The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Besides being a great story with amazingly developed characters that are intriguing to watch change over the course of the novel (well… most of them change…), this novel pointed out the giant blind spots I have about the world beyond my door step, and has encouraged me to seek out books that feature other cultures and times in history that I know nothing about, which is most of them….

I really loved how distinct the character’s voices were in this. Each chapter is written in first person from the perspective of one of five characters. Sometimes, when resuming in the middle of a chapter, I’d forget who’s chapter it was. I’d only have to listen for a few seconds before I knew, based on the way the characters observed the world around them.

Heartbreaking, entertaining, educational…

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when you want them to fail

I’ve just started listening to The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, which is about a missionary family traveling to the Congo. I’m only a short way in, but I’m feeling a sort of anticipation for all the horrible things I know are going to happen to these people.

They are described with just the right combination of naivety, arrogance, western chauvinism and old fashioned racism to make me itch to see everything go wrong.

Nabokov does this with his characters quite often, but with him it’s a slow build up to realize just how full of themselves and incompetent the character is. With The Poisonwood Bible, almost from the first pages I’m rolling my eyes and wanting them to learn hard lessons.

This is really good so far!

Invented dangers

It seems to me, that when people have no danger or threats, they make up their own.

In a country where we can prevent almost every major disease we’ve encountered, people decide to find danger in the cure… be it doctors, or vaccines.

In a country where we produce so much food that we throw away 40% of it, people find danger and conspiracies in the food itself.

In a country where anyone can study and learn any subject, people find conspiracies in the information, and value their own opinions over the knowledge of the experienced.

in a country without war, people find danger in their neighbors, see threats in the disenfranchised and in the helpless.

In a country where anyone is free to practice any religion, people find threats to their own religion in the practice of other religions, or in the non religious.

In the richest nation in the world, people feel threatened by the loss of the scraps the poor consume just to get by.

In a country where we’re working toward racial/gender equality, people perceive the equal rights of others as a threat to their own rights.

Take a step back. The things people find threats in are often the things preventing real danger.

Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders

Love, death, ghosts, and history. What a sad, funny, interesting and heart-squeezing novel.

From Wikipedia:

Many years ago, during a visit to Washington DC, my wife’s cousin pointed out to us a crypt on a hill and mentioned that, in 1862, while Abraham Lincoln was president, his beloved son, Willie, died, and was temporarily interred in that crypt, and that the grief-stricken Lincoln had, according to the newspapers of the day, entered the crypt “on several occasions” to hold the boy’s body. An image spontaneously leapt into my mind – a melding of the Lincoln Memorial and the Pietà. I carried that image around for the next 20-odd years, too scared to try something that seemed so profound, and then finally, in 2012, noticing that I wasn’t getting any younger, not wanting to be the guy whose own gravestone would read “Afraid to Embark on Scary Artistic Project He Desperately Longed to Attempt”, decided to take a run at it, in exploratory fashion, no commitments. My novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, is the result of that attempt […].[10]

What must that feel like… to not only finally complete a project you’ve been thinking about for decades, but to also have it be so acclaimed?

I hope he feels proud, because it is great. I never would have though a book written in such a strange way could evoke such strong feelings, but it does. After a few pages of it, you don’t notice the strangeness as much. Or, you do, but it is no longer a hindrance. It blends into the feeling of it. The idea of dozens or hundreds of viewpoints coalescing into a single story of a single night.

I think anyone with an open mind could enjoy this book. The only people I’ve seen saying bad things about it are just complaining about the way it’s written, not what’s written.

The only minor complaint I had was how short it was. The 360 or so pages it claims would actually be probably half that, if each page were covered with words instead of having them spread out as it is formatted.

Read if you want something fresh and interesting and heartfelt!

Infinities

The idea of dying, and being gone forever, never existing again, is scary. But the idea of always existing, forever, with no end no matter what you do, is pretty horrible too.

Maybe humans fear/are repelled by ideas of the infinite because everything we know is finite. Would experiencing something infinite relieve that fear? Maybe, but how to do that…

Going to the Eclipse

I will see the total eclipse on the 21st! I will have to sleep in my car and drive for many hours, but I will see it!

I’ve never seen one, and can’t help but wonder what it must have been like for ancient peoples who had no idea what was going on. I’m sure total eclipses spawned religions like meat draws hornets…

The fear, the awe, the beauty… all of it combined must have driven people mad thinking the world was over. What did they do in those minutes of darkness?

Maybe I’ll find out next week…

Doers and preservers

I just listened to the section in Crime and Punishment featuring the talk about Raskolnikov’s article. (very minor spoilers) The article talks about what Raskolnikov calls ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ people, and their differences. The ordinary people, he says, are happy to be ruled and told what to do, and have not many exciting or interesting ideas, and live normal, daily lives of work, family, and happiness. ‘Extraordinary people’ are geniuses, leaders, inventors, and those who ‘create new words’. These people are not as bound by authority, and rules. This being the major point. Ordinary people are bound by the law, extraordinary people are not. Extraordinary people’s conscience allows them to break the law for their ideals/inventions/causes, without guilt, or with some remorse but knowing it’s worth it in the long run. Raskolnikov says these people have ‘the right to break the law’. Not that they have the right to go unpunished, but that their conscience gives them the right to break the law without guilt.

This started me thinking about similar thoughts I’ve had. Not about crime, or punishment, but about people’s reactions toward new ideas in general.

There seems to be (generally) two kinds of people, but instead of ordinary and extraordinary, I thought of them as ‘preservers’ and ‘doers’

Preservers are resistant to change and want to keep things the way they are, or if they want change they want it to be the way something was in the past. When presented with a new idea, new cause, new invention, new way of looking at things, new discovery–they will find the problems with it, the reasons not to embrace it, the reasons it is dangerous and should be avoided, the reasons it is wrong or immoral. This seems to me to be the majority of people, though I do not think that makes them ordinary.

The ‘doers’ are the people who present the new ideas, strive for change in our way of life, make discoveries and propose inventions, etc. They fight passionately for these ideas regardless of the negative consequences, possibly without even looking for or imagining there could be negative consequences. These people seem to be a minority–at least the ones we hear about.

I think we need both kinds of people. We can’t embrace every idea that anyone has, we need the preservers to knock down and find the negative side of every crap idea to prevent them from getting anywhere. The ideas that are strong enough to survive the attacks of the preservers, will eventually convince them.

Of course, someone could be both preserver and doer, and probably most people have a lot of both in them. But it seems that those who make big discoveries and movements and inventions are less negative people who are willing to embrace an idea regardless, or in spite of consequences.

So next time you’re reading the comments on an article about some neat new thing, and run into the inevitable crowd of people finding something wrong with it or dangerous or saying ‘oh no humanity will end because abc,’ try not to be annoyed, and instead be glad–they’re doing a job you don’t have the pain of having to do! (or if you do, I thank you that I don’t have to be the one doing it!)