Sunday, July 10, 2016

Reading List for July

It's that time again to reveal our reading list for the Infomaniac Book Challenge. My review is a few days late because I've been busy. But as the saying goes, Better late than pregnant never!

I have to be honest here. Lately, I've been reading a lot of online internet stories. First, because it's convenient, having access to so many great sites without having to carry so many heavy books around. Thank you, technology! Second, because there are some really great sites out there, whether you're looking for an informative, fascinating, intelligent discussion or, like me, for an escape to something totally wild, funny, ridiculously silly, totally creative & different...& yes, that includes comic books!

I'm big fan of SciFi, because science can be entertaining & imagination makes for some really creative, pioneering ideas & provides unique, dynamic perspectives & inspires great ventures. Remember Jules Verne? He wrote scifi adventure stories about a helicopter; submarine; & rocket to the moon way back in the 1800s, over a century before they would become real world inventions. I love it when a master story teller weaves science & imagination to create a masterpiece of art & innovation!

I also love it when a story just grabs a hold of you & immerses you in a strange world that, somehow, baffles & makes sense at the same time, & you find yourself invested in the story, because you have to find out what happens next. Such is the case of this story that I would like to share:

The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman Malik.

This story I found on a great story site called Tor.com. I've written about Tor.com before, & it's a great site to discover new & classic SciFi writers, emerging talents & great masters. Some stories might not appeal to everyone, but there is such a wide variety of styles & viewpoints & unique voices that offer such a bounty of choices for the curious reader to sample & enjoy. And I've enjoyed so much!

The Pauper Prince is a novella, a really long but engaging story about a Pakistani professor, raised in the United States, caught between the traditional values of his family from the old country & the way he lives out his own life as an American. As he tries to find the balance, he ends up immersed in a mystery, drawn to a story his grandfather told of a Mughal princess & a jinn, & soon enough, he is obsessed with origins of this story & what connection, if any, does it have on his life.

This is a brilliant & wonderfully told story! If you've ever felt caught between two worlds, ever felt lost trying to find your place, ever wondered if there was more to the life you were living, then this is a great story to read, to enjoy & entertain yourself. I highly recommend it!

I've also read some physical books. Just so you know, a lot of my books I get from second hand stores at low prices or for free from book exchanges. There's a university & a community college, & a few private trade schools in the city, so naturally, there's a huge market & supply of used books--textbooks, manuals, & collections--that fill the shelves of the many secondhand bookstores & book exchanges. Even the libraries clear out their inventories every now & then. I've found so many wonderful & amazing books from visiting the secondhand bookstores & book exchanges.

I'm currently alternating between two huge collections, each deals with two of my favorite subjects: History & Literature. The first book is on the history of the US. I doubt I'll finish it before Xmas, because it's huge! And incredibly fascinating! The second book is an anthology of Old & Ancient World classics. I doubt I'll finish that til maybe next Spring. But I love the collection! A few are familiar from high school & college. But the rest, & rereading the familiar ones, make for a fascinating & interesting study on the values, thoughts, & lives of the ancient & old peoples who crafted & celebrated these stories. The stories we tell & share reveal to the world who we are as a people at this given time.

I did finish two separate books though. Both were from secondhand bookstores. Both are great finds for different reasons that I'll share.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

The first book that I finished reading is an old classic from college. It's called The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. This book is an American classic. Considered a "muckraker"--an investigative journalist who exposes the corrupt & criminal elements--Upton Sinclair went undercover & worked for several meatpacking facilities to experience first hand the horrific conditions of the meat industry & their exploitation & cruel treatment of the immigrants & working class. First, published in 1906, this book was written to expose the harsh realities & wage slavery faced by poor, working class immigrants suffering under the cruel & horrific business practices of the corrupt capitalists who built their wealth on the literal blood, sweat, tears, & lives of these poor, exploited workers.

My heart broke as I followed this tragic, horrific tale of hardworking immigrants escaping hardship & suffering from the old countries, hoping to find the American dream, only to find themselves living the American nightmare:

"They were beaten; they had lost the game, they were swept aside...They had dreamed of freedom; of a chance to look about them and learn something; to be decent and clean...And now it was all gone--it would never be!...They were lost, they were going down--and there was no deliverance for them, no hope...the vast city in which they lived might have been an ocean waste, a wilderness, a desert, a tomb..."
~The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

I remember feeling so sad at what was happening in the story. Then I felt rage at the corrupt, evil, greedy capitalist bastards who exploited these poor workers! Even after so many years later, I still feel for these poor immigrants when I reread this story.

When this book first came out, it caused a huge uproar in the American public. Not because it exposed the exploitation & suffering of the immigrants & working class, but because it revealed to the American public the awful, disgusting truth: The meat they were buying & eating was processed in unsanitary & revolting conditions, & it included copious amounts of these prolific, filthy, disease carrying vermin:

"There would be meat that had tumbled out on the floor, in the dirt and sawdust, where the workers had tramped and spit uncounted billions of consumption germs. There would be meat stored in great piles in rooms, and water from leaky roofs would drip over it, and thousands of rats would race about on it. It was too dark in these storage places to see well, but a man could run his hands over these piles of meat and sweep up handfuls of dried dungs of rats. These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put out poisoned bread for them, they would die, and then the rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together. This is no fairy story and no joke; the meat would be shoveled into the carts, and the man who did the shoveling would not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw one--there were things that went into the sausage in comparison with which a poisoned rat was a tidbit."
~The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

Suffice it to say that the American public was outraged to learn that the meat they were eating contained rats & tubercular germs! Meat consumption dropped & the federal government passed the The Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906 (FMIA) to protect the public from tampered, mishandled, mislabeled, tainted meat & keep the meat processing facilities sanitary & clean & protect the public health (http://federal.laws.com/meat-inspection-act).

Upton Sinclair said it best, "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."

The Jungle reminds us that the work of this nation is ongoing. We still need to care for the working class & we still need to give a damn about the immigrants, because we are all immigrants! Unless you're a Native American, in which case, yeah, it sucks to lose your land & you struggle to find your place in a country that has stolen your lands, crushed your culture, & exploits your resources.

The work of making this country great & live up to its ideals of freedom, equality, & justice are ongoing. We are reminded over a century later that we cannot afford to be complacent. We cannot sit idly by & ignore the struggles of our neighbors & fellow countrymen. We are one people, of many tribes, & together, we rise & fall. When we look out for each other, we become stronger, we become better, we become great.

Also, Food for Thought: The federal government uses
The Food Defect Action Levels that defines the levels of "natural or unavoidable defects in foods that present no health hazards for humans". In other words, the federal gov't has levels of acceptable amounts of insect filth (segments, parts, shells), rodent filth (hair), mold, & mammalian excreta (poop!) in your food.

For example, your flour can have no more than an Average of 75 or more insect fragments per 50 grams nor an Average of 1 or more rodent hairs per 50 grams. Your macaroni & noodles can have no more than an Average of 225 insect fragments or more per 225 grams in 6 or more subsamples, nor an Average of 4.5 rodent hairs or more per 225 grams in 6 or more subsamples. Peanut butter can have no more than an average of 30 or more insect fragments per 100 grams, nor an Average of 1 or more rodent hairs per 100 grams, & Gritty taste and water insoluble inorganic residue must be no more than 25 mg per 100 grams.

Think about that the next time you sit down to a meal & need a conversation starter! The Food & Drug Administration has a lovely site for these fun facts & more information on how much insect & rodent filth & excreta are acceptable in food production.

I think that The Jungle is a great example of an American classic novel, because it captures the ideals & views & hopes of that time period in American history. And those ideas & hopes still have relevance & important lessons for us to learn & remember & embrace.

Dear America, Letters Home from Vietnam. Edited by Bernard Edelman.

It's been a long time since I came across a book that moved me & made me feel so many intense emotions. Poignant, heartbreaking, tragic, beautiful, sad, & with a little bit of humor & hope. These are the letters of young men & women who served in Vietnam during the war, & their voices, their hopes, their fears, their wishes, their hearts & souls are so beautifully captured, so painfully exposed, so achingly speak out to us, to give them voices, to give them faces, to remind us that these are real people, young men & women, teenagers & so very young, who served, suffered, & died too young; or they miraculously survived (in pieces, never whole) & continue to fight to live, struggling with survivor's guilt & the meaning, if any, & the worth & cost of it all.

The letters are just so special & moving, because they capture the real emotions & thoughts of these young people & their friends & loved ones. To read something so personal is an honor & a gift. You share in their hopes & fears & dreams. You pray that they make it out alive, that they make it home safely. A few do. Most don't, & your heart breaks for the writer who penned such wonderful, rich, inspirational, intimate truths & aspirations to their loved ones, & you get to the end & learn the tragic fate of one so young, so loved, & so tragically lost in the war. These are real people with real feelings. And everytime I read a personal letter, I hoped that these young people were in a better place, if not in this world, then in the next.

The book is divided into themes & time periods that represent the progress & evolution of the war, both at home & on the frontlines in the jungles of Vietnam. These letters brilliantly & heart wrenchingly portray the lives & deaths of these young people & their loved ones. And I'd like to share a few of the many that made this book so important, so essential, & so sacred to the human experience:

Wednesday
[25 February 1970]

Dear Pete--
     After you hung up last night I felt very bad because [I] could tell from your voice that you were way down. And it made me feel bad that there was nothing I could do to help but offer advice--and advice is something you can do without.
     But please, Pete, don't do anything foolish. You are like me and have a very bad habit of doing foolish things to help ease the hurt. Do as her mother says. Ignore her, hard as it seems--one thing a girl can't stand is being ignored. Maybe she just doesn't want to tie herself down while you're over there.
     And, too, God forbid anything should happen to you. Maybe she feels she'll be less hurt this way. Give it time. Things will work out; they always do. What is the old saying, "Time heals all wounds"?
     Enough advice and lecture. Seriously, though, Pete, please take care of yourself and don't be a hero. I don't need a Medal of Honor winner. I need a son. Take care and write often.

     Love, Mom

Jan 31, 1968

Chris,
     I guess letters are going to be a long time writing over here...there is so much going on.
     Yesterday afternoon we were given an emergency mission to move about 10 miles to a new position. We got there about 6:30 and deployed the men. About midnight all hell broke loose. We were sitting right in the middle of the boondocks [when] rockets, flares, machine guns, and planes started shooting. The VC got Bien Hoa airport and Long Binh province about 24 hours after I got out! Chris, someone said a prayer for me...
     We just had a Vietnamese man come into our position with a terrible cut on his leg. "Doc" took a look at it and said that "gang green" had set in. We called in a helicopter and had him lifted to a hospital. One minute we're killing them, the next we're saving their lives.
     I miss you.

Love, Alan

Sunday
July 3rd [1966]

Dear Mom & Dad,
     I don't know how I can say this without alarming you, but I know I'll have to tell you about it because NBC News was there and I'm afraid you might have seen me on film or read about the dreadful fighting.
     When I think about the hell I've been through the last few days, I can't help but cry and wonder how I am still alive. My company suffered the worst casualties--I believe something close to 50 dead and wounded. Friends who I took training with in Ft. Polk have been killed, and some are seriously wounded. In my squad of nine men, only four of us survived.
     This was the worst battle as far as losses are concerned that this company has experienced. I'm not able to go into details now. I'm still in a slight state of shock and very weary and shaken from the last three days.
     I just wanted you to know that I'm OK. How I made it I don't know. Perhaps you didn't read about it, but in case you did I just wanted to tell you I'm OK.
     I can't help crying now because I think about the horror of those three days. I was carrying the bodies of wounded and dead onto helicopters that were in a clearing when I saw, I believe, Ron Nessen, of NBC, and they were taking pictures.
     Yesterday (I thought they'd never come for us) we were evacuated from the area by helicopter. The area is less than two miles from Cambodia, where the VC have regiments, and they ambushed us.
     I received your letter dated June 25th and will answer at a later date. Try to hold up. By the time you receive this, I hope to be somewhat recovered and at ease.

Love, Kenny

Bong Son 11/17/68

HEAT
FIRE
EXPLOSION
IS THIS DEATH?
HELP ME! HELP ME! HELP ME!
HE HOLDS TO ME FOR DEAR LIFE
AS WE MOVE TO SURVIVAL
FEAR AND CONFUSION
GUILT AND JOY
I'M ALIVE

~John Campbell

[April 1967]

Dear Ma,
     How are things back in the World? I hope all is well! Things are pretty much the same. Vietnam has my feelings on a seesaw.
     This country is so beautiful, when the sun is shining on the mountains, farmers in their rice paddies, with their water buffalo, palm trees, monkeys, birds and even strange insects. For a fleeting moment I wasn't in a war zone at all, just on vacation, but still missing you and the family.
     There are a few kids who hang around, some with no parents. I feel so sorry for them. I do things to make them laugh. And they call me "dinky dow" (crazy). But it makes me feel good. I hope that's one reason why we're here, to secure a future for them. It seems to be the only justification I can think of for the things that I have done!
   Love to all.

Your son, George


There are so many wonderful, revealing, heartfelt letters in this book. And you get to re-live & share the joys, fears, heartbreaks, sorrow, anger, despair, misery, laughter, loss, confusion, faith, abandonment, loyalty, courage, & hope that these young people & their loved ones endured & experienced during the war. So many of these writers were lost in the war, their letters a heart wrenching reminder of their loss, the last words they ever wrote before they were gone from this world, taken from the company & embrace of those who loved them dearly. For me, one letter best portrays the hope of this generation & defined who these young people were--that they were just human, like you & me, youths gone too soon, passed on before they did any real living. Here is an abridged version:

1967/1968

Dear Civilians, Friends, Draft Dodgers, etc.
     In the very near future, the undersigned will once more be in your midst, dehydrated and demoralized, to take his place once again as a human being with the well-known forms of freedom and justice for all; engage in life, liberty and the somewhat delayed pursuit of happiness. In making your joyous preparations to welcome him back into organized society you might take certain steps to make allowances for the past twelve months. In other words, he might be a little Asiatic from Vietnamesitis and Overseasitis, and should be handled with care. Don't be alarmed if he is infected with all forms of rare tropical diseases. A little time in the "Land of the big PX" will cure this malady.
     ...show no alarm if he insists on carrying a weapon to the dinner table, looks around for his steel pot when offered a chair, or wakes you up in the middle of the night for guard duty...Pretend not to notice if he acts dazed, eats with his fingers instead of silverware and prefers C-rations to steak. Take it with a smile when he insists on digging up the garden to fill sandbags for the bunker he is building. Be tolerant when he takes his blanket and sheet off the bed and puts them on the floor to sleep on.
   ...Do not be alarmed if he should jump up from the dinner table and rush to the garbage can to wash his dish with a toilet brush. After all, this has been his standard...if it should start raining, pay no attention to him if he pulls off his clothes, grabs a bar of soap and towel and runs outdoors for a shower.
     ...Do not let it shake you up if...he says "Roger out" for good-by or simply shouts "Working".
     ...by no means mention the word "extend." Pretend not to notice if at a restaurant he calls the waitress "Numbah 1 girl" and uses his hat as an ashtray. He will probably keep listening for "Homeward Bound" to sound off over AFRS [Armed Forces Radio Station]. If he does, comfort him, for he is still reminiscing. Be especially watchful when he is in the presence of women--especially a beautiful woman.
     Above all, keep in mind that beneath that tanned and rugged exterior there is a heart if gold (the only thing of value he has left). Treat him with kindness, tolerance, and an occasional fifth of good liquor and you will be able to rehabilitate that which was once (and now a hollow shell) of the happy-go-lucky guy you once knew and loved.
     Last, but not least, send no more mail to the APO [Army Post Office], fill the ice box with beer, get the civvies out of mothballs, fill the car with gas, and get the women and children off the streets--BECAUSE THE KID IS COMING HOME!!!

Love, Dave

To read these personal letters to loved ones is to know these young people & their loved ones so intimately. War may seem like some distant, far away place, especially when it happens to others. But war affects us all, & one way or another, we all pay the costs--& some will pay so much more than others.

Books like these often make me think. I don't think we truly appreciate the sacrifice & hardships of those who volunteer to serve our country, & we don't realize the challenges & burdens faced by the families & loved ones of those who serve. These people, these servicemen & servicewomen & their loved ones are just people like us. And they deserve so much respect, better treatment, & support for all the hardships they face & the challenges they must deal with daily.

I wonder, perhaps if military service was compulsory for a year or two after high school--like they do similarly in places like Switzerland & Israel--then maybe people would appreciate & treat our servicemen & servicewomen with the respect & honor they deserve. Even people who object to war on religious grounds should still be able to provide service in a support capacity. If everyone served in the military & had a stake in the security & safety of our country & people, maybe we would think twice before rushing off to war & do better in treating & caring for our wounded, deceased, & returning veterans & their families.

This book was one of the best finds & greatest books that I've ever read. I highly recommend it. War has a cost and it has a face. It must be a cost we are willing to pay, because the face of war is human, & the cost is always us. One way or another, we all pay the price, so it better be for something worth the effort & sacrifice.

And that's the end of the book review for July. See MJ's, IDV's, & Mago's for their reviews. Feel free to share with us what books you've read; your thoughts & recommendations are welcomed & appreciated. Keep reading, be it online or actual books or magazines. Share the gift of reading. And pass on a good book or story or recommendation to others. Sharing our knowledge & perspectives & information can only make us better, wiser, & stronger. When we work together, we become better people, & we make the world a better, more beautiful place. Happy reading!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy Birthday, USA!

4 July 1776. Has it really been 240 years since we raised a ruckus & struck out on own? It's been a heck of a ride, full of twists & turns, & the journey is far from over.

So many people from so many places made it possible for us to be here today, so Thank You: Native Americans, France, Poland, Spain, Dutch Republic, Dubrovnik, Morocco, League of Armed Neutrality, & a couple of you Germanic nations (the ones that supported us)! Thank you to the many people & nations who supported us in the struggle.

We will cherish your contributions to our Independence as we gorge on hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, beer, & BBQ, all while waving our American Flags (Made in China); watching the dazzling fireworks (Made in Mexico); & taking pride in our beautiful & precious lands (Stolen from the Native Americans). Happy Birthday, America!!!

This our home now, & it's always in need of repair, maintenance, & remodeling to keep it in working order & to keep up with the changing times. Sure, we've made some terrible design choices, but we always have the power--the will, if not the resources--to make things right. It may have its flaws--character--but it's home, & I can't imagine living anywhere else, & I like doing my part to make it a better place. Together, we can make this place even more amazing & more wonderful for all who want to live here.

So Cheers to the Founding Fathers & to those who came after & kept this place safe & thriving. It's our turn now to make things right, to make things better, to ensure that this place survives & thrives & be a safe, wonderful, amazing place for anyone who wants to experience freedom & make it their home. Happy Independence Day, America! To freedom & liberty & justice for all!