Quote for Thought: Reality and Insanity in The Book Collector by Alice Thompson

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“Many years later, looking back, she was amazed at the capacity we have for not wanting to confront the truth. How the humdrum of our own lives, the security of habit and comfort, prevent us from questioning the clues that the truth gives us. We can ignore them, make excuses and forget whatever we want.”

The Book Collector by Alice Thompson is part The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, part Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, part fairy tale retelling. It’s eerie and disturbing, and I just couldn’t put it down. I kept reading, like mesmerised. To be honest, the prose felt odd at times, almost like it was trying too hard. Some sentences were weirdly structured. And, yet, I highlighted quite a lot of lovely quotes.

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The novella deals with many issues, and one of them is the unwillingness to accept the truth if it means getting out of our comfort zone. This maybe spoke to me because I am mortally afraid of change, but I think everyone can relate to not wanting certain things in their life disturbed.

Violet, the main character of the novel, had this idea of a perfect marriage and a fairy tale love story. But fairy tales are often dark and scary. The novella plays with this idea, the way we perceive fairy tales as something ideal versus the violence that can actually be found in those stories. Violet knows something is wrong. She feels it, but at first tries to ignore it. Her fears come alive in dreamlike visions, and in her semi-conscious state she is able to piece together the truth.

“She had married to avoid pain. She had lost herself in the arcadian countryside to avoid pain. Her whole married life had been a carefully constructed edifice to avoid pain. And it had worked well. Until she fell ill.”

This leads to her being sent to an asylum, where she once again tries to get “normality” back. But at the same time, she meets women whose sad lives seem more real than anything in her life ever did. It’s also a commentary on how women were, and sadly sometimes still are, treated in society, how their stories are regarded as imagination or, in todays terms, “hormones”.

“And for an insane moment she thought, this is no different from normality, just women existing and surviving, this is what happens to women who don’t fit into a world created by men.”

The mental institution serves as an example of what happens to those who don’t want to accept the lies they live in, people who dare speak up. It’s an inherent fear in all people – belonging nowhere, having no one to love you, which might happen if you don’t adapt, or even change some parts of who you are. And I think this is what makes The Book Collector so disturbing and claustrophobic.

Have any of you read this novella? Do you have a different interpretation? I’d love to hear from you. ๐Ÿ™‚


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Quote for Thought: Nature in Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis

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Well, I may be misusing the title. Yes, this quote might spark some questions, but more than anything it’s a quote so beautiful you’ll want to simply enjoy it.

“Society, as we have constituted it, will have no place for me, has none to offer; but nature, whose sweet rains fall on unjust and just alike, will have clefts in the rocks where I may hide, and secret valleys in whose silence I may weep undisturbed. She will hang the night with stars so that I may walk abroad in the darkness without stumbling, and send the wind over my footprints so that none ay track my hurt: she will cleanse me in great waters, and with bitter herbs make me whole.”

De Profundis is a long letter Oscar Wilde wrote to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas, whom he called Bosie, while he was imprisoned in Reading Gaol.

I may not agree with Oscar Wilde on everything, but I found De Profundis very captivating. I loved reading Wilde’s thoughts on art as much as I liked reading about his feelings and the way he’s coping with his imprisonment. His final words, the ones quoted, left a lasting impression on me. Just a paragraph ago, I was reading his interpretation of Hamlet, and than he turned it all around, and became very personal. The entire text is like this. It’s scholarly and emotional at the same time, it’s personal but with many universal thoughts.

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The idea of finding comfort in nature has always co-existed with alongside the idea of technological progress. Humans have always tried to separate themselves from nature. We built houses, towns and walls. We developed a civilisation (or civilisations). But, of course, we cannot live completely divided from nature. Sometimes, it seems like we’re not aware of that. We are destructive. We suck the life out of our planet. And, apparently, we choose to deny that any of the problems we’ve created even exist, or we just don’t care. Yes, there are many people who are trying to make a difference, but they are still just individuals. Not much is changing on the global scale.

People get scared of spiders, flys, and other insects, though most of them are completely harmless. We fear nature. We always have. We don’t want anything to disturb our secluded lives, without relizing that the world we have created is probably just as dangerous. Society doesn’t treat everyone fairly. “Society, as we have constituted it, will have no place for me”, Oscar Wilde says. How many people have felt the same?

I’m not pretending to be better or more intelligent that other people. I’m exactly the same. (Except for the fear of spiders. I like spiders, but there are insects that make me feel uneasy.) I don’t have a solution, nor do I think there really is one. A perfect world doesn’t exist. Still, we should think about it. Try to do little things, or even big things, that may make a difference. The idea of nature as something wild and dangerous may be woven into the very fabric of our being, but the idea of nature as a nurturing mother is just as powerful. And I think it’s a very important part of who we are.

Quote for Thought: The Handmaid’s Tale

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“We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”

– Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

This quote really rings true to me. Most people see the bad things that are going on, but choose to ignore it. Especially if it’s something that’s happening to someone else. While I was reading The Handmaid’s Tale, some parts reminded me of the famous WWII-related poem by Martin Niemรถller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak outโ€”
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak outโ€”
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak outโ€”
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for meโ€”and there was no one left to speak for me.

And, in the end, what can one little voice do? How can I stop something that is so much larger than me?ย That’s a question no one really has an answer to. Turning the head away is the easy way. It gives us the comfort of not being seen, the freedom to live on, without danger.

We were the people who were not in the papers. We were the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom.

– Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

I’m not an optimist, or an idealist, so I can’t really find a good answer to all of this. To be honest, sometimes I don’t have faith in people, at all. But, hopefully, everything that’s going on in the world right now is not leading to another horrible period in history. And hopefully, we will always be able to speak up when we feel the need to.

Quote(s) for Thought: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

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As told by Kafka’s close friend Max Brod:

“Suddenly he began to speak to the fish in their illuminated tanks. ‘Now at least I can look at you in peace, I don’t eat you anymore.’ It was the time he turned strictly vegetarian.”

To be honest, I’m writing this post for myself. Because I want to put some of Foer’s thoughts on paper. Because I don’t want to forget.

I’m in a similar position as Jonathan Safran Foer was before he completely gave up meat. I wanted to become a vagaterian, and I did, several times, and then always somehow stopped. Now, I don’t want to promote anything here. And I don’t think that is the intention of the book, either. I just gives you facts, facts I think everyone should be aware of. Even if you eat meat, don’t you deserve to know where it comes from?

Let me just start by saying that I think Jonathan Safran Foer is an amazing author. I’ve read Eveything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and loved both of them. I love his writing style and I think it also shows in this non-fiction book. It is well-researched and it gives a great amount of information, but it is also very interesting. The author talks about himself, his family, his experiiences, as well as about his research. And research he did! He even spent time with both farmers and activists.

Some of these facts have become more videly known – for example the fact that theย meat industry is responsible for about 40 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships in the world combined. We are aware of the dangers of factory farming, I thin, but no just how deep these problems go. And then, some things most people are not aware at all.

Foer deconstructs some ideas people use to ease their shame. One of the notions he deconstructs isย that vegetarianism is a form of sentimentality – which would basically mean valuing emotions over reality.

Two friends are ordering lunch. One says, “I’m in the mood for a burger,” and orders it. The other says, “I’m in the mood for a burger,” but remembers that there are things more important to him than what he is in the mood for at any given moment, and orders something else. Who is the sentimentalist?

And, yet, he asks himself if vegetarians actually are sentimentalists (idealists) if they believe everyone would follow their path. People are obviously not willing to do that. Yet, we know that eating is a group activity. We mostly eat with someone. We can influence some people, or at least contribute to the small progress that is being made. Big changes often come from small actions.

Another thing Foer touches on is the fact that most people don’t care for birds as much as they do for mammals. And even if we do, most of us don’t really care for fish. We tell ourselves that those animals are not as intelligent, which has lately proven to be false. And fishing is basically destroying fish:

For every ten tuna, shars, and other large predatory fish that were in our oceans fifty to a hundred years ago, only one is left. Many scientist predict the total collapse of all fished species in less than fiftly years – and intense efforts are under way to catch, kill, and eat even more sea animals.

The average trawling operation throws 80 to 90 percent of the sea animals it captures as bycatch overboard.

…sea horses are one of more than one hundred sea animal species killed as ‘bycatch’ in the modern tuna industry.

Even if some animals do get a “clean” death, fish never do. All fish suffer since there are no regulations as to how they should die. However, slughterhouses often neglect all the regulations, or the regulations just get changed. Iย won’t go into detail about what happens at slaughterhauses. I guess most of people are aware of that, and if you’re not, then let me just say it’s much worse than you think it is. I really don’t want to talk about it, because it makes me sick, so I’ll move on to farming. This is, actually, one of the most important issues this book speaks about.

Jonathan Safran Foer really looks at farming from different perspectives and leaves it to the readers to come to their own conclusions. He gives his own opinion, talks about his lifestyle and the reasons behind his decision to give up meat completely, but he lets other people speak, too, and share their worldviews. He also gives an example of a man who is a vegan but constructs slaughterhouses. How is that possible? Because there seem to be no more slaughterhouses that provide a “clean” death. The farmers that take care of their animals cannot find a slughterhouse that would’t make their animals die a horrible death. And that’s why good slaughterhouses seemed important even to someone who refuses to eat animals.

This book doesn’t really speak against eating animals as much as it speaks against factory farming, overfishing, hormone and antibiotics fed, mutated and deformed animals. Many animals are left to suffer and die, because it would cost more to heal than to lose some of them (and there are much more animals that die before it’s the time for them to be illed than you could imagine). Many are born deformed.

In the world of factory farming, expectations are turned upside down. Veterinarians don’t work toward optimal health, but optimal profitability. Drugs are not for curing diseases but substitutes for destroyed immune systems. Farmers do not aim to produce healthy animals.

Modern factory farming is destroying our environment in more way than you think. Fighting this kind of farms is crucial for the environmental sustainability. Crucial for our planet. Factory farms are nothing more than the product of human insatiable greed – it’s exclusively about money, not about feeding people. And family farms cannot fight them. Bill Niman, the owner of a family farm who cares about the treatment of his animals, was driven out of his company because the board wanted to do things more profitably and less ethically. Though his ranch is an example of good (or at least much better) treatment of animals, he said that he would no longer eat Niman Ranch beef. Not under the new conditions.

Factory farming hurts humas as well:

People who live near factory farms are rarely wealthy and are treated by the industry as dispensable. The fecal mists they are forced to breathe usually don’t kill humans, but sore throats, headaches, coughing, runny noses, diarrhea, and even psychological illness including abnormally high levels of tension, depression, anger, and fatigue, are common. According to a report by the California state senat, “Studies have shown that {animal waste} lagoons emit toxic airbornee chemicals that can cause inflammatory, immune, irritation and neurochemical problems in humans.”

The meat from factory farms hurts us and is responsible for many disesases from more people suffering from asthma and allergies, to flu. Factory farms are also known for horrible working conditions of their employees.

And factory farms hurts other animals besides those confined inside of them and unable to move of their entire lives (again, I don’t want to go too much into the cruelty that happens there) :

In only three years, two hundred fish kills – incidents where the entire fish population in a given area is killed at once – have resulted from factory famrs’ failures to kkeep their shit out of the waterways.

All of this also deconstructs the idea that animals have better lives on farms than they would have in the wild, where many would be killed anyway. These animals do not live happy lives before their slaughter.

This is becoming a more and more talked-about topic, which is definitely a good start. Some laws are being changed, though not as much as they should. Newspapers are writing about it (The New York Times was the first to do so), andย Whole Foods was the first supermarket chain that committed to a systematic program of animal welfare labeling. There’s hope (dare I say it…) and everyone should contribute.

Yes, this is a long post and I don’t now if anyone’s going to read it, but it is very important to me, and I think it should be important to everyone. Eating Animals is a must-read. We must act – for animals, for our planet, and for ourselves.

If we are at all serious about ending factory farming, then the absolute least we can do is stop sending checkks to the absolute worst abusers. (…) We know, at least, that this decision will help prevent deforestation, curb global warming, reduce pollution, save oil reserves, lessen the burden on rural America, decrease human rights abuses, improve public health, and helo eliminate the most systematic animal abuse in world history.

 

 

Quote for Thought: Bicycle

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“To ride a bicycle is in itself some protection against superstitious fears, since the bicycle is the product of pure reason applied to motion. Geometry at the service of man! Give me two spheres and a straight line and I will show you how far I can take them.”

Angela Carter, “The Lady of the House of Love” from The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories

A random little quote I wanted to sheare with you. I’ve recently read Angela Carter’s short story collection,ย The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, and I’m amazed by her writing. It’s brilliant. Her stories are dark, I’d even use the word disturbing, and each of them takes fairy tale imagery and makes something completely new out of it. For some reason, this quote stuck with me, even though there are so many wonderful ones. Maybe because it speaks of something mundane, almost random and not connected to fairy tales at all, but it’s still great. And it works great within the story, which I highly recommend. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Quote for Thought: Our Hieroglyphic World

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In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs.

– Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence

I’m currently reading The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, and it reminded me of another novel of hers, one of my favourite books ever, The Age of Innocence.

The Age of Innocence speaks about many things, but I think that it’s most of all a novel about human behaviour, the social norms imposed on people, prejudice, hipocrisy and injustice. It also deals with love, and asks whether love is even possible in this superficial world. Yes, Wharton’s novel dealsย with the morals of 1870s New York society, but many of its issues are still present today, maybe just in a different way. From the day we were born, we had to learn how to fit into different roles that we were “assigned”. Many of these we didn’t chose. And they shaped us more than we are comfortable to accept.

The quote I chose doesn’t address these issues directly, even though the book does. The quote is maybe more about language, and how we express the “real thing”. We learn to express everything by words, but words are not “real”, they are arbitrary – as Saussure discussed in his semiotics, in a completely different context, of course. And words are signs which do not denote a particular “real thing” but a category of things.

The truth is, we rely entirely on words. Words are the way we see and understand the world, categorize things, put them in their proper boxes. Without language, we would not be that same beings that we are now. We are creatures of signs. Is it so strange that, in a certain way, our society is also based on putting everything, including people into boxes? Well, no, of course it’s not the same thing. And we are, I hope, intelligent enought to know that.

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Quote for Thought: Just Write!

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โ€œIf there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.โ€

-Toni Morrison

I haven’t done this kind of post in a while, and this time it’s more inspirational than food for thought. I love this quote by the wonderful Toni Morrison. I love how it makes you want to write even more. It reminds you that you truly have something to say, that you can offer something new to the world. You are writing something that nobody has written before.

There are many authors here on WordPress, and I wanted to share this quote with all of you, even if you’ve already heard it. It’s nice to be reminded that your writing is important. Art is important. Expressing yourself is important. It’s neccessary. It’s wonderful! ๐Ÿ™‚

And thank you, Toni Morrison! She is a great writer, and she even had a mural depicting her, in Spain. Apparently, it’s been removed, which is really sad…

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Mural depicting Toni Morrison in Vitoria, Spain. Picture from Wikipedia.