Wednesday, October 2, 2013

On Love by Alain de Botton

Title: On Love
Author: Alain de Botton
Publisher: Grove Press
Original Publication Date: 1993
Pages: 194

I have been having different slices of the same loaf. And I plan to continue on finishing the platter until kingdom come. After reading Fromm's Art of Loving, Alain de Botton's On Love was consequently partaken of.

At the outset, Art of Loving must be considered as a league of its own. The theorizing Fromm achieved was incomparable in that love, like any other concept in the social sciences, could be easily demystified, unraveled and explained by the use of inquiry and reason; even though what Fromm wrote in the intro that every endeavor committed to such pursuit is bound to end in failure still held true until the bitter end of his book. An aspect which De Botton's work did not tackle (and conclude with) in a  significantly different matter.

If Fromm wrote about the origins of love and how love can be successfully pursued as an art in itself in a very scholarly manner, De Botton on the other hand wrote on the inception of love and the processes it goes through, albeit ending in an unideal and rather depressing manner. For all it's worth however, On love manages to encapsulate the reader for the very personal, realistic and relatable (most especially) manner De Botton has chosen to write this book.

The book is divided in essays on particular issues connected through out a developing relationship. We are treated to numbered paragraphs under these essays. The riveting aspect of this book however lies in the manner De Botton was so successful in enlacing the theoretical aspects to the fictional aspect that objectified and so perfectly represented his theories and arguments. De Botton not only theorize love well, he presented the readers with something they can objectively relate to through Chloe's fictional love story, and in doing so, managed to humanize what was conceived in abstract. More than that, it managed to establish a connection with the reader, by a common thread of experience in the story. De Botton did not only theorize actions of love like putting meaning where there is none, holding hands, happiness, betrayal and fear of loving again and of loving again, he wrote about it through Chloe. De Botton is one great love story writer that most YA Romance novelist will ever dream of.

The sentences were beautifully written, incomparably so. I remember reading Hemingway and having the same reaction. De Botton simply writes beautifully.

If there were any limitations to this book, we have to concede that it is written in a certain perspective, a man's perspective, which sometimes arguably is guilty of permeating the objectiveness of the arguments.

Taking on the Dead by Annie Wells

Title: Taking on the Dead (Famished Trilogy Book #1)
Author: Annie Wells
Publisher: Create Space/ Independently Published
Original Publication Date: 2012
Pages: 322

I have substantially pondered the rating I would give to this book with finality. First because this is an independently published book, a fact that should always be afforded respect if not praise for it is no mystery both to writers and even to non-writers like me how hard it is to establish names in the market, more so to move beyond great names in the myriad of genres like Tolkien, Lewis or Le Guin in Fantasy, or of Asimov, Clarke or Heinlein in Science-Fiction (or of Max Brooks in the Horror-Zombie Genre?). Second is that this book has claimed (this word is most appropriate as will be discussed later) to be under the proliferating Horror-Zombie genre. However, it is a greater sin to rate this with something it does not deserve. If a book should break those veils Tolkien and the likes have unconsciously erected albeit in a successful and (portentously) ageless manner, it should be by its merits alone, and by merits alone that this two star rating is founded upon.

The Zombie Factor
I am a fan of the mindless, flesh eating, human craving zombies. Somehow, in this fictional setting, a thinking, evolving, zombie is untenable and its essence against the basic tenets of the zombie horror genre. Why? The appeal of the zombie genre has been anchored upon the story of survival of humanity, but this story of survival undeniably comes hand in hand with the zombies. This survival has two faces, the possibility of extinction on the one hand, and on the other, triumph over this fictional anathema. Put a thinking zombie in here and the balance tilts to either what is called human extinction removing the conspicuous appeal of human triumph and power or    could either be a book, meant more for humor or for the YA shelves of romance. Enter Taking on the Dead! Where there is no need for a zombie literary pundit to tell that zombies are either subplots or plot devices. It is a subplot because the book is not about survival but of personal feelings, specifically the female sexual feeling of the main character. It is a plot devices because zombies momentarily appear to further personal (sexual) relations of the female protagonist with the numerous male characters. The middle of the book is solely dedicated to romance of the female protagonist.

Character Development
I don't know how the author has visualized the main character, it turned ultimately as an in inconsistent persona. The author wanted to paint a protagonist who knows how to survive in the post-apocalyptic world by saying that she had resource materials, can jack a car and survived alone for four years since the outbreak. For all that, she turned out to be stupid, real stupidity or forced stupidity, i don't know, all that matter is she is stupid. (e.g. Who takes a bath in a lake fully naked unarmed?)

The men are all objects of the pent up libido of our main character, that is all I can say.

The supporting cast is the literary embodiment of racial stereotypes. The asian-american as practitioner of martial arts, the african-american as the street gangster/rocker type.

The Writing
The writing is, like most YAs, (drumroll) in the prevalent stream of consciousness occasionally interjected with conversations. So it is an easy read.

There are a number of awkward passages within the book. Like this:

"Ice seemed to spread through me."

Better Fit for the YA Romance than the Zombie Genre
I fault myself for not taking caution after reading the prologue:

"Sometime later, we got off the Ferris Wheel, both heated, clinging to each other, and ready for another tryst when we went off the beaten path to use the foul port-a- potties. When I think about it now, I know the outbreak began early in the day. We passed several wrecks, heard many helicopters and sirens, and probably saw a few zombies, but were too wrapped up in ourselves to notice. I blame it on being in love, but I swear to myself now if I saw a person walking down the street covered in blood or eating someone, I would have paid attention. Maybe."

The paragraph was portentous. It had the picture of a romantic, sexual, stupid oblivious makings of the book. I mean come on, who ever you are, however in love you are, you can't be oblivious to several wrecks, helicopters and sirens. That's just being plain stupid.

The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

Title: The Lover's Dictionary
Author: David Levithan
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 
Original Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 211

1 : delayed beyond the usual time
2 : existing or appearing past the normal or proper time

Actually took me up until letter B to realize that I was bored reading it.

transitive verb
1 : to let fall : cause to fall
2 a : give up 2, abandon

I am putting this into my DNF shelf. I cannot simply force myself to finish this! I think my upcoming finals schedule is taxing enough. Also I forcibly placed this so that 'did not finish' could be inserted, just like how the book felt, a lot of the entries were rather conventional, if not forced. No fluidity.

1 : continuation
2 : the extent of continuing : duration
3 : the quality of enduring : permanence

So I will be enduring this, because I know it takes a lot of trees to produce copies of this book. it will be a waste and shame to the trees to simply stop at letter B.

1 a : a woody perennial plant having a single usually elongate main stem generally with few or no branches on its lower part
b : a shrub or herb of arborescent form

Wasted paper. Wasted trees. The format aimed to be novel and fresh and exciting. I'm telling you now it was nothing like that but large chunks of wasted spaces. In contrast to Nicole Krauss' History of Love and Jonathan Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close which masterfully employed this minimalist aspect in type-setting, I see nothing but fragmented struggling minimal entries in paper.

: a heterogeneous mixture : jumble

The dictionary entry styles barely made any sense. Interjected themes, issues and ideas where they would randomly fit through the words. At the risk of being redundant, there was no fluidity.

1 obsolete : chastity
2 a : fairness and straightforwardness of conduct
b : adherence to the facts : sincerity

I confess I only read this because I failed to find a copy of Raymond Carvers' book What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
I also confess, I never got past B. Sorry trees.

1984 by George Orwell

Title: 1984
Author: George Orwell
Publisher: Signet Classics
Original Publication Date: 1949
Pages: 328

Perhaps what makes this tale so gripping is the propensity of the imagined world to be translated in an objective observable human reality, more so as an empirical experience (not discounting that it may have been translated already). Orwell did a superb job merging a tragic romance and a corrupted political ideology. Worthy to be read beyond its years.

The Diary of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain

Title: The Diary of Adam and Eve
Author: Mark Twain
Publisher: Harper and Brothers
Original Publication Date: 1905
Pages: 112

A take on the socially constructed gender roles and biases through a narrative anchored on the belief of the creation.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Title: The Metamorphosis
Author: Franz Kafka
Publisher: Kurt Wolff Verlag
Original Publication Date: 1915
Pages: 195

Between the alienation experienced by Gregor and his family, the inescapable lost humanity though a failure of communication, and the apparently weird and unexplained but interestingly exciting story, deeper meanings in the book escape me (for I am led to believe there are), perhaps a second reading will put it within my grasps.

The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm

Title: The Art of Loving
Author: Erich Seligmann Fromm
Publisher: Harper and Brothers
Original Publication Date: 1956
Pages: 184

There's a lot of grain of truth in this theorizing and objectification of love that Erich Fromm successfully wrote. Let me quote with liberality such instances more so for the inherent beauty and magnificence of such statements.

One page xix

"It (book) wants to convince the reader that all his attempts at love are bound to fail; unless he tries most actively develop his total personality so as to achieve a productive orientation."

On page 22

"Love is an activity, not a passive effect; it is a 'standing in' not a 'falling for.' In the most general way the active character of love can be described by stating that love is primarily giving, not receiving."

On page 56

"To love somebody is not just a strong feeling — it is a decision, it is a judgement, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no promise to base the promise to love each other forever. A feeling may comes as it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgement and decision?"

On page 71

"Most people believe that love is constituted by the object not by the faculty. Because one does not see that love is an activity, a power of the soul, one believes that all that is necessary to find is the right object - and that everything goes by itself afterward. This attitude can be compared to a man who wants to paint but who, instead of learning the art, claims that he has just to wait for the right object and that he will paint beautifully when he finds it. If I truly love one person I love all persons, I love the world, I love life. If I can say to someone 'I love you,' I must be able to say, 'I love in you everybody, I love through you the world, I love in you also myself."

From a scholar and an academician's perspective, Art of Loving is highly reminiscent and indicative of the great scholar Fromm is. His arguments are well thought out and psychologically anchored. The conclusions are convincingly rationalized. My propensity to disagree however trickles in regarding certain points in his arguments.

Fromm situates fatherly love as love that is conditional in contrast to motherly love as unconditional. This condition, Fromm writes, depends on the child's capacity to please, satisfy and fulfill every fatherly expectation, requirement and demand. Now before anything else, the strength of this forthcoming argument is not anchored on personal disposition (for I am neither a father nor a husband yet) nor is it on a personal father-son relationship but on the patent criticism on Freud's study —that much of adult psychological development is founded on the child's experience (because it perpetuates that development is not progress and change but accumulation of the same static component). Now for you Fathers out there, is Fatherly love truly conditional? Does it really depend upon any fulfillment of a condition? Isn't it a bit partial, bordering sexism for fatherly love to be labeled as conditional? This is pivotal since Fromm forwards the argument that conditional fatherly love is the significant half component for the development of a mature being capable of truly loving. Cannot fatherly love be demanding, hard-driving, expectant and directing while at the same time be unconditional? Because in contrast to what Fromm writes, that the failure to transcend the conditional fatherly love results to one extreme end of the stick, the incomplete and incapable-of-loving person, perhaps such incapability have resulted from such conditional fatherly love in a very fundamental manner. Fromm's proposition of this kind of a fatherly love however carries something more portentous because as much as reality has put it, the general rule is non-fulfillment of such 'condition' and the fulfillment being the exception which necessarily forwards the conclusion that most individuals are incapable of loving.

The social milieu (having been published at 1956) at the time of the writing of this book is gleamed from the very words and arguments Fromm has employed. Take for example Fromm's argument on homosexuality, capitalism, and on criticism on Freud.

What surprised me however is Fromm's repeated employment of biblical passages and resources. In hindsight this should have come with no surprise at all as no better book talks (categorically and objectively) about love than the Bible, and this is true whether one reads it as a religious keystone or as a plain literary work.

Basically one of the theses of this book is that an individual has to be a complete individual by himself/herself. And I have always believed this to be true and found that acclaimed romantic statement 'you complete me!' to be a grossly incorrect statement. Fromm hits that mark masterfully.

Considering it all, Art of Loving is one enlightening work, something I'd never fail to recommend.