Book Review: The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Stranger by Albert Camus
The Stranger by Albert Camus

Title: L’Étranger (The Stranger)

Author: Albert Camus

Translated from French by: Matthew Ward

First Published: 1942, Libraire Galliimard

Pages: 123

*Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957

“Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.” Thus begins one of the most striking, complex, and widely read novels of the twentieth century. L’Étranger, translated as The Stranger, is arguably the most popular work of French novelist, author, and philosopher, Albert Camus.

The story follows the life of its main character, Mersault, as he goes from learning about his mother’s death to being tried for one of the most senseless murders in the history of literature. The novel unfolds through Mersault’s perspective, and is divided into two main parts—before he committed the crime, and after his arrest.

As a side note, let me start off by saying, translation matters.

Bear in mind that the Mersault I met was the byproduct of Matthew Ward’s translation. In reading this book under a different translator—whether it be Joseph Laredo or Sandra Smith—you may encounter a different version of Mersault—one that’s either more apathetic or sympathetic depending on who you’re reading. Though all roads lead to pointless murder and an equally ludicrous trial, these translations offer nuances that could shift your perception of the novel’s protagonist.

And on with the summary, we go…

The novel begins with Mersault’s acknowledgment of his mother’s death. It’s important to note his matter-of-fact tone, when he talks about needing to borrow a black tie and catch the two o’clock bus to Marengo, where the old people’s home was located. When he gets to the home, he refuses to see his mother for the last time, choosing to keep the casket closed. He doesn’t divulge what he feels about the matter, opting instead to offer a commentary about the wake and the long walk to the funeral. His indifferent behavior doesn’t escape the notice of the home’s director and caretaker.

The way he describes what ought to have been a tragic occurrence also speaks volumes of how his brain was wired. Mersault observes, “It occurred to me that anyway one more Sunday was over, that Maman was buried now, that I was going back to work, and that, really, nothing had changed.” (p.24)

Upon returning to the city, he immediately takes on a girlfriend, Marie, and makes friends with his neighbor, Raymond—a shady, woman-beater who is generally disliked in the neighborhood. With his help, Raymond manages to lure his mistress back into his apartment, where he proceeds to beat her up after suspecting her of carrying on an affair.

The young woman’s brother, an unnamed Arab, begins tailing Raymond. During a beach trip with Marie and Raymond, Mersault proceeds to kill the Arab. He shoots the Arab four times with such jarring apathy, with his only explanation being that he did it due to the intolerable heat. While the crime was not premeditated, his lack of motive only served as proof of his unacceptable character and his obvious guilt.

In the second part of the novel, we find Mersault incarcerated and the subject of a circus-of-a-trial. While his few friends and girlfriend testify to help clear his name, the fact that he doesn’t believe in God and doesn’t feel remorse for his crime only serves to land him a hasty “Guilty” verdict. In the midst of the trial, Mersault observes with annoyance that his fate was being determined without his participation. The reader also gets the feeling that the novel’s protagonist was being sent to the gallows for more than his crime—he was being condemned to death because of his behavior after his mother’s death. It was a trial against the protagonist’s character more than it was about his crime. As Camus puts it, “In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death…the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.”

The novel concludes with a breathtaking monologue that is equally true as it is tainted by choice. Faced with a chaplain attempting to salvage Mersault’s soul, our protagonist launches into an impassioned tirade about how nothing mattered, for everyone was privileged to live and be carried by the tides of fate, and everyone was equally condemned to face an end—whatever that end may be. With this statement we find Mersault taking command of his fate, for his death was merely the result of the choices he’s made. Choices that didn’t matter to the protagonist. It was simply the way his life unfolded.

Down to a personal review.

To be honest, I itch at the term ‘protagonist.’ For while it’s true that Mersault is the subject of the book, in many ways, his personality becomes the main deterrent against his freedom. But perhaps, that is the point of the whole novel. For if a man condemned to death feels that he is free, if he thinks that he is more free than the rest of the world which is shackled by societal norms and notions of convention, than are we in any position to deem him as limited, condemned, or even damned?

Here was one man who lived according to his terms, though his actions were deplorable, his thought processes, irrational. The point is that they were his, and no one else’s. With Mersault, remorse was an alien concept. He shunned introspection and worship (religion), simply because he had no time for them. To him, these were pointless activities, for what did it all matter in the end? How did such things figure into a man’s final moments?

Though I don’t subscribe to such a bleak outlook in life, I can respect Mersault’s views. I find the desire to be free, free as defined by the individual, to be completely human. Despite the character’s cold and detached nature, he was, purely and simply, a man exercising his right to exist as he saw fit.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in philosophy and existentialist and absurdist literature. Also, for a thinking piece, this one’s a surprisingly easy read that leaves you pondering the purpose of human existence.

As a parting note, here’s some trivia regarding Camus. Although he is now lauded as one of the most important existential writers, he actually rejected the idea of being thought of as an existentialist. He was very vocal about his criticism of this branch of philosophy. To Albert Camus, existentialists “deify what crushes them and find reason to hope in what impoverishes them. That forced hope is religious in all of them.

Verdict: A+

Thoughts on “Economy” by Henry David Thoreau

Walden

 

Title: Economy (from Walden)

Author: Henry David Thoreau

Genre: Non-Fiction, Essay, Philosophy, Memoir

First Published: 1854

 

Before starting the actual review, let me stress that this is just my thoughts on the first chapter of Henry David Thoreau’s acclaimed work, Walden. I find it necessary for us to have at least a brief overview of the main text; that way, we can have a fuller grasp of the reasonings behind the creation of this compelling piece of literature.

Now, Walden is essentially the byproduct of Henry David Thoreau’s ‘immersion’ in nature. For two years, two months, and two days, Thoreau decided to live apart from society and its stifling standards by erecting a cabin in the woods near Walden Pond—about two miles from his home. There, he sought to understand society and its workings by paring down life to its bare essentials. This act of ‘economizing’ life had tremendous impact on Thoreau and his views; and this shows, especially when the reader explores the philosophies introduced by the writer in this chapter.

These days, when we say economy, we often use it to refer to either the economic climate or conditions of a particular country or area, or to the prudent and efficient use of finite resources. In the chapter aptly titled: Economy, the reader is given both an accurate portrait of the economic mindset of early-to-mid nineteenth century America, and an extensive how-to on keeping one’s daily expenditures at the bare minimum.

Note that the previous paragraph reads: “an accurate portrait of an economic mindset,” and not an economic state. This is deliberate; because while Thoreau does touch on fiscal matters and household management, he focuses more on denouncing the notion of the common mode of living as being the only socially acceptable one. He recognizes the futility of laboring constantly to meet the living standards set by society; standards which are not so much suggested as they are levied on the common man’s head. This is a sentiment, which I still find relevant today. Let me qualify that statement by dissecting the text with you.

In Economy, Thoreau uses very strong pronouncements such as “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation… but it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things (p.11),” and “Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that is which determines or rather indicates his fate (p.10),” to illustrate what he thinks of man’s reasons for his laboring. Thoreau believes that man has begun to live according to lofty standards dictated, not by his personal nature, but by an external force which one can only surmise as the “popular opinion” of a society geared towards consumerist living. The following excerpt sums up the essence of the author’s beliefs regarding this particular mindset:

“When we consider what, to use the words of catechism, is the chief end of man, and what are the true necessaries and means of life, it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly think there is no choice left. But alert and healthy natures remember that the sun rose clear. It is never too late to give up our prejudices. (p.11)”

Thoreau urges the reader to reconsider this popular “meaning of life” by recognizing that “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life, are not only indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind,” further stating that “With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor (p.15).”

He explains these statements by pointing out that man, like most other animals, need only fuel, heat, and shelter to survive. To attain fuel, man eats—but he does not stop at eating to nourish, he feasts to taste. To retain heat, man covers himself with clothes—but he doesn’t wear clothes just to stay warm. He must wear the latest fashion, to rise in the esteem of his peers. And lastly, he doesn’t settle for whatever shelter can protect him from the elements, he must decorate his home, lest it be deemed unacceptable by his neighbors.

Now, let us explore each category, for I fear I do Thoreau no justice with such elementary summations. [My personal thoughts contained in brackets.]

On Fashion:

“No man has ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a patch in his clothes; yet I am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to have a sound conscience. (p.21)”

Though the statement may appear harsh, it must be understood that Thoreau’s views on fashion stemmed from his own experiences of having been prematurely judged based on his clothing or appearance. In Economy, he shared one such experience. While being measured for a new coat, Thoreau mused: “Of what use this measuring of me if she does not measure my character, but only the breadth of my shoulders, as it were a peg to hang a coat on?”

He offers the notion of freeing oneself from the pressures of fashion, to enjoy a certain liberty, as is enjoyed by “a man clad so simply that he can lay his hands on himself in the dark…that if an enemy take the town, he can, like the old philosopher, walk out the gate empty-handed without anxiety.” (p.23)

[Though this particular idea may seem extreme, it’s one that I feel quite strongly about. For how many of us have been judged unfairly by our appearance or outwardly garb?  Being a woman of a particular color and stature, I cannot count how many times I have been subject to once-overs or been given a different brand of service inside certain establishments. While vanity has always been a shortcoming of mine, I have always believed in personal choice and personal style. I have always believed that if a man was to be judged, it would be according to his character, not his costume.]

 

On Shelter:

“While civilization has been improving our houses, it has not equally improved the men who are to inhabit them. (p.30)”

In discussing the topic of shelter, Thoreau does not deny the necessity of having one, though he does make a case about how man has opted to rent “a larger and more luxurious box, (p.27)” when one of a simpler nature would suffice—such as the wigwams occupied by the Native Americans. The chapter discusses how the dwelling of the chief of a village offers little disparity when compared to the wigwams of his tribesmen; while in a ‘more civilized nation,’ less than half of the population can afford to own homes. People opt to pay annual tax to rent these luxurious boxes, ‘which would buy a village of wigwams, but now helps to keep them poor as long as they live. (p.28)”

He further illustrates this point through a poignant example of how a farmer tries to make a living using a “formula more complicated than the problem itself (p.30).” He speaks of how the farmer uses his skills ‘to catch comfort and independence,’ not knowing that he himself has been caught in his own trap.  Man thinks that by obtaining luxuries he can attain freedom from a life of strife, and yet he spends his entire life working hard to maintain what luxuries he’s got .As Thoreau puts it, “And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him. (p.30)”

 

On the Perpetual State of Discontent:

“Most men appear never to have considered what a house is, and are actually though needlessly poor all their lives because they think that they must have such a one as their neighbors have… Shall we always study to obtain more of these things, and not sometimes to be content with less? (p.32)”

In man’s pursuit for something greater, “Men have become the tools of their tools. (p.33)” That is the truth that Thoreau preaches throughout Economy. Man’s constant state of discontent propels him into action—but it is that very action that keeps him in a rat race that can only be broken by a change in perception. This feeling of dissatisfaction and the limitations it produces extends beyond the citizen’s private life.

“Nations are possessed with an insane ambition to perpetuate the memory of themselves by the amount of hammered stone they leave. What if equal pains were taken to smooth and polish their manners? One piece of good sense would be more memorable than a monument as high as the moon. (p.48)”

 

On the Practice of Philanthropy

“Philanthropy is almost the only virtue which is sufficiently appreciated by mankind. Nay, it is greatly overrated; and it is our selfishness which overrates it. (p.63)”

Thoreau offers an unconventional and somewhat unpopular view on the idea of charity. With staggering declarations like “As for Doing-good, that is one of the professions which are full. (p.60),” and “There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted. (p.61),” it is easy to misconstrue what the writer is trying to say. While he expressly states that philanthropy is an exercise that is not for him, he also explains that he would not stand in the way of genuine charity. He only asks that the intentions be pure and that the acts of charity be true. He believes that goodness should not be transitory or incomplete, rather, that the do-gooder would also spend himself alongside his money and would persevere even after public or private discouragements.

 

Verdict: All in all, Economy is a solid introduction to an extremely powerful piece of literary history. The persuasive and sound nature of Henry David Thoreau’s arguments guarantees his place as one of the greatest American writers and philosophers of all time.

Coping with Quarter-Life Crisis: The Importance of “ME time”.

Coffee Break

All too often, we get caught up in the stress of the everyday. Your to-do list keeps getting longer, as the hours for leisure become shorter. You’re spread too thin, and understandably, you’re starting to feel overwhelmed. At this point, every task feels insurmountable.

Here’s the thing—most people would probably tell you to keep your head down and soldier on. That usually works, until you’ve reached your breaking point. When you’re on the verge of a meltdown, soldiering on won’t do the trick. Trust me, you simply won’t have the focus to continue the task at hand. It’ll take you a while to claw your way out of an anxiety attack—and that ‘while’ may just be time that you don’t have.

If you’re like me and most other people, you don’t have the luxury of taking the next few days off to ‘recuperate’—in the spiritual sense, at least. Sick Leaves don’t cover soul maladies—they should, in my humble opinion, but preserving your mental health is hardly your company’s main priority. So instead of ‘nurturing’ or at least tolerating the presence of an impending meltdown, I’d say just prevent its onset.

One practice that has significantly lowered my stress levels in the last few months is this: I always set aside at least 15 minutes of “ME time” everyday. A little peace and quiet may not seem like much, but it’s actually a great way for you to ‘regroup’ in times of immense stress. It also feels incredibly nice to not have to think of anyone else. You know, to put yourself and your needs first, at least once a day.

It doesn’t matter what you do during your “ME time”, as long as you spend it quietly. Whether it’s having a quick cup of joe in the pantry or enjoying a hot bath, the objective is to find time to relax your mind and your body. Look at your “ME time” as a type of sanity break. You know, something that will keep the office meltdowns at bay.

As a general rule, I don’t like bringing work stress into my home life. So back when I still had an office job, I used to spend a lot of time in my car—not driving, just sitting in the dark, ignition turned off, and breathing. I’d close my eyes, and in my mind I was releasing whatever pent-up stress or ill feelings I’d accumulated at work.

I also see my bath time as ‘sacred.’ I love hot baths and long showers—simply because I get to be alone with my thoughts. Most of my ideas for poetry and prose come to me while I’m shampooing my hair or brushing my teeth. If you have more time in your hands, try meditating, praying, grounding, or chanting.

So, there you have it. “ME time” works wonders for me, hopefully, it’ll work for you too.

image: wikipedia.org

Book Review: I’m with the Band. Confessions of a Groupie – Pamela Des Barres

I'm with the Band - Pamela Des Barres

Title: I’m with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie

Author: Pamela Des Barres

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Music

First Published: 1987

Pages: 320

Status: Read

Here’s a small confession: I have been lusting after this particular book for almost ten years. After reading about her affair with the incomparable Jimmy Page, Pamela Des Barres (aka Miss Pamela) reached Rockstar status in my book. I scoured the World Wide Web for snippets of I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie. The odd few pages I found in forums and blogs had me oooh-ooh-ooh-ing over Des Barres’ relationships with music legends like Mr. Page, Robert Plant, Mick Jagger, Chris Hillman, Keith Moon, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and Gram Parsons.

So, when my sister handed me my own copy of I’m With the Band, I flipped through the first hundred pages in search of her love affair with Jimmy Page. Reading about her passionate encounters with the Rock God had me aching with envy. It was a sensory overload. I was seduced, and at the same time, set straight by Des Barres’ stories of the infamous 1960s-1970s rock scene.

In I’m With the Band, we follow the transformation of Pamela Ann Miller from small-town girl to the golden muse of some of Rock’s most formidable personalities. We read about how Miss Pamela, and her group—the GTOs, helped pave the way for girl groups and the new breed of baby groupies. The group, which was officially formed by Frank Zappa, went on to record an album called Permanent Damage in 1969. Though the album’s commercial success was limited, it was an admirable effort, which brought the spotlight to the fantastic women behind the rock movement. To me, these women showed the world what it means to really love music–to feel passion, awe, and reverence for those who produce stellar riffs and melodies.

In this book, we also learn more about the LA scene. We are made privy to the backstage secrets of some of the music industry’s biggest stars. Interspersing memories and personal anecdotes with journal entries, Miss Pamela takes us by the hand and guides us through the blossoming sense of awareness of the 1960s and the decadence and excess of the 1970s. Her delightfully candid and well-written memoir details the goings-on and the who’s who of one of the most important modern musical and spiritual revolutions in history.

To be honest, I don’t think I can rave enough about this book. Loved every Page—pun, v. much intended. The only bad thing about I’m With the Band is that it had to end.

Verdict: Highly recommended to ALL music lovers and closet groupies (like yours truly).

RATING: A+

February 11, 2013: Remembering Sylvia Plath

U1889231

 

Fifty years ago today, in the wee hours of the morning, Sylvia Plath brought bread and milk to her sleeping children. She opened their window and closed the door, carefully stuffing towels into the cracks—separating her children from her final, decisive act. She did the same with the kitchen door, carefully, methodically carrying out the operation with the same precision she used in choosing the words to flesh out her worn soul. The oven’s gas taps were turned on, a cloth was placed inside the oven. She laid her head onto the cloth and waited for death to claim her.

THAT is the image of Plath in pop culture. The brilliant poetess who died too soon, head in the oven and children bawling in the next room. THAT image continues to cast its massive shadow on Sylvia Plath’s (and consequently, Ted Hughes’s) exceptional works. It has become almost impossible to separate this tragedy from her poetry, and yet, it is this same tragedy that one must transcend to completely understand her genius. Sylvia Plath is often regarded as one of the most well-known Confessional Poets in the last century. And yet for many, she is simply the mad writer who stuck her head in the oven to die.

So while today may be Sylvia Plath’s 50th death anniversary, for me, I’ll use it to mark the start of my year of celebrating Plath. This year, I plan to go over her works and post poem analyses and reviews. I shall try to see each poem, short story, essay, or novel with a fresh and unbiased eye—hopefully, picking up a thing or two in the process. I end this post with a quote from Plath:

 

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” – from The Bell Jar

Quarter-Life Crisis: Does It Ever End?

Stolen shot while pondering my life choices.
Obviously pondering some of my life choices.

By definition, Quarter-Life Crisis is something you encounter right after you enter “the real world.” For most people, this existential dilemma pops up right after graduating from college. You know, when you’ve sent out enough resumes for your dream job, only to have zero callbacks. When this happens, the first and primary blow lands on your ego. The wallet may take a beating, but the ego tends to crumble. How is it that you’ve spent your entire life believing you were born to do something, only to get slapped with one rejection after another?

You end up settling for just any job that would pay the bills. You tell yourself, “It’s a pit stop.” Only, it’s a pit stop that lasts for years. You settle into the routine, immersing yourself in the everyday. Then, you wake up one day and ask yourself, “Is this really it?” You feel lost, scared, confused. Of course, these feelings go away temporarily through various types of therapies—counseling, meditation, yoga, retail therapy, music therapy, literature therapy, and my favorite, food therapy. But these tend to be band-aid solutions. That awful feeling of inadequacy creeps back when you least expect it—in the middle of a party filled with successful youngsters, while watching some news segment about some genius 17-year-old who just published her first book, and the list goes on.

So, is there really ever an end to Quarter-Life Crisis? Well, at 27, I’m still experiencing this personal crisis—BUT I find that as you learn more about yourself, as you find purpose in what you do, as you learn to appreciate what you have and become more open to experiences and other people’s views, this crisis becomes something infinitely smaller and more manageable.

There is an end to this crisis, but it’s one that comes with inner peace. You can’t measure its diminishment by years. You measure it through experience.

Until this journey ends, (and maybe mid-life crisis makes its unpleasant appearance), I’ll be adding another facet to this blog. Aside from book reviews, poem analyses, and featured authors, I’ll be posting about some of my thoughts and coping methods when it comes to Quarter-Life Crisis. Hopefully, it might help someone who’s going through something similar. Maybe make this journey together?

Note: By the way, my boyfriend suggested this as a good way to help me cope with whatever existential crisis I go through. I must say, writing is an excellent form of catharsis. As for the picture, it’s a good way to get rid of my shyness when it comes to “exposing” myself–mind off the gutter, please. 😉 I’ve always been ‘cyberworld shy.’

Free Verse: I Have Rebuilt A Mind.

 

I have rebuilt a mind.

I built it overnight.

I have torn off its foundation by hand,

One concrete slab at a time.

(To reveal the fertile soil of the unlearned mind.)

I have worked away at its pillars:

Outdated notions, antiquated philosophies

I have granted it new memories.

Knee-deep in rubble,

I have rediscovered its purity.

In the course of this renovation,

I have sunk lofty ceilings, ripped apart awnings;

I have stripped the walls bare

Of all thoughts and feelings. Until naked,

The house folds neat in a pile by my feet.

And when all that’s left is but empty land,

I plant in it the seed of faith

And introduce a weed called doubt.

I watch the two grow and intertwine,

To produce the purest, brightest mind.

By: Kristel Marie Pujanes (7/30/2012)

Image: A Cottage in a Cornfield. John Constable (1817)

Free Verse #1: Rest. For Eve

REST. FOR EVE.

By: Kristel Marie Pujanes

Into the garden I’ve gone to weep,

your grief, though appreciated

is temporary and weak. You

who have not known nakedness,

(your fineries, your firm flesh!)

can’t possibly know the permanence of despair.

I, on the other hand, speak it regularly.

It is my mother tongue—it is

the twin of my pulse that beats regret.

Here is your apple, Serpent,

Take it. I have no use for it.

Bring with it my memories, my poised potential.

You see, I have no taste for its wisdom,

its poison, its promises.

I reject it to be pure again—clean

like bone and porcelain.

As for you, God, hidden in the wings,

Here, take a rib—bring it to Adam

(an offering, a gift!)

Let it descend upon his mantelpiece,

a sorry show for guests and thieves.

They will crowd around it, of course.

Open their mouths, talk about it,

of course. Chew it like the third course.

Digest it, revel in it, and forget about it

Of course, of course.

Into the garden to shed my skin—

this coat is ruined, worn, and thin.

As the cool ground rises to meet my form,

To be one with earth, forevermore.

(5.19.2012)

 

NOTE: Written after a two-year hiatus from writing poetry.

IMAGE: Expulsion from the Garden of Eden by Masaccio (fresco from c. 1425)

Book #6: The Last Lecture – Randy Pausch

THE LAST LECTURE

Author: Randy Pausch, former professor of Computer Science and Human-Computer Interaction in Carnegie Mellon; The book was written with the help of author and journalist, Jeffrey Zaslow.

Genre: Non-Fiction

First Published: 2008

Status: Read

Pages: 224

Rating: A

“Enlightening and heartbreaking, The Last Lecture is Randy Pausch’s final attempt to leave a lasting legacy—46-years’ worth of life lessons squeezed into one lecture. In this book, Pausch inspires his readers to realize their dreams through living a life of integrity, hard work, gratitude, and fortitude.”

RANDY PAUSCH has made no secret of it—The Last Lecture wasn’t written for commercial purposes or for public consumption, it was written for his kids. The book was based on a 2007 lecture Pausch gave for Carnegie Mellon University. The lecture was called “The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”. It was a part of a series of lectures where top academics were asked to give ‘hypothetical last lectures’ and to share what was really important to them.

In Pausch’s case, there was nothing hypothetical about this final lecture. It was the last one he’d make in front of his students and colleagues—it was also the finest legacy he could ever leave to his family. The book starts off with Pausch ‘introducing the elephant in the room.’ In his words:

“I have an engineering problem. While for the most part I’m in terrific physical shape, I have ten tumors in my liver and I have only a few months left to live.”

Although pressed for time—time which his wife, Jai, believed he could spend with his family—Pausch insisted on doing the lecture. He believed that this was the best thing he could leave his children, a glimpse of who their father was. According to Pausch: “If I were a painter, I would have painted for them. If I were a musician, I would have composed music. But I am a lecturer. So I lectured.”

These straightforward, unflinching admissions set the tone for the rest of the book. Pausch doesn’t ask the reader to feel sorry for him; instead, he does the opposite. He tries to impart optimism to his readers by talking about the joy of living. Through his personal anecdotes, he encourages the reader to set achievable goals and to take pride in these achievements.

As a child, Pausch was a dreamer. There were a lot of things he wanted to do with his life. But what set him apart from other kids was how specific his life goals were. These dreams included: (1) being in zero gravity; (2) playing in the NFL; (3) writing an article for the World Book Encyclopedia; (4) becoming Captain Kirk; (5) winning a number of stuffed animals; and (6) becoming a Disney Imagineer. Out of all these dreams, the only one Pausch didn’t accomplish was to play for the NFL—everything else he got by working hard, working smart, and most importantly, having the right attitude.

Of course, he had a bit of help from his friends and family too. In the book, Pausch talks about winning the “parent lottery”. His parents helped shape his personality by encouraging him to dream but keeping his feet on the ground by teaching him the importance of humility. Throughout the book, he speaks of his parents with admiration and respect, but is also quick to point out the importance of compromise between the parents and the child.

Another important figure in Pausch’s life was his kiddie football coach, Jim Graham. Coach Graham could be hard on the kids, but to Pausch, that was the coach’s way of teaching the children the importance of perseverance and learning the fundamentals. Through the coach, Pausch learned more about giving and taking ‘head fakes’ or indirect learning.

Then there’s Pausch’s immediate family. Now, his children may have been the reason for the lecture, but it was his wife, Jai, who made the lecture possible. Falling in love with Jai changed Pausch. In a way, she softened him by balancing out his strong-willed nature with her own quiet strength and fortitude. Her strength also served as a comfort to Pausch, especially after learning about his terminal illness. In the lecture, Pausch speaks about being confident that his kids will grow up right because they have a strong and loving mother to guide them. The love Pausch felt for Jai is so palpable in this book. Just the way he speaks about her–the undertones of reverence and gratitude–it makes it impossible for anyone not to feel touched, hopeful, and a little heartbroken after reading about their story.

While reading this book, you can also tell right away that Pausch–though not perfect–was actually a really great man. Beyond working to achieve his dreams, he also strived to help others attain theirs. As a professor, Pausch didn’t just teach his students the subject matter, he inspired them to set goals, aim high, work hard, and most importantly, to help each other in achieving their dreams. Now, four years after his death, Pausch continues to inspire millions through this beautiful book.

All in all, I give this book an A. It’s the type of book that will motivate you to do something with your life. It’s honest, heartfelt, and touching.  The only thing that would make this book better is if Pausch and Zaslow expounded on some of the ideas more. Other than that, this book is the perfect read for anyone looking for a bit of guidance.

Favorite Quotes:

“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”

“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.”

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.””

“No job is beneath you.”

7 Books that Changed My Life

To quote James Bryce: “The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it.” To me, the following books are wellsprings of information. In them are endless lessons on writing, life, faith, love, and everything in between. I don’t think it’s possible to outgrow or get tired of any of these books.

So, without further ado (and in no particular order), the 7 books that changed my life: 

#1: Letters to A Young Poet by Rainier Maria Rilke

First Read: Freshman Year, College (2003)

Sylvia Plath’s “Mirror” might’ve gotten me started on poetry, but it was Rilke’s letters which brought out my passion in writing. This collection of letters from Rilke gives some of the most poignant and practical advice on becoming a writer. With every letter Rilke writes to the “young poet”, Franz Xaver Kappus, we’re also somewhat privy to the innermost musings of one of the most beloved literary figures of the 20th century.

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