This another post from my personal blog: http://atrainv.wordpress.com.

Title: The Fountainhead

Author: Ayn Rand

Imprint: Plume (2005)

(Request pending for OPAC)

I just finished reading a book I’d been putting off for years.  Partly because of its exorbitant length, but also because I have a tendency to purposefully neglect books that are commonly espoused as “must-read-classics.”  Yes, I can be that stubborn.

I finally caved in a few months ago, however.

I have a tradition of buying a new book every time I go downtown with my Social Psych students as they work on their experiments for their first assignment.  I went into the bookstore and saw this one cradling the barrier between the Fiction and Philosophy sections.  I thought to myself, “Well, I guess it’s time.”

Anyways, I’m glad to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this book despite my stubborn anti-snobbism (which is really just being a snob myself).  It was refreshing to read a book that was so rigidly structured and purposeful.  Most of the modern fiction that you’ll read (and I’m guilty of writing in this style myself) feels a little too… natural?  Not to say that this is a bad thing, of course, just that “classic” literature tends to feel like there is more deliberate content in its prose.  If there was ever a novel that felt deliberate, this is the one.

Collectivism versus Individualism

Be prepared to be hit over the head by the end of the novel.  It can get very preachy.  Don’t let that dissuade you, however–the preachiness is very convincing.  If you’re coming into the novel with a background full of socialistic ideals and collectivism (as I was), be warned that this novel will challenge you more than most.  It is a novel that praises rugged individualism like I’ve never encountered in my life.

This debate is one that’s very dear to my heart and invades almost every aspect of my life (for reference, see my post on Punk Rock).

Since I began to consider politics and economics (read: high school and college days) I’ve always leaned towards the left; often-times the extreme left.  This continuum is interwined, I believe, with those of Idealism versus Realism and Subjectivity versus Objectivity.  The more I grow up (ha!) I find that these extremes are never really the answer.

The extreme left in politics isn’t practical and ends up being inefficient, while the extreme right neglects the human element and increases economic disparity.

Idealism can be argued for both sides of the political spectrum with realism existing somewhere in the center.

I find that things are less relative than we’ve always liked to think.  No matter how special and unique we like to think we are, there is an objective world out there (we can get into Skepticism at another time, perhaps).  This allows quality, integrity, and judgment to exist.  This is why it is ridiculous to say, “Well, I like ______ so I think it’s good.”  Goodness is an objective description based upon certain criteria.  Things have infinite forms of “likeability,” but that doesn’t make them “good.”  We cannot discount the effect of perception, however, as it is important to understanding ourselves and those around us.

The Fountainhead, however, is an exercise in extremes.  It will challenge you on all of these aspects.  It promotes extreme Individualism (read: the political right… although this is debatable) to counterract extreme Collectivism (read: the political left).  It promotes extreme Idealism over extreme Realism.  It promotes extreme Objectivity over extreme Subjectivity.  Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism is rampant throughout the novel, but there are specific moments where it really does feel like you’re being beaten into submission.  In the best possible way.

Extremism is fun to dabble in.  It’s much more exciting than moderation.  Reality will always try to pull you back to the middle, in my experience.

Anyways, definitely give this novel a shot.  The story itself is a pretty good read .  If nothing else, it’s good to challenge your views in order to find yourself wrong or to strengthen them even further.

follow the money

I am now reading two books simultaneously. Every time I sit down to read, it’s a struggle: which one should I pick up?

They’re both really interesting for one reason: they follow the money.

Title: Inside the red mansion : on the trail of China’s most wanted man
Author: Oliver August
Imprint: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., 2007.

Oliver August’s book is a well-crafted and compelling non-fiction narrative that traces the author’s search for a fugitive tycoon in China. To find the man, August, in essence, follows his money. He goes to the homes he bought, the clubs where he drank, and the skyscrapers he built. Sometime memoir, sometime suspense novel, the book sheds light on the nature of money and money-making in China.

Title: Asian Godfathers
Author: Joe Studwell
Imprint: London : Profile, 2007.

Studwell’s is more academic work (but don’t worry — it’s very readable) that investigates the tycoons of Southeast Asia and Hong Kong, in depth and in detail. Southeast Asia, for not being the richest part of the world, nor the biggest, has an inordinate number of the world’s richest people, he begins. Who are they? How did they get so rich? And where did they get all that money? These are the questions he has investigated, including some very interesting but not often discussed aspects of Singapore’s economy (see pages 34 and 35 of Chapter 1, for and early example).

Both authors are seasoned journalists — August is a generalist, the Beijing bureau chief for The Times of London, and Studwell is the editor of the respected financial magazine, the China Economic Quarterly. They are both great storytellers and pack in lots of facts without making the reader (me) feel overloaded. They both shed new light on things that I thought I was already familiar with. They are both very difficult to put down.

The question is, which one should I put down first?

I remember reading Philip Pullman’s sci-fi trilogy the summer before I went to college. What a great read and a great way to get your imagination going. I still imagine portals to other worlds on street corners…

The library is screening the film version of the first of this series, The Golden Compass, right now. They have many copies of the film and also of the book.

Title: The Golden Compass
Author: Philip Pullman
Imprint: New York : Dell Laurel-Leaf, 2003.

Title: The Golden Compass (Film)
Writer/Director: Chris Weitz
Imprint: [Burbank, CA] : New Line Home Entertainment, 2008.

(I wrote this entry as a post for my main blog–A Missing Chromosome–but I thought it would fit well here.)

Ok, so maybe that title is a little morbid and irreverent–but so was he.

Today marks the death of one of Russia’s most important 20th century authors. Much of our knowledge of what life in the Soviet Gulags was like is based upon his literary accounts of his experiences as Soviet political prisoner. Now, I feel a little bit unqualified to comment on his life and work, because I’ve only read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (and it was required reading in my high school lit class), so I’ll let the New York Times do the talking for me:

Solzhenitsyn, Who Defied Soviets, Dies at 89

or, the BBC:

Obituary: Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Some really good information is to be gotten from these websites, but if you’re feeling a little rebellious you can check out the wikipedia page (so long as you’re not one of my students! Wikipedia is still not allowed to be used as a source, even if I use it).

Anyways, check out One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It’s a pretty good read, and it’s good to have something of an understanding of what life as a political prisoner in Stalinist Russia was like.

Title: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Author: Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Imprint: New York: Knopf, Everyman’s Library, 1995.

Angilee 289 Greg 288

Computers, milk tea, smoothies, waffles, kaya toast, television, music, big green bean bags.

To this list of things you can find at the library, we add board games. In the back of the Lifestyle Library, next to the cafe, there is a small room where you can borrow and play board games, complete with pop (sometime overly pop) music and cushioned floor seating. You might also find international fellow Greg Redman and I catching a quick game.

Scrabble anyone?

sometimes serious

I just finished teaching the second subterm class of Appreciating Literary Works a book called Hiroshima. It is a fairly deadpan account of the days and weeks after the 1945 atomic bombing of the Japanese city. John Hersey, a journalist, went to the city in May, 1946. He spent only a few weeks interviewing survivors but got vivid details about their experiences and their lives. What resulted was just over 30,000 words of gripping descriptions of six residents, published in New Yorker Magazine one year after the bomb fell.

I taught the book to 43 students in two classes. It was both a simple and difficult decision to choose this as one of the module’s books. I am well aware that the gruesome realities of war and aggression are not exactly polite dinner conversation. I wasn’t sure how much NP students would want to engage with this kind of writing and the discussions of global politics that must accompany it.

But the book is one that opened my eyes to the power of good and honest journalism, and, more broadly, to the power of content-filled writing. New York University’s journalism school faculty calls it the best work of U.S. journalism of all time. And the story of how Hersey’s work was initially published is quite compelling.

By and large, my students found the book eye-opening. It was not the kind of book they would normally choose to read, nor was it a popularly checked out book at the library. But, based on the reactions and engagement and interest of my students, I am convinced that this is not just a book for American journalism students and World War II historians. It is a book that should be much more widely read — in any country that has a military, any country that has a history including war. Singapore included.

Title: Hiroshima
Author: Hersey, John
Imprint: New York : Vintage Books, 1989.

Daughter of the who?

When Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, I was in Jakarta. The news was constant — television reports, newspaper hawkers, people on the street were all talking about Benazir, Benazir, Benazir. Her death was part of a tragic story on the South Asian subcontinent. Pakistan’s history is spotted with amazing people who have done great good and great evil, but nothing is so clear as good and evil in that country. They have the kind of history that is so complex that it draws you in — when I got back to Singapore I headed for the library to find out what I could learn about Pakistan’s recent history.

There were several books about Pakistan and terrorism, some about culture and literature, and a few that focus on Pakistani politicians. One book caught my eye — Daughter of the East, by Benazir Bhutto herself. It’s an old edition of the book, published in 1989 just after Bhutto, at 35 years old, was elected the first female leader of a Muslim state. (Don’t be afraid to ask librarians to retrieve material for you from the Closed Stacks.)

The memoir begins with the death of her father, which makes for an eerie way to learn about a woman who was just assassinated herself. She describes in detail the processions and mourners and her father’s interment at the family mausoleum in Garhi Khuda Baksh, her hometown in Sindh. The Sydney Morning Herald did a story about Bhutto’s visit to the mausoleum just two months before she was to buried there herself.

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