Monthly Archives: February 2013

To a God Unknown by John Steinbeck

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To a God Unknown is a powerful novel by John Steinbeck. The story centers on Joseph, a man who tries to build his life in Nuestra Señora, California. He is convinced that his father’s spirit has inhabited a tree and that he must protect the land from nature itself. The story raises an interesting theme of God vs. Nature. It is usually taught that god is present in all living things, but where is the tipping point between one’s spiritual connection to the earth and land worship? It is a beautiful portrayal of archaic spirituality spontaneously resurfacing in a person’s mind and his need to follow it.

Steinbeck’s description of the countryside is masterful. He has the ability to transform nature in all its extremes with a literary force that is almost biblical. The tone starts off bright like a clear morning and progressively become darker until it is submerged in a mysterious night. Nature takes on a primal quality in this book. It is something to be feared, respected, and will forever remain a mystery. With Global Warming and the environment being such major issue, this book gains extra relevance.

I was hesitant about reviewing this book because it is a classic. What hasn’t already been said about Nobel Prize winner, John Steinbeck? The reason I decided to do so is because films and books in the style of No Country for Old Men and Dejango Unchained are enjoying such major success. People are craving that dark brand of western entertainment. If To a God Unknown was written now, it would be a box office smash, but since it’s a classic most people dismiss it as old fashioned. For being written in the 1930’s, it’s still a savage read that will make even Quentin Tarantino fans shiver. To a God Unknown is a psychedelic western loaded with primal energy and biblical wrath. It’s a title that truly deserves to be called a classic.

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Creating True Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh

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Creating True Peace is more than a book about spiritual enlightenment and peace. It’s a map that helps guide you through the wilderness in ourselves and the hectic world we live in. The destination is inner peace for all living things. Creating True Peace is written by world renowned Zen Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hanh, who has lived through two major wars in his homeland of Vietnam while practicing the philosophy of none-violence and peace. In Creating True Peace, Hanh expresses his solutions for actively engaging the epidemic of violence invading every level of our lives, from person conflict to war, in concrete ways. This book avoids vague metaphysics that often feel irrelevant when put in the context of modern life. Nhat presents Buddhist philosophy infused with a clear understanding of the global situation today.

 ‎”Alcohol production requires large amounts of grain that could be used to feed the starving people of the world. Alcohol is directly related to the suffering of children. For instance, to make one glass of rice wine takes a whole basket of rice. Every day 40,000 children die in the world for lack of food. We who overeat in the West, who are feeding grains to animals to make meat, are eating the flesh of these children.”

This book embraces all religions and levels of spirituality. It reveals an option; it doesn’t try to strong-arm a way of existing. His stories of living through the horrors of the Vietnam War are saddening and courageous. It exemplifies how even in total madness, peace is powerful enough to sustain us. Nhat introduces the idea of “engaged Buddhism,” which is similar to Martin Luther King’s idea of direct none-violence and civil disobedience with the aim of transforming the hatred and violence in our society into harmonious brotherhood. I highly recommend this book for anyone seeking inner peace in themselves, within their social circle, society, or the world. If you’re interested in learning what Buddhism is about, this is a great way to start. Peace and love to you all.

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Pimp by Iceberg Slim

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Pimp by Iceberg Slim is a savagely honest autobiographical story by a man who was fully immersed in the cut-throat world of pimping. Iceberg lays bare the disgusting world of prostitution in all its ugliness and allure in his own words. He begins the story of his life in the 1920’s when America was radically different from now. It was a time when the race divisions cut deep into the social flesh of this country. Iceberg grows up fast to the realities of racism, destitution, drug abuse, and crime. By his late teens, Iceberg is out on the streets turning out young girls into prostitutes.

This book is dripping with the sleaziness of the streets. It’s a deeply psychological and graphic account of how the pimping game works behind the scenes. You can feel his mind at work, scheming on how to get the most money, how to break the most hoes, and keep it all together in his head. His words cut the reader’s brain like a switchblade that had been used to chop a line of cocaine. Iceberg doesn’t tell his story asking for forgiveness. It’s not a plea for help. He tells it because he lived it, and it’s a story that should not fall into obscurity. Pimp isn’t just his story; it’s a part of American history that will always be shamefully brushed under the rug.

Pimp is the book on American pimping. This book is perfect for anyone who enjoys biographies, crime literature, noir, minority literature, and radical American history. While this book gets plenty of readerships in select circles, Iceberg slim is a bit of an underground writer. He is an amazing writer who creates fire out of printed words. Still, because of his back ground, style, and subject matter, the literary world has denied him access into its pristine halls. It’s alright, this book, like its writer, is rough enough to survive outside in the cold streets.

Iceberg Slim smoking pipe

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Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

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In 1936 George Orwell, author of 1984 and Animal Farm, was sent to Spain to report on the Spanish Civil War. Upon arriving there he did the only thing sensible to him at the time, he took up arms with the anarchist militia against the fascist army of Francisco Franco. Orwell took the role of a soldier-reporter in which he wrote a book about his experiences, Homage to Catalonia.

For anyone interested in the dynamics of revolutionary history or Anarchism, this is one book that cannot be missed. Orwell recounts the entire ordeal beginning with joining the militia to narrowly escaping Spain during the political meltdown in a way that would make James Bond cream his tuxedo. Orwell’s recount is told with his signature charm, irony, and wit. It’s not often that we get to read a war book written by literary master who was actually there in the trenches. His first-hand accounts of combat put you right next to him crawling on your belly through mud and barb wire. You feel the panic of the communication lines breaking down in the midst of enemy fire, and the savagely cold nights with hardly a wick light to keep warm. Orwell portrayal of the petty infighting between anti-fascist forces will make the reader cross their head at the absurdity of war.

This isn’t a book that celebrates the glory of the battle field. It is harsh retelling of what it was like to be there in the madness. We get to see the transformation of Orwell starting off as wide-eyed man romanticized by the armed struggle, only to finish off disillusioned by the destruction, propaganda, and deadly ego battles. The relevancy of this book is at a fevered pitch in these modern times, but it’s a scream that is drowned out in the awesome flood of waving flags and avalanching politics.

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If you want a picture of the future,

imagine a boot stamping on a human

face- forever.”

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The Road to Los Angles by John Fante

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The Road to Los Angles by John Fante introduces one of the most bizarre, disturbed, and likeable alter egos in literature, Arturo Bandini. The book takes place in 1930’s Los Angles, primarily the rough neighborhoods around the harbor docks. We are put in the mind of a young man suffering from the world’s worst grandiosity complex. Bandini is convinced he will go down in history as the world’s greatest man. Unfortunately, he’s from a dirt poor family and works a fish cannery. His megalomania is severe to the point where it becomes absolute comedy. He is the ruler of a kingdom of beautiful women, deadly revolutions, exotic lands, and missions of conquest. The real world is an inconvenience.

The psychological depth is superb. Fante knows how to illustrate the grinding gears of a neurotic mind. The settings are absolutely vivid. You can smell the piles of fish guts smearing the page. The characters are fleshed out, but what’s truly interesting is how Fante instills personality into inanimate objects that come to life in Bandini’s warped mind. The constant tension between the magnificent fantasy in Bandini’s head, and the reality of living in a ghetto is done to great effect.

John Fante wrote this in his late twenties. The youthful energy is apparent throughout the whole book. The recklessness of youth drives him to take chances like a cocky bastard, but he has the writing ability to pull it off every time. Fante really captures the essence of the grimy, foggy, streets of Los Angles and the blue collar lifestyle. Charles Bukowski has been quoted saying, “Fante was my god.” Fante is writer that goes straight for the jugular, even when it comes to being a coward. He’s a writer that throws dog shit at the church. The Road to Los Angles is a book that swings hard with crude impact and special brand of finesse. Teenage angst just isn’t done this good anymore.

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Modern Man in search of a soul by Carl Jung

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Modern Man in Search of a Soul is a great introduction to Carl Jung’s theories of analytical psychology. The book is broken down into eleven essays dealing with topics of dream analysis, Freudian psychology, spirituality, and religion. Some consider Jung’s ideas radical because they take into account the soul. While many people believe that the soul exists, it’s impossible to prove it either way and thus begin the arguments. Taking this stance introduces an element of metaphysics into treating mental illness. Eighty years later, the school of psychiatry is still hesitant about treading in the dark forest of spirituality. Jung goes deep inside this forbidden territory and brings to light the nature of our darkness.

Much of this book deals with the subterranean part of our mind, the subconscious. The subconscious is a total mystery because it has either been ignored as irrelevant or purposefully avoided for being an ultimate source of our knowable. But it can only be ignored at the price of damaging our soul. This is reflected in the ever growing number of people seeking out psychiatric help, suicides committed, wars waged, and other forms of violence. Until we can bring a balance between the two half of our minds, the dark and light, we’ll suffer the spiritual decay that has become a cornerstone of modernity.

Jung keeps a complicated subject as straightforward as possible. The humility of this book is commendable. It invites conflicting points of views and inspires exploration into the unconscious for the good of humanity. Modern Man in Search of a Soul combines elements of psychology, philosophy, religion, spirituality, and metaphysics. Looking at today’s world, approximately eighty years after this book was written, Jung’s theories take on a prophetic tone which urges us to embrace the shadow part of our mind, for that is where the healing light will be found.

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