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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Crapface's CBR-III Review #3 - "Man's Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy"


Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning seems daunting at first, not because of its length, but because it's a philosophical text about the question that has continued to taunt humankind throughout its existence - what does life mean? Specifically, what do our individual lives mean?

The first part of Frankl's text focuses on his time as a concentration camp prisoner during WWII. He breaks down the ways in which the camps affected the minds of the prisoners, and comes to the conclusion that those who found a purpose for survival - whether it was seeing a loved one again, or in Frankl's own case, finishing a manuscript - had much higher chances of surviving. As an example Frankl cites how many prisoners he watched die after the Christmas of 1945. Many of them, Frankl writes, had lived only for the belief that they would be home with their families by Christmas, and after that belief was dashed, had simply withered away.

The second portion of the novel is dedicated to explaining Logotherapy, a school of psychotherapy which centers around the idea that, "striving to find a meaning in one's life is the primary motivational force in man." A lot of what Frankl writes in reference to Logotherapy seems even more true today than when he first published the text. When he describes the crisis of the modern world he describes many of us as existing in an "existential vacuum". Basically, we're all completely freaked out by the fact that our lives seem meaningless, and because of that we drink, drug, develop a host of neuroses and worship money. We're unhappy, but we're ashamed of being unhappy, and the fact that we're ashamed makes us even more unhappy.

So what is the meaning of life? Frankl can't answer that, but he does have a tip:

Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Crapface's CBR-III Review #2 - The Corrections



We're all miserable, asshole bastards. That was the prevailing thought in my mind while I read Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections.

This was the first novel I've ever read by Jonathan Franzen and I have to say, he's one author who truly lives up to the hype. Some of you might remember that when Franzen's newest novel Freedom came out, the consensus most of the critics reached was, "OMG best book evar!" Then of course, the haters followed, declaring The Corrections to be his true masterpiece. Being a hater at heart, I decided I needed to read The Corrections first.

The novel centers around a Midwestern, middle-class family that isn't dysfunctional on paper, but in its interiors, is completely collapsing. Alfred, the patriarch of family, is slowly deteriorating mentally and is beginning to see turds running around tauntingly (I couldn't make this up). Enid, the matriarch, is in denial of Alfred's state and is completely obsessed with bringing her family together for one last Christmas in her home.

Their adult children - Chip, Gary, and Denise - are all assholes, but in different flavors. Chip an immature fuck-up. Gary is overly-critical, self-righteous, and just a relentless dickhead in general. Denise is two-faced, and plays at being the perfect daughter while mentally torturing her lover. All three are embarrassed of their parents, and all three have moved to the East to escape them.

Franzen devotes different sections of the book to the thoughts of each family member, a technique which makes the ending of the novel just that much more rewarding. While reading through the different sections, it becomes obvious just how separate all the characters' lives truly are. They all wear different masks, and never really get to know each other beyond those facades.

The Corrections truly is epic. BEST BOOK EVAR? I don't know, but it definitely warrants a second read.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Crapface's CBR-III Review #1 - What is the What




Part of me wonders whether I read Dave Egger's What is the What so quickly because I really truly liked it, or because I felt like a tremendous asshole whenever I put it down.

What is the What: the Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng is the fictional but not really fictional re-telling of the life of a former Sudanese "Lost Boy" named Valentino. Valentino's life in Sudan is a relentless parade of sorrow and horror. If he's not seeing the young men around him starve to death and then get picked apart by vultures, he's seeing them snatched up by lions or drowning in rivers. The book switches back and forth between this adolescence and his new life in America, which is only slightly less sorrow and horror-filled.

Though Valentino's story is inspiring, it gets lost in the gimmick of the novel. Dave Eggers can't write Valentino like a fictional character because Valentino Achak Deng isn't a character, he's a living person. Obviously Eggers can't know all of Deng's inner thoughts, and the result is a novel with an amazing story that's written very dryly. I walked away knowing some of the most important moments of Deng's life, but still felt like I really didn't know anything about him as a person.

What is the What is the kind of novel that wants to change your life but, without that personal connection to the protagonist, just doesn't work. Valentino's story is an amazing one, but in the end I couldn't help thinking that it deserves more.

***

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