Saturday, February 14, 2009

Up Shit Creek

Book: Up Shit Creek
Author: Joe Lindsay
Edition: 1997
Read: Sept 2008
80 pages
Rated: 1.5 out of 5

Sometimes a story sounds so good when told to a group of friends around the campfire. Most of the time, those stories are best left there, to be enjoyed in pleasant memory. Up Shit Creek is one of those books, best left at the campfire, or probably in the campfire after reading part of it.

The basic line is that when you are out rafting, everything you bring in, must come out. Hence the need for a groover-a bucket to do your stuff in. The name groover comes from the grooves the unit leaves on the legs when it gets used.

As you can imagine, this book talks about the mishaps which occur on rafting trips, usually to the guides. One or two stories, you chuckle. After that, its repetitive. Hence, the book holds your attention for lets say, 10 minutes. Enough said.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Book: The Art of Racing in the Rain
Author: Garth Stein
Edition: 1st, Hardback
Read: January 2009
321 pages
Rated: 3½ out of 5

With a title like this one, you know racing will be a continual metaphor for life throughout this book. On the whole, there is a lot to like in this story.

Which brings me to the story line. Denny is a race car driver who earns money to pay the bills by working at a BMW dealer’s part department. He marries Eve who gives birth to a daughter named Zoe. Oh yeah, there is Enzo, the story teller/narrator, the dog. So the story is being told from a dog’s perspective. Eve has brain cancer and dies. Eve’s parents tries to force Denny to let them take care of Zoe. He won’t. They try to frame a child molestation charge on him. He fights it for five years and wins, getting back his daughter and the chance to race for Ferrari. At that point, the story is complete and Enzo dies.

  • - Stein portrays things in a very Zen like way. In some ways, Stein uses phrases which sound pretty significant but which I do not find hold much water (pun intended).
  • - Because he is making race car driving a metaphor, he may be saying things he really did not have completely thought through—so they tend to be contradictory to other things in the book.
  • - Ch 3, pg 13 – Stein says that memory is time folding back on itself. This sounds like nonsense to me. What does it mean? This is similar to a comment which C.W.E. Bigsby says about Arthur Miller’s work that it deals with the need to remember else we will have the tragedies such as the holocaust come back on us.
  • - But then Stein makes a statement that to remember is to disengage from the present. This is something which you can think a bit about. Is to remember to forget the present? To put context into this, Stein is talking about a race car driver should only look at what is coming up, and cannot think about what just happened.
  • - In another place, ch 8 pg 41, Stein talks about needing to possess a situation. If you are reacting to it, you should be afraid. Sounds very much Ayn Randish—taking complete charge of your destiny. I guess in a closed environment that is possible, but I am not sure in life you can. So such statements lead to hopelessness.
  • - Ch 16, pg 91. Any problems you face is ultimately caused by you. In reality most of the book talks about problems inflected by life on the hero—wife who gets sick and dies; in-laws who trump up false charges,… So the statement about being responsible is only half right—you are responsible for your actions, but not all of your problems are caused by you. He continues on with this theme in ch 58, page 314. The art of racing in the rain is about the mind. About owning the body. About being responsible. That is Stein’s philosophy. Seize one’s own destiny. Not being in the hands of the merciful.
  • - Ch 25. Stein sets a picture which is interesting of a time which Denny goes on a winter vacation with Eve’s relatives up in the mountains. Enzo the dog notes that there was a sense of lawlessness which pervaded the house. The interesting thing to me is the need to have order to do things right. Not only does the atmosphere affect those who may be oriented towards who are evil, but it allows us all to say what it matters if I let down my morals. This is a lesson to us not to get into places which will allow compromising ourselves.
  • - Ch 26, pg 149-Eve continued with the inexorable process of dying. Stein is setting up the family life. He then puts in this statement. Aren’t we all in the process of dying? But this by itself is such a horrible statement. We should also include, we are also in the business of living. The two in tandem gives us perspective—we are not eternal in our current life. But we can live and live wonderfully. The last stages of life, or the final stages of dying—are part of the continuum. One is needed for the other. What we pass into is related to what we are living.
  • - Ch 26, pg 155—One more lap cries Enzo as they race around the track. Contrast this with Lewis saying we should taste the fruit only once.
  • - Ch 26, pg 156-Living your reference points, not seeing them. Are we observers or involved? When we live we not only see, but feel, smell, sense. We are all there.
  • - Ch 34, pg 198—Interesting question about being alone is not the same as being lonely. The hermit is alone but not lonely. While we all know of times we are in crowd and feel there is no one there for us.
  • - Ch 58, pg 310. Talks about the will to die as well as the will to live. I suppose there is a time which when our life is working towards a finale, that we need to prepare ourselves. I would not call it a will to die. But as a time of reconciliation to the life I lived. A time to remember, a time to understand, a time to let go and pass on.

My estimation of this book is that it is not bad. Stein can tell a good story. But the storytelling is not “magic”—it is entertaining. Will people be reading this book in ten years? Probably not. Does the book reveal something about myself? 

The world around me? Things of importance to me? Not much.

Still it is an enjoyable book. One which I do not regret spending time reading.

Good Quotes:
  • - To remember is to disengage from the present. Pg 13
  • - The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles. Pg 135
  • - Racing is about discipline and intelligence, not about who has the heavier foot. The one who drives smart will always win in the end. Pg 178
  • - The race is long—to finish first, first you must finish. Pg 206
  • - People are always worried about what’s happening next. They often find it difficult to stand still, to occupy the now without worrying about the future. People are not generally satisfied with what they have; they are very concerned with what they are going to have. Pg 188
  • - …being alone is not the same as being lonely. Pg 198
  • - There is no dishonor in losing the race. There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose. Pg 277.