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.

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.

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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The Dichotomy of a Culture

In Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.

“…the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories, you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again.

That is their mystery and their magic.”

This was an excerpt from one of my favorite reads…. A book that is the measure of loving and the subtraction of it. It carries the weight of a heavy soul… kept in a jar… tightly sealed… full of anguish, regrets, misplaced memories, and shattered kinship. You see glimpses of it through cracks in the surface left behind by the piercing eyes of one’s political, cultural, and historical predispositions.

The book is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

The book reads like a melancholic and secretive diary. A diary that you never bring out into the world; keeping it safely tucked away under a mattress or behind a mountain of personal belongings. A diary that is cradled too close to the heart, brutally and yet fervently expressive; the honesty of which even frightens you. It’s the flesh of the wound that runs the deepest and that bleeds on those blank pieces of paper; but in the end, it is bandaged by only you. This is it. The enormity of Arundhati Roy’s compass pointing us in so many glued-together directions. Having read this book three times, tucked between periods of days, weeks, months of staying away from a book that I, who am inclined to always pick up a new book because there’s always so much to read, go back to it every time for some sentimental and perceptive consolation. 

The thing about reading tragedy is that it becomes your own. Or that you claim that it is your own. How else would you feel it? The triumphs of loneliness, isolation, despair, and anger run deep into the well of your emotional tendencies. The characters are waiting for you to peel back their layers, upon a surface that makes up a story’s setting. The inadequacy of such a task is ironically what brings you closer to Arundhati Roy’s fiction. You read the words, maybe in whisper-quiet echoes. But you feel it pulsating in every muscle and their hollow spaces as if those very echoes mimic the speed and the color and the density of blood.

The book is set in Kerala, ingrained in its language; the dichotomy of a culture, of lives that were born too soon (or that shouldn’t have been born at all). The narration is restless with religious and political descriptions. Arundhati Roy has a unique way of defining these descriptions through her characters. The role of a mother, of a child, of a brother, a cousin, a lover, it’s in their history that one remembers the history of Kerala. If you’ve read the back cover of the book; the description hits the nail on the head. Amid the ruined, the forgotten, the misplaced – you won’t find a book this expansive in its depth and yet the characters live lives that feel quite the opposite.

It goes on for 340 pages; enough to contain decades and decades of survival. As a reader, you will diligently surrender to the writing style and tone of the book. It’s fast in its narration and yet you feel like it holds back time. Dropping an anchor in anyone who evaluates a book not only by its unpredictable structure but by its understanding of emotions – and their lyrical reminiscence. 

The Importance of Being Earnest – Oscar Wilde

A short story that endeavors or rather pokes at the genius of the impassivity of humanity. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde is a wild but fleeting ride. It is an introspective dive into the supposed lives of its protagonists, Algernon and John.

Both characters are handcuffed and drawn into the center of their society. It’s a fable of how unconsciously you could be pinned down by the things you surround yourself with. The understanding of false identities is grounded in as much as relevant even now. The more we’re drawn to fantasies in nature, the worse we tend to feel when they’re taken away from us.

If you ever looked into the truths that belong to you because they’re desirable. And the truths that exist undeterred by you. You’d grasp the elusive quality of life. Its illusions, ephemeral distractions, and the infallible mirror of reality. To read this book is to encourage your fascination for comedy put forth in an unfailing and intelligent light.


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Memories of My Melancholy Whores – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The truth is that every book, and in it every story, holds in its imagination a dream. The dream demands truthfulness from its reality. Separating, by a thin veil, the person hanging on to reality for clarity and the person relying on the lucidity of dreams for intense, unforeseen love.

Memories of My Melancholy Whores is the exploration of the lacunae between both worlds. It’s moving, crisp, and soul-rendering. The words ignite and wander in the land of nostalgia, love, and mortality. Reclaiming you as its solitudinous voyager, its narrator, and impersonator.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s words aren’t a measure at all. They burst forth into the recesses of a melancholic and lonely life. The book chronicles the fullness and emptiness of such a life. And soaring from its pages is the transparency of what returns to life over and over again. Tightening the threads of time strung together by mortality. The ending is the fulfillment of an unfulfilled life. The beginning of the resurrection of one.

Memories of My Melancholy Whores is about the incomplete and restless relationship of love and time. The depth of the right love met at the wrong time. And the fragility of a love that never returned when it should have. Perhaps love never does fit one like a glove. Love is time’s revenge upon death. And its own extinction.


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Man And His Symbols – Carl G. Jung

The waking of life isn’t a conventional phenomenon. It’s a thin veil that often presses up against our dreaming state. And sometimes, for us, to see through is to entertain the possibility (and yet uncertainty) that we could be viewing life from either side of it. That is, telescoping a vision of (and for life) while being conscious or otherwise.

And the tool to help you realize this process, this state of being, is this book. Books belonging to this genre may seem overwhelming to follow; especially when it’s such an intense and introspective line of thinking.

But the Man and his Symbols by Carl G. Jung is the first that doesn’t. In it, you will read about symbolism, unconscious thinking, conscious breathing, and the realization of archetypes.

After reading Four Archetypes by Carl G. Jung, Man and his Symbols appears to me as reality-reclaiming and the surest hope for transcending inward. That the ‘resistance’ one often feels before steering the mind away from external reality and toward the inner realm which is the opposite of chaotic and distracting is meaningful. So that ‘resistance’ is as powerful as the realization of one’s ego and its exertions into our unconscious and conscious manifestations.

When I say unconscious and conscious manifestations, I don’t mean the ones that awaken instantaneously. The ones that we feel compelled to respond to. The layered reality of both positive and negative emotions. Some manifestations are more symbolic and emotionally-charged than we think. And these are the ones that harness a person’s soul and influence his/her decisions.

The book – rich and deeply intelligent – is an enjoyable and gratifying read. You understand the secrets of life, the soul, its shadow, and the interconnectedness of it all. To read it is to realize that we draw more from our inner being to insist on a more comfortable outer reality. But denying the realization to this subliminal space is a way to breathe only half completely.


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Kusamakura – Natsume Soseki

This book remains too ephemeral. And yet it is profoundly infused with the feeling of living in (or with) the present. It’s a book that goes on changing as a self but its characteristic motif is of lightness and timelessness. Kusamakura is Natsume Soseki’s plunge into experimental literature. It’s a first on many counts and will be the longest-lived. 

It’s a book that realizes its extraordinariness but not in the way that most books do. The present is all that the book is willing to give up and that’s what makes it a meditative read. When you step into the world of a fictional character, you’re taken through objects as if in reality. You explore new horizons, observe the map of the character’s world which a novel allows you to investigate. 

And even if you come out of this book without feeling inspired or transformed. Know that to read it is to let go of the chaos that resides everywhere around you. To read it is to appreciate stillness that grows with every page. And there’s nothing more revealing and rewarding for a reader – to be the one at the receiving end of this beautiful transaction. 


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For The Public Eye is a participant of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. This affiliate advertising service allows me to receive commissions for the book purchases you make.

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