Review// Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche

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Author: Friedrich Nietzche
Series: Standalone
Genre: Classic
Release Date: 1883
Book Length:  343 pages 
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Review: 4/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

Nietzsche was one of the most revolutionary and subversive thinkers in Western philosophy, and Thus Spoke Zarathustra remains his most famous and influential work. It describes how the ancient Persian prophet Zarathustra descends from his solitude in the mountains to tell the world that God is dead and that the Superman, the human embodiment of divinity, is his successor. With blazing intensity and poetic brilliance, Nietzsche argues that the meaning of existence is not to be found in religious pieties or meek submission, but in an all-powerful life force: passionate, chaotic and free.

My Review:

The best way that I can describe this book is as a religious experience, which is kind of paradoxical because the main idea of the book is that “God is dead.” When Zarathustra, the ancient Persian prophet, emerges from his 10-year solitude and says that God has died, he doesn’t mean that literally. Rather, he means that the concept of God as a gateway to finding meaning in life is dead and that the meaning of life should be found not in religious worship but within the self as an exemplar of true humanity–the ‘Superman’.

The Superman represents the highest state of man in which he creates his own values and is therefore a powerful master of himself. According to Zarathustra, this version of man has yet to exist, but he speaks of how it can be bred in future generations. The book follows Zarathustra not only as he preaches to his disciples ways in which to reach the Superman state, but also his journey in reaching it himself.

The most interesting part of this was Zarathustra’s discourse of the phases of spiritual metamorphosis represented by the camel, the lion, and the child. The first stage, the camel, represents the carrying of burdens of human existence that are necessary for a person to accept in order to strengthen them for the next phase—it is the weight bearing spirit that pushes itself beyond every limit possible. Upon bearing the weight of existence and in essence outcasting themselves in the desert, the camel realizes that it wants freedom from the traditional virtues it has known; this is where the lion phase comes into play. At this point, the camel has two choices. It can either take the path of nihilism, or the path of creating its own values and meaning in life now that is has rejected traditional values of religion. In order to reach the Superman state, the individual must reject nihilism and in doing so, the lion is realized. In the last phase, the child, the spirt is truly free. This occurs when the lion has elected to start a new life as the master of himself—thus the Superman is attained. I thought that whole analogy was so interesting, and it serves as the basis of the entire story.

Although very dense, the allegorical nature is what really drew me in. I liked that this was something extremely different from anything else I have ever read and it allowed me to see certain ideas in a new light, regardless of whether or not I agreed with them all. I would definitely give other Nietzsche works a read, but I’m sure until then I will be pondering about this one for a very long time.


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Review// The Stranger by Albert Camus

 

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Author: Albert Camus
Series: Standalone
Genre: Classic
Release Date: 1942
Book Length:  123 pages 
Publisher: Vintage International
Review: 4/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

Through the story of an ordinary man unwittingly drawn into a senseless murder on an Algerian beach, Camus explored what he termed “the nakedness of man faced with the absurd.”

My Review:

You know that scene in How the Grinch Stole Christmas where he puts the x-ray over his heart and it’s virtually non-existent? One could argue that’s what the main character Meursault’s heart looks like.

Meursault is a believer of absurdism—the philosophical view that life has nothing in it from which to derive meaning, and therefore the human quest for meaning is useless. As a result, he expresses indifference in pretty much everything, often using phrases like, “I really didn’t care much one way or the other.”

In the beginning, Meursault is merely going through the motions of mundane life and it can feel like you are too as you’re nodding along waiting to see where the story goes. I now understand that there may have been a purpose to that. Told in first person, you really get to dig deep inside Meursault’s head and see what he is all about. By having the story flow through the most mundane aspects of everyday life in that narrative, it is actually more impactful than having a bunch of theatrical events happen because although you can tell that he’s kind of “heartless”, some of the things he says almost resonate as things you may have thought once or twice yourself in your everyday life.

The reason I put heartless in quotations is because I’m not sure he was heartless so much as he was just being honest with himself. People don’t take very well to others going against societal norms, and although I think that some of what Meursault said and did was a bit extreme, I don’t think that he was an entirely bad character. For example, when he didn’t cry at his mother’s funeral, people automatically assumed him to be insensitive and soulless—an observation that came back to haunt him later on in the book. Although I would agree that someone not crying at their mother’s funeral would be a bit surprising, that event was one of many that put his belief of absurdism into reality. To Meursault, his mother died just as everyone will one day so why should he waste time being sad about death when he can enjoy his present moment being alive, and why be sad just because everyone else says he should? There are many other moments like this in the book where Meursault says or does something out of the norm, and sometimes it takes a little bit of reflection to understand from his point of view the reasoning behind it.

I highly recommend this if you are into philosophy. This book leaves a lot to think about, and it’s a pretty good one to have discussions about with other people as I’m sure different people interpret it in many different ways


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Review// Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes

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Author: Daniel Keyes
Series: Standalone
Genre: Classic
Release Date: March, 1966 
Book Length:  311 pages 
Publisher: Mariner Books
Review: 4/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

The story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie’s intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance–until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie?

My Review:

The most compelling part of this was not the capability of the surgery itself but rather that the more intelligent Charlie became, the more conscious he was of how cruel the world and people in it could be—especially to those like himself pre-surgery who could not defend themselves as easily. While most of us gradually transition from childhood to adulthood, including our cognitive processes and perception of the world, it’s as if virtually overnight, Charlie was thrown to the wolves and forced to come to terms with its realities. He had a very pure and childlike sense to him that quickly became tainted as he grew more self-aware. He also had many deep-rooted childhood traumas which revealed themselves in flashbacks post-surgery; these flashbacks further intensified Charlie’s need for love and acceptance—something that he didn’t even realize he was lacking until he became more intelligent. However, his negative experiences leading up to the surgery only made it possible for him to watch from behind a proverbial window the intimacy he had the ability to obtain as opposed to actually being able to embrace it.

Everything about this story and Charlie’s experiences was overwhelming in a way that makes you softer once you’ve finished. For a lot of the book, Charlie kept mentioning how both pre- and post- intelligence, he was still a person and he wanted to be treated as such. Although society places a lot of value on intellect, without human connection to pour yourself into, it is feeble. In my opinion this is a classic that will only get better with time and everyone should read it. You will feel many emotions while doing so, but regret will not be one of them.

Catherine


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Review// Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

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Author: Leo Tolstoy
Series: Standalone
Genre: Classic
Release Date: 1878 
Book Length: 964 pages 
Publisher: Vintage
Review: 3/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

Acclaimed by many as the world’s greatest novel, Anna Kareninaprovides a vast panorama of contemporary life in Russia and of humanity in general. In it Tolstoy uses his intense imaginative insight to create some of the most memorable characters in literature. Anna is a sophisticated woman who abandons her empty existence as the wife of Karenin and turns to Count Vronsky to fulfil her passionate nature – with tragic consequences. Levin is a reflection of Tolstoy himself, often expressing the author’s own views and convictions.

Throughout, Tolstoy points no moral, merely inviting us not to judge but to watch. As Rosemary Edmonds comments, ‘He leaves the shifting patterns of the kaleidoscope to bring home the meaning of the brooding words following the title, ‘Vengeance is mine, and I will repay.

My Review:

There were some components of this book that I absolutely loved, like the Anna and Vronsky storyline, and there were others that made me furiously rub my temples trying desperately to get rid of the migraine that ensued, like Levin going on and on in his head about agricultural practices for whole chapters.

Going into this story knowing virtually nothing, you can imagine that I thought it would be a lot more focused on Anna Karenina— I was very wrong about that. Now that I think about it, a lot of books written in the 19th century are titled after one specific character; however, the story focuses on that character’s web of relationships with others rather than on them alone. Although commonplace for that time period, I would have much rather enjoyed reading a shorter book more closely centered on Anna’s life.

Most of the book was about relationships and jealousy. I could almost guarantee that if I saw a character interacting with someone of the opposite sex who wasn’t their significant other, in the very near future an argument concerning fidelity would ensue after which they would make up and it would happen all over again. While that was exciting the first, maybe, five or ten instances, after a while it got a little redundant. In addition, after the major climactic scene, the book took the biggest nosedive in history. It’s like Tolstoy didn’t have any more original ideas for how to end it off, so he made Levin go off on a philosophical enlightenment tangent. Again with these Levin tangents. I mean, I’m the first person to admit that I live for discussions about the meaning of existence, God, spirituality, etc. but it felt like it was just thrown in there for the sake of it. I needed some sort of closure from the climax and I felt like I was robbed.

I do still think that this was still a good book that has some nice passages in it. I liked it, but probably not enough to consider reading it again.


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Review// East of Eden by John Steinbeck

East of Eden

Author: John Steinbeck
Series: Standalone
Genre: Classic
Release Date: September, 1952 
Book Length:  601 pages 
Publisher: Penguin Books
Review: 5/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

In his journal, Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck called East of Eden “the first book,” and indeed it has the primordial power and simplicity of myth. Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel.

Adam Trask came to California from the East to farm and raise his family on the new rich land. But the birth of his twins, Cal and Aaron, brings his wife to the brink of madness, and Adam is left alone to raise his boys to manhood. One boy thrives nurtured by the love of all those around him; the other grows up in loneliness enveloped by a mysterious darkness.

First published in 1952, East of Eden is the work in which Steinbeck created his most mesmerizing characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity, the enecplicability of love, and the murderous consequences of love’s absence. A masterpiece of Steinbeck’s later years, East of Eden is a powerful and vastly ambitious novel that is at once a family saga and a modern retelling of the Book of Genesis.

My Review:

Before I read this, all I knew was that I owned it. Now that I’ve read it, all I know is that it owns me. For someone who doesn’t take the weight of words lightly, I have a hard time coming up with the right ones to accurately convey how this made me feel.

This story is mainly about multiple generations of two families, the Trask’s and the Hamilton’s. It was quite the overwhelming sensation to see, if but a very small part of, myself in each and every one of them. As much as I don’t like to admit this, yes, even Cathy, who embodied pure and total evil on the extreme scale. When you read a book, you silently hope that you will be able to relate to one, and although I did see myself mostly in one person, to take a small something away from them all is a whole other experience that I did not anticipate.

There are so many beautiful things said in this book that if I tried to display them all, I would be regurgitating the entire 601 pages over again. No joke, someone sitting beside me on the subway actually turned their head and ducked down to see what I was reading, presumably because I kept reaching for sticky notes to mark the pages every 2 minutes. These are my favourite types of books to read—ones that awaken a part of me that I either didn’t know existed or that I have stored hidden away somewhere to the point where I want to remember every single word.

A huge takeaway from this was that everyone wants to be loved, appreciated, and accepted and that no matter how deep rooted our sins are we always have a chance, or choice, to redeem ourselves. Humans are flawed. We all want to think the best of ourselves, but the truth is that we all have a little bit of the evil of Cathy inside of us. More importantly though, we all have the ability to improve and stray away from the temptations of evil that arise from negative emotions like anger, jealousy, and greed. The choice between good and evil is ours, and I honestly don’t think there is a greater power to possess as a human being than that.


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