Rumi and Ethereal Emptiness

This is for all the poets out there. Go read Rumi.

A 13th century Persian poet, Islamic scholar, and theologian, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, now simply known as Rumi, might just be what our society needs more than anything.

I had the pleasure of reading his work while traveling through the Turkish interior and I couldn’t have been happier with the pairing of local poetry and countryside. It’s not as though his work references specific landmarks or geographical features, but what it does do is capture the spirit of a people known for their revelation of the human spirit, which Rumi does in every verse.

His message and language is simple. Love each other and ironically be empty. initially paradoxical, it’s a refreshing message for the American stuffed to the gills with nearly everything. As a society we seem to have reached the pinnacle of indulgence. Between the Ashley-Madison scandal and Donald Trump self-righteously screaming for excess in the face of American politics it seems as though we could all use a nice reminder of the fact that emptiness is a feeling in and of itself and it’s not necessarily a bad one.

Though Rumi calls more for a metaphorical emptiness–that it is in our state of true abstinence and withdrawal/restraint from the pleasures of this world where we’re able to allow our own bodies to take on the glorious ethereal qualities of beyond–ultimately so we can slowly allow our minds to drift upwards to God and seek something more than satiety.

The message is a good one, and the poetry that presents the message is some of the most strikingly poignant and beautiful available. Drunken revelry and night-time spectacle. Ecstatic dervish-whirled frenzy and the elevation of the spirit are only some of the highlights that grace his poetry.

For the aesthete in need of a shock to the soul, go out and pick up Rumi.

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5 Tips to Alleviate the Dense

There are those tomes that try as we might to read with some semblance of speed and agility, our progress remains nearly stationary when set against the larger page count. I don’t know about you, but the prospect of finishing a thousand plus page book in a society that’s becoming known for an attention span of less-than-30-second vine clips makes me cringe.

That said, is it futile to push on? Never. Set your goals for reading the bigger books high, and live up to those expectations, for the worth in finishing the dense books that many have tried and few have conquered can become some of the most meaningful experiences of your life. Here are a few tips to get you going:

1. Set a Schedule: This is by far the most important element in succeeding whenever reading a book that could easily suffice as a car seat for a toddler. Set a specific page goal for the day and stick to it. Through thick and thin it’s most often when we’re in the throes of the monstrous–wallowing away four hundred pages into a book and not even being halfway–that we tend to toss in the towel fifteen-twenty pages too soon. On days when I don’t work, I mandate one-hundred pages from myself. On work days–50. Whatever yours may be, set it and stick to it.

2. Read Summaries: This is an aspect of reading a large, difficult book that many people deem cheating. But, if you’re like me and pride yourself in tackling those books others shy away from because of difficulty and length, reading summaries alongside some of the more difficult chapters of a dense Dostoevsky or Dumas novel will alleviate some of the stresses of gleaning plot from antiquated and nuanced language. Certainly every word has its place, but grasping a loose understanding of the plot either before or after reading a section of a larger novel can be an essential tool necessary to pull you through to the end.

3. Find Your Quiet Space: I’m a bit of a hermit when it comes to reading, and anyone who knows me will tell you that I value my peace and quiet–to the point that the faint hum of the refrigerator can sometimes be distracting. Thus, I read on my couch, away from distraction, screens and computers, the accoutrements of a culture hell-bent on switching attention every thirty seconds. I need silence to read, and thus I seek it out wherever I can get it–I suggest you do the same.

4. Persevere: Common sense has never been so simple. In order to wrestle your way through the Don Quixote‘s in the world one must be willing to stomach the boring, the passive, the antiquated, and the frustrating in order to extract those bits of truth we hungrily vie for whenever we set our sights on one of the denser classics.

5. Self-talk: This might just be me, but often when reading something particularly difficult and dense, there’s always that moment when the world sort of screams for you to quit. That little voice can be the bane of trudging through the marshy waters of dense literature, and thus, I need to personally remind myself that I can read thisIt’s worth it. Just like long-distance running, the prize is often awaiting you at the very end. The exhaustion and clear-headedness of finishing something others deem too difficult is reward in and of itself.

So the next time you set your sights high and feel your diligence and perseverance wavering under the pressure of the dense, remember the above strategies for making it through those books that are worth it–and, believe me, they are.

“It Follows” and the Tepid State of the Modern Horror Film

Any horror fan out there can attest to the staples of the late-70’s early 80’s tenants of horror. Be it the slow sprawl loaf of Michael Meyers in Carpenter’s 78′ original Halloween or the supreme gore that was Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre revered to the point that it’s inspired seven subsequent sequels and reboots, we can all agree that there’s an indistinguishable feel and atmosphere that made the golden age of horror such a spectacle–and an alluring one at that.

The “classic” horror movie is a slow burn. It’s the build-up alongside nuanced development that rises to some tumultuous and over-revealing climax, harnessing elements we as a society fear. It’s panic, dread, alarm, and outrage at events and instances well-outside the norm, and it’s glorious.

However, it’s clear with the critically-outstanding reception of David Robert Mitchell’s 2015 It Follows that the horror industry is in the midst of creative deadlock–a stalemate that needs more than the regurgitation of classic horror tropes for salvation.

The story is about Jay Height (Maika Monroe), as she contracts the dangers associated with “It” following her. What’s “it”? “It” is a slow-walking manifestation of some sort of supernatural force whose only purpose is to destroy its victim. “It” manifests itself throughout the film as a number of individuals all of which slowly walk in pursuit, deranged in their lope, and comical in their speed.

I can’t knock the film entirely. Where Mitchell’s concept strikes a chord is the fact that “It” is literally everything and appears slowly and surely. It encompasses a sort of universality and omnipotent appeal to the fact deep down we’re all scared of being chased–regardless of however slow said chase might be.

That being said, the story moves with the rapidity of its villains (that is to say, not at all). Jay’s fears of “It” although slightly spooky when it actually surfaces and shows its face, is about as terrifying as a barking dog revealed as a maltese.

Everything from the pace of the film to the sonorous synth lines that pierce and strike in calculated intervals throughout the picture’s entirety seems to be lifted from the world of the 80’s horror classics. The synths evoke Barker’s 1987 Hellraiser in their orchestrated cacophony, and the shots are grandiose and sweeping a la Kubrick’s (love it or hate it) 1980 The Shining.

Getting to the point, I’m tired of rehashed clichés and thematic tropes being recycled year after year. It seems as though the latest horror resurgence is nothing more than the recycled surety of directors who were once original.

It’s not the film that disappointed me so much as its reviews. It seems as though between the ivory-tower that has become the Cannes festival panels, Rolling Stone, and mainstream audiences everywhere It Follows is believed it to be some smash-hit original–groundbreaking in its inception and cinematographic brilliance.

On closer inspection–beneath the “originality” that critics praised so dutifully are the tenants of a genre long-since out to pasture. My only hope is that someone manages to bring it back.

Adrian Tomine’s Shortcomings and the Minimalist Comic

Adrian Tomine’s 2007 full-length collection Shortcomings is realism at its finest.

Initially released in 2004, the serial quickly gained momentum with the media when it was named by Entertainment Weekly as “What not to miss” in regards to yearly publications. They weren’t wrong.

Shortcomings explores the psychological ramifications of dating in a world fraught with insecurity, doubt, emotional duplicity, and deception. The collection follows Ben Tanaka, a Japanese cinema owner from California inherently disinterested in dating members of the same ethnicity, thus illustrating a sort of self-hatred and malaise toward both cultural/Asian stereotypes.

There are two things that astound me about the comic: its realism and by proxy–it’s minimalism. The dialogue is seamless, poignant, and powerfully grounded in actuality. Every panel is dramatic, but never does Tomine take the easy way out and carry his comic down the easier-to-control/astound melodramatic path. His world is intricately intertwined with our own.

Tomine’s illustrations are as plain as they get. The book is done in black and white, and the action in the story is entirely verbal. There are dinner parties, lunches, small get-togethers between men and women, in essence reality. There are no fight scenes, no elaborate splash pages, no color–rather, Tomine demonstrates a welcome sense of restraint and delicacy in handling a subject as difficult to take on as the cultural norms as they pertain to dating.

Initially, I was indifferent to the book as a whole, but on closer inspection, it’s clear Tomine wields a deft hand in comics. I only wish he’d give me more.

Stars = 4/5

The Strain: Remaking the Vampire Classic

Since the abomination to the film/book industry that was the Twilight series, vampires have been dismissed as prissy prima donna hunks who sparkled when in sunlight. I remember my disappointment when I sat down to watch the first film out of curiosity and my hopes of witnessing one of the main vampires explode in some bloody, mucusey-jumble of limbs and organs. Lo and behold, you can imagine my thoughts when Robert Pattinson only managed to get more beautiful by glittering or sparkling or whatever the terrible term used in the books was.

Suffice it to say that by the time Breaking Dawn came to a close, society was done with the vampire porn of the silver-screen. Blade fanatics (like myself) were left reeling in the throes that one our favorite monsters had been transformed into some beautiful, pristine, teeny-bopper beefcake. Oh, the horror!

But there’s a light on the horizon in Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain which debuted on FX last year. The show itself is a classic story retold through the eyes of one of the most imaginative directors contemporary film-making has to offer.

For those of you unfamiliar with Del Toro’s work–get familiar. He’s a delightfully debauched combination of Tim Burton and Jim Henson, and he makes monster movies. Right? The creatures are terrifying and the writing is fantastic. Enough said.

The story follows a number of protagonists ranging from a latino-gang-banger, pest-control officer, and CDC big-wig–all of which attempting to stop an ancient Romanian vampiric parasite simply called Strigoi (risen dead). It’s a gruesome romp through the streets of NYC as our heroes confront one of the deadliest enemies the world has ever seen.

But the story is more than a simple vampire plague. Del Toro’s Strigoi is a horrific combination of new and old. His creatures of the night are reminiscent of Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu, yet aggressive like the zombies in 28 Days Later. It’s a sight to behold.

Needless to say, I’m over-the-moon about The Strain. The show is currently in the midst of a phenomenal second season. If you haven’t given it a peek yet, be sure to do so. Just maybe keep the lights on when you do.

White Teeth and Contemporary Fundamentalism

In an effort to somehow equalize the glaring disparity of male/female novel reviews on The Book Guy Review, I give you Zadie Smith’s uproariously comic and true-to-life ode to cultural fundamentalism that is White Teeth.

Set between 1970-1999 London, White Teeth is a farcical meditation on the extent to which fundamentalism (in all aspects of society) extends its grip into contemporary culture. Smith wields a multitude of discourses stretching from Anglo-Pakistani enunciatory tendency to the Carribean-centric post-colonial Jamaican drawl (that’s been bastardized by modern culture into something inherently stoned) into a glorious foray into the world of the contemporarily diverse culture.

The book itself is something of a marvel. A London native herself, Smith’s voice at the same time fresh and reminiscent of the English masters (Greene, Conrad, Lawrence, et. al.). Her prose is flawless and lyrical, oftentimes poetic in a zany John-Irving-esque variety.

The best part though, is that Smith takes no cheap shots. Utilizing a wide array of characters stretching from the emotionally defunct Englishman resurrected through former Jamaican Later-Day-Saint wife to Pakistani émigré and even Raggastani gang members–Smith tells the tale of modern London and society’s reluctance to acquiesce to cultural change and evolution like you’ve never read before.

In a story that is heart-felt and honest, laughable and riotous, Smith delves into the fact that we’re a mongrel, hodge-podge species with blended blood, and try as we might, there’s no escaping the fact that we’re all in this together. And (because I have to), underlying it all is the truth that we’ve all, in our possession, a set of pearly White Teeth–poised at the ready for whatever needs be.

Her characters are notorious and morally confused in the same sense that society today is morally confused. She tells the story of fundamentalism of familial values, the (non)importance of religious devotion, one’s duty to uphold the fundamentals of what it means to be a citizen of a greater nation, and the fundamentalism behind what it means to be a citizen of Earth.

My first foray into the world of Zadie Smith was a smashing success, and I absolutely cannot wait to read more from this hopefully literary superstar.

Stars = 5/5

Blind Positivity: On Making It Through

With summer drawing to a close it’s a reluctant adios to my blissfully sedentary days of reading and writing for god-only-knows how long. It’s a sad change, yet leisure time, albeit well-spent leisure time still leads to a slush of days in which my gut seems to expand with every page I take down.

As most of you know (see about) I’m a teacher. I love my job. It’s satisfying like nothing else could be. Regardless, there’s always a sadness and a relative anxiety about going back to school, working with hundreds of children, pushing classics I love, and instructing them on how to write a proper paper.

Let’s just put it this way, I’m not exactly happy about returning back to school, but it’s a living, and at the end of the day, I can smile my way through anything. Sometimes the only way to get through the tough times is to remind yourself that life, deep down is good, and things are never as dark as they seem.

I’m not trying to be take on some woe-is-me mentality and really my job is fantastic. I love working where I do, but after a two month break from anything returning back any job would be difficult. And thus I recommend my own personal coping strategy. Be positive: no. matter. what.

Minor fender bender? Don’t sweat it. Tick off the boss? Exhale out the bad and breathe in the good. Forget your lunch? Go find a granola bar and get over it. And after it all, when someone asks you that unbelievably vacuous question: “How are you?” you smile and respond with an equally nauseating: “So great!”

You’ll find that however synthetically sugary-sweet the response, it’s met laughter. The artifice of responding with such positivity is the point. It leads to genuine laughter and smiling, which’ll never fail in bringing out the best in people.

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Maniacally deranged? Forced? Completely artificial? You bet! And that’s the point.

Sometimes all that’s required to turn the horror of yet another work day into something tolerable, something maybe even fun, is the simple reminder that the little snags and strifes that life tosses your way are not as significant as they seem.

So the next time you experience one of the inexplicably difficult days, tilt your chin up, pull those shoulders back, breathe, and know that things really are so great. At least, eventually, they will be.