one’s destination.”

Book Review of Soren Kierkegaard’s The Sickness unto Death

“…the very notion of a self is vague,”

The measure of one’s truth is in what drives a person to despair. How does one live? What faculty of thought or tendency of a “self” drives a person to happiness? Is it by virtue of the lack of sorrow? And what faculty of thought or tendency of a “self” drives a person to sorrow? Is it by virtue of the lack of happiness?

Soren Kierkegaard spoke about the idea of despair as being an eternal phenomenon as the “self” is an eternal force of nature. So the loss of despair is the loss of one’s “self” in which there can occur an annihilation of one’s relation to not only the outside world but to the “self” itself. The Sickness Unto Death is his profound, intellectual, and ceaseless conversation about self-actualization. His writing is easy no task to bear but if you are patient and amicable enough, the book is better than any self-help book you’ve ever read.

For Kierkegaard, this sickness of despair is not as conventional as physical sickness that may or may not drive one to death. Despair is rather an omnipresent, an underlying manifestation of the consciousness. It doesn’t alienate us from perception rather it elevates the intensity of the experience to the point of uninhibited self-expression, or what Kierkegaard calls “faith.”

One despairs in being oneself. One despairs in wanting to be oneself. One despairs in not wanting to be oneself. This tug of war between a self’s authentic and inauthentic despair is the formula of human existence.  The biggest danger, however, is “that of losing oneself, one can pass off in the world as quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. is bound to be noticed.”

Read all my highlighted passages from the book here.


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Book Review of Albert Camus’s The Plague

Begetting such symbolic human helplessness against the unbendable forces of nature… perhaps seen through an evolutionary standpoint makes The Plague an unfortunately arresting book. It’s symbolic in that it’s about the bubonic plague taking place in the 1940s, spread across the city of Oran. The plague could be Albert Camus’s allegorical interpretation of war and/or his absurd and atheistic interpretation of good and evil. One can view this book through many lenses.

The story is grotesque and uncompromising. It doesn’t dramatize death. The protagonist carries out his role as a doctor in the midst of this epidemic as an abstraction. An abstraction that trumps happiness and heroism. For pity, grief, and anger do not offer any strength against such a hardening blow. What’s left is cultivating logical habits that do not leave a person cold and empty.

This abstraction applies to most everyday things of life. We yearn to succeed at something not because it’s the ideal way to live. But in order to avoid failing at it. We’re constantly in fear of not knowing that it forcibly and impulsively compels us to know. Transitioning this thought to the question of good and evil where life is not evil nor is it good. Rather it’s the living of it that affects our judgment on the stand.

The book raises many such questions. Why human behavior is “more or less ignorant” rather than a “vice or virtue?” How appalling it is to understand love not by attaining it but withholding from it. And finally, a question that makes one aware of the enormity of our infinitesimal existence, “But what does it mean, the plague? It’s life, after all.”

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Book Review of Haruki Murakami’s Wind/Pinball: Two Novels

His first debut short novels, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973, are the first strings that tie Murakami’s fantasy together. The stories are rich, captivating, and vivid. They transcend layers upon layers into the characteristic vitality and loneliness that Murakami never fails to bring page after page. The lives of the people permeate everything. I couldn’t understand how else the language and longing of the protagonist are brought to be understood by so many.

The novels are centered upon ordinary realities whose very essence and soul are rare and unforgettable. I enjoyed revisiting the pleasant and nostalgic sensitivity of Murakami. Where his deepest and conscious thought is so effortless to make sense of. The book demands little in return. Consider it a light read… a moving work of literature. Meditative and tranquil; containing the sum total of one’s lonely, quiet, and vigilant voyage.

If what you seek is wisdom and meditation that’s lurking beneath the surface, you’ll find it in this story. All it does is give you a taste of that flawless and enigmatic purity that Murakami achieves in his later works. If you’re attentive enough, these short stories reveal the beauty of such seasoning of life.

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Book Review of Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death

It’s like going to sleep in this reality and waking up in another. A reality bereft of meaning but burdened with formulaic lifestyles. The book tells you that your character is a lie; forged as a result of denying pain and anxiety and suffering in the world. You validate and create your own supposedly infinite values so life’s possibilities may appear abundant, final, and redeeming.

We’ve all incurred this trait as it reaches an unconscious and almost robotic stage. Where, to break the pattern, the repression of these lies and delusions, one has to not only step out of this world but step out of the shoes that one, from childhood into adulthood, had tightened the shoelaces of. The Denial of Death calls this “the final terror of self-consciousness” under the light of facing up to one’s own death.

There is no doubt this book is consolatory for such times when our biological fate seems too hollow and out-of-hand. Evolution dictates the continuity of science, of geographical and historical precedence, but one does wonder if humanity is the real nature of the world. These “character defenses” we collectively but internally manifest and project out into the world is an attempt to delay the realization and acceptance of the only philosophical question about the human condition.

The “hero” is not the one with the answer but the one who bears the question without an explanation. Who lives undeterred by, but as a result of, the nothingness of life’s alibi. There are many definitions of death; poetically, we must return to the very form that created us, to dust; scientifically, our cells die and our organs do not regenerate; philosophically, death is nothing but the living of life. None do explain the accompanying awareness of death. And while we continue to form our own symphonies to bridge time, space, and existence – it’s books like The Denial of Death that broaden our understanding of our place in it. Don’t read it if you want answers, read it if you can start asking the questions.

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Book Review of Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life

Reading Proust and meditating on his literature and wisdom are unique but strange experiences. His descent and inquiry into igniting every compassionate nerve in one’s body are exceptional. And Alain de Botton accomplishes the rare task of compiling Marcel Proust’s most significant and learned possessions.

The book comprises of life’s most sought but unrequited questions. Perhaps it’s not about people that we need to learn about. Nor is it about acquiring more words under the guise of knowledge and wisdom. Rather, it’s understanding the varied dimensions to loving and being.

Presence, which goes above and beyond sensory perception is often unwelcome in the realm of friendships and loves.

Proust takes you a step further into the logic of such a philosophy. And when other philosophy books seem perplexing and perhaps too embracive, Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life makes the same sentiment more alluring than just a glance. It’s intense, simple, and within the realm of one’s emotional, intellectual, and platonic possibilities.

There is a lesson in each question. Two of them that, in homage, I offer to time’s quickening spirit is ‘How to Suffer Successfully’ and ‘How to Read for Yourself’. Read this book as a reminder or merely a kind of repose which offers mind and creative courage. Alain de Botton delivers an unforgettable and imaginative evaluation of what Proust so eloquently discovered in his books.


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Book Review of The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

The labor of writing. It has structure, direction, and purpose. You’re taught to create a rhythm out of writing. A tune that only you can play. You visualize what it means, give it body, a beating heart, veins, an assimilating spirit. To a point where you expect the words to flow a certain way. When they do, you lose their meaning. When they don’t, you’re left guessing where the real you is.

You neglect the body and mind that is, in fact, the tangible being. You slip out of this bodily apparatus. You deny your eyes that can see, your ears that can hear, and your mouth that can speak. You neglect the body you sacrificed for your writing. But you know that if you die, the words die with you.

So you continue to flow, even if words no longer serve you, resolve you, pardon you. Perhaps, the writing is you and your only possession. But what you write never possesses you. Perhaps, what words are are a compromise; a bargain between who you really are and who you want to be.

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath is impenetrable. It’s everything for a woman. Imagine descending deeper and deeper into someone’s soul; extracting fragmentary, broken glimpses of one’s intelligent, ambitious, lurking, and unafraid outpourings. If the words tremble, you tremble with them. The journal features her curiosity, her inwardness, and her entire personhood. To read it is to inhale and exhale in her every breath. However, “once a poem is made available to the public, the right of interpretation belongs to the reader.”

These are Sylvia Plath’s own words. And I can never turn them down. I’m torn as an observer of the life contained in this journal. I’ve experienced a range of emotions while reading it; anger, sadness, solace, strength, forlornness. Quite irreconcilable in the face of her gasping thoughts and self-ness. So emphatic are her mirrors of awareness that she loses herself in them. Reading her journals, I was delivered into a brooding and restless realm; that contained her capacity to be perceptive, to grow, to live, and to write.


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Ladders to Fire – Anais Nin

This book is proof that words contain within themselves, emerging from scattered streams, whole words, whole emotions, and whole dreams. Anaïs Nin’s Ladders to Fire seizes you faster than the speed of an electric current puncturing flesh. The book is essence over substance and the dissolution of that substance into a surreal dream.

What Anaïs Nin offers is closer to a prophecy – a timeless and pulsating beat – in which the toughest feeling is that of a nostalgic remembering. A recalling of love once ripe and soft – now, impenetrable and cold. A passion once ignited and breathless – now deep and obscured. Yet all this exists, within one’s internal fabric, as if part of one’s skin. The exterior remains concealed in plain sight; shifting and responding to the change of every wind, of every whisper imprinted into the skin.

It’s comforting to keep this book under covers; it is for you that this book lives. And nothing will extinguish its fire unless you stop reading it. So keep it under covers, hide it from piercing eyes. Perhaps you will not be able to forget this book. You will love it so you can let it go but only after you’ve bandaged the book’s dissonant cries as if it’s an old wound festering the veins of your own soul.

The book is about several women, each navigating the depths of her fears, desires, guilt, memories, and happiness: Some awaken to self-reflection as when light enters the mind at the end of every dream. The wakefulness of the narration is in contrast with the murkiness and mystifying appearance of these women. And it’s the realization of this quality that conveys the book’s extraordinary genius.


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The Face of Another – Kobo Abe

The loyalty of a face is so inveterate against the reality of identity. We’re lost in the maze of misplaced, forgotten, or abandoned identities. And no other Japanese author understands the significance and crisis of this fable better than Kobo Abe. In his book, The Face of Another, this part of our humanity is most chronic and ablaze.

The book rises to the challenge of an experiment. This experiment is as much in the protagonist’s mind as it is in the reader’s. It’s a dormant state followed by a line of questioning. Though we can escape anger or loneliness, can we strip the face that holds on to these emotions? We may not look at other faces and turn our gaze to nature and reflect in its mirror, but how is it that we cannot turn away from the many faces we ourselves cannot bear to remove? Is it a disguise even if it feels more real and closer to reality than nothing?

The protagonist strips each layer of identity and then of its masks. He loses his ability to distinguish person from person, object from object, music from music. These sights, sounds, and smell flood his inner ecosystem. And to redeem it, he chooses a different identity in order to meet the world and himself. Kobo Abe’s literary style – in The Face of Another, The Box Man, The Woman in the Dunes – feels like a black hole in space. Inside it are different pulsating soliloquies suspended over a vast space of empty air.

Have you ever read a book that feels the right kind of nihilist, perhaps even cynic? Kobo Abe’s chilling and classic fiction scrutinizes a man’s suffering and reawakening. The most absurd and existential of catastrophes is the confrontation of your inner mind’s eye with your outer. This book is humanity’s letter of admission to the world. It’s brutal and brisk in the way it breaks down superficialities.


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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer – Patrick Suskind

A deeply disturbing story that evolves through time as it shifts and surpasses the boundaries of literary worlds. What if what we perceive as the boundaries of our objective universe isn’t the only space we inhabit? The story of Perfume and the provocative and redolent sphere it creates definitely makes a good argument for it.

It inhabits a blip in time; a black hole of the universe’s most cruel joke which is to become an accessory to fragrance. Now, we think of fragrance as having a more meek quality. Imagine a world where we were the meek ones. It can be mystifying, titillating but knuckled under a growing horror. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer discovers the atoms and molecules of such a world in its every breath. It’s a celebration of the living world but carried out through its destruction.

The book is full of effulgent descriptions, the poetics of perfuming, and finally, murder blanketed as a sensual remedy for isolation. The path it takes is profoundly imaginative, horrific, and unpredictable. It’s not a historical tale, not a mystery, not a crime novel, nor is it horror. Most of the time, the stamp of a book is not what it is for the world, but what it becomes, detached, for itself. And that’s exactly the kind of book Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is.


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