Thursday, December 29, 2011

Some Subtle Advice

The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, #2)
Read Goodreads page here.
Read Shelfari page here.
I had read Phillip Pullman's The Golden Compass (or Northern Lights, for you Brits out there) when I was in sixth grade. Even at this time, I aware that many Christian groups slayed the book because of its antagonist, the Magisterium, supposedly having great similarities to Christian churches. Pullman describes the Magisterium   as capable of using both murder and spiritual murder to achieve what it desires-its main activist, Mrs. Coulter, has a certain affinity for killing others, and the organization establishes a camp of sorts where children are mechanically separated from their souls. Being a child with copious respect for authority, I decided not to continue with Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy after Golden Compass. Time has given me a more rebellious streak, however.
      And because of that rebellious streak, I have been able to come  a conclusion: As far as the second book of his trilogy, The Subtle Knife, is concerned, His Dark Materials does not concern modern Christianity in any manner whatsoever. It deals with something else entirely
     But first, the plot: Lyra Belacqua has done a hell of a lot in her twelve years on Earth. She's helped armored bear Iorek Byrnison attain his rightful place on the throne of Svalbard Island, flown over the frozen North with aeronaut Lee Scoresby, escaped near capture by the Magisterium, and walked into another world by means of a window her Uncle Asriel forged. Said window has transported her to the world of Cittágaze, where amorphous beings called Specters haunt the streets, stealing the souls of humans below (they almost resemble dementors from Potter). Here is also where she meets Will Parry, who happens upon Cittágaze by chance after fleeing from our own world. Together, they find themselves in the middle of the greatest war ever fought, a war described by explorer Stanislaus Grumman as such:
"There are two great powers, and they've been fighting since time began. Every advance in human life, every scrap of knowledge and wisdom and decency we have has been torn by one side from the teeth of the other. Every little increase in human freedom has been fought over ferociously between those who want us to know more and be wiser and stronger, and those who want us to obey and be humble and submit."
       Many claim that "those who  want us to obey and be humble and submit" are the Christian churches. As you may imagine, there are multiple problems with this proposition, the first being that if a Church simply wants its followers to "obey and be humble and submit", why in God's name would one defend it so? Keep in mind that if this was all humanity ever did, I'd probably be learning how to hunt rather than use logarithms (I honestly can't decide which is more fun...). Yes, I'll agree that churches did make their followers obey and be humble and submit  for an epoch in history, but that was when Charlemagne, Galileo, Newton, and Copernicus lived, not Pullman and Einstein. That was more than a century ago. Additionally, the Protestant denominations openly supported science and other "heretical" phenomena during the Scientific Revolution, when the aforementioned oppression was most apparent.
      No...a force that wants its people to obey and be humble and submit would look more like this.

       Yes, Totalitarian  Rule.
       Rule where information (as in this case, the concentration camps where thousands of Jewish, Catholic, and disabled individuals perish each day) is held from the people at all costs. Such is a society where insubordination to the ruling power means death or an experience just as pleasurable as death. Such is a society where opinions contrary to the reigning are silenced in the most barbaric way possible-burning the papers that carry them. In modern times, quite a few countries in the Middle East still hold to this form of government or a variation of it. China and other Communist states also by some measure participate in such oppression.
     Additionally, a war between these forces does not just occur in the political world. Many people hold the belief that if certain knowledge does not exist, the problems that said knowledge concerns do not exist as well. Some do not read the newspaper each day to attain an ignorant mirth. "No news is good news." Well, that is not the point of life. The point is to acknowledge that there are problems in the world, whether they concern you or not, and try to live as happily as possible within their limitations. Pigheaded it is to block the true problems of the world from one's mind, because even in your little microcosm of earth, problems will still exist....smaller problems on top of the haunting knowledge that the larger problems indeed exist
     Problems will exist in the world of obeying and humbling and submitting, so it is better to know more and be wiser and stronger.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Top Ten of 2011...Totally!

2011 has been a large year indeed. When this year began, I was still but a burgeoning blogger with only three followers. At its culmination, however, I have ascended in the blogosphere and now own a moderately popular weblog with 89 wonderful, beautiful followers, a Twitter page, a Goodreads page, a Stumbleupon page, a Digg page, and more posts than ever before. How excellent, indeed! In order to celebrate what a wondrous year it has been, I have decided to partake in The Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday this week, the subject of which is quite celebratory in nature. Therefore...

Top Ten (But I'll Just Do Five, Thanks) Favorite Books of 2011

1. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

A modern classic in every meaning of the phrase, Mockingjay renewed my faith in YA literature. Before I devoured this book, I was thoroughly convinced that all YA lit concerned were vampires and lost love and suicide and bullying and being yourself, all in a most bland manner. But Mockingjay has an innovative theme presented in an even more innovative manner. Kudos to Ms. Collins!

Read my post about this book, "To Kill a Mockingjay"

2. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Seldom do I read stories that have anything to do with the athletic world, but this was a worthy exception. Unbroken truly provides a groundbreaking insight into the essence of resilience, and the sometimes cruel effects it inflicts on its bearers.

Read my posts about this book, "How to Succeed (Period)" and  "Zamperini on 'The Edge of Glory'"

3. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Yes, everyone on Earth has read this one, but that doesn't make the fact that it's an excellent novel any less true. Stieg Larsson has a strict doctrine of giving us a startling gale of true reality when other sources of entertainment (namely, television programs) do anything but. Said piece also helped me survive every one of my finals, which is a gargantuan accomplishment in itself.

Read my post about this book, "The Post of Not-So-Sweet Revenge"

4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Another book that taught me something new about the literary world. This time, it was that prose and poetry can, in some cases, be the same thing entirely. The meter of Zusak's words and the poignancy of his narrative still haunt me to this day, not to mention grant me the ever-useful ability to say "Asshole" in German

Read my post about this book, "On a Day of Death-9/11/01"

5. The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck

Everyone who knows me also knows how much of a sucker I am for Mr. Steinbeck; he never fails to impress, and this supreme piece of literature is no exception. Here is an author who deserves your time, no matter how many minutes you may spend pondering the true meaning of his words. A Paradise Lost of modern America.

Read my post about this book, "Obama, Be a Ghostbuster!"

And now, a bit of philosophy to wash this celebration down: life is a journey. We've all been told this, yes? All discovered this by some means? Well, a journey always has landmarks, these landmarks usually being the the most memorable parts of one section of this journey, or maybe the entire journey itself. Whether memorable in positive manner (like the books mentioned in this post), or a negative one, memories of these past landmarks can aid in making landmarks found in the future much more familiar to oneself, and therefore much easier to work with as your life's journey continues.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Circle of Life

Today was a horror.
     Apart from the fact that I was forced to begin the school day only moments after observing the scene of an immensely traumatic car accident, something else occurred which really put a perspective on life and its notorious span.
     As some of you may know already, I am an avid oboe-player. The holidays during these times are always a time when musicians of all ages are called upon to use their abilities in the name of those less fortunate. My friend felt such a duty knighted upon herself, and I, attempting to perform at least one nice action during this frantic season, agreed to aid her. Playing oboe at a nursing home with two other musicians alongside. Sounds wonderful, yes?
     Well, not exactly.
Photo from
      I happened to play holiday tunes for the psych ward at a hospital last year, and after that (when the patients insisted on shaking my hand and demonstrated very diverse reactions to my music), it was to my assumption that I could find any setting could be found comfortable if effort is inserted. How wrong.
     Nothing prepared me for what met my eyes-a plethora of sickly individuals whose only lifelines were the nurses talking to them in sweet, Child-like voices. With each step there was more sheltering exposed, more evidence that said place was simply, and painfully, a waiting room. The moans here and there, the IV fluid abundant as grass, the lolling heads hardly mobile in their came to this? You live, you influence, and this is what you become? A child again?
    Last year, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald (yes, ladies and gents, the story whose movie adaptation included our oh-so-hunky friend, Brad Pitt) descended upon me in English class. How fascinating it was to read about the young taken care of by the old, and the older being taken by the younger. The circle is an essential aspect of the human experience, what with it being the most logical shape since it is truly an eternal cycle. We are born, we are petty in the eyes of those who run the world, we run the world, and we are petty once more-how many times have you dismissed the opinions of the elderly just because it came from an aged mind, a mind that couldn't possibly understand the conflicts of this twenty-first century?
    The people at this nursing home, it was more than a case of being considered petty. They were actually children, and they weren't even given a chance to make opinions because it seemed like all problems of the outside world were taboo. Now, am I saying that this is a horrible phenomenon for some immensely unstable individuals? No. But am I saying there may be a better way to do this than the aforementioned system? Yes. And for once, I'm not going to try and devise one. When it was my turn to play, I found myself unable, screwing up note after note and throbbing uncontrollably with discomfort; by the end, I had to sing each tune because of my fingers' failure. The oppression was insurmountable.
     This is not a call for protest
     This is a call for action.
    Would someone please take some?