Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“I wondered what that was like, to hold someone’s hand. I bet you could sometimes find all of the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand.”

12000020Read: 30th, April, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

Add to Goodreads

Description: Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship–the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

It’s been such a long time since the last time I reviewed a book, maybe around two years now. This is going to be a very short review. To be true I’m afraid of writing. There are so many things on my mind, sometimes I feel that the creative part of my brain is a little dead. I guess that’s how it is when life hits you.

I have had this book on my to-read list for a very long time, and this summer when I’m back at home, I thought of finally giving it a read, and I liked it enough to just blast through it over the night, must have cried a few times, rolled my eyes and laughed at their conversations. It made me feel so many things, I just loved how real it all felt. I couldn’t put it down.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a coming to age story of two boys, Aristotle that goes by the name Ari and Dante, the guy Ari meets at the swimming pool. Dante teaches Aristotle swimming and that’s how their friendship starts to bloom. Ari and Dante are two very different individuals with one thing in common that they both don’t have friends. Ari on one hand bottle up his feelings and try to be away from people, on the other hand, Dante is all rainbow and sunshine who put himself out there and truly express himself, he was a breath of fresh air.

“I wanted to tell them that I’d never had a friend, not ever, not a real one. Until Dante. I wanted to tell them that I never knew that people like Dante existed in the world, people who looked at the stars, and knew the mysteries of water, and knew enough to know that birds belonged to the heavens and weren’t meant to be shot down from their graceful flights by mean and stupid boys. I wanted to tell them that he had changed my life and that I would never be the same, not ever.”

Their friendship starts with Ari finding Dante to be amusing, the way Dante looked at life made Ari spend more time with him. In the book, we see two boys who look at life very differently and how they learn about life from each other and simultaneously also discover themselves.

What I really liked about the book was the involvement of parents in the life of their teenage sons and how they tried to be more understanding of their growing boys. We also see the difference in Ari and Dante and how they behaved had so much to do with how they grew up. Ari bottled up everything because of how everyone in his family bottle up their demons and feelings.

“I had learned to hide what I felt. No, that’s not true. There was no learning involved. I had been born knowing how to hide what I felt.”

On the other hand, Dante’s parents are loving and they express that love which makes Dante be more expressive. However, we see the growth of both the characters and the change in their family dynamics for the good. They both learn a lot about themselves and about each other throughout their friendship.

The writing sometimes felt ordinary and at other times beautiful. The character development was good, however, some of the side characters still remained a mystery, I still don’t know how to feel about them, but maybe we are not supposed to feel much about them anyway. I didn’t know that this book has an LGBTQ theme, and that came by a surprise. Yes, I’m that stupid. However, I did realize towards the end, because the writer made it explicit.

I must say that I didn’t fully connect with the teenagers and especially Ari and how he just hated everything. But overall the book felt very human and that’s what I liked about it.

So if someone is looking for a book, that deals with a coming to age story, parent-child dynamics, friendship, a beautifully written lyrical prose should definitely give it a read.

The book is not perfect. A lot like life.

Book Review: The Fall by Albert Camus

“Men are never convinced of your reasons, of your sincerity, of the seriousness of your sufferings, except by your death. So long as you are alive, your case is doubtful; you have a right only to their skepticism.”

WP_20180305_13_50_44_ProRead: 11th November 2017 and 6th March 2018

Estimated Reading Time: 12 minutes. Contains 2500 words approx.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Add to Goodreads

Description: Jean-Baptiste Clamence, a successful Parisian barrister, has come to recognize the deep-seated hypocrisy of his existence. His epigrammatic and, above all, discomforting monologue gradually saps, then undermines, the reader’s own complacency.

“I’ll tell you a great secret, dear fellow. Don’t wait for the last judgement, it takes place every day.”

Sartre said, ‘perhaps the most beautiful and the least understood work’ of Camus, but as it turned out this book totally spoke to me. Today, I read it for the second time, last time when I read it, I was in some kind of hurry and really didn’t look deep into this book, only this time while reading some other book, I understood few things and it only made sense for me to read it again.

I’m reading this book currently, “The Power of Myth” by Joseph Campbell and in this book his conversations with Bill Moyers about myths led me to few ideas and gave me a very different perspective about few things that Camus is trying to convey in his book, The Fall. I had so many “ahha” moments while reading this book, that I had to read, The Fall, again. So, I did just that.


Page 47, The Journey Inward

The title of the book can be read in several different ways, the biblical story of Adam and Eve, human struggle with sin(again a relation with Christian theology), the fall of the character, and fall of that woman(in a very literal sense).

Camus in this book takes the reader into the darkness of human condition.

The character is guilty of a crime of passivity and inability to act. The central scene of the bridge kind of drives the whole story, where he does not act and from there we witness his downfall, The Fall.

“Reaching the end of the bridge, I turned along the quai toward Saint-Michel, where I was then living. I had already gone some fifty meters when I heard the sound – a sound which, despite the distance, seemed immense in the silence of the night- of a body hitting the water. I stopped dead, but without turning round. Almost at once, I heard a shout, repeated several times, which was also travelling down the river, the abruptly stopped. The ensuing silence seemed interminable, as though the night has stopped dead. I wanted to run, but couldn’t move. I was trembling, I think, with cold and shock. I told myself that I had to act quickly, but I felt an irresistible weakness flood through my body. I forgot what I thought at the moment. ‘Too late, too far away…’, or something like that. I kept on listening, not moving. Then slowly, I walked away through the rain. I reported the incident to no one.”

So, I was reading this chapter called ‘Sacrifice and bliss’ in the book, The Power of Myth, where Campbell talks about an incident, about a policeman saving the life of a boy who is trying to jump. Here he is talking about Sacrifice.

Joseph Campbell: “Well, a police car was on its way up early, a little road that used to go up there(he is talking about Golden Gate Bridge), and they saw just beyond the railing that keeps cars from rolling over, a young man actually clearly about to jump and prepare himself to jump. The police car stopped. The policeman on the right jumps out to grab the boy and grabs him just as he jumped and was himself being pulled over, and would have gone over if the second cop hadn’t gotten around, grabbed him and pull the two of them back. There was a long description of this, it was a marvelous thing, in the newspapers at that time.

And the policeman was asked, “Why didn’t you let go? I mean, you would have lost your life?” And you see what had happened to that man, this is what’s known as one pointed meditation everything else in his life dropped off. His duty to his family, his duty to his job, his duty to his own career, all of his wishes and hopes for life, just disappeared and he was about to go. And his answer was, “I couldn’t let go. If I had let that young man go, I could not have lived another day of my life.”

There is a saying, “Love thy neighbor as thyself” which can also be interpreted as, Love your neighbor because he is yourself. Campbell also talked about Schopenhauer’s metaphysical realization that you and other are one and that our true reality is in our identity and unity with all life. So, when you let the other person die in front of you without you acting upon it then you to die with that person.

The passive response of this character in that situation, his inability to act, to save a life caused him all the sufferings, it is not that those sufferings were not part of him, but after this incident, he came face to face with them. He realized that all this time he was wearing a mask for others to see. He wanted to see himself above everyone, but now he knew that he was a hypocrite, and he was not the one he let everyone see. He was ashamed of his duplicity.

“I found myself on a cruise ship – on the top of deck, of course. Suddenly, far off, I noticed a black spot on the iron-grey ocean. I immediately turned away and my heart started to beat faster. When I forced myself to look, the black spot had vanished. I was going to shout, to call for help – ridiculously – when I saw it again. It was one of those patches of rubbish that ships leave in their wake. Yet I had not been able to bear looking at it: I immediately thought of a drowned person.”

His failure to save that woman haunted him for life. And now only his death could relieve him. He thought about suicide, but it was no fun for him, as he said, I like life, that’s my real weakness.

Also, he thought that people would judge him for that as well and he didn’t like getting judged by others. He wanted to avoid that at all cost.

” ‘He killed himself because he could not bear to…’ Oh, my good friend, how feeble is the imagination of men. They always think that people commit suicide for a reason. But one can very well commit suicide for two reasons. No, that idea doesn’t enter their head.” 

And now not only he was guilty of not saving the woman but also about his duplicity, he heard laughter everywhere and thought that everyone was laughing at him, judging him. He didn’t like that, he didn’t want to be laughed at, so he got away from everyone he knew. And first time in his life he felt that he was living a life of double and no more he wanted to continue it.

“So much so that we rarely confide in those who are better than we are; rather, we avoid their company. Most of the time, on the contrary, we confess to those who are like us and who share our weaknesses. This means that we do not want to correct ourselves to be improved: for that, first of all, we should have to be judged and found wanting. All we need is to be pitied and encouraged in our course. In short, we would like at the same time to be no longer guilty and not taking the effort to purify ourselves.” 

In his monologue, Jean-Baptiste Clamence takes the reader on a journey which he took in order to solve his biggest problem and that was Judgement. Here he talks about, love, sexual conquests, debauchery(meaningless sex) and infuse it with bigger ideas of freedom, slavery, and innocence, and most importantly his frustration with humanity.

Don Juanism:

“Some people shout: ‘Love me!’ Others: ‘Don’t love me!’ But there is a group, the worst and most miserable, who say: ‘Don’t love me, but be faithful!'”

Camus’ reflection on Don Juanism can be seen in this book as well(after his essay, The Myth of Sisyphus).

In the starting of the book also we can see Clamence as a womanizer, who loved to be with different women and seeks pleasure in seducing them and binding them just for himself, while he fools around with other women.

“So true is this that even when some of them provide me with only a small degree of pleasure, I still tried to resume our relations from time to time, helped no doubt by that peculiar desire which is stimulated by absence, followed by a suddenly rediscovered intimacy; but also to make sure that the bond between us was still there and that it was up to me alone to revive it. Sometimes, I would even go so far as to make them swear that they would not belong to any other man, in order to set my mind at rest on that point once and for all…

…But by swearing, they freed me while binding themselves. Once they would not be anyone else’s, I could bring myself to break with them – something that, otherwise, it was almost always impossible for me to do.”— Oh how I cringed while reading this, I also cringed when I read about Don Juan in The Myth of Sisyphus, kind of makes me hate men, but then we also have Don Juana, so I can’t really complaint.

But later in the book, he takes refuse among women and alcohol, they made him forget his suffering or I would rather say his life crisis, at least for a while, or at least when he was in their company.

“Because I desired eternal life, I slept with whores and drank for whole nights on end. The next morning, of course, I had the bitter taste of mortality in my mouth; but for long hours I had glided blissfully.”

On Freedom, Slavery, and Innocence:

“Surely the great thing that stops us escaping from it is that we are the first to condemn ourselves. So we must start by extending condemnation to everyone, without discrimination, so as to start extenuating it.”

I’m innocent so I’m free, because if I was guilty then I would be in a prison, but since I’m not in a prison, I’m innocent. But by saying all of this to yourself, you really don’t solve the problem, you are still you and you do know what is true. A person may approve himself to be innocent but even then deep down he knows what he truly is and then even though he has his freedom, he dies in the prison of his own thoughts. So, for Clamence even his freedom didn’t help him escape his problems, and for him, it turned out to be a burden in the long run. Now, it was not only the judgement of others he feared but also his personal judgement. You can fool people into believing what you want them to believe in, but how can you fool yourself once you know yourself.

“I didn’t know that freedom is not a reward or a decoration that you toast in champagne… Oh, no! On the contrary, it’s hard graft and a long-distance run, all alone, very exhausting…

…Alone in a dreary room, alone in the dock before the judges, and alone to make up your mind, before yourself and before the judgement of others. At the end of every freedom there is a sentence, which is why freedom is too heavy to bear, especially when you have a temperature, or you are grieving, or you love nobody.”

Since freedom didn’t work for him because it put a burden on him to prove himself to be innocent over and over again. So, he became a supporter of slavery, he thought it was better to accept your guilt, give up your freedom and submit yourself, he now supported the idea that no one really is innocent, everyone is guilty of something, then why bury yourself in constant obligation of proving yourself innocent, when in reality you are not.

“In any case, we cannot be certain of anyone’s innocence, while we can pronounce everyone guilty. Each man bears witness to the crime of all the others: this is my faith and hope.” 

According to him, it is better to declare your guilt so as to avoid judgement because now what is there for other people to judge. Clamence said, everyone, is riding the same boat, and he makes the reader reflect on his own faults and crisis. He said he is only superior to other people because he knows that he is on that boat and now all he could do is to make people realize that they are also riding the same boat as himself.

“The more I accuse myself, the more I have the right to judge you. Better still: I incite you to judge yourself, which relieves me by that much more. My dear fellow, we are strange and miserable creatures and we have only to go back over our lives to find any number of opportunities to astonish and shock ourselves.”

Camus in this book takes his reader on a ride of self-reflection and universality of human suffering. And in the process also confesses his true being, again as the narrator said, I accuse myself and I incite you to judge yourself. In all this turmoil, he makes the reader see the fall of this character, Jean-Baptiste Clamence and uncovers a person who at the beginning looks flawless and of high morals but within the layers, he is just another monster waiting to be discovered. In this journey, Camus doesn’t give the reader any answer, or any possible solution to solve the problem, but what he does is show the reader everything that doesn’t really work and shows him the absurdity of the whole problem. With the fall of Clamence, Camus actually gives his reader a way to save himself.

“I was wrong to tell you that the main thing was to avoid judgement. The main thing is to be able to let oneself do anything, while from time to time loudly declaring one’s own unworthiness. I allow myself everything, once again, and this time without laughing. I haven’t changed my way of life: I still love myself and I still use people. It’s just that confessing my sins permits me to start again with a lighter heart and to gratify myself twice, firstly enjoying my nature, and then a delicious repentance.”

Book Review: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck on Friendship and loneliness.

“Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”

186521Read: 12th, February, 2017

Estimate reading time: 5 minutes, 35 seconds. Contains 1116 words.

My Rating: 4 Stars

Three months back I went to a bookstore and found two book kept side by side, at first I was very indecisive when it came to making a choice between this book and In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, I really like both the writers so I ended up buying both of them and reading both of them though I still have to read last few pages of In Cold Blood, I’ll make it happen, I know that and I’ll write about it soon.

So about this book, the book cover says: The compelling story of two outsiders striving to find their place in an unforgiving world. Drifters in search of work, George and his simple-minded friend Lennie have nothing in the world except each other and a dream–a dream that one day they will have some land of their own. Eventually they find work on a ranch in California’s Salinas Valley, but their hopes are doomed as Lennie, struggling against extreme cruelty, misunderstanding and feelings of jealousy, becomes a victim of his own strength.

Before I begin I must say that I love John Steinbeck’s books, I haven’t read them all but whatever I have read I always loved it. I really like the profound messages one can find while reading his books and how he can write stories about rookies and ordinary working class people and make them relatable to everyone reading them. Great Depression indeed provided him with a whole lot of subject to write about and it’s worth reading.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck which he wrote in the year 1937 is based on the theme of friendship and loneliness. It’s a story of two drifters in search of work during the time of Great Depression, it’s a story of their companionship and friendship and how people need each other.

“A guy needs somebody―to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you. I tell ya, I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ he gets sick.”

George and Lennie have no one other than each other in the whole wide world, they don’t have a place to live. But they have a dream, one common dream that one day they will have some land of their own. Lennie asks George to tell him about their dream repeatedly throughout the book because Lennie is forgetful and he likes when George tell him what they both would do when they will have land of their own.

“Everybody wants a little bit of land, not much. Jus’ som’thin’ that was his. Som’thin’ he could live on and there couldn’t nobody throw him off of it.”

George is street smart and wise while Lennie is big, strong and dumb or I may say mentally handicapped(I don’t know how to put it subtly). Lennie likes to touch soft things but since he is strong that most of the times he kills them and creates trouble for both of them.

“Trouble with mice is you always kill ’em.”

George is a good friend he takes care of Lennie though he sometimes feels trapped with him because he thinks he can be so much more if he doesn’t have to take responsibility of Lennie. He constantly complains that if he did not have Lennie then he could have a girlfriend or go down for drinking and build a life for himself but then he takes care of Lennie as a parent and he genuinely want Lennie to stay with him.

“Guy don’t need no sense to be a nice fella. Seems to me sometimes it jus’ works the other way around. Take a real smart guy and he ain’t hardly ever a nice fella.”

When you read this book you can feel emotional appeal and can feel for every character. The undertone of this book is loneliness, every character is lonely, some are so lonely that they long for attention, they are afraid they will lose their partner, won’t let go because they are afraid they will be left alone, be the leader so that they get to have followers and try to stay put with people and what happens to people when they are isolated.

Few things were terrifying for me because I’m someone who tends to isolate.

“A guy sets alone out here at night, maybe readin’ books or thinkin’ or stuff like that. Sometimes he gets thinkin’, an’ he got nothing to tell him what’s so an’ what ain’t so. Maybe if he sees somethin’, he don’t know whether it’s right or not. He can’t turn to some other guy and ask him if he sees it too. He can’t tell. He got nothing to measure by. I seen things out here. I wasn’t drunk. I don’t know if I was asleep. If some guy was with me, he could tell me I was asleep, an’ then it would be all right. But I jus’ don’t know.”

Curley’s wife, although a bizarre woman but yes she longs for attention, she indeed is left alone and she does feel lonely. Candy won’t let go of his dog because he knows that he will be left alone even though his dog stinks and left with no life, Curley always looking for his wife afraid he would lose her to someone else, Slim being the leader so that he can listen to people and be around them.

In Chapter 3 Candy says, I oughtta shot that dog myself, George, I should not oughtta let no stranger my dog.

George from above statement did learn some lesson.

I really like the symbolism of the snake which Steinbeck used twice in the story, once when George and Lennie first came to the ranch and second time towards the end of the story.

“A water snake glided smoothly up the pool, twisting its periscope head from side to side; and it swam the length of the pool and came to the legs of a motionless heron that stood in the shadows. A silent head and beak lanced down and plucked it out by the head, and the beak swallowed the little snake while its tail waved frantically.”

The symbolism of snake bring the forces of evil and symbolizes something bad is to come and here in this story it totally foreshadows death. In the beginning of the book that very snake glides without harm.

This book is straight realism, it’s life and has some kind of sweetness but most of it is heart-wrenching and a bit depressing.

I think I’ll never forget about this book because the way it ended was heartbreaking and completely brutal. I still remember how I felt while reading this book and how the ending completely drained me.

Short Story : The Last Leaf by O. Henry


This story is really beautiful and one of my favorite short story written by this author.

“The Last Leaf”, this story symbolize a lot of different aspects of life:hope, friendship, sacrifice , pessimism, optimism and death.

There were four characters, Johnsy, Sue, doctor, and old Behrman.

Johnsy was a pessimist, while Sue was an optimist. Old Behrman here in this story was a friend , who sacrificed. All three of them were artists.

Old Behrman had never painted a masterpiece, but he said that, one day he’ll paint a wonderful picture, a masterpiece.

And he did, he painted the last leaf on the vine, before he died, and saved a life of an ill friend, Johny, who binds herself with a fancy that she’ll die with the fall of last ivy leaf.

According to me in this particular story the leaf symbolize life, death and hope. The life of a tree can be guessed by looking at its leaves, also the last leaf in this story signifies hope of life for tree and as it falls it conveys death.

I love the twist and ironic circumstances in O. Henry’s stories and this short story was worth reading.

You can also read the story here, The Last Leaf by O. Henry

You can also watch this short film.