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.

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.

The First Bad Man: Idiosyncrasy Incarnate

Filmmaker, artist, and now most impressively novelist, Miranda July’s debut The First Bad Man is a stunning original with a cringe-worthy amount of idiosyncratic voice and self-delusion. In a brief 200 pages, July exemplifies what it means to be not just a woman in the 21st century, but a human being.

The book itself is about the life and times of Cheryl Glickman, a holistic seeking pseudo-naturalist (?) who works as an office manager taking notes for board meetings at Open Palm. She is the embodiment of the facade of order–everything has its place, books are meant to stand on shelves–not to be taken off of shelves. Cups and dishes are for company only–why not eat out of the pan itself? She undergoes chromotherapy (literally, color therapy) and refuses to wash her pans after cooking because it “builds flavor.”

For her, life is a staunch opposition to decrepitude and disorder. And then comes Clee. At the behest of her boss, Cheryl must open her doors and life to his daughter. Order meets chaos in the form of a young blonde bombshell whose feet stink, never seems to shower, parties, and sleeps around. Her general volatility serves as the perfect foil for Cheryl’s fetishized fantasies of personal sexual gratification–and the two unwind perfectly. They even end up raising a child and what follows is one of the most brilliantly original and truly remarkable books of the year.

The First Bad Man is hyper-modern. There’s a sheen and order to the prose that is so refreshingly grounded in both reality and fantasy.

But the beauty of the novel really comes through the dialogue. It’s hilarious. Characters converse in dead-pan interchanges no more than a few words in length like a Wes Anderson script–but the humor is more than just coarse conversation. It’s truth. The lines and fantasies are initially hysterical, but become strangely intimate as how actually real they are. Every page reflects a society in mental upheaval. We identify with idiosyncrasy and uniqueness, but hide it for fear of ridicule. Well, hide no more, Cheryl Glickman is the new poster-child for eccentric quirkiness.

Needless to say, July has crafted something here exceptional and original. This will be a cult classic–if not a true classic in it’s own right, and I can’t wait for more to come from this phenomenal debut author.

Stars = 5/5

Escapism: A Discussion

As an avid reader, escapism seems to be the name of the game. I read for a number of hours a day without fail, without remorse, without reservation. I long for the experiences of others. I long for thoughts and actions of the greatest minds of our kind so that I might be able to make some sort of sense out of my own.

To some extent, books are the instruction manuals for how to live a life–for better or worse.

But as much as I try, I can’t get past the thought that inherent in the act of reading is the act of escapism. That in order to experience the lives and actions of others we must break outside our own present–which to me strikes a harsh chord against the idea of “presence” in life.

The sad (maybe?) part of it all is the truth that we’re all escapists.

No matter what our poison, be it books, movies, television, music, we’re all longing for that clean, well-lit place that Hemingway so beautifully penned in the 1930’s and people like Tolkien and Lewis made fantastical for even further gratification.

We’re all longing for a sense of home in the things we experience, when for most of us, the very act of sitting down to consume whatever media we’ve got is the essence of home. Our media (books included) has become a perverse sort of hearth we gather around for our own sense of appeasement.

But is this a good thing? As hard as this is to admit: what’s the difference between escaping into the pages of a book vs. the pixelated glow of a screen? Obviously one is more linguistically advanced than the other, but the idea is the still the same. Regardless of media or format, we’re still diverging from the present for the seemingly greener pastures of the other.

Is escapism a good thing or a bad thing? What are your thoughts?

To Be Well Read

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I came across the Guardian’s list of the Top 100 greatest novels of all time, and I have to say that I’m impressed. Such a list is something that is immensely difficult to come up with, but The Guardian has chosen a selection of novels (some I’ve heard of, some I haven’t) that stretch in fields and genre’s from Shelley’s Frankenstein, to Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night A Traveler, and it’s made me recognize that despite my own sense of confidence–my own sense of satisfaction at the fact that regardless of occupation and personal/social obligation, I’ve still been able to tackle roughly a book a week. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but there’s always something on the nightstand/coffee table/toilet (yup).

And yet, the contents of this list are awesomely unfamiliar.

Which brings up an interesting question: What does it mean to be well-read? As an individual that reads constantly, I’d like to consider myself as one who is relatively well-read, but this list proves otherwise. Does it mean one has to read the classics? The biographies? The sciences, essays, and fictions of each continent?

IMG_0204I’ve been criticized time and again from some colleagues that I’m relatively grounded in anglo-continentalism (old, dead, white, men) and to some extent, I agree. But, regardless of my own literary limitations, it’s nice to be reminded of the fact that there is always more. The world of great literature is never-ending and stretches into the furthest reaches of imagination. Those worlds that the most gifted of us imagine, but only select few are somehow able to transcribe.

Thus, I’m going to embark on a little challenge. I’m going to make a run at this list, and hopefully I’ll be successful. Interspersed with library books and the occasional amazon purchase, this list is going to largely comprise my reading for the next year or two (hopefully, no more). What sights await?

And yet, the question still stands: What makes an individual well-read? Clearly, it’s relative, but there has to be something out there that gives an individual that pluck of conversational awe us bibliophiles vie for so vehemently.

What are your thoughts?