Who Am I? – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was executed 70 years ago today for his involvement in the Abwehr conspiracy against Hitler. He was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, ecumenist, and member of the Confessing Church. His Letters and Papers from Prison and Ethics have been some of the most influential books in my life.

While in prison, Bonhoeffer wrote a poem called Who Am I? Here it is:

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As thought it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

Review of Don Carlos (Mike Poulton Adaptation)

What was it about?

Don Carlos, the Prince of Spain, is the son of the tyrannical King Philip II. At the start of the play, King Philip has commissioned the Duke of Alba to violently impose Spanish rule on Flanders. Carlos hates his father for two reasons: for marrying Elizabeth, a woman whom Carlos loved first, and for his ruthless political policy. With the help of Rodrigo (the Marquis of Posa), Don Carlos attempts to stop the Duke of Alba from enslaving Flanders. In the background is the passionate love of Elizabeth for her step-son. Mike Poulton’s adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s Don Carlos is a fast-paced, intrigue-filled play centered on the tumultuous relationship between an ambitious monarch and his naive son.

What did I think of it?

I have never read the original play by Friedrich Schiller or seen a performance of Poulton’s adaptation, so I don’t know how this book stacks up against other versions of Don Carlos. However, I did enjoy this version. While some of the characters (such as Elizabeth and especially the Cardinal Grand Inquisitor) were not as well developed as I would have liked, the intrigue kept me engaged. This was definitely a page-turner. Don Carlos is a visionary, but because of his age, he is very short-sighted. He doesn’t really understand the forces at play in his father’s court. The whole play is in verse, but this speeds up rather than slows down the action. My only major criticism was the pacing. While most of the play was at a reasonable but engaging pace, the denouement was too steep. The story wrapped up too quickly. It would be interesting to compare this adaptation to the original Schiller play. Maybe there is more character development in the original. Regardless, I enjoyed Don Carlos and recommend it to anyone interested in a light historical drama.

Favorite quote

[Carlos]:
“Of all the fathers in the world
why do the Heavens punish me with him?
Of all the sons that could have pleased a king
why was God pleased
to displease this King with me?
No two minds are more at odds,
yet here we remain – we three – unnaturally linked
in a single chain of love. Impossible equation!
Wretched, wretched fate!”

 

No Man is an Island by John Donne

I have not abandoned this blog. I guess I just needed a break. There will be a review up this weekend for Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. It was a short but powerful exploration of human suffering. In the meantime, I will post a famous passage from John Donne’s Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions (Meditation 17). I definitely place Donne up there with Christina Rossetti as far as devotional (loosely defined) poetry is concerned.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Review of The Moviegoer

What was it about?

Binx Bolling is an injured Korean War veteran and a stockbroker in New Orleans. When he is not working he is either going out with his most recent secretary or visiting his aunt and his niece Kate, a young woman who struggles with depression. One Mardi Gras, Binx decides to take a trip across America to break out of his everyday routine and to “find himself”. The Moviegoer, Walker Percy’s debut novel, is centered around one man’s quest to find clarity in his life.

What did I think of it?

The Moviegoer is a surprisingly fast-paced novel although hardly anything happens by way of plot. I had to get adjusted to the writing which was Southern-style with a dash of stream-of-consciousness. I don’t recall ever having read another work by a Southern author. On the whole, though, reading The Moviegoer was a pleasant experience. I enjoy introspective novels and this is certainly one. But, I am still not sure about my feelings toward the narrator. Binx is a thirty year old man who has one existential crisis after another. He is so much like Antoine Roquentin from La Nausée by Jean-Paul Sartre, but, I was more drawn to the character of Antoine than I was to Binx. Binx’s thoughts sometimes resembled those of an angsty teenager. I think part of the reason for my ambivalence toward Binx may be the philosophy that underpinned the whole novel. Walker Percy was heavily inspired by the writings of Kierkegaard; in fact, it is through reading Kierkegaard that I learned about Percy. Unfortunately, Percy is not too subtle in this novel. I could list at least four of Kierkegaard’s works that I am certain influenced the characterization and dialogue in the book. The use of Kierkegaard motifs was too heavy-handed for my liking. At one part of the book, Binx even references him as “the great Danish philosopher”. One of the front pages contains a quote from Sickness Unto Death. If you need a lighthearted introduction to Kierkegaard, The Moviegoer could be a good place to start. But if you are are not a fan of explicit philosophical references, this may not be the book for you. While I enjoyed reading the book, there was nothing really memorable about the narrative.

Favorite quote

“What is a repetition? A repetition is the re-enactment of past experience toward the end of isolating the time segment which has lapsed in order that it, the lapsed time, can be savored of itself and without the usual adulteration of events that clog time like peanuts and brittle.”

Review of Adam of the Road

AdamOfTheRoad.JPGWhat was it about?

Adam attends a preparatory school, befriends a boy named Perkin, and secretly cares for a stray dog named Nick. But Adam is not like any other child at the school. He is the son of Roger Quartermayne, a well-known minstrel in the kingdom. Adam dreams of being like his father and living life on the road. But he never expected the journey to start so soon. All of a sudden, Adam is separated from Roger and Nick. Over the course of the story, Adam takes an unintended pilgrimage through thirteenth century England, meeting new places and new faces at every turn of the road. Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray is about one boy’s search for his father and a purpose in life.

What did I think of it?

Good historical fiction is hard to find. Many bestsellers are sensationalist but can hardly be considered historical. Adam of the Road is quite the opposite. The sights and sounds of thirteenth century England come alive in this children’s book; the time period is described in such a way that the reader feels fully immersed in the world. The writing is as simple and unassuming as Adam’s journey.

But despite the elegance of the narrative, the story lacks a plot or a purpose. I know that Adam of the Road is supposed to be more about the journey than the end goal, but the journey is quite underwhelming. The people Adam meets don’t really leave a lasting impression on him. To be perfectly honest, it was a boring story. I love a good character study, but Adam isn’t a very compelling character. It is never clear how the people he meets contribute to his personal growth.

Overall, I thought the book was OK. My expectations going into the book may have been too high, but I wasn’t really wowed by anything. Adam of the Road won the Newbery Medal in 1943. I can certainly understand why the Newbery committee thought this book was deserving of the medal. With respect to historical accuracy and plausibility, this is historical fiction at its finest. I just did not find it very memorable.

Favorite Quote

“A road’s a kind of holy thing,” said Roger the Minstrel to his son, Adam. “That’s why it’s a good work to keep a road in repair, like giving alms to the poor or tending the sick. It’s open to the sun and wind and rain. It brings all kinds of people and all parts of England together. And it’s home to a minstrel, even though he may happen to be sleeping in a castle.”

This book counts toward the Newbery Medal Challenge

 

Tips For New Book Bloggers

I recently “celebrated” my one year blogging anniversary. I can’t say that I know all the ins and outs of blogging (html etc.) but I think my limited experience could be of help to start-up recreational book bloggers. So here are my tips:

1) Read what you want to read.

Yes, YA bloggers have the most followers, but if you don’t like YA or don’t generally read books categorized as YA, don’t feel pressured to do what’s popular. I read mostly Classics. At first I thought I was alone in my interests, but boy was I wrong! There is a community for every book lover.

2) Set a book buying limit.

I guarantee you that if you start blogging you will also start buying more books. It’s inevitable. Your TBR (To Be Read) pile will grow out of control unless you set a book buying limit.

3) Book blogging is a hobby, not a career. 

Unless you are a professional book blogger, you should never feel stressed out about blogging. It is a hobby. You earn no money from doing it. Bloggers are constantly afraid that people will stop following their blogs if they don’t blog consistently, do book hauls, or participate in memes/reading challenges, etc. They won’t. Hardly anyone follows one or two blogs. Most bloggers follow at least 50 blogs, so don’t feel stressed out that you let the ball drop on one reading challenge or didn’t post for three weeks. I am a case in point. I am a very eclectic reader. Although I mostly read Classics, I don’t review all the books I read on my blog because I often read books that I feel are not appropriate to review on this blog (ie. theology books, Christian devotionals, etc.). Because of this, I sometimes take a few weeks off from blogging. I don’t think I have ever lost a follower. If I did, oh well. Maintain your freedom as a blogger and take time off if you need or want to.

4) Request ARCs sparingly or not at all.

Only request ARCs (Advance Review Copies) if you have many followers and (most importantly) if reading and reviewing ARCs fits with the overall theme of your blog. I hardly ever read contemporary works, so requesting ARCs has never been a temptation, but I have followed quite a few bloggers who regretted requesting ARCs because they constantly felt pressured to review them or were disappointed by the kind of books they were reading. If you request ARCs you have to review them, so don’t request them unless you have the time and the desire to read and review the books you receive from publishers. Always ask yourself “Why am I blogging? What do I hope to get from blogging?”

5) Interact with other bloggers

If you want others to follow your blog, you should interact with other bloggers. Like I said earlier, there is a blogging community for everyone. Post constructive comments on others’ blogs, and you will inevitably get followers.

Most importantly, have fun! We in the book blogging community are generally a nice bunch of people. Most of us started blogging because we didn’t know anyone with whom we could discuss books. When it comes to blogging, only do what you love. :)

Words of Encouragement from Kierkegaard

In recent months, there has been a lot of suffering in the world due to hatred and fear. In times like these it is important to be reminded again and again of what true, selfless love looks like.

“[T]he men we see (and it is the same when others see us) are not perfect. And yet it is very often the case that one develops within himself this queasy weakness which is good only for loving the complete epitome of perfections. And yet, although we human beings are all imperfect, one very rarely sees the sound, strong, capable love which is good for loving imperfect beings, that is, the men we see.” ~Works of Love by Søren Kierkegaard (trans. Howard and Edna Hong, p. 164)

Earlier in the chapter, Kierkegaard tells a parable about two artists:

“[S]uppose there were two artists, and the one said, “I have traveled much and seen much in the world, but I have sought in vain to find a man worth painting. I have found no face with such perfection of beauty that I could make up my mind to paint it. In every face I have seen one or another little fault. Therefore I seek in vain.” Would this indicate that this artist was a great artist? On the other hand, the second one said, “Well, I do not pretend to be a real artist; neither have I traveled in foreign lands, but remaining in the little circle of men who are closest to me, I have not found a face so insignificant or so full of faults that I still could not discern in it a more beautiful side and discover something glorious. Therefore I am happy in the art I practice. It satisfies me without my making any claim to being an artist.” Would this not indicate that precisely this one was the artist, one who by bringing a certain something with him found then and there what the much-traveled artist did not find anywhere in the world, perhaps because he did not bring a certain something with him! Consequently the second of the two was the artist. Would it not be sad, too, if what is intended to beautify life could only be a curse upon it, so that art, instead of making life beautiful for us, only fastidiously discovers that not one of us is beautiful. Would it not be sadder still, and still more confusing, if love also should be only a curse because its demand could only make it evident that none of us is worth loving, instead of love’s being recognized precisely by its loving enough to be able to find some lovableness in all of us, consequently loving enough to be able to love all of us.” (p. 156-157)

Maybe, many of the acts of hatred in the world stem from a misunderstanding of true love. When people seek perfection in others, they inevitably become frustrated and angry because no one lives up their expectations. In despair, they assume the worst of everyone.

Kierkegaard admonishes us to never give up hope:

“[N]ever in unlovingness give up a person or give up hope for him, for it is possible that even the most prodigal son can still be saved, that the most embittered enemy, alas, he who was your friend, it is still possible that he can again become your friend; it is possible that he who was sunk the deepest, alas, because he stood so high, it is still possible that he can be raised up again; it is still possible that the love which has turned cold can burn again – therefore never give up any man, not even at the last moment; do not despair. No, hope all things!” (p.238)