Category: Reading & Critique

Above all, don’t lie to yourself.

Last night I started reading The Brothers Karamazov. The last time I read Dostoevsky’s masterpiece was two decades ago when I was a teenager in high school and it had a tremendous impact on me. Ever since I considered it my favorite book and the greatest novel ever written. So, I decided that being in my mid-thirties, a husband, and father, I should revisit it from a more mature point in my life.

Right away I was struck by the narrator’s voice is a lot more comical and light-hearted than I remembered. The book is framed in a typical 19th-century fashion where the assumption is that the narrator is telling the reader a true story and every fact and detail is through the lens of an unnamed speaker recollecting the events to the best of his ability and also injecting a fair amount of his own personal commentary. The opening chapters that lay out the background of the story contain a lot of historical and literary references that I appreciate a lot more now that I’m much better educated on 19th century European and Russian history and politics.

But it was in Book II Chapter 2 where the novel really begins and I immediately re-discovered why it’s considered a masterpiece.

The section is titled An Inappropriate Gathering and takes place at the local monastery. The Karamazov family agrees to discuss the matter of Dimitry’s inheritance while the elder Father Zosima acts as the mediator between the father and son. Upon arrival at the elder’s chamber, the horrendously boorish and offensive Fydor begins running his mouth, insulting the people around him, and playing the fool. He turns to Father Zosima and in a mocking fake victimhood he asks “what must I do to gain eternal life?”

Father Zosima’s response is fantastic.

Father Zossima, lifting his eyes, looked at him, and said with a smile:

“You have known for a long time what you must do. You have sense enough: don’t give way to drunkenness and incontinence of speech; don’t give way to sensual lust; and, above all, to the love of money. And close your taverns. If you can’t close all, at least two or three. And, above all- don’t lie.”

Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offense, isn’t it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill- he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offense, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness.

The above passage is outstanding. Like our modern day outrage hunters, Fyodor Karamazov is an opportunist who seeks to defraud and take advantage of others.

I believe lying to oneself is one of the main problems underlying our current cultural malaise. We tell ourselves fantasies about who we are, what we can achieve, what is good, what is moral, and react negatively when faced with the truth. We force lies onto others and act indignantly when they refuse to acknowledge our fantasies. We take actions that were considered foolish a century ago and are crushed when the predictable results harm us.

So much of the current cultural and political climate would be improved if everyone followed Father Zosima’s teaching.

A Hectic New Year.

Everything is in flux, everything is changing.

By this time next week, my family and I will be enjoying the hospitality of our good friends and preparing the final push towards our journey back to the United States. This Friday, movers will come to our house, pack our belongings, and ship everything we own across the Pacific. After a short stay at the Lodge, where I spent three months when I first arrived, we will fly back to America. If everything goes according to plan we should arrive in California on the 1st of February.

Understandably life is rather hectic. Preparing for a move from Asia to America is a daunting endeavor, but in our case, the addition of a spirited seven-month-old adds an extra layer of complexity. Therefore I haven’t had a surplus of free time for writing or blogging.

I did manage to read a decent amount. Earlier today I finished Mercenaries and their Masters: Warfare in Renaissance Italy. A good book if you are interested in the subject but somewhat dry if you don’t have prior knowledge about the socio-political landscape of 15th century Italy. I love the idea of mercenary armies and when it comes to historical eras I tend to gravitate towards the pike and shot warfare of the European Wars of Religion. Sadly books focused on this subject tend to lean towards the academic instead of the amateur reader.

I’m still walking to work several times per week and enjoying the cold morning while listening to Lord of The Rings. I just started The Return of the King. I know I’ve said this before but the narration is fantastic. I’m surprised by how much depth and nuance I missed when I first read the trilogy over a decade ago. If you haven’t read TLotR at all or recently I highly recommend the audiobooks narrated by Rob Inglis.

MeWe Fantasy Group

In the past few weeks I’ve significantly limited my social media presence. I deleted the Twitter dumpster fire, limited my facebook to close family and required work contacts, and gave up on reading Reddit. 

But I do miss the larger discussion about books that was had across the different platforms. For the most part, I enjoyed the Fantasy page on reddit until it became extremely political.

So I followed a lot of the G+ crew to MeWe and decided to start this group. If you want to discuss Fantasy in all its incarnations please join up and get to it. 

Click here to join!

Walking with The Lord of the Rings

gollum

Last week during my long walks to work I decided to start listening to The Lord of the Rings on audiobook. The narrator is fantastic. I’ve read the series almost two decades ago, but a lot of it is intertwined with the Peter Jackson movies. Also when I read the books I didn’t possess the depth of knowledge concerning history, mythology, and religion to fully appreciate the book as intended.

I expected to notice some things here and there but two chapters in and I’m shocked at the overall difference between the movies and the novel. The tone is different, permeated with a melancholy that is missing in the films. Most of all, as early as chapter two the distinct Christian themes are discussed in depth.

The scene where Gandalf and Frodo are discussing the history of the Ring and the whereabouts of Gollum after losing it are poignant and illustrate the heart of the story.

‘What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!’

‘Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.’

‘I am sorry,’ said Frodo. ‘But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum.’

‘You have not seen him,’ Gandalf broke in.

‘No, and I don’t want to,’ said Frodo. ‘I can’t understand you. Do you mean to say that you, and the Elves, have let him live on after all those horrible deeds? Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death.’

‘Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it.  And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring.  My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or for ill, before the end…’ (The Lord of the Rings, p.58)

The idea that the salvation of Middle Earth was started by an act of mercy is monumental.

Barbarian Book Club: 10 October 2018 Operational Report

  • img_20181007_162836_808956119070.jpgLife has been a whirlwind of activity. Taking care of a newborn is a lot more difficult than I expected. I figured that after a bit of holding and talking to she would gracefully recline in her baby seat and relax politely while I kept busy reading and writing. Unfortunately, she would rather do her best imitation of a Stuka dive bomber every single time she gets put down. So, I’ve managed to get very little done in the writing department.
  • My goal was to submit a story to Cirsova on the 1st but that didn’t happen. Between the baby, visitors from the U.S. I’m escorting around, and a hectic work schedule that had me pulling 6 day work weeks, my writing has trickled down to almost nothing. I’m usually so tired at night that I can barely focus on reading.
  • I’m working on re-evaluating my daily routine, my procrastination level, cutting out distractions, etc. so I can focus on reading and writing in my spare time. I’m also going to up the writing on here. I’ve done most of my updates and discussions over on G+ but with that platform disintegrating I’m going to bring back a lot of my writing to a more personal level.
  • I’m doing a lot of history reading specifically military history, both for personal enjoyment and for my future long-term writing project I plan on starting soon.
  • Still hitting the Iron Temple, lifting several times per week.

Some Books Read

SolomonKaneThe Savage Tales of Solomon Kane by Robert Howard collects all of Howard’s Solomon Kane tales. I’m really like the idea of a Puritan Paladin going around righting wrongs and slaying evil creatures. The stories themselves are a lot more rough around the edges compared to his later Conan tales but are still fantastic. I prefer the stories that take place in Europe over the longer African jungle ones. I like the rapier fiction reminiscent of The Three Musketeers. Inferior to the fantastic Horror Tales of Robert Howard, but worth the read.

Fool’s Errand by Robin Hobb. I’ve mentioned here numerous times that I think Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings series is hands down the best modern fantasy out there. She’s a master of characterization, writing slow, thoughtful novels that I enjoy on an emotional level unmatched by a lot of fiction I read. Fool’s Errand is the first book in the third trilogy, and it returns to the life of Fitzchivalry Farseer fifteen years after the end of the first trilogy. It’s a dark, sorrowful, and touching return to the characters I loved. I’m currently on book two and have to take it one chapter at a time because it tends to leave me sentimental due to the themes of friendship, aging, and parenthood. targetrichenviroment

Target Rich Environment by Larry Correia I like short story collections and I enjoy some of Larry Correia’s writing but this one was a bit of a disappointment. With one or two exceptions I just found these dull and uninspired.