Saturday, April 26, 2014

Reflections: Life of Pi

Life of Pi walks a precarious line between realism and surrealism.  For the most part, the book does well with both.  Having won the Man Booker Prize in 2012 and being adapted into a motion picture in 2002 by the very accomplished director Ang Lee, Life of Pi is supposed to be great, a classic even.  And it's pretty good, but I wouldn't consider it a classic.

In the interest of full-disclosure, I saw the film before I read the book.  Seeing the film first, of course, removed a great deal of the mystery of the story, which is ironic for a story that stresses heavily the themes of faith, knowledge, and reason.  In my case, "knowing" too much diminished the experience of "believing" the story.  The pay-off of Life of Pi is surprising and thought provoking, but just like other stories that rely on a big reveal at the end, once you've seen it or read it once then the impact is greatly reduced.  Furthermore, I thought the film adaptation was terribly heavy handed in its explanation of what happened and who was who.  It was reminiscent, in a very bad way, of the end of The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy looks around the room and says: "And you were there, and you, and you."  Surprisingly, the book does essentially the same thing.  It's clunky and uninspired and could have been done so much better.

Yann Martel is a talented writer but not on every page.  In fact, the first 100 pages were filled with wonderful phrases and memorable prose.  Yet, once Piscine finds himself stranded on a lifeboat with his bizarre menagerie, the writing feels very different.  There are pockets of artistry sprinkled throughout its pages, but I was hoping the author would have shown a more interesting perspective throughout the duration of the entire book. 

Life of Pi is a good book, but I didn't find it to be a great one.  The film, which I may have more to say about in a different post, had its own value and problems.  Even though I didn’t love Life of Pi, I can at least be a part of the conversation if it ever comes up.  (Granted, I’m a little late to the party). 

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: Heart of Darkness
Reflections: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
3 Reasons Why We Need and Love Stories

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Reflections: Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture

One of my favorite quotes regarding culture comes from an ecclesiastical leader named David R. Stone.  He said:

"Our culture tends to determine what foods we like, how we dress, what constitutes polite behavior, what sports we should follow, what our taste in music should be, the importance of education, and our attitudes toward honesty. It also influences men as to the importance of recreation or religion, influences women about the priority of career or childbearing, and has a powerful effect on how we approach procreation and moral issues. All too often, we are like puppets on a string, as our culture determines what is 'cool.'"

I am fascinated by culture, the own I am a part of and the various ones around the world and throughout history.  Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches by Marvin Harris is a book written just for me.  All of the books I have read that have dealt with culture in one way or another, whether that be The Hero with a Thousand Faces or People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture, has had enough interesting things to say that I felt they were worth reading, even if I didn't agree with some portions of them.  Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches falls in that same category--interesting, thoughtful, sometimes right, and sometimes wrong, in my opinion.

 Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches selectively explains, but the author purposefully mentions his intent is not to explain everything, a few cultural attributes that existed in the world at different periods of time and attempts to give a reasonable and rational reason for their being a part of the culture.  Harris does this with a fine academic mind and from a secular perspective.  More often than thought, I was able to follow the author's reasoning and understand, at least, the conclusions he came to and how he got there.  At other times, such as his explanation of the true character and history of Jesus Christ, left me scratching my head.  I have read the New Testament four times, and I was highly skeptical of some of Harris's interpretations and conjectures.  There is plenty here to discuss and debate.

The book ends with a commentary on the culture of Harris's time, which was several decades ago, that took some of the momentum away from the book since it was so topical for the time it was written but no so much today.  I enjoyed Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches because it gave me plenty to think about.  It also proved to me, once again, how much we don't know as opposed to how much we do.  Culture is deviously complicated, but Marvin Harris's attempt to explain it is interesting enough to be read.

Other Topics of Interest: