Audio Books · Book & Product Reviews

The Fountainhead – book review

Overview:

The Fountainhead was written in 1943 by Ayn Rand who has to be one of my top 5 authors. I have read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged another Ayn Rand novel several times. More recently I have both books available on Audible. There are several key characters in this novel, but the most notable is Howard Roark who is an architect. Howard is the focal point of the book for his individualist character and the love he possesses for his work. As with Atlas Shrugged this novel pits the individualist (capitalist) against those that feel there is little meaning to life and everything should be shared (socialist). Like all of Ayn Rand’s novels there is this good vs. evil plot being played out, or you might look at it as conventional vs. innovative when referring to the central theme of architecture. I won’t give away the details of the plot or how it ends, but I can guarantee you will enjoy reading or listening to this book.

If you have Audible beware that this is a very long book and is over 32 hours. The narration is incredible as the narrator changes their voice for various characters, making it much easier to listen to. Ayn Rand does an incredible job of creating compelling characters with all their virtues and flaws. As I mentioned the key character Howard Roark is what the author would call the ideal man. A man of virtue, dedicated to his work, and idealistic.

Recommendation:

As you can probably tell I loved it. There is nothing in this book not to like and while it is a substantial investment in terms of the time to read it (752 pages), you will not be disappointed. Due to the quality of the narration and the fact that it is a novel, where much of it consists of dialog it really lends itself to the audio book format. If you choose to listen to it on Audible the version I listened to had Christopher Hurt as the narrator. While the underlying theme in this novel is philosophical, it is also entertaining and most of the characters are somewhat complex, making it fun to read.

A little bit about the Author

(source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayn_Rand)

Ayn Rand born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum; February 2, 1905 – March 6, 1982) was a Russian-American writer and philosopher. She is known for her two best-selling novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and for developing a philosophical system she named Objectivism. Educated in Russia, she moved to the United States in 1926. She had a play produced on Broadway in 1935 and 1936. After two early novels that were initially unsuccessful, she achieved fame with her 1943 novel, The Fountainhead. In 1957, Rand published her best-known work, the novel Atlas Shrugged. Afterward, she turned to non-fiction to promote her philosophy, publishing her own periodicals and releasing several collections of essays until her death in 1982.

Rand advocated reason as the only means of acquiring knowledge and rejected faith and religion. She supported rational and ethical egoism and rejected altruism. In politics, she condemned the initiation of force as immoral and opposed collectivism and statism as well as anarchism, instead supporting laissez-faire capitalism, which she defined as the system based on recognizing individual rights, including property rights. In art, Rand promoted romantic realism. She was sharply critical of most philosophers and philosophical traditions known to her, except for Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and classical liberals.

Literary critics received Rand’s fiction with mixed reviews and academia generally ignored or rejected her philosophy, though academic interest has increased in recent decades. The Objectivist movement attempts to spread her ideas, both to the public and in academic settings. She has been a significant influence among libertarians and American conservatives.

 

Audio Books · Book & Product Reviews

Book Review – Stop Doing That Sh*t

I believe this is the latest book by Gary John Bishop and it’s called “Stop Doing That Sh*t“. If you read my book review of UnFu*k Yourself you know how much I enjoy Gary’s writing. UnFu*k Yourself was focused on our internal self talk and the author provided 8 rules or tenants for living a better life; helping you to begin steering your ship in the right direction. This book Stop Doing That Sh*t takes us in a different direction. Mind you it doesn’t invalidate what Gary Bishop wrote about in UnFu*k Yourself, but after listening to it a couple times it really complements it.

As I mentioned I’ve listened to this book a couple times now and found it fascinating and of course very entertaining. Gary John Bishop has a great Scottish accent and a no holds barred style of writing that gives it to you in a raw language that is easy to interpret. Basically I think his style and because he narrates the book himself make it a great candidate for an audio book. So what is this book about? Gary makes a case that the past is driving all your current and future behavior. I know at first I balked at this as I pride myself as someone who cares little about the past and rarely thinks about it. You might think the past has no hold over you, but think about what your believe and the way you act and you begin to understand that the past is running your subconscious mind. It dictates what you value, your relationships, what you think about money, and causes you to repeat behavior patterns, mostly the shitty ones.

For myself I started to realize while I don’t consciously think about the past it has molded me for both good and bad. He goes on to elaborate on the three saboteurs:

  1. You
  2. Them
  3. Life

So what you think about yourself and your limitations, how you view other people, and your outlook on life. The remainder of the book provides some insights on how you can address these three saboteurs and make some constructive change in  your life. I won’t spool it for you, but the last couple chapters give you some insights into how you can start to turn things around.

I highly recommend this book, and I recommend reading or listening to it at least a couple times, because it takes a while to really understand and come to some acceptance of the premise. You might just begin to understand how much you are sabotaging your own life and more importantly why.

Namaste

 

 

Audio Books · Book & Product Reviews

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Zen Mind Beginners Mind

Review

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is a book by Shunryu Suzuki a Japanese author and Zen Master. I have been studying Zen Buddhism for the past year or so and attempting to sit in the Zen meditation style of Zazen. Having read a number of books on Zen, with some of them bordering on boring me to death, I felt compelled to write a book review on Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

I have listened to the Audible version of this book probably 20 times now as I find it so simple and at the same time so profound. For those of you who like Audio books this one is narrated by Peter Coyote who does an excellent job, making it a joy to listen to. Instead of the somewhat severe dogma and focus on enlightenment, Shunryu Suzuki focuses on just practicing and provides many hints on good practice and bad practice. One of the interesting themes in the book is the idea that you should not have a goal for your practice. You should not be driven by some ego or feeling that my practice is to achieve something, instead you should just practice. This may be counter intuitive for many of us who view Zen as a path to enlightenment or something we can tell our friends and families about with some idea that we are better than everyone else.

According to Shunryu Suzuki there is no one way to practice and there is no school of Zen Buddhism that is superior to any other. In fact he states that at his temple he does not consider them to be a particular school of Zen; they are just Buddhists. I think you will find this book extremely refreshing compared to something like the 3 Pillars of Zen, which is a fine book but is so prescriptive as to seem unattainable for us mere mortals. As a hard copy book I believe it is less than 150 pages, and as an Audible book it is about 3 hours long. Don’t let the brevity of this work dissuade you from checking it out.

Recommendation

There is a lot of joy in listening to or reading this book. Each page will bring new insights into your mind and will inspire your own Buddhist practice, especially if you have an interest in Zen. I loved this book so much that when I get off track in my life, I listen to it again and it helps to center me and gets me back on my cushion to meditate. As you might be able to tell I highly recommend this book. I hope you will take a leap of faith and purchase this book and subsequently enjoy it as much as I have.

 

About the Author

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shunry%C5%AB_Suzuki

Shunryu Suzuki (鈴木 俊隆 Suzuki Shunryū, dharma name Shōgaku Shunryū 祥岳俊隆, often called Suzuki Roshi; May 18, 1904 – December 4, 1971) was a Sōtō Zen monk and teacher who helped popularize Zen Buddhism in the United States, and is renowned for founding the first Buddhist monastery outside Asia (Tassajara Zen Mountain Center). Suzuki founded San Francisco Zen Center which, along with its affiliate temples, comprises one of the most influential Zen organizations in the United States. A book of his teachings, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, is one of the most popular books on Zen and Buddhism in the West.[1][2][3]

Shunryu Suzuki was born May 18, 1904, in Kanagawa Prefecture southwest of Tokyo, Japan.[4] His father, Butsumon Sogaku Suzuki, was the abbot of the village Soto Zen temple.[4] His mother, Yone, was the daughter of a priest and had been divorced from her first husband for being too independent. Shunryu grew up with an older half-brother from his mother’s first marriage and two younger sisters. As an adult he was about 4 feet 11 inches (1.5 m) tall.[5]

His father’s temple, Shōgan-ji, was located near Hiratsuka, a city on Sagami Bay about fifty miles southwest of Tokyo. The temple income was small and the family had to be very thrifty.[4]

When Suzuki entered school he became aware that his family was very poor. Suzuki was sensitive and kind but prone to quick bursts of anger. The other boys ridiculed him for his shaved head and for being the son of a priest. He preferred staying in the classroom to playing in the schoolyard, and was always at the top of his class. His teacher told him that he should grow up to be a great man, and to do this he needed to leave Kanagawa Prefecture and study hard.

Apprenticeship

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In 1916, 12-year-old Suzuki decided to train with a disciple of his father, Gyokujun So-on Suzuki.[4] So-on was Sogaku’s adopted son and abbot of Sokagu’s former temple Zoun-in. His parents initially thought he was too young to live far from home but eventually allowed it.

Zoun-in is in a small village called Mori, Shizuoka in Japan. Suzuki arrived during a 100-day practice period at the temple and was the youngest student there. Zoun-in was a larger temple than Shōgan-ji.

At 4:00 each morning he arose for zazen. Next he would chant sutras and begin cleaning the temple with the others. They would work throughout the day and then, in the evenings, they all would resume zazen. Suzuki idolized his teacher, who was a strong disciplinarian. So-on often was rough on Suzuki but gave him some latitude for being so young.

When Suzuki turned 13, on May 18, 1917, So-on ordained him as a novice monk (unsui).[4] He was given the Buddhist name Shogaku Shunryu,[4] yet So-on nicknamed him Crooked Cucumber for his forgetful and unpredictable nature.

Shunryu began again attending upper-elementary school in Mori, but So-on did not supply proper clothes for him. He was the subject of ridicule. In spite of his misfortune he didn’t complain. Instead he doubled his efforts back at the temple.

When Shunryu had first come to Zoun-in, eight other boys were studying there. By 1918, he was the only one who stayed. This made his life a bit tougher with So-on, who had more time to scrutinize him. During this period Suzuki wanted to leave Zoun-in but equally didn’t want to give up.

In 1918 So-on was made head of a second temple, on the rim of Yaizu, called Rinso-in. Shunryu followed him there and helped whip the place back in order. Soon, families began sending their sons there and the temple began to come to life. Suzuki had failed an admissions test at the nearby school, so So-on began teaching the boys how to read and write Chinese.

So-on soon sent his students to train with a Rinzai master for a while. Here Shunryu studied a very different kind of Zen, one that promoted the attainment of satori through the concentration on koans through zazen. Suzuki had problems sitting with his koan. Meanwhile, all the other boys passed theirs, and he felt isolated. Just before the ceremony marking their departure Suzuki went to the Rinzai teacher and blurted out his answer. The master passed Suzuki; later Shunryu believed he had done it simply to be kind.

In 1919, at age 15, Suzuki was brought back home by his parents, who suspected mistreatment by So-on. Shunryu helped out with the temple while there and entered middle school. Yet, when summer vacation came, he was back at Rinso-in and Zoun-in with So-on to train and help out. He didn’t want to stop training.

In school Suzuki took English and did quite well. A local doctor, Dr. Yoshikawa, hired him to tutor his two sons in English. Yoshikawa treated Suzuki well, giving him a wage and occasional advice.

Higher education

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In 1924 Shunryu enrolled in a Soto preparatory school in Tokyo[4] not far from Shogan-ji, where he lived on the school grounds in the dorm. From 1925 to 1926 Suzuki did Zen training with Dojun Kato in Shizuoka at Kenko-in. He continued his schooling during this period. Here Shunryu became head monk for a 100-day retreat, after which he was no longer merely considered a novice. He had completed his training as a head monk.

In 1925 Shunryu graduated from preparatory school and entered Komazawa University, the Soto Zen university in Tokyo.[4] During this period he continued his connections with So-on in Zoun-in, going back and forth whenever possible.

Some of his teachers here were discussing how Soto Zen might reach a bigger audience with students and, while Shunryu couldn’t comprehend how Western cultures could ever understand Zen, he was intrigued.

On August 26, 1926, So-on gave Dharma transmission to Suzuki.[4] He was 22.[4] Shunryu’s father also retired as abbot at Shogan-ji this same year, and moved the family onto the grounds of Zoun-in where he served as inkyo (retired abbot).

Later that year Suzuki spent a short time in the hospital with tuberculosis, but soon recovered. In 1927 an important chapter in Suzuki’s life was turned. He went to visit a teacher of English he had at Komazawa named Miss Nona Ransom, a woman who had taught English to such people as the last emperor of China, Pu-yi, and more so his wife, the last empress of China, Jigoro Kano (the Founder of Judo), the children of Chinese president Li Yuanhong, and some members of the Japanese royal family. She hired him that day to be a translator and to help with errands. Through this period he realized she was very ignorant of Japanese culture and the religion of Buddhism. She respected it very little and saw it as idol worship. But one day, when there were no chores to be done, the two had a conversation on Buddhism that changed her mind. She even let Suzuki teach her zazen meditation. This experience is significant in that Suzuki realized that Western ignorance of Buddhism could be transformed.

On January 22, 1929, So-on retired as abbot of Zoun-in and installed Shunryu as its 28th abbot. Sogaku would run the temple for Shunryu. In January 1930 a ten’e ceremony was held at Zoun-in for Shunryu. This ceremony acknowledged So-on’s Dharma transmission to Shunryu, and served as a formal way for the Soto heads to grant Shunryu permission to teach as a priest. On April 10, 1930, at age 25, Suzuki graduated from Komazawa Daigakurin with a major in Zen and Buddhist philosophy, and a minor in English.

Suzuki mentioned to So-on during this period that he might be interested in going to America to teach Zen Buddhism. So-on was adamantly opposed to the idea. Suzuki realized that his teacher felt very close to him and that he would take such a departure as an insult. He did not mention it to him again.

Eihei-ji and Sōji-ji

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Upon graduation from Komazawa, So-on wanted Shunryu to continue his training at the well known Soto Zen temple Eihei-ji in Fukui Prefecture. In September 1930 Suzuki entered the training temple and underwent the Zen initiation known as tangaryo. His mother and father stayed on at Zoun-in to care for his temple in his absence.

Eihei-ji is one of the largest Zen training facilities in Japan, and the abbot at this time was Gempo Kitano-roshi. Prior to coming to Japan, Kitano was head of Soto Zen in Korea. He also was one of the founders of Zenshuji, a Soto Zen temple located in Los Angeles, California. Suzuki’s father and Kitano had a tense history between them. Sogaku had trained with Kitano in his early Zen training and felt that he was such a high priest due to familial status and connections. Shunryu did not see this in Kitano, however. He saw a humble man who gave clear instruction, and Shunryu realized that his father was very wrong in his assessment.

Often monks were assigned duties at the monastery to serve certain masters. Shunryu was assigned to Ian Kishizawa-roshi, a well known teacher at the time who had previously studied under two great Japanese teachers: Sōtan Oka and Bokusan Nishiari. He was a renowned scholar on Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō, and was also an acquaintance of his father from childhood.

Kishizawa was strict but not abusive, treating Suzuki well. Suzuki learned much from him, and Kishizawa saw a lot of potential in him. Through him Suzuki came to appreciate the importance of bowing in Zen practice through example. In December Suzuki sat his first true sesshin for 7 days, an ordeal that was challenging initially but proved rewarding toward the end. This concluded his first practice period at Eihei-ji.

In September 1931, after one more practice period and sesshin at Eihei-ji, So-on arranged for Suzuki to train in Yokohama at Sōji-ji. Sōji-ji was the other main Soto temple of Japan, and again Suzuki underwent the harsh tangaryo initiation. Sojiji was founded by the great Zen master Keizan and had a more relaxed atmosphere than Eihei-ji. At Sōji-ji Suzuki travelled back to Zoun-in frequently to attend to his temple.

In 1932 So-on came to Sōji-ji to visit with Shunryu and, after hearing of Suzuki’s contentment at the temple, advised him to leave it. In April of that year Suzuki left Sōji-ji with some regret and moved back into Zoun-in, living with his family there. In May he visited with Ian Kishizawa from Eiheiji and, with So-on’s blessing, asked to continue studies under him. He went to Gyokuden-in for his instruction, where Kishizawa trained him hard in zazen and conducted personal interviews with him.

Sometime during this period Suzuki married a woman who contracted tuberculosis. The date and name of the woman is unknown, but the marriage was soon annulled. She went back to live with her family while he focused on his duties at Zoun-in.

Suzuki reportedly was involved with some anti-war activities during World War II, but according to David Chadwick, the record is confusing and, at most, his actions were low-key.[6] However, considering the wholesale enthusiastic support for the war expressed by the entire religious establishment in Japan at the time, this fact is significant in showing something of the character of the man.

San Francisco Zen Center

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On May 23, 1959, Shunryu Suzuki arrived in San Francisco to attend to Soko-ji, at that time the sole Soto Zen temple in San Francisco. He was 55.[4] Suzuki took over for the interim priest, Wako Kazumitsu Kato. Suzuki was taken aback by the Americanized and watered-down Buddhism practiced at the temple, mostly by older immigrant Japanese. He found American culture interesting and not too difficult to adjust to, even commenting once that “if I knew it would be like this, I would have come here sooner!” He was surprised to see that Sokoji was previously a Jewish synagogue (at 1881 Bush Street, now a historic landmark). His sleeping quarters were located upstairs, a windowless room with an adjoining office.

At the time of Suzuki’s arrival, Zen had become a hot topic amongst some groups in the United States, especially beatniks. Particularly influential were several books on Zen and Buddhism by Alan Watts. Word began to spread about Suzuki among the beatniks through places like the San Francisco Art Institute and the American Academy of Asian Studies, where Alan Watts was once director. Kato had done some presentations at the Academy and asked Suzuki to come join a class he was giving there on Buddhism. This sparked Suzuki’s long-held desire to teach Zen to Westerners.

The class was filled with people wanting to learn more about Buddhism, and the presence of a Zen master was inspiring for them. Suzuki had the class do zazen for 20 minutes, sitting on the floor without a zafu and staring forward at the white wall. In closing, Suzuki invited everyone to stop in at Sokoji for morning zazen. Little by little, more people showed up each week to sit zazen for 40 minutes with Suzuki on mornings. The students were improvising, using cushions borrowed from wherever they could find them.

The group that sat with Suzuki eventually formed the San Francisco Zen Center with Suzuki. The Zen Center flourished so that in 1966, at the behest and guidance of Suzuki, Zentatsu Richard Baker helped seal the purchase of Tassajara Hot Springs in Los Padres National Forest, which they called Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. In the fall of 1969, they bought a building at 300 Page Street near San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighborhood and turned it into a Zen temple. Suzuki left his post at Sokoji to become the first abbot of one of the first Buddhist training monasteries outside Asia. Suzuki’s departure from Sokoji was thought to be inspired by his dissatisfaction with the superficial Buddhist practice of the Japanese immigrant community and his preference for the American students who were more seriously interested in Zen meditation, but it was more at the insistence of the Sokoji board, which asked him to choose one or the other (he had tried to keep both roles). Although Suzuki thought there was much to learn from the study of Zen in Japan, he said that it had grown moss on its branches, and he saw his American students as a means to reform Zen and return it to its pure zazen- (meditation) and practice-centered roots.

Suzuki died on December 4, 1971, presumably from cancer[7].

Publications
A collection of his teishos (Zen talks) was published in 1970 in the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind during Suzuki’s lifetime.[8] His lectures on the Sandokai are collected in Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness, edited by Mel Weitsman and Michael Wenger and published in 1999.[9] Edward Espe Brown edited Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen which was published in 2002.[10]

A biography of Suzuki, titled Crooked Cucumber, was written by David Chadwick in 1999.[11]

Book & Product Reviews

Rich Dad Poor Dad – book review

I read Rich Dad Poor Dad written by Robert T. Kiyosaki on my Kindle and despite all the negative reviews really enjoyed it. I think the criticism comes from an expectation that this book would be some kind of how to get rich guide. Instead Rich Dad Poor Dad is more about principles. His rich dad is not actually his father, but the father of a friend and someone he worked for when he was very young. His poor dad was his actual father a college professor. Much of the book is about stories he told about both of his Dad’s and the lessons he learned from these encounters. The book is about principles, not a step by step guide to obtaining wealth, although anyone that follows these  principles can then do the studying needed to make smart investments.

Here are some of the key principles discussed in the book:

  • Pay yourself first – While this is not a new idea, it is emphasized as the technique you should be using to build wealth.
  • Focus on Assets – The author doesn’t view things like your house or car as an asset. Assets are investments that generate income. This is why paying yourself first and using that money to buy assets is so important to building wealth.
  • Learn about money – A lot of this book is devoted to the importance of spending time learning about money. There as several examples about how Robert attended a seminar and then put what he learned into practice to make a lot of money.
  • Different types of income
    • Regular – income from a job for time you work.
    • Passive – This could be something like rental income. It is typically income you get for making an initial transaction / purchase but have to do little or nothing later on.
    • Portfolio – This is typically equities (stocks) where the income results from capital gains.
  • Use debt wisely – Do not finance personal luxuries like cars, boats, etc. This type of debt does not create income and could have been used to purchase assets.

The principles listed above are only a few of the many that are written about by the author.

 

Recommendation

Interestingly, I had passed on reading this book for some time mostly due to the poor reviews it received, but fortunately I decided for myself to give it a shot. I actually enjoyed reading it and liked the story of having a Rich Dad and a Poor Dad to highlight the principles that Robert learned. Is there some shameless marketing in the book, yes in the Kindle version the last 18% of the book is a list of all his other books. What I liked about the book is that you can compare your own financial management to the principles outlined in the book, which can result in some changes in the way you look at money and how you are managing it. I would recommend the book for anyone who is not an expert in investing or finance, which is most of the population. Don’t read it if you are looking for a book on how to invest in stocks or real estate. You won’t find that kind of information here and there are many other books to read on those subjects that will go into great detail and help you build your knowledge. Like I said this book is about using Financial Principles to guide your journey to building wealth.

 

About the Author

Robert Toru Kiyosaki (born April 8, 1947) is an American businessman and author. Kiyosaki is the founder of Rich Global LLC and the Rich Dad Company, a private financial education company that provides personal finance and business education to people through books and videos. The company’s main revenues come from franchisees of the Rich Dad seminars that are conducted by independent people using Kiyosaki’s brand name for a fee. He is also the creator of the Cashflow board and software games to educate adults and children about business and financial concepts.

Kiyosaki’s seminars in the US and Canada are conducted in collaboration with a company called Whitney Information Network and are contracted out to local companies as franchisees in other countries. However, some attendees have sued Kiyosaki on claims that his high-priced seminars did not deliver anything special.

Kiyosaki is the author of more than 26 books, including the international self-published personal finance Rich Dad Poor Dad series of books which has been translated into 51 languages and sold over 27 million copies worldwide. He has been criticized for advocating the practices of debatable legality perceived as “get rich quick” philosophy. Kiyosaki is the subject of a class action suit against him by people who attended his seminars and has been the subject of two investigative documentaries by CBC Canada and WTAE USA. Kiyosaki’s company filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

 

Audio Books · Book & Product Reviews

The Sirens of Titan – book review

If you read my posts on this blog you might be wondering does he read anything but Vonnegut (see excerpt about the author below)? Most of my earlier posts had to do with non fiction and leaned towards a lot of self improvement stuff. More recently I have enjoyed escaping into Kurt Vonnegut’s work, which in a way is both a joy but is not lacking in some pretty interesting lessons about humanity.

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut is both an interesting read or listen depending on your choice of formats. I listened to this book on Audible.com. This book centers around maybe a half a dozen characters with Malachi Constant also called Unch at times. Much of the novel is centered around an invasion of Earth from Mars orchestrated by the character Winston Niles Rumfoord. As with many of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels he takes you on a bizarre journey that in the beginning is a bit difficult to understand, but as you read on he really develops some interesting themes and the character development is excellent. There is both a bit of humor at times and often times a feeling of sadness as some pretty horrific things happen to Malachi Constant and his family.

The audible version of this book is narrated by Jay Snyder and is 9 hours and 20 minutes in length. The paperback version is 336 pages long and available for $12 – $14.

Recommendation

If you choose the Audible version, you will really enjoy the narration by Jay Snyder, he does an excellent job, which is not easy when you read a Vonnegut novel. I have to be honest I was a little lost at times during the reading of this novel, but at the same time I was very interested in the characters and ultimately what would happen to them. Kurt Vonnegut has a real talent for character development delving deep into human behavior and psychology. Of course I liked it spending the better part of the weekend listening to it. This novel is both a great escape from reality and at times takes you on an emotional roller coaster.

Excerpt about Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007) was an American writer. In a career spanning over 50 years, Vonnegut published 14 novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five works of non-fiction, with further collections being published after his death. He is most famous for his darkly satirical, best-selling novel Slaughterhouse-Five (1969).

Born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, Vonnegut attended Cornell University but dropped out in January 1943 and enlisted in the United States Army. As part of his training, he studied mechanical engineering at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and the University of Tennessee. He was then deployed to Europe to fight in World War II and was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. He was interned in Dresden and survived the Allied bombing of the city by taking refuge in a meat locker of the slaughterhouse where he was imprisoned. After the war, Vonnegut married Jane Marie Cox, with whom he had three children. He later adopted his sister’s three sons, after she died of cancer and her husband was killed in a train accident.

Vonnegut published his first novel, Player Piano, in 1952. The novel was reviewed positively but was not commercially successful. In the nearly 20 years that followed, Vonnegut published several novels that were only marginally successful, such as Cat’s Cradle (1963) and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1964). Vonnegut’s breakthrough was his commercially and critically successful sixth novel, Slaughterhouse-Five. The book’s anti-war sentiment resonated with its readers amidst the ongoing Vietnam War and its reviews were generally positive. After its release, Slaughterhouse-Five went to the top of The New York Times Best Seller list, thrusting Vonnegut into fame. He was invited to give speeches, lectures and commencement addresses around the country and received many awards and honors.

Later in his career, Vonnegut published several autobiographical essays and short-story collections, including Fates Worse Than Death (1991), and A Man Without a Country (2005). After his death, he was hailed as a morbidly comical commentator on the society in which he lived and as one of the most important contemporary writers. Vonnegut’s son Mark published a compilation of his father’s unpublished compositions, titled Armageddon in Retrospect. In 2017, Seven Stories Press published Complete Stories, a collection of Vonnegut’s short fiction including 5 previously unpublished stories. Complete Stories was collected and introduced by Vonnegut friends and scholars Jerome Klinkowitz and Dan Wakefield. Numerous scholarly works have examined Vonnegut’s writing and humor.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_Vonnegut

 

Audio Books · Book & Product Reviews

Cat’s Cradle – book review

Review

After reading this book it took me several days before writing this review, primarily because I struggled with what I would write about. The whole experience of reading this book was so weird and the plot so bizarre I wasn’t sure how I might explain it.

Cat’s Cradle was written in 1963 by Kurt Vonnegut (see Wikipedia excerpt below) and this was his 4th novel. I listened to this book on Audible.com and it was narrated by Tony Roberts. The book is made up of many small chapters often only a paragraph in length, which is a bit weird but from Kurt Vonnegut it is not totally unexpected. I won’t give away the whole plot but it is essentially about a writer who is interviewing friends and children of one of the people involved in the bombing of Hiroshima during World War II.

There are a number of very bizarre characters in this book and much of it takes place on the island of San Larenzo where the inhabitants follow a religion called Bokononism created by its founder Bokonon. As I listened to this book I was starting to think this is really bizarre and makes no sense, but about half way through the book it started to grow on me and I started really enjoying it.

I think you can best describe this book if you look at the synonyms for bizarre:

strange, peculiar, odd, funny, curious, offbeat, outlandish, eccentric, unconventional, unorthodox, queer, unexpected, unfamiliar, abnormal, atypical, unusual, out of the ordinary, out of the way, extraordinary

Recommendation:

The audio version at Audible was a little over 7 hours in length and the paperback version at Amazon is 286 pages. If you are an Audible fan you will like the Tony Roberts narration, he does an excellent job even with the voices of women. I recommend this book if you have already read a couple of Kurt Vonnegut’s books as it makes it a bit easier to understand where he is going, the characters are great,  and it has an interesting ending. I would not recommend it as your first foray into a Vonnegut novel. My reasoning is that it is a bit disjointed given the way it was written as very small chapters, with some seemingly unrelated. Like I mentioned earlier it all starts to make some sense about half way through the book, but still it is a crazy journey from start to end.

 

Excerpt from Wikipedia about the Author

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007) was an American writer. In a career spanning over 50 years, Vonnegut published 14 novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five works of non-fiction, with further collections being published after his death. He is most famous for his darkly satirical, best-selling novel Slaughterhouse-Five (1969).

Born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, Vonnegut attended Cornell University but dropped out in January 1943 and enlisted in the United States Army. As part of his training, he studied mechanical engineering at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and the University of Tennessee. He was then deployed to Europe to fight in World War II and was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. He was interned in Dresden and survived the Allied bombing of the city by taking refuge in a meat locker of the slaughterhouse where he was imprisoned. After the war, Vonnegut married Jane Marie Cox, with whom he had three children. He later adopted his sister’s three sons, after she died of cancer and her husband was killed in a train accident.

Vonnegut published his first novel, Player Piano, in 1952. The novel was reviewed positively but was not commercially successful. In the nearly 20 years that followed, Vonnegut published several novels that were only marginally successful, such as Cat’s Cradle (1963) and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1964). Vonnegut’s breakthrough was his commercially and critically successful sixth novel, Slaughterhouse-Five. The book’s anti-war sentiment resonated with its readers amidst the ongoing Vietnam War and its reviews were generally positive. After its release, Slaughterhouse-Five went to the top of The New York Times Best Seller list, thrusting Vonnegut into fame. He was invited to give speeches, lectures and commencement addresses around the country and received many awards and honors.

Later in his career, Vonnegut published several autobiographical essays and short-story collections, including Fates Worse Than Death (1991), and A Man Without a Country (2005). After his death, he was hailed as a morbidly comical commentator on the society in which he lived and as one of the most important contemporary writers. Vonnegut’s son Mark published a compilation of his father’s unpublished compositions, titled Armageddon in Retrospect. In 2017, Seven Stories Press published Complete Stories, a collection of Vonnegut’s short fiction including 5 previously unpublished stories. Complete Stories was collected and introduced by Vonnegut friends and scholars Jerome Klinkowitz and Dan Wakefield. Numerous scholarly works have examined Vonnegut’s writing and humor.

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_Vonnegut

 

Audio Books · Book & Product Reviews

Player Piano – book review

As you may be able to tell by now, I am quite a Kurt Vonnegut fan. I believe this is my third book review from Kurt Vonnegut. This was Kurt’s first novel published in 1952 and didn’t get much notice, which is a bit odd considering it is an excellent read or in my case listen on Audible. The narration is performed by Christian Rummel and it is incredible considering all the different characters that are included in this book. If you have read my book reviews before you know that I try not to spoil it for you focusing more on the themes and my own opinion of the work. If you want to know more about Kurt Vonnegut see the excerpt from Wikipedia below.

I swear Kurt Vonnegut could see into the future as the themes from this book have many parallels to what is happening today in terms of technology replacing many jobs that were formerly done by humans. The primary character is Dr. Paul Proteus the head of Engineering at the Ilium, New York plant. The premise of this novel shows the divide between the rich and the poor as machines take over the work formerly done by those they have displaced. There is also a lot of emphasis on blind corporate loyalty and competition for jobs by the elite who are paid 10 to 100’s times the salary of the common man, who by the way lives across the river over the bridge. I won’t go into how it all unfolds, but it all becomes very interesting. Some themes for me included:

  • Man vs. Machine
  • Rich vs. Poor
  • Educated vs. not Educated
  • Collective vs. Individualism
  • Blind Faith in Technology vs. Individual Expression
  • Planned Society vs. Capitalism / Free Enterprise
  • Relative comfort vs. Struggle

Recommendation

I flat out loved this book, the parallels with today are uncanny and the characters are incredibly complex in some ways and at the same time simply symbols of the themes mentioned above. You become emotionally attached to some of the characters such as Dr. Paul Proteus and appalled by others such as his wife Anita. While the battles expressed by the themes provide the opportunity for the author to provide a decisive conclusion to the questions posed in this book, the ending leaves the door open to debate, much like is the case today. If you like Kurt Vonnegut’s writing you will love this book, and if you haven’t had the chance to read or listen to his work, this is a great opportunity to begin where it all started.

A picture of a middle age Kurt Vonnegut

Wikipedia Excerpt

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007) was an American writer. In a career spanning over 50 years, Vonnegut published 14 novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five works of non-fiction, with further collections being published after his death. He is most famous for his darkly satirical, best-selling novel Slaughterhouse-Five (1969).

Born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, Vonnegut attended Cornell University but dropped out in January 1943 and enlisted in the United States Army. As part of his training, he studied mechanical engineering at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and the University of Tennessee. He was then deployed to Europe to fight in World War II and was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. He was interned in Dresden and survived the Allied bombing of the city by taking refuge in a meat locker of the slaughterhouse where he was imprisoned. After the war, Vonnegut married Jane Marie Cox, with whom he had three children. He later adopted his sister’s three sons, after she died of cancer and her husband was killed in a train accident.

Vonnegut published his first novel, Player Piano, in 1952. The novel was reviewed positively but was not commercially successful. In the nearly 20 years that followed, Vonnegut published several novels that were only marginally successful, such as Cat’s Cradle (1963) and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1964). Vonnegut’s breakthrough was his commercially and critically successful sixth novel, Slaughterhouse-Five. The book’s anti-war sentiment resonated with its readers amidst the ongoing Vietnam War and its reviews were generally positive. After its release, Slaughterhouse-Five went to the top of The New York Times Best Seller list, thrusting Vonnegut into fame. He was invited to give speeches, lectures and commencement addresses around the country and received many awards and honors.

Later in his career, Vonnegut published several autobiographical essays and short-story collections, including Fates Worse Than Death(1991), and A Man Without a Country (2005). After his death, he was hailed as a morbidly comical commentator on the society in which he lived and as one of the most important contemporary writers. Vonnegut’s son Mark published a compilation of his father’s unpublished compositions, titled Armageddon in Retrospect. In 2017, Seven Stories Press published Complete Stories, a collection of Vonnegut’s short fiction including 5 previously unpublished stories. Complete Stories was collected and introduced by Vonnegut friends and scholars Jerome Klinkowitz and Dan Wakefield. Numerous scholarly works have examined Vonnegut’s writing and humor.