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30 August 2013

Book Review: Then We Came to the End

Then We Came to the EndThen We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The whole time I was reading this book, I felt like a weird hanger-on gossip.  I didn't like any of these people.  But I kept reading about them.  Like I would have kept listening to Benny gossip about them if I worked in this  office peopled with such off-center characters.  Ferris narrates but his character is never defined.  Never says anything.  Never even really expresses an opinion.  He's a ghost.  He's the intern that no one pays attention to but who writes the revealing novel later.

Then I came to the end and Ferris wrote, "We were the only two left.  Just the two of us, you and me."

Dammit!  He made me complicit in his seedy little world of corporate ridiculousness.  With two sentences, he transformed me from an observer to a participant.  And then I had to wonder; if I had been there, would I have taken these people on as projects? Would I have tried to help them find a path towards something more meaningful or happy or comforting?  Probably not.  So I actually felt guilty for not trying to help these people, these fake people who are fake, but are real, too.  

And then he'd write stuff like this;

"There was so much unpleasantness in the workaday world.  The last thing you ever wanted to do at night was go home and do the dishes.  And just the idea that part of the weekend had to be dedicated to getting the oil changed and doing the laundry was enough to make those of us still full from lunch want to lie down in the hallway and force anyone dumb enough to remain committed to walk around us...But enough daydreaming.  Our desks were waiting, we had work to do.  And work was everything.  We liked to think it was family, it was God, it was following football on Sundays, it was shopping with the girls or a strong drink on Saturday night, that it was love, that it was sex, that it was keeping our eye on retirement.  But at two in the afternoon with bills to pay and layoffs hovering over us, it was all about the work."

"If in large part we were concerned only with making through another day without getting laid off, there was a smaller park just hoping to leave for the night without contributing to someone's lifetime of hurt."

"Maybe there was an alternative to wealth and success as the fulfillment of the American dream.  Or maybe that was the dream of a different nation, in some future world order, and we were stuck in the dark ages of luxury and comfort.  how could we be expected to break out of it, we who were overpaid, well-insured and bonanaza'd with credit, we who were untrained in the enlightened practice of putting ourselves second?"

Blergh.  I don't want to think about this in my spare time when I'm trying to reassure myself that my life is about more than my job.  I'm going back to reading history.

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Book Review: Berlin 1961

Berlin 1961Berlin 1961 by Frederick Kempe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'll open this review with an admission of my ignorance.  I had no idea Berlin was located so deep in East Germany.  In my head, my whole life, Berlin sat on the border and the wall reflected that larger border.

So to find out (and probably not for the first time, but this was the first time it stuck) that Berlin was a strange island.  So then I kept thinking of the Vienna of The Third Man and wondering how many other places were so strangely divided.

Oh, the Cold War.  Such an odd moment in history.

Because most of the historical lessons of this book were new to me, I cannot speak with assurance on its accuracy or fairness.  Kempe does not think highly of Kennedy's handling in 1961 and, in reading this account, I'm amazed that history has been so kind to him (though he apparently redeemed himself in 1962)

My take-away is simple;  politics is filled with regular people acting poorly, misreading each other, gossiping, manipulating, lying, redefining truth and posturing.  It's like junior high but with a lot more at stake.

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