On the Decay of the Art of Lying by Mark Twain 

★★★★☆ (4/5)

Mark Twain’s commentary on America’s Gilded Age is succinct, good-natured and sufficiently  humorous to make one deliberate upon the nature of Lying. Lack of verity, rooted in societal structures, will only lead to corruption of the self. This short read was quite reminiscent of the writings of Francis Bacon.

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • the Lie, as a recreation, a solace, a refuge in time of need, the fourth Grace, the tenth Muse, man’s best and surest friend, is immortal, and cannot perish from the earth
  • It had been my intention, at this point, to mention names and to give illustrative specimens, but indications observable about me admonished me to beware of the particulars and confine myself to generalities
  • An awkward, unscientific lie is often as ineffectual as the truth.
  • The highest perfection of politeness is only a beautiful edifice, built, from the base to the dome, of graceful and gilded forms of charitable and unselfish lying
  • The man who speaks an injurious truth lest his soul be not saved if he do otherwise, should reflect that that sort of a soul is not strictly worth saving
  • Lying is universal—we all do it. Therefore, the wise thing is for us diligently to train ourselves to lie thoughtfully, judiciously; to lie with a good object, and not an evil one; to lie for others’ advantage, and not our own; to lie healingly, charitably, humanely, not cruelly, hurtfully, maliciously; to lie gracefully and graciously, not awkwardly and clumsily; to lie firmly, frankly, squarely, with head erect, not haltingly, tortuously, with pusillanimous mien, as being ashamed of our high calling

The Giver by Lois Lowry 

★★★★☆ (4/5)

Incredible read. I’m not a fan of young-adult genre but I’m guessing when this book was published, “young-adult” wasn’t a genre category. The story caters to everyone with heavy thematic concerns especially regarding true human nature, our intrinsic desires for companionship and disorder. Society’s inherent weaknesses are not to be done away with, rather they must be managed. I’m reminded of a quote from A Wrinkle in Time “Like and Equal are not the same thing at all”.

Bizarrely, the movie version of the book is far too shallow to encompass the thematic gravity of the novel. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I’m dissuaded from reading or watching anything falling in the “young-adult” genre – the movie industry is largely to blame for this. They deliberately dumb down matters of substance to appeal to the younger generation with star-studded casts and storylines that never manage to go beyond sentimental love.

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • The front-buttoned jacket was the first sign of independence, the first very visible symbol of growing up. The bicycle, at Nine, would be the powerful emblem of moving gradually out into the community, away from the protective family unit
  • He was not starving, it was pointed out. He was hungry. No one in the community was starving, had ever been starving, would ever be starving. To say “starving” was to speak a lie. An unintentioned lie, of course. But the reason for precision of language was to ensure that unintentional lies were never uttered
  • Although he had through the memories learned about the pain of loss and loneliness, now he gained, too, an understanding of solitude and its joy.

Tinkers by Paul Harding

★★★★★ (5/5)

Read this and tell me, does it not rattle your bones, wrinkle your brain with the sheer beauty and lyrical intensity of words? Let yourself be moved by the magnificence of its subject matter. Does it not invite you to tremble upon the pursuit of power, its inanity, its brevity? Does it not invoke in you a jarring, precipitous sense to seek beauty which must be sought consciously, lest we forget? Does it not make you ponder on the ebb and flow of histories through time? And deliberate upon your own inevitable, timely end?

“O, Senator, drop your trousers! Loosen your cravat! Eschew your spats and step into the shallow, teeming world of mayflies and dragonflies and frogs’ eyes staring eye-to-eye with your own, and the silty bottom. Cease your filibuster against the world God gave you. Enough of your clamor, your embarrassing tendencies, your crooking of paths in the nature of straightness. Enough of your calling ruin upon the Moor and the Hindoo, the Zulu and the Hun. None of it gains you a jot. Behold, and be a genius! At a breath, I shall disperse your world, your monuments of metal, your monuments of stone and your brightly striped rags. They will scatter like so many pins and skittles. I shall tire myself more quenching a candle in its sconce. Phew! There: you are gone.”

Tinkers by Paul Harding was poetry in prose, poetry in motion. Intense, lyrical and profound. Reminiscent of Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion (review) in prose style, Paul Auster’s The Invention of Solitude (review) in its memories and William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (review) and Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road (review) in the plight of poverty. This is a powerful page-turner. George Washington Crosby’s time towards demise is an unraveling of his life and that of his own father, and by extension, his grandfather.

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • He had built the house himself-poured the foundation, raised the frame, joined the pipes, run the wires, plastered the walls, and painted the rooms
  • he or they facsimiles of former, actual things.
  • Next fell the stars, tinkling about him like the ornaments of heaven shaken loose. Finally, the black vastation itself came untacked and draped over the entire heap, covering George’s confused obliteration
  • The universe’s time cannot be marked thusly. Such a crooked and flimsy device could only keep the fantastic hours of unruly ghosts
  • But George forgave his mother her contrary heart. Whenever he thought about what her bitter laments sought to stanch, he was overtaken by tears and paused, looking up from the headlines of the morning paper, to lean over and kiss her camphored brow
  • Although he had not sat in the Queen Anne chair since he quit smoking his pipes, there remained a sort of shadow of his outline on the fabric of the chair’s backrest
  • of the clocks in the room had wound down-the tambours and carriage clocks on the mantel
  • Viennese regulator on the walls, the Chelsea ship’s bells on the rolltop desk, the ogee on the end table, and the seven-foot walnut-cased Stevenson grandfather’s clock
  • preferred the blank space the old man actually seemed to inhabit; he liked to think of some fold in the woods, some seam that only the hermit could sense and slip into, where the ice and snow, where the frozen forest itself, would accept him and he would no longer need fire or wool blankets, but instead flourish wreathed in snow, spun in frost, with limbs like cold wood and blood like frigid sap
  • Even the flies were solicitous of their sponsor’s pain and seemed to buzz more gingerly about him
  • Gilbert opened his mouth and Howard, squinting to get a good look, saw in that dank, ruined purple cavern, stuck way in the back of an otherwise-empty levy of gums, a single black tooth planted in a swollen and bright red throne of flesh. A breeze caught the hermit’s breath and Howard gasped and saw visions of slaughterhouses and dead pets under porches
  • The bark of birches peels like parchment. 2. Fireflies blink in the thick grass and form halos around hedges. 3. The spaces between the trees look like glowing coals
  • The reasonable, sensitive soul who perhaps one day while taking his rest along the banks of a bubbling brook came to hear, in that half-dream, half-wakeful state during which so many men seem most receptive to perceiving the pulleys and winches that hoist the clouds, the heavenly bellows that push the winds, the cogs and wheels that turn the globe, came to hear a regularity in the silvery song of water over pebbles, that soul is unknown to us
  • Wind combed through the fir trees around the rim of the pond like a rumor, like the murmur of old men muttering about the storm behind the mountain. The storm came up from behind the mountain, shrouding the peak. Lightning crawled down the mountain and drank at the water, lapped the shallows with electric tongues
  • and that phenomenon, of becoming conscious, was the very thing that whisked him away, so that any bit of insight or gleaning was available only in retrospect, as a sort of afterglow that remained but that was not accessible through words
  • Your cold mornings are filled with the heartache about the fact that although we are not at ease in this world, it is all we have, that it is ours but that it is full of strife, so that all we can call our own is strife; but even that is better than nothing at all, isn’t it?
  • Buddy the Dog sat at attention, as if recommending himself to the ham over the children by his proper manners
  • It is winter because she lies awake with a bare heart, trying to remember a fuller season
  • Her stern manner and her humorless regime mask bitterness far deeper than any of her children or her husband imagine. She has never recovered from the shock of becoming a wife and then a mother
  • So there is my son, hiding behind the last vestige of a house transformed from timber into ash into the dimming memories of those who still remember it
  • God know my shame as I push my mule to exhaustion, even after the moon and Venus have risen to preside over the owls and mice, because I am not going back to my family-my wife, my children-because my wife’s silence is not the forbearance of decent, stern people who fear You; it is the quiet of outrage, of bitterness. It is the quiet of biding time. God forgive me. I am leaving.
  • Howard thought, Is it not true: A move of the head, a step to the left or right, and we change from wise, decent, loyal people to conceited fools?
  • Sun catches cheap plate flaking-I am a tinker; the moon is an egg glowing in its nest of leafless trees-I am a poet; a brochure for an asylum is on the dresser-I am an epileptic, insane; the house is behind me-I am a fugitive
  • The forgotten songs we never really knew, only think we remember knowing, when what we really do is understand at the same time how we have never really known them at all and how glorious they must really be
  • The end came when we could no longer even see him, but felt him in brief disturbances of shadows or light, or as a slight pressure, as if the space one occupied suddenly had had something more packed into it, or we’d catch some faint scent out of season, such as the snow melting into the wool of his winter coat
  • It seemed to me that even if I could pick an apple up with my failing hands, how could I bite it with my dissipating teeth, digest it with my ethereal gut? I realized that this thought was not my own but, rather, my father’s, that even his ideas were leaking out of his former self
  • I feel sorrow so deep, it must be love
  • I remember squatting in the grass several yards from where the Indian worked, trying to learn what I might, which was nothing, but still something I felt compelled to do, as if my lesson was no more than the effort I made
  • He seemed to me as old as light and just as diffuse.
  • and they themselves eventually came to seem men who stood astride the old world of fire and flood and the new one of production quotas and commodities markets.
  • so does man squirm and fret on the dusty skin of our earth, ignorant of the purpose of the world, indeed, the cosmos, beyond the fact that there is one, assigned by God and known only to Him, and that it is good and that it is terrifying and that it is ineffable and that only rational faith can soothe the desperate pains and woes
  • that is how the living prepare, or attempt to prepare, for the unknowable was-by imagining was as it is still approaching; perhaps that is more true, that they mourn because of the inevitability of was and apply their own, human, terrors about their own wases to the it

The Accused by John Grisham

★☆☆☆☆ (1/5)

This is my first read by Grisham. It feels a tad bit juvenile. I’m not as enthralled as I expected to be, seeing that John Grisham is one of the most decorated thriller writers. Perhaps the Boone series is aimed towards middle school students. I wonder if the series follows Theodore Boone into adulthood, as a professional lawyer. I didn’t anticipate the conclusion as much as I did with The Cuckoo’s Calling or any book by Agatha Christie which is primarily where this book falters.

Men Without Women: Stories by Haruki Murakami 

★★★★★ (5/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

Drive My Car ★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • It wasn’t that they were especially laid back. In reality, they were probably tense too. Nevertheless, they seemed to be able to separate their tension and who they were in a natural—likely unconscious—way. They could converse and act normally even while focused on the road. As in, that belongs there and this belongs here
  • Yet he continued to return to his core principle: that, in every situation, knowledge was better than ignorance. However agonizing, it was necessary to confront the facts. Only through knowing could a person become strong.
  • But the place you return to is always slightly different from the place you left
  • If we hope to truly see another person, we have to start by looking within ourselves
  • at a certain point a lot of things didn’t seem like that big a deal anymore. Like the demon had left me all of a sudden

Yesterday ★★★☆☆ (3/5) 

  • As time passes, memory, inevitably, reconstitutes itself
  • Music has that power to revive memories, sometimes so intensely that they hurt.

An Independent Organ ★★★★★ (5/5)

  • If, for some reason, the ominous dark clouds of impending friction appeared on the horizon, he knew how to skillfully back out of the relationship, careful not to aggravate things, and also careful not to hurt the woman. He did this swiftly and naturally, like a shadow drawn up into the gathering twilight
  • His friends all insisted that, when all was said and done, having children was a wonderful thing, but he never could buy this sales pitch. They probably just wanted Tokai to shoulder the same burden they dragged around. They selfishly were convinced that everyone else in the world should be obliged to suffer the way they did.
  • He wasn’t a poor loser, had no inferiority complex or jealousy, no excessive biases or pride, no particular obsessions, wasn’t overly sensitive, had no steadfast political views
  • ‘Some people are polite, and some are quick. Each one’s a good quality to have, but most of the time quickness trumps politeness.’
  • If you took away my career as a plastic surgeon, and the happy environment I’m living in, and threw me out into the world, with no explanation, and with everything stripped away—what in the world would I be?
  • You can’t control your feelings, and it’s like some outrageous power is manipulating you
  • As long as it all makes sense, no matter how deep you fall, you should be able to pull yourself together again

Scheherazade ★★★★★ (5/5)

  • Ten years earlier, she might well have been a lively and attractive young woman, perhaps even turned a few heads. At some point, however, the curtain had fallen on that part of her life and it seemed unlikely to rise again
  • I’m not stranded on a desert island. No, he thought, I am a desert island. If he could fully grasp that concept, he could deal with whatever lay ahead. He had always been comfortable being by himself. His nerves could cope with the solitude
  • The other thing that puzzled him was the fact that their lovemaking and her storytelling were so closely linked, making it hard, if not impossible, to tell where one ended and the other began
  • She worried that the odor might fade as the days went by, but that didn’t happen. Like an undying memory of singular importance, the smell of his sweat had permeated his shirt for good.
  • Perhaps he would never see her again. That worried him. The possibility was just too real. Nothing of a personal nature—no vow, no implicit understanding—held them together. Theirs was a chance relationship created by someone else, and might be terminated on that person’s whim

Kino ★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • Among human emotions, nothing was worse than jealousy and pride, and Kino had had a number of awful experiences because of one or the other. It struck him at times that there was something about him that stirred up the dark side in other people
  • Still, Kino could detect a glint of desire in her eyes, like a faint light deep down a mineshaft
  • You’re saying that some serious trouble has occurred, not because I did something wrong but because I didn’t do the right thing?
  • He couldn’t think of anywhere he wanted to go. The world was a vast ocean with no landmarks, Kino a little boat that had lost its chart and its anchor

Samsa in Love ★★★☆☆ (3/5) 

  • The pungent fragrance recalled something to him. It did not come directly, however; it arrived in stages. It was a strange feeling, as if he were recollecting the present from the future
  • If you think of someone enough, you’re sure to meet them again

Men Without Women ★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • Then, without a word, as if he were gently placing a fragile piece of artwork on the floor, the man hung up. I stood there, in a white T-shirt and blue boxers, pointlessly clutching the phone.
  • Conversely, ever since then, M has been everywhere. I see her everywhere I go. She is part of many places, many times, many people
  • She was always traveling in her own private time zone
  • You are a pastel-colored Persian carpet, and loneliness is a Bordeaux wine stain that won’t come out. Loneliness is brought over from France, the pain of the wound from the Middle East