Tag Archives: Classic

Ask the Dust by John Fante

Summary
  1. Arturo Bandini narrates his life and struggles as a writer in LA
Key Takeaways
  1. Los Angeles, give me some of you! Los Angeles come to me the way I came to you, my feet over your streets, you pretty town I loved you so much, you sad flower in the sand, you pretty town.
  2. “I just got a letter from my agent,” I told her. “My agent in New York. He says I sold another one; he doesn’t say where, but he says he’s got one sold. So don’t worry Mrs. Hargraves, don’t you fret, I’ll have it in a day or so.” But she couldn’t believe a liar like me. It wasn’t really a lie; it was a wish, not a lie, and maybe it wasn’t even a wish, maybe it was a fact, and the only way to find out was watch the mailman, watch him closely, check his mail as he laid it on the desk in the lobby, ask him point blank if he had anything for Bandini. But I didn’t have to ask after six months at that hotel. He saw me coming and he always nodded yes or no before I asked: no, three million times; yes, once.
  3. Oh for a Mexican girl! I used to think of her all the time, my Mexican girl. I didn’t have one, but the streets were full of them, the Plaza and Chinatown were afire with them, and in my fashion they were mine, this one and that one, and some day when another check came it would be a fact. Meanwhile it was free and they were Aztec princesses and Mayan princesses, the peon girls in the Grand Central Market, in the Church of Our Lady, and I even went to Mass to look at them.
  4. The lean days of determination. That was the word for it, determination: Arturo Bandini in front of his typewriter two full days in succession, determined to succeed; but it didn’t work, the longest siege of hard and fast determination in his life, and not one line done, only two words written over and over across the page, up and down, the same words: palm tree, palm tree, palm tree, a battle to the death between the palm tree and me, and the palm tree won: see it out there swaying in the blue air, creaking sweetly in the blue air.
  5. I was twenty then. What the hell, I used to say, take your time, Bandini. You got ten years to write a book, so take it easy, get out and learn about life, walk the streets. That’s your trouble: your ignorance of life. Why, my God, man, do you realize you’ve never had any experience with a woman? Oh yes I have, oh I’ve had plenty. Oh no you haven’t. You need a woman, you need a bath, you need a good swift kick, you need money.
  6. Ten dollars: it will pay the rent for two and a half weeks, it will buy me three pairs of shoes, two pair of pants, or one thousand postage stamps to send material to the editors; indeed! But you haven’t any material, your talent is dubious, your talent is pitiful, you haven’t any talent, and stop lying to yourself day after day because you know The Little Dog Laughed is no good, and it will always be no good.
  7. Here was the Church of Our Lady, very old, the adobe blackened with age. For sentimental reasons I will go inside. For sentimental reasons only. I have not read Lenin, but I have heard him quoted, religion is the opium of the people. Talking to myself on the church steps: yeah, the opium of the people. Myself, I am an atheist: I have read The Anti-Christ and I regard it as a capital piece of work. I believe in the transvaluation of values, Sir. The Church must go, it is the haven of the booboisie, of boobs and bounders and all brummagem mountebanks.
  8. A prayer. Sure, one prayer: for sentimental reasons. Almighty God, I am sorry I am now an atheist, but have You read Nietzsche? Ah, such a book!
  9. Bandini (being interviewed prior to departure for Sweden): “My advice to all young writers is quite simple. I would caution them never to evade a new experience. I would urge them to live life in the raw, to grapple with it bravely, to attack it with naked fists.”
  10. An interesting innovation, peaches and oranges. My teeth tore them to pulp, the juices skewering and whimpering at the bottom of my stomach. It was so sad down there in my stomach. There was much weeping, and little gloomy clouds of gas pinched my heart.
  11. My plight drove me to the typewriter. I sat before it, overwhelmed with grief for Arturo Bandini. Sometimes an idea floated harmlessly through the room. It was like a small white bird. It meant no ill-will. It only wanted to help me, dear little bird. But I would strike at it, hammer it out across the keyboard, and it would die on my hands.
  12. When I got back to my room I threw myself on the bed and wept from deep inside my chest. I let it flow from every part of me, and after I could not cry anymore I felt fine again. I felt truthful and clean.
  13. There was a letter from Hackmuth in my box. I knew it was from Hackmuth. I could tell a Hackmuth letter a mile away. I could feel a Hackmuth letter, and it felt like an icicle sliding down my spine.
  14. Ah, Evelyn and Vivian, I love you both, I love you for your sad lives, the empty misery of your coming home at dawn. You too are alone, but you are not like Arturo Bandini, who is neither fish, fowl nor good red herring. So have your champagne, because I love you both, and you, too Vivian, even if your mouth looks like it had been dug out with raw fingernails and your old child’s eyes swim in blood written like mad sonnets.
  15. Something was wrong with her and it was not alcohol and I wanted to find out what it was.
  16. Vera Rivken, Arturo Bandini. It was not meant that way: it was never meant that way. I was wrong. I had committed a mortal sin. I could figure it mathematically, philosophically, psychologically: I could prove it a dozen ways, but I was wrong, for there was no denying the warm even rhythm of my guilt. Sick in my soul I tried to face the ordeal of seeking forgiveness. From whom? What God, what Christ? They were myths I once believed, and now they were beliefs I felt were myths.
What I got out of it
  1. Ryan Holiday recommended this book as it is one of his favorites about Los Angeles and having just moved here wanted to see what it was all about it. Great story and so beautifully written

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Summary
  1. Don Quixote is obsessed with what he has read about chivalry and decides to go on a knight’s errand with Sancho Panza to take on the evil and wicked
Key Takeaways
  1. Don Quixote seems like a buffoon at times and at others spouts great wisdom. Sancho is there to help him out and be his foil
  2. The book ends with Don Quixote dying and the knight’s errand ending. This was meant to show the death of chivalry in the world
What I got out of it
  1. Funny book at times but dragged out and long. Interesting narration at times and dives into worth and wealth, honor, romance and more

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Summary
  1. A bitter satire aimed at the oppressive Stalin-era Russian regime of the 1930’s. It intricately interweaves three stories which help highlight and satirize the difficult and often hypocritical situations Russians of this era had to live with
Key Takeaways
  1. Manuscripts don’t burn – “an absolute trust in the triumph of poetry, imagination, the free wore, over terror and oppression
  2. Cowardice is the most terrible of vices – “touched the inner experience of generations of Russians
  3. “Bulgakov’ gentle irony is a warning against the mistake, more common in our time than we might think, of equating artistic mastery with a sort of saintliness, or, in Kierkegaard’s terms, of confusing the aesthetic with the ethical.” – from intro
  4. “Once terror is identified with the world, it becomes invisible. Bulgakov’s portrayal of Moscow under Stalin’s terror is remarkable precisely for its weightless, circus-like theatricality and lack of pathos.”
  5. He [Pontius] waited for some time, knowing that no power could silence the crowd before it exhaled all that was pent up in it and fell silent of itself
  6. And here Styopa’s thoughts began running on twin tracks, but, as always happens in times of catastrophe, in the same direction, and, generally, the devil knows where
  7. The findirector’s position was very difficult. It was necessary at once, right on the spot, to invent ordinary explanations for extraordinary phenomena
  8. …fact is the most stubborn thing in the world
  9. She had a passion for anyone who did something top-notch
  10. ‘That’s the way!’ ‘That’s the way!’ Woland’s retinue repeated like an echo. ‘We’ve been testing you, said Woland. ‘Never ask for anything! Never for anything, and especially from those who are stronger than you. They’ll make the offer themselves, and give everything themselves.
  11. ‘Listen to the stillness,’ Margarita said to the Master, and the sand rustled under her bare feet, ‘listen and enjoy what you were not given in life – Peace. Look, there ahead is your eternal home, which you have been given as a reward. I can already see the Venetian window and the Reising vibe, it climbs right up to the roof. Here is your home, your eternal home. I know that in evenings you will be visited by those you love, those who interest you and who will never trouble you…you will fall asleep, having a smile on your lips. Sleep will strengthen you, you will reason wisely. And you will no longer be able to drive me away. I will watch over your sleep.’
What I got out of it
  1. I had to go and read an analysis of the book after I finished to pick up a lot of the nuances, allegories and satire that Bulgakov interwove. However, this novel was a fun and worthwhile read and the analysis only made it that much richer

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Summary

  1. Sparknotes can do a much better job summarizing it than I can but Raskolnikov murders a pawnbroker for money, feels terribly guilty and the whole novel is about how he deals with his feelings, his lack of understanding of cause and effect and his final confession
Key Takeaways
  1. Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov – protagonist, murderer, filled with self-loathing and is overwhelmed by what he did
  2. Sofya Semyonova Marmeladov – Raskolnikov’s love
  3. Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikov (Dunya) – Raskolnikov’s siter
  4. Arkady Invanovich Svidrigailov – Dunya’s former employer, threatening to her and her brother
  5. Razumikhin – Raskolnikov’s friend, poor student, Raskolnikov’s foil (friendly, hard worker, kind)
  6. Profiry – in charge of the murder investigation, Raskolnikov’s antagonist
What I got out of it
  1. Very interesting book and Dostoevsky is known for his incredible understanding of human nature. Much like Brothers Karamazov, I found it good but not great (perhaps because I listened to both books and wasn’t really able to completely dive into the book and its characters)

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World

Summary
  1. Aldous Huxley depicts a society which has been molded and conditioned for social stability. This goal has been taken to the extremes of breeding and conditioning humans into select social castes, jobs, likes, tastes, etc. A “savage” is brought into this society and is driven crazy by the extreme consumerism and pleasure seeking through sex and soma tablets.
Key Takeaways
  1. Liking what you got to do is the secret of happiness and virtue. “All conditioning aims at that: making people like their unescapable social destiny.”
  2. “What man has joined, nature is powerless to put asunder.” – quote around the power of conditioning. Conditioning babies of a certain caste to fear books and flowers
  3. “…when you’re not accustomed to history, most facts about the past do sound incredible.”
  4. “There was something called democracy. As though men were more than physico-chemically equal.”
  5. All people are conditioned to think of themselves as simply a cell in the larger social machine
  6. Lenina and Bernard go to New Mexico on holiday and see a “savage reservation” – where people live like humans used to, even giving birth themselves. Bernard convinces Mustapha to bring back 2 savages – one of whom was from the normal society but when she (Linda) was on her own vacation, she got lost and stayed with the savages
  7. Parenting in the “normal” society was unheard of and considered obscene
  8. People take something called soma which seems to be like a psychedelic. They take soma “vacations” which seem like hallucinogenic trips
  9. Bernard became a national hero because nobody had seen someone fat and aged like Linda and John wasn’t conditioned like everybody else
  10. John becomes disgusted with the consumerism and constant pleasure. He goes into the woods to a lighthouse and submits himself to self-flagellation in order to hold onto his values, mainly truth. He battles his emotions most directly with Lenina, who he is very attracted to. She comes to the lighthouse at one point and John tries to control himself but can’t. He sleeps with her and when he wakes up and realizes what he’s done, he kills himself.
What I got out of it
  1. I can see why this book received mix reviews when it was first released but also why it has become an instant classic. Huxley forecasts and pokes fun at extreme consumerism and pleasure seeking that is so prevalent in Western societies. John faces an uphill battle when all of society has been conditioned that this course of life is the best and only way to live. Fun read and on par with Orwell’s 1984 in terms of depicting a (perhaps) exaggerated and bleak future.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Summary
  1. Arthur Dent goes on a journey through space after his good friend Ford turns out to be an alien and rescues him from the destruction of Earth in order to make an intergalactic highway. Ford, Arthur and a slew of other memorable characters travel through space with the help of an encyclopedia-type device – the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Key Takeaways
  1. Easy to see why this became a classic and developed something of a cult following.
What I got out of it
  1. A fun read and unfortunately the movie is nowhere nearly as good as the book

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Tao Teh Ching by Lao Tzu (Translated by John C.H. Wu)

Tao Teh Ching

Summary
  1. This classic is a “series of insights into life and nature; it is suggestion rather than statement. It looks at what it means to follow the way of the Tao and how to go about doing so. Be humble, don’t strive, the weak are strong, be generous, be frugal, don’t force things are some of the many timeless tenets it advocates
Key Takeaways
  1. The Tao Teh Ching lays out an amazing framework on how to live. Among other things, avoid unnecessary things, stress and emotions. This type of framework can change your outlook on life, people, decisions, goals, etc and alleviates so many unnecessary components that cause unneeded stress and worry
  2. There are too many gems to highlight here or to only read once but below are some of the passages I found most powerful
    1. “…Therefore, the Sage wants to remain behind, But finds himself at the head of others; Reckons himself out, But finds himself safe and secure. Is it not because he is selfless That his Self is realized?
    2. “The highest form of goodness is like water. Water knows how to benefit all things without striving with them. it stays in places loathed by all men. Therefore, it comes near the Tao…If you do not strive with others, You will be free from blame.”
    3. “…Hence, only he who is willing to give his body for the sake of the world is fit to be entrusted with the world. Only he who can do it with love is worthy of being the steward of the world.”
    4. “…The Great Way is very smooth and straight; And yet the people prefer devious paths.”
    5. “…Do the non-Ado. Strive for the effortless. Savour the savourless. Exalt the low. Multiply the few. Requite injury with kindness…”
    6. “…Therefore, the Sage desires to be desireless, Sets no value on rare goods, Learns to unlearn his learning, And induces the masses to return from where they have overpassed. He only helps all creatures to find their own nature, But does not venture to lead them by the nose.”
What I got out of it
  1. Powerful, forever important and relevant. I’ll come back to this classic many times.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Count of Monte Cristo

Summary

  1. In the most superficial summary possible, Edmond Dantes is wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit and spends his years in jail plotting his revenge. The story is filled with his comeback, the level of detail in his vengeful plans and wealth beyond all imagination. Even a lengthy summary cannot do this book justice.

Key Takeaways

  1. “There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness.”
  2. “Until the day when God will deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words,—‘Wait and hope.’

What I got out of it

  1. One of my favorite fiction books of all time, along with Les Miserables. An extremely intriguing story with twists and turns, love, hate, greed, mischief, mystery, glamor, riches beyond all imagination, etc. Must read.

Read The Count of Monte Cristo

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird

Summary
  1. Scout, Jem and their father Atticus live in 1930’s Alabama. Atticus is a lawyer and decides to defend Tom Robinson, a black man who has been accused of raping a white woman. Despite convincing evidence contrary, the jury casts a guilty verdict due to racial prejudices. The woman’s father, Bob Ewell, is nevertheless disgraced and attacks Jem and Scout to get revenge but a mysterious neighbor, Boo Radley, saves the children and kills Bob. Scout determines that she will not lose faith in humanity despite the hatred and prejudice she has been exposed to at such a young age
Key Takeaways
  1. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
  2. “There are just some kinds of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one…”
  3. “…remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something…Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy…they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”
  4. “People in their right minds never take pride in their talents…”
  5. Atticus – “…before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
  6. “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
  7. “That Calpurnia led a modest double life never dawned on me. the idea that she had a separate existence outside our household was a novel one, to say nothing of her having command of two languages”
  8. “…but son, you’ll understand folks a bit better when you’re older. A mob’s always made up of people, no matter what. Mr. Cunningham was part of a mob last night, but he was still a man…”
  9. “Atticus’s eyes filled with tears [after receiving food from his nieghbor’s for defending Tom Robinson.] He did not speak for moment. “Tell them I’m very grateful,” he said. “Tell them – tell them they must never do this again. Times are too hard…”
  10. After Bob Ewell spit and threatened Atticus – “I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with. The man had to have a comeback, his kind always does. So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that’s something I’ll gladly take. He had to take it out on somebody and I’d rather it be me than that houseful of children out there.”
  11. After Scout and Jem were attacked by Bob Ewell – “Sometimes I think I’m a total failure as a parent, but I’m all they’ve got. Before Jem looks at anyone else he looks at me, and I’ve tried to live so I can look squarely back at him…if I connived at something like this, frankly I couldn’t meet his eye, and the day I can’t do that I’ll know I’ve lost him. I don’t want to lose him and Scout, because they’re all I’ve got.”
  12. “Atticus, he was real nice…Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them”
  13. The inspiration for Scout’s friend, Dill, was taken from Lee’s childhood friend Truman Capote
What I got out of it
  1. Harper Lee draws the reader into this backward world where the children still have their innocence and moral grounding. Atticus is stoic in his actions and beliefs and I believe someone to be revered. The mockingbird comes to represent innocence and to kill a mockingbird is to kill somebody’s innocence (Jem, Dill, Boo Radley). Fantastic read and highly recommend

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451

Summary
  1. Guy Montag lives in in a world where books are banned and any homes found to contain them are burned by the firemen. Censorship is ubiquitous, people are stimulated constantly so that they cannot and do not think. Guy sees how empty his life is after meeting Clarisse and soon after steals a book. He is found out by the chief fireman, Beatty, who is then forced to burn Guy’s house down but Guy manages to escape. He eventually joins a group of convicts (intellectuals) who have each memorized some great works. The city Montag just escaped is bombed to oblivion during the war and this group is determined to search for survivors and rebuild society.
Key Takeaways
  1. “You always dread the unfamiliar…We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against.”
  2. “If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none”
  3. “Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change.”
  4. “No, no, it’s not books at all you’re looking for! Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us. Of course you couldn’t know this, of course you still can’t understand what I mean when I say all this. You are intuitively right, that’s what counts. Three things are missing. Number one: Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture…Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies…And the second? Leisure. Oh, but we’ve plenty of off-hours. Off-hours, yes. But time to think?…And number three: the right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the interaction of the first two.”
  5. “We’re nothing more than dust jackets for books, of no significance otherwise.”
  6. “But that’s the wonderful thing about man; he never gets so discouraged or disgusted that he gives up doing it all over again, because he knows very well it is important and worth the doing.”
What I got out of it
  1. A prophetic book which I think describes today’s world to some degree. People take pride in always “busy” – almost often unnecessarily – that they don’t stop and think about what they’re actually doing or why. Also, there are so many different factions that need to be pleased that writing can easily become very “vanilla tapioca” as Bradbury puts it. On the other hand, Bradbury also pointed out that these different groups and interests help ensure that there never is too much censorship.

Read Fahrenheit-451

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