As part of my quest to work through some of the books that have been on my selves for many years, I decided to read this one. I purchased it a long time ago through one of those book-of-the-month clubs and it has occupied shelf space ever since.
The book is a collection of short stories, most of which are science fiction, but there are a couple which could be classified as magical/fantasy tales.
For me, I see the Illustrated Man as a symbol for how humanity is shaped by the stories we share. Each story creates an image upon our being. They paint pictures inside us, and those inner pictures manifest themselves upon our physical existence.
How can I explain about his Illustrations? If El Greco had painted miniatures in his prime, no bigger than your hand, infinitely detailed, with all the sulphurous color, elongation, and anatomy, perhaps he might have used this man’s body for his art. The colors burned in three dimensions. They were windows looking in upon fiery reality. Here, gathered on one wall, were all the finest scenes in the universe, the man was a walking treasure gallery. This wasn’t the work of a cheap carnival tattoo man with three colors and whiskey on his breath. This was the accomplishment of a living genius, vibrant, clear, and beautiful.
One of the short stories in the collection, “The Exiles,” deals with the subject of book burning and censorship. This tale echoes the importance of stories and how they are part of our very existence.
“God rest him. Nothing of him left now. For what are we but books, and when those are gone, nothing’s to be seen.”
All the stories in this book are excellent and worth reading. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to share in my musings. I hope you are reading something good today; “For what are we but books?”
This is a book that has been on my list for a while, and I finally got around to reading it. Considering the state of things in the world right now, one might think that an apocalyptic tale might be a little too depressing, but that was not the case. The abundance of wit and satire which Vonnegut brings to this tale forces the reader to chuckle at the abundant idiocy that permeates our modern culture.
There is a lot in this text that I could discuss, but since brevity is the soul of wit, I’ll keep this post short and focus on just two passages. The first, which is a little long, is a discussion about what would happen if the writers of the world decided to stop writing, and how that might affect humanity.
“I’m thinking of calling a general strike of all writers until mankind finally comes to its senses. Would you support it?”
“Do writers have a right to strike? That would be like the police or the firemen walking out.”
“Or the college professors.”
“Or the college professors,” I agreed. I shook my head. “No, I don’t think my conscience would let me support a strike like that. When a man becomes a writer, I think he takes on a sacred obligation to produce beauty and enlightenment and comfort at top speed.”
“I just can’t help thinking what a real shaking up it would give people if, all of a sudden, there were no new books, new plays, new histories, new poems . . .”
“And how proud would you be when people started dying like flies?” I demanded.
“They’d die more like mad dogs, I think—snarling and snapping at each other and biting their own tails.”
I turned to Castle the elder. “Sir, how does a man die when he’s deprived of the consolations of literature?”
“In one of two ways,” he said, “petrescence of the heart or atrophy of the nervous system.”
“Neither one very pleasant, I expect,” I suggested.
“No,” said Castle the elder. “For the love of God, both of you, please keep writing!”
(pp. 231 – 232)
I am a firm believer that artistic expression is what defines our collective humanity. Books are important. Music is important. Visual arts are important. Without these our society becomes sterile and diseased. A healthy and vibrant artistic community has a direct correlation to the well-being of a community. As Vonnegut states, when an individual is deprived of literature, or any of the other arts, that person’s heart will petrify and turn to stone. The ability to empathize and connect with other human beings will fade, and that would be a symbolic death of all that is human within someone.
The other passage that stood out for me, because it is something I often think about, deals with what hope there is for humanity at this stage.
“What hope can there be for mankind,” I thought, “when there are such men as Felix Hoenikker to give such playthings as ice-nine to such short-sighted children as almost all men and women are?”
And I remembered The Fourteenth Book of Bokonon, which I had read in its entirety the night before. The Fourteenth Book is entitled, “What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?”
It doesn’t take long to read The Fourteenth Book. It consists of one word and a period.
This is it:
While this may appear to be just a cynical and pessimistic view, I don’t see it that way. But there is definite irony. If one considers ice-nine to be a symbol of a technology which humanity is not yet ready for, then what Vonnegut is implying is that as long as humanity remains on its present trajectory, striving after technological advancement while neglecting to advance the arts and that part of us which defines our humanity, then there is no hope for us. But, if we can shift our collective focus and turn away from the latest and greatest gadgets designed to ensnare our attention, then new horizons become possible.
Thanks for taking the time to share in my thoughts. I hope you have an inspired day.
I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. Mine was busy, but nice.
I had a couple draft blog posts on stuff I read toward the end of 2019, but I wanted to hold off on those and instead write about a book that I read which was so positive and uplifting. I’m thinking we need to start go into 2020 focusing on the things that are beautiful and inspiring.
While doing some holiday shopping, I saw this book on display. I had read online that Barnes and Noble awarded it their favorite book of 2019, so I had to pick it up for myself, and I am so glad I did. The book is simple and heart-warming, filled with inspirational messages that are down-to-earth and clear enough for anyone to grasp. It is a graphic novel wonderfully illustrated with humble sketches that add to the book’s overall charm. I was able to read it in about 15 minutes (my daughter read it in 5), but the imagery and emotions lasted with me for days.
I highly recommend that you read this book, even if you are not a fan of graphic novels. It’s a special book that transcends the genre, and I’m sure you will feel happier and uplifted after you set the book down.
To entice you a little more, I figured I would include a couple short quotes, so you have a sense of what you are in for. Thanks for stopping by, and have an inspired and blessed 2020!
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“Kind” said the boy.
“Often the hardest person to forgive is yourself.”
“What is the bravest thing you ever said?” asked the boy.
“Help,” said the horse.
“When the big things feel out of control… focus on what you love right under your nose.”
People believe. It’s what people do. They conjure things, and then do not trust the conjurations. They populate the darkness with ghosts, with gods, with electrons. People imagine and people believe. And it is that belief that makes things happen.
There is a lot of truth here. Our thoughts play a tremendous part in the manifestation of our realities. When we step back and consider the fear, mistrust, anger, and cynicism of the past couple decades, should it be all that surprising that we find ourselves in the current socio-political climate?
But I for one am seeing things that give me hope and inspiration, and I am making a conscious effort to believe in the better possibilities. Because let’s face it—all possibilities exist. But the possibilities which receive the most energy are the ones most likely to actualize.
This has been sitting in my to-be-read pile for a little while, since I wanted to finish up all the other Sandman stuff before delving in to the new arc. This first issue, like all of Gaiman’s work, is excellent storytelling. It seems that Gaiman will be weaving a series of arcs spinning off from this main arc, kind of a fabric of stories, with each one focusing on a particular area of the Dreaming and featuring characters from the Sandman mythology. I have to say, I’m really excited about this. I have two other issues waiting to be read, so expect some thoughts soon.
I am going to keep this short, since I assume I will have a lot to say about the subsequent installments, but I do want to share a quote that was particularly interesting for me, which draws on the Pandora myth:
“You think hope may free us from a bind? It is the cruelest prison YAHWEH built, for from it there is almost no escape. Where you go, you must take no hope. No hope.”
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I picked this book up while at the Faith in Literature conference, where I was fortunate enough to attend two conversations with Krista Tippett, as well as a luncheon with her. She was so inspiring that I could not pass on the opportunity to acquire an autographed copy of her book. It was promptly placed at the top of the “to-be-read” pile.
The book is basically a collection of her thoughts along with snippets of conversations with spiritual thought leaders, activists, writers, and poets from her radio show, “On Being.” She divides the book into five main sections: Words, Flesh, Love, Faith, and Hope. There is so much wisdom in this book, that it is impossible for me to do it justice, so I will just share a few passages and my thoughts on them. The first one concerns the power of stories.
They touch something that is human in us and is probably unchanging. Perhaps this is why the important knowledge is passed through stories. It’s what holds culture together. Culture has a story, and every person in it participates in that story. The world is made up of stories; it’s not made up of facts.
I had a professor in college who specialized in Irish literature, and I remember him telling me that stories mattered. That has stayed with me throughout my life. There is power in stories and poems. They convey something about the human experience that cannot be expressed in a spreadsheet or a graph. It saddens me when I talk to people who say they never read fiction or poetry, because they don’t have the time or they only want to read “factual” books. These individuals miss out on something unique to the human experience, a communal sharing that our society desperately needs.
Growing up, I connected to the revolutionary spirit of the 1960s and did my best to carry the torch of social change. But after a while, I became disillusioned, and Krista captures what it is that has changed between the 60s and today.
A comparison was made with the 1960s, another moment of social turmoil, including many assassinations. A journalist said that he thought the difference between the 1960s and now was that even though there was incredible tumult and violence, it was at the very same time a period of intense hope. People could see that they were moving toward goals, and that’s missing now.
It is hard to remain hopeful when we are bombarded with negative stories via social media and network news stations. I really make an effort to stay positive, but sometimes I can’t help feeding in to the hype. One of my short-term goals is to try to be more positive and hopeful.
I have always been fascinated by both science and mysticism, which is why the following quote resonates with me.
Both the scientist and the mystic live boldly with the discoveries they have made, all the while anticipating better discoveries to come.
What I love about science and mysticism is that they both seek to illuminate the hidden mysteries of existence. There was a time when the mystical arts and the sciences were aligned. That changed for a while and the two were at odds. But lately, I see the paths converging again, and I think that it will ultimately be the unification of the scientific with the spiritual that will usher in the next stage of human evolution and ultimately save us from ourselves.
With all the negativity, divisiveness, and hostility that I have seen this past year, this book was exactly what I needed to shift my perspective back to the positive. Too often my cynicism kicks in, but Krista reminds me that there is always hope and that we should never stop striving to improve ourselves and the world around us. I want to close with one more quote that really captures the importance of this book, which I hope you will read soon.
Our problems are not more harrowing than the ravaging depressions and wars of a century ago. But our economic, demographic, and ecological challenges are in fact existential. I think we sense this in our bones, though it’s not a story with commonly agreed-upon contours. Our global crises, the magnitude of the stakes for which we are playing, could signal the end of civilization as we’ve known it. Or they might be precisely the impetus human beings perversely need to do the real work at hand: to directly and wisely address the human condition and begin to grow it up.
All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair—
The bees are stirring—birds are on the wing—
And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.
Yet well I ken the banks where amaranths blow,
Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.
Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,
For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!
With lips unbrightened, wreathless brow, I stroll:
And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?
Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And Hope without an object cannot live.
I read this sonnet a few times, because I was having difficulty deciphering its meaning.
In the first half, Coleridge is comparing himself to the natural world around him, observing how everything seems to be busy doing what is their natural wont while he sits, dejected, unable to find motivation to create.
In the second half of the poem, he seems to reflect on his past work, when he was in touch with his muse, but now the streams of inspiration are not flowing his way.
It is the last couplet that caused me the most trouble. While he appears to envy the creatures who work without hope, he acknowledges that everything they do is temporary, “nectar in a sieve,” leaving nothing for future generations. Is he implying that man’s creations are also temporary, and that his poetry will disappear just as the unused nectar? Or is he suggesting that what makes human artistic creations lasting is that we instill our work with Hope, with the desire that it transcend our existence, that we can convey some eternal truth that will help future generations?
I suspect I will be ruminating on this poem for a while. If you have any thoughts, I would love to hear them. Please feel free to share your interpretations in the comments section below.
I awoke this morning to the sights and sounds of a thunderstorm here in the Appalachian Mountains. It dawned on me that it was Christmas Eve and that I generally like to read and write about something appropriate for the holiday. But with the stresses of my relatively new job and being engrossed in reading the very long and dense Infinite Jest, I failed to look for something to read that was seasonal. So I gave it a little thought and decided that I would read the lyrics to one of my favorite Christmas songs and analyze it as a poem.
They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on earth
But instead it just kept on raining
A veil of tears for the Virgin’s birth
I remember one Christmas morning
A winter’s light and a distant choir
And the peal of a bell and that Christmas tree smell
And their eyes full of tinsel and fire
They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a silent night
And they told me a fairy story
’till I believed in the Israelite
And I believed in Father Christmas
And I looked at the sky with excited eyes
’till I woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn
And I saw him and through his disguise
I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave New Year
All anguish, pain, and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear
They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on Earth
Hallelujah, Noel, be it Heaven or Hell
The Christmas we get, we deserve
What I find most amazing about this poem (yes, I will refer to it as a poem instead of a song) is the expression of contradictory emotions. On one hand, there is disillusion and a touch of sadness, yet this is contrasted by feelings of hope and optimism at the possibility for happiness and spiritual joy. And it is done in such a way that I cannot say which side of the emotional spectrum is most strongly expressed. The result is that you connect to this poem based upon your own emotional state when you engage with it. So if you are feeling sad, you connect with the sadness but then get touched with a sense of hope. Conversely, if you are brimming with joy and happiness, you get that from the poem too, but tempered with the knowledge that there is still sadness in the world and that all things, even the joyous, will pass.
We have all heard the old cliché, that we create our own Heaven and Hell. I believe this, and I love the way it is expressed at the end of this poem. The choices we make and the thoughts that we choose to latch on to directly impact our feelings and the reality around us. If we choose the path of spirituality and happiness, then we deserve the blessings that accompany those conscious decisions and should celebrate those blessings. But if we choose to focus on the negative and the path of hate and fear, then we also deserve the life that we are burdened with and must accept responsibility for the reality which we helped create.
I wish all of you many blessings for the holidays and New Year, regardless of which holiday you observe or whether you observe a holiday at all. For myself, I am going to focus on my family and spreading more happiness, love, compassion, and understanding, because I think the world could use a little more of that right about now.
This is the final issue in this arc, and it is nothing short of amazing. Gaiman is such a gifted writer and the surreal artwork that accompanies his text draws you into a world of symbols that speaks directly to the subconscious.
In this final installment in the graphic novel, Dream struggles to save existence, entreating Hope to convince the souls on the mystic ship to use the creative power of their collective consciousness to recreate existence as it should be, as opposed to what it has become. At the end, the cycle is complete and everything begins again, renewed. This is only logical, since all existence is cyclical.
I feel that whatever I write about this will not do it justice. It would be like trying to describe and explain Mozart’s music to someone who was born deaf. All I can do is encourage you to experience this graphic novel for yourself.
I will finish with a quote, which really stood out for me. It expresses the power of art as a way to convey the ineffable through symbols and myth.
One day, perhaps, we will have become legends. We’ll pass this way outside of space and time, when what they’ll know of us will be just questions. They’ll carve our deeds in stone. Build us in rhyme. The things they’ll tell about us will be lies. But lies of such a kind as tell a truth perpetual. Our lives will be revised. Preserved, we’ll mouth the epics of our youth. Actors will play us, braver than we are, more funny, deeper, prettier by far. Their lines will be more resonant and wise than anything we said. Majestic lies. So wait. Some tales might be the truth one day. For now, alive, we huddle, ache and pray.
I really love this series. Leia is such a great leader and we need more women leaders in graphic novels, literature, and in the real world. In this issue, Leia and Evaan locate another group of Alderaanian survivors, but they are suspicious of Leia. And when the imperial forces descend on them as a result of a traitor, then the group turns against Leia.
One section of this issue that stood out for me was a brief discussion on hope.
Evaan: Never seen you give up hope, ma’am.
Leia: Hope led me to the rebellion, and Alderaan paid for that. Now my hope has led the empire here. I don’t think the galaxy can survive much more hope from me.
I have grappled with the question of whether hope is a good thing or a bad thing. Hope can cause people to remain in bad situations, thinking that they will change. Hope can create expectations which can lead to disappointment and disillusion. Hope is one of the plagues in Pandora’s Box. But loss of hope can also lead to apathy, to despair, and to the diminishing of the determination needed to face challenges. Hope has certainly carried me through some dark times in my life. I think hope is one of those things that transcend good and evil, since both good and evil can result from it. At least, that is how I feel about hope right now. I suspect my feelings will change again.
One last word regarding hope as it relates to this tale. I do not think it is a coincidence that hope focuses prominently here, since the original Star Wars film was subtitled “A New Hope.” What are your thoughts on hope? Feel free to share them below. Thanks for stopping by!
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