[Review] The Greatest American Speeches

SpeechesBookI am a thinker. I am a writer, a scientist, a poet. I invent, propose, challenge, and contemplate. My weapons will never be from this physical body that is altogether far too weak, but instead, in the words that spew from my mouth and my fingers. Language is the only power that I hold in our world, where any person can attempt to persuade and beautify the world.

It is, therefore, quite odd to write a review for The Greatest American Speeches, a compilation of speeches throughout American history. How does one attempt to review the rhetoric of Lincoln’s famously short Gettysburg address, or of MLKs resounding dream? I shall not think it possible for me to attach judgment upon works that have changed history.

But these thinkers, like all thinkers before them, are always speaking with a purpose in mind. This book, unfolding from John Withrop’s acquittal of his post as Massachusetts’ Governor, to Rudy Giuliani’s testament of the tragedy in New York City, presents an evolution of speech. Not only does the syntax, structure, and rhetoric of the speakers change, so do the values and customs of their audience.  Tracing America’s history through these pivotal speeches, a modern audience finds truth and beauty in the many different arguments.

Yet, not every argument is beautiful from a modern perspective. Intermixed with calls for Women’s Rights and for true democratic change are speeches of fear and hate – McCarthy’s fear mongering of the Cold War and Nixon’s denial of Watergate can not and should not be marginalized for their message. Instead, this book embodies everything that language can do to a population. We can become inspired, excited, and motivated – or fearful, hateful, and despicable. Language is double-edged in all respects.

Studying the works of the greats of the past only presents the case for rightful and just arguments in the future. These eloquent presentations of the mind, drawing on inspirations from the entire civilization of thought, must be preserved and pushed forwards for our future. The only hope for peace is through discourse – even when it is discourse of horrific acts.

I am a thinker. We are all thinkers. Our nation are smart, intelligent thinkers. This world, every human being, has the capacity for intelligent thought and bright discourse. Let us draw upon our power as thinkers, and proceed forwards to make the world a better future.

[Backlink to Goodreads Review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1173078544]

A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again [Review]

Usually, after reading a book, one of two things are remembered: A single image, or a collective image.

Examples:

  • The Lord of The Flies: Piggy and the Conch
  • 1984: Big Brother
  • The Scarlet Letter: The scarlet letter (duh, also not much else is memorable)
  • Twilight: ANGST ANGST ANGST
  • The Great Gatsby: The Green Light
  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: Piano and Motherhood

So as you can see, most books have that central image that acts somewhat like a key to the entire narration; a central focus point which seems to capture the entirety of the message. They are an anchor for remembering the book in the future, and a successful key unlocks a new world in the reader’s mind.

A Supposedly Fun Thing doesn’t have that.

Instead, it is as if every single detail that David Foster Wallace writes about comes to life, and not a single detail is any less memorable than the other. And every single detail is just crucial to the entire piece, providing this excellent overarching idea.

Welcome to Wallace’s world.

David Foster Wallace wrote this piece, an essay, not a book, after being sent by Harper’s Magazine (a personal favorite, besides the New Yorker btw) on a 7 Night Cruise (7NC, as he so lovingly calls it) fully paid for. This comes after being sent to a lobster festival by Gourmet Magazine, resulting in him not writing a piece about the glorious tradition of eating lobster, but instead, spouting out this deeply metaphorical piece about “what does a lobster feel when being eaten?” So of course, the natural thing to do, is for more magazines to send him to write more. He actually makes several pointed remarks at this, starting from the second page, of the minds at Harper’s Magazine in sending him to do this.

What comes out of that 7 Night (and 6.5 days, he hurries to add) experience is a piece longer than the entire magazine, although simply substituting his article would have made mighty fine reading nonetheless.

Enough Harping about Wallace, let’s cut to the fun things. (see what i did there ahahahahahahaha)

There is no real plot or purpose to the book, or as it would seem. His writing style completely obfuscates clear and concise reading, with perhaps some of the most inventive use of foot notes possible. 137 little postscripts, attached to all kinds of ideas, even to other footnotes, mark up the text, and contain some of the funniest and most original things possible. Wallace writes in this rambling style that reminds me of a completely deadpan comedian, standing on stage just going on and on about the most mundane but still getting the audience to crack up every time he opens his mouth. He possesses that kind of wit and seclusion in his voice that makes me ache to have met him while he was alive, you know, that reservedness that you might observe but with that twinkle in his eyes as you realize that he sees so much more than the world we observe.

His first chapter is nothing but some 1000 words describing what he literally saw, each beginning with “I have seen…” or “I have heard …”, which usually serves for completely sleep-inducing reading but in his crazed eyes, transforms the mundane into Wonderland. And perhaps that was his key through the entire piece; his ability to describe a moment so perfectly that it transcends the moment and becomes something of a visionary quality. His quirky comparisons (the wait for the ship: “[the] unwitting echo of the Auschwitz-embarkation scene in Schindler’s List” (270)] and his keen eye (he spends four sentences describing the hat of a random teenager) make up so well this voice you just want him to blabber on about life, about the scenes at an airport, about the comparisons between Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss, just anything to keep hearing his melodious, monotonous voice exploring life.

At the core of the piece, after you strip away all the humor and the satire and the ridiculously good writing, is this: What are we really doing when we say that we need to “have fun”? Are we fooling ourselves into “getting away from it all” by trapping ourselves not into something that is good, but instead, an illusion of what we should desire.

I guess that an interesting analogy for us high school students is what we consider summer to be: During the long and tiring school year, many of us await this magical time, counting down the days or hours till the blessed release from school. But what do we actually do during summer? Do we essentially end up with too much freedom, or do we end up deluding ourselves into thinking “I should deserve all the fun right now”?

From Wallace himself, at the crucial central point of the entire story:

This is a big one, this lie. [87]. And of course I want to believe it – f*** the Buddha – I want to believe that maybe this Ultimate Fantasy Vacation will be enough pampering, that this time the luxury and pleasure will be so completely and faultlessly administered that my Infantile part will be sated. [88]

Note: Those were actual footnotes within that quote, which sorta goes to show the craziness of Wallace and his style of course.

Wallace almost seemed a bit like Stephen Colbert, and him specifically, as compared to other television comedians, because of their shared style in just getting wrapped up in something. Colbert adopts his opposing position and just pushes it to the most extreme in order to show his true meaning, and it seems that Wallace does the same. He goes through and methodologically categorizes every single minute experience to make his point of despair, but keeping the readers in stitches.

So go read this book, and you’ll agree that this is one supposedly fun thing that you will want to read and reread for many years in the future.

 

Backlink to Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/683450413

Practical Classics [Review]

I don’t think that I’ve blasted through a book, and definitely not what is essentially a glorified anthropology of fabulous book reviews, that quickly. But Kevin Smokler is absolutely fantastic in Practical Classics, to the point that I don’t think that I am worthy of writing a pittance of a book review of that masterful work.

But I shall take my feeble attempt!

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Summer Saturday Book Reviews

So summer has been around for a while, and even though I’ve done quite a bit so far, it still seems to be a little bit… empty I suppose. Browsing the web or learning how to drive(!) can get repetitive quite quickly, and it just doesn’t satisfy in the same way. SO, I introduce to you the weekly reviews!

I’ll be challenging myself to read a new book every week, preferably nonfiction, but classics and good fiction as well, and type up a short review to be linked to on my Goodreads account. Hopefully I’ll be able to open up to new worlds and learn about all sorts of interesting things!

 

Please give me suggestions on what to read, or check out (hehe) the bookcases I have on Goodreads for what I’m planning for. Also, I challenge YOU to follow along, not only with my summaries, but actually crack open that dust jacket if you find the book interesting! Reading truly is one of the great pleasures of life, and as George R. R. Martin has said;

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”

Happy reading everybody!

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Son

I’ve been waiting to get this book by Amy Chua for about 5 months now, with the hold line in our public library system (King County Library, I love you!) reaching 700 people. Finally, it’s mine, and I tear through the book.

This controversial book about the way Amy raises her children was quite brilliantly written. Unlike how other people have marked it as a guide to how she is pointing out the flaws in American society, she is instead exposing herself through wit and truth to how she was able to raise her children. It is an enduring story about love, perhaps not in the way that we tend to think of it. Tough love is her approach, and she wields her power quite fiercely. However, the most touching portion of the book is the third part, where her younger daughter becomes surly and the arguments begin. It is through the trials and most harrowing of times where we see Amy at her most exposed, worrying for her daughter, trying to figure out the best way.

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