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

 

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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.

 

Audio Books · Book & Product Reviews

Welcome to the Monkey House

Welcome to the Monkey House

Hopefully you have heard of Kurt Vonnegut the author of “Welcome to the Monkey House” and many other science fiction novels. Kurt Vonnegut (see excerpt from Wikipedia) is a famous writer of fiction, who I used to read when I was in high school and then in college. I would often escape the world by reading his novels, particularly enjoying the stories that came from an incredibly creative mind.

I listened to “Welcome to the Monkey House” on Audible, and it was narrated by several different people, which actually made it more enjoyable. This 11 1/2 hour audio book is a collection of short unrelated stories, with each of the 25 stories ranging from 12 – 45 minutes in length. As I mentioned below Kurt Vonnegut is incredibly creative and he doesn’t disappoint with this book. The stories range from incredibly funny, very odd, to some pretty sad commentary on human behavior. Given the relatively short length of each story you could read or listen to one or more in a brief period of time, which only added to the enjoyment. The fact that they are totally self contained allows you to pick it up listen or read one of the stories and not have to worry about a time lag when you start reading again as is the case with a novel.

As kind of a side note; I recently listened to “Breakfast of Champions” one of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels and it was extremely interesting. Maybe I will write a book review on it in the near future.

Recommendation

Now if you are very young some of these stories may not resonate with you as there are a lot of references to things that happened in the 1950’s and 60’s. People like JFK and things like landing on the moon. On the other hand most of the stories are pretty much timeless and are pure science fiction. Kurt Vonnegut is a master at creating interesting if not quirky characters and exploring the oddities of human behavior and motivation in his stories. If you choose to listen to the book on Audible you will be thrilled by the excellent narrators chosen to read this book. If you are looking for a bit of a respite from reality then I highly recommend this book. I enjoyed listening to all but a couple of the stories and it kept me entertained for days.

Enjoy!

 

Excerpt from Wikipedia

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

Book & Product Reviews

Man’s Search for Meaning

Viktor Frankl 2

This happens to be a review of an audio book that I have listened to a couple times. Man’s Search for Meaning was written by Viktor E. Frankl (26 March 1905 – 2 September 1997) first published in 1946. Viktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. As I have mentioned in the past my book reviews tend to focus more on what you can learn from the book than some blow by blow account of the work. This book is broken up into two parts with the first part being Viktor Frankl’s experience at the German concentration camp Auschwitz and the second part being an overview of his psychotherapy method Logotherapy.

Auschwitz1

(picture of the entrance into Auschwitz)

Auschwitz was probably the most notorious of the Nazi Germany concentration camps where thousands of people were either killed in gas chambers, shot, or starved to death. Viktor Frankl starts out Man’s Search for Meaning with his account of Auschwitz from the day he arrived to the day it was liberated by the Soviet army in 1945. Prior to the Soviets actually stepping foot in Auschwitz the SS guards marched some 60,000 prisoners to the city of Wodzislaw in the western part of Upper Silesia. It is estimated that at minimum 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945; of these, at least 1.1 million were murdered.

viktor-frankl-quote

In this book Viktor Frankl spends most of his time in the first section on his observations of the guards and prisoners; much of this is difficult to read or as in my case listen to. As you read or listen to this book you will be struck by what an incredible human being Viktor Frankl was. Clearly there was something special about him aside from his education and training or maybe because of it, he was able to survive in this situation with such an outstanding perspective on life. If there is a positive aspect to adversity it is that it reveals the true character of a person, and in Viktor Frankl’s case it reveals courage, compassion, love, hope, and intelligence. There are some great lessons in this book that you the reader can take away from it, making it a must read.

LOGOTHERAPY

The second part of this book is devoted to Logotherapy, which was developed a psychotherapy methodology. I found this part of the book less compelling than the first section, but interesting enough for me to study it further.  Logotherapy is based on an existential analysis focusing on Kierkegaard’s will to meaning as opposed to Adler’s Nietzschean doctrine of will to power or Freud’s will to pleasure. Rather than power or pleasure, logotherapy is founded upon the belief that it is the striving to find a meaning in one’s life that is the primary, most powerful motivating and driving force in humans (Wikipedia).

Should you read or listen to this book? I found this book to be very inspiring for several reasons. First and foremost the book provides many insights into the character of man, from the dark inhumanity of the guards in the concentration camp to the contrast of spirit, love, and humanity of the prisoners. I think Viktor Frankl makes a great case for how meaning and having a why in your life can overcome almost any situation. This book is a real gem and highly recommended. While you will be shocked by the inhumanity, you will also be inspired by the greatness that exists in humanity.

Namaste

 

 

 

Book & Product Reviews

Unfu*k Yourself

unfuck yourself

Although this book has a pretty funny title, don’t let that fool you. I have listened to the audio version of Unfu*k Yourself at least 3 times now and it is incredible. The author Gary Bishop narrates the audio version and does an outstanding job. Whenever possible for me it makes sense for the author to be the narrator, albeit there are a few exceptions. Having read probably a hundred or more self-improvement books over the past decade I would rate this in the top 5. The introduction is great and it is followed up with 7 guiding principles to unfu*k yourself, and then there is a summary at the end that is nothing short of awesome.

Here is a brief summary of the 7 guiding principles:

  1. I am willing or I am unwilling. Self talk is a big issue. Change yours to I am instead of I will. Use the power of I am willing or I am unwilling to do something. Write a few of the key things in your life that you are willing to do, and those that you are not willing to do.
  2. I am wired to win. You might not realize it but you are winning all the time. Your brain is wired to win. You are not a loser and you will win in the future. You might consider upping the stakes a bit, providing new challenges, but be assured you are a winner.
  3. I got this! You have succeeded over and over in your life, but you have no appreciation for it. You have a track record of success so next time a challenge comes up you have to say “I got this”.
  4. I embrace uncertainty. Let’s face it nothing is certain in life, other than you will die someday. Stop trying to plan everything out so that things will happen as you think they should. Instead of fearing what might happen, begin to embrace that life is uncertain. Remember the greatest rewards come when you leave your comfort zone and begin to embrace things that you consider risky.
  5. I am not my thoughts, I am what I do. Your brain will create all kinds of crazy thoughts. It will tell you this is too risky, this is too difficult, or I will never succeed. This is bullshit! Do what you need to do to move towards your goals. Don’t listen to the negative shit you are thinking. You are not the stupid shit you are thinking, instead you are what you actually do.
  6. I am relentless. Gary Bishop uses Arnold Schwarzenegger as an example of how being relentless is sometimes all you have. The power of being relentless can never be underestimated. You can’t see around corners, you can’t plan your way to success, but you can be relentless.
  7. I expect nothing; I accept everything. This is my personal favorite as it is a powerful way of thinking about life. Stop expecting other people to be a certain way or things to turn out in a way that meets your expectations. You have no control over the way other people will respond to you, so stop expecting them to act a certain way. Accept what happens and guess what you begin to live in the moment.

This book is a refreshing break from all the other self-help books that I’ve read. The author Gary Bishop provides an unfiltered way towards breaking away from those bad habits that have been holding you back from having the life you could deserve. One of the most important points the author makes in this book is that people who have a fulfilling life have a bias for action and don’t make excuses. They eliminate those things in their life that are holding them back and replace them with things that contribute to the life they want.

Namaste

 

 

 

Book & Product Reviews

Observations about “Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose”

I recently started listening to the audio book A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle. I’ve always loved Eckhart Tolle’s quotes, but have never read or listened to any of his work. This book from Audible.com is about 9 1/2 hours, which makes it great for my long daily commutes. This Audible version of Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose is actually narrated by Eckhart Tolle himself, which I really like because he is flat out brilliant.

Eckhart Tolle - Awakening to Your Lifes Purpose eckhart tolle picture1

At this time I’ve listened to about 4 hours or what amounts to several chapters in the book. While I never like to give away too much in these posts, as to not spoil it for the reader; I am really enjoying this audio book. Tolle spends a lot of time talking about how the ego has prevented us from being ourselves, from finding any sense of our true self. He also spends a lot of time discussing our material desires that are driven by ego or sense of a false self, and how we cling to roles that we so closely identify with as we feel they define ourselves by these roles.

This is really an incredible audio book because it makes you question everything you think you are and value. If you have questions about a world where we seek to divide groups of people, where material wealth is king, where we seek to feel superior to others, and live a life stroking our egos then you will really enjoy Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.

Namaste