Thursday, June 28, 2012

Zombie Candy (An Annie Ogden Mystery)

Title of the Book: Zombie Candy (An Annie Ogden Mystery)
Author's blog: Frederick Lee Brooke
Author's page on GoodReads
Available on: Amazon (in print and Kindle) and on other similar sites

Extract of the gist on GoodReads:
You know early on, from the color of the inappropriate bra in the opening scene, that Zombie Candy is going to be a black comedy. Most people could sympathize with the male obsession for sex and zombie movies, but who would put up with a husband who covered every dish with cilantro? Frederick Lee Brooke serves up another literary treat with this bizarre and comical tale of love and betrayal. Candace Roach enlists her best friend Annie Ogden (our favorite sleuth from Doing Max Vinyl) to find out what her husband is really up to on his weekly business trips – but their home-cooked aversion therapy gets out of hand and hurtles along an astonishing highway of the undead.....
But with each shocking discovery in the investigation of her husband, the friendship between Candace and Annie is further put to the test. Candace ultimately takes matters into her own hands and, in an elaborate ruse, stages a nightmarish zombie drama in which her husband plays the starring role.
Weaving elements of mystery, horror and romance in a story that starts in Chicago and ends in a quaint medieval town in sun-drenched Tuscany, Zombie Candy transcends any single genre. Embark on a journey that will tickle your taste buds as it wakes up your funny bone.(less)

My views:

Those who know me, are well aware that I hate horror stories and stay well away from books written by Edgar Alan Poe or Stephen King. But I knew this book was not just a mindless book on Zombies and I enjoyed reading it. The Zombie theme did run across the book and how, but the book was about human emotions and interplay between people - be it Larry (the splitting image of Russel Crowe) who cheats on his wife Candace, or that between Candace and her best friend Annie, who after being a war veteran in Iraq has just got her private investigator license or the unique friendship (a platonic one) that developed between Larry and Roberta, who he once wanted to jump in bed with.

Larry is addicted to sex and to zombie movies and has since long stopped caring for his wife. His utter disregard for her, is aptly captured through his actions such as sprinkling heaps of chopped cilantro on her gourmet meals - thereby drowning their very flavours, pinching her midriff - even as she is sensitive about being called fat (thanks largely to her need to get over her depression of a failing marriage by binging, and her gourmet cooking classes). The novel opens up with Candace finding an itsy bitsy black bra in Larry's suitcase - it certainly doesn't belong to her. There is a showdown, just as the couple, Annie, Annie's sister and husband are sitting down for a meal lovingly prepared by Candace. Annie reluctantly takes up the task of unearthing more skeletons in Larry's cupboard with her former instructor, Salvatore. Well, Larry falls for each and every bait thrown in his wake, perhaps with the sole exception of Roberta who becomes his close confidant. His infidelity opens up old wounds and the going is tough not just for Candace but also for Annie -- but their friendship continues to be strong.

Candace has enough evidence on her hand to get a divorce, but she wants revenge and it does not stop at her scratching Larry's car or even shooting him (her aim isn't that good anyway, she is a beginner). She uses his fantasy of Zombies to get back at him and how!

Like any other person, going through a bad marriage, Candace begins by despising herself, she then feels helpless, this is followed by anger -- the entire gamut of emotions that she goes through are captured well in this book. When Candace buys a gun, I go "Oh, no!, she will kill Larry and this will be the end of it." But the author has some fantastic ideas in store when it comes to Candace taking revenge.

The 'revenge-plot', if I may term it as such, is set in the quaint fictional Italian town of Monte Chianti in Tuscany. Candace becomes quite the icon for the village belles, who help her take revenge and learn never again will take things lying down, at least not from a cheating husband! I shall not add spoilers by saying how the book ends, believe me you, there are many unexpected twists and turns. I loved the setting of Monte Chianti, the importance of 'family' to Italians was well brought out.

While reviewing books of most Indie authors, one tends to come across a typo or two or a few grammatical errors that has been overlooked. This book was flawless (guess one can attribute this to one of Fred's past occupations as a teacher -- see brief bio below) and is exceedingly well written. Both the story and the language made it a page turner. I read it at one go.

A big bonanza are Candace's recipes which are available at the end of the book. I can't wait to try out Eggplant Cutlets with Spicy Red Pepper and Yoghurt sauce (Eggplant with Youghurt are basic ingredients of an Indian recipe called Baigan Ka Bharta). But just like the book, this recipe promises to be different and interesting. I say yes, to cilantro (just a sprinkling of it, unlike Larry's habit of drowning out the flavours of a meal with cilantro) but I also say a big YES to this book.

One cannot really classify this book into any genre, it is a blend of chick-lit, mystery, has a sprinkling of horror, lots of dark comedy, capturing of human emotions, all very cleverly blended together and dished up to make it a good read.

Frederick Lee Brooke gamely agreed to answer a few questions.

1) I recall reading somewhere that you just celebrated your first anniversary of giving up your day job to become a full time writer. Could you share with other writers your experiences of giving up this 'security' to plunge into the big bad world of writing?

Somehow I managed to write my first book, Doing Max Vinyl, over a period of almost three years while working full-time and as an active father and family member. Finishing that book was a wonderfully fulfilling and satisfying experience, which gave me the confidence to say to myself, "You can write books. You just have to focus on it." So finishing Doing Max Vinyl, and of course the very positive reception it got, gave me the courage to quit my full-time job. I believe people have the right to reinvent themselves in this life, and so in a sense I am only asserting my rights. Now that my second book has come out, Zombie Candy, I feel even more certain that I made the right choice.

2) Coming to the book, Tuscany provided just the right setting, but what made you choose this quaint Italian town?

They say you should write about what you know, and although I am not Italian I have had the pleasure of visiting the country something like forty or fifty times. I live in Switzerland, which shares a border with Italy, and I do speak the language, too. So on our many trips there, I gradually soaked up the beauty of the landscapes and the culture in several real towns in Italy. The fictional village of Monte Chianti in Zombie Candy is an amalgamation of several little towns or villages. Due to several twists and turns in the plot, this seemed to be the perfect place for the action in the second half of the book.

3) Each character in your book is so well thought out, who is your favourite character in this book, and why?

That would have to be Annie Ogden. The true mysteries of Annie have eluded me until now. She tantalizes me. She is flawed in her own special ways but she is also the most balanced of the characters; she has her feet squarely on the ground. I love the other characters, too, but they are each quite bizarre in their own unique way. Annie is a person I want to get to know better, and spend time with.

4) Zombie Candy- An Annie Ogden Mystery is your second book. Tell us something about your first book, 'Doing Max Vinyl', which first introduced Annie Ogden. What's next for Annie?

In my first book, Doing Max Vinyl, Annie has just arrived home from the war, and her mind is damaged. She discovers that things like surveillance and violence have a calming effect on her, and she also has a strong sense of right and wrong that doesn't seem to fit in with people back home. So in Doing Max Vinyl, Annie is on a journey of discovery. But that book covers a span of just five days, so her voyage of discovery is cut short just as it's getting started.

In Zombie Candy, Annie's voyage of discovery continues as new revelations about her past come to light. You could say Annie makes progress in this book, and it covers a longer period in her life, almost a month. But Zombie Candy is really her friend Candace's story more than Annie's, so we will have to wait for the third book in the series to really get to the bottom of Annie's psyche. In the third book Annie plays a starring role, and I think her fans will feel satisfied.

5) I love the dedication to your parents in this book, 'thank you for making me a reader' as a child who was your favourite author? Who is your current favourite author/s? Do you draw inspiration from your favourite authors?

As a child I loved Richard Scarry's Busy, Busy World books. Then later books like The Cay, The Pushcart War, The Mouse and the Motorcycle kept me reading. My kids have grown up with Harry Potter books; I read quite a few Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books. Majoring in English in college gave me an excuse to read all sorts of classics, from Tolstoy and Proust and Beckett and Joyce to Dickens and Thomas Pynchon.

I take inspiration from any good book I read, and I like to read all different genres. Recently I read Treasure Me, by Christine Nolfi, a beautiful story of redemption in small-town America, with elements of Civil War history and romance thrown in. I am a great fan of Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl With the Pearl Earring, and Marina Lewicka, author of Two Caravans.

6) Tell us a bit about your love for cooking and your favourite dish. While visiting Kerala, South India, on a short trip, which dish did you really love?

We were in Kerala many years ago, staying with friends at their house. I still remember perfectly the papadams we had for breakfast, a feathery-light sort of biscuit made from chick-pea flour, which we ate with different jellies and chutneys and yogurt. Also we had palak paneer, a spinach dish with paneer, a kind of very mild cheese (or curdled milk).

I could eat Indian food every day because it is so wonderfully various and tasty, and I am a vegetarian. My own curries are a sad imitation of the food we get here in the many Indian restaurants in Basel. I also like to cook Italian and American recipes. For me it's therapeutic to chop up onions and garlic and other vegetables and start simmering or frying them. What could be more fun than that?

Thank you very much for the interview!

Thanks Fred for the book and the interview.

Author's Bio: Born and raised in the Chicago area, Frederick Lee Brooke graduated from Amherst College and studied writing at the University of Montana. He has worked as an English teacher, language school manager and small business owner. Having lived in Germany, France and Switzerland, he has also travelled extensively in Tuscany, the setting of part of Zombie Candy. The first book in the Annie Ogden series, Doing Max Vinyl, appeared in 2011 to wide acclaim.

Source of the Photograph: Downloaded from Flickr and used as per the terms of the Creative Commons License.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Blueprint: Averting Global Collapse

The Blueprint - Averting Global Collapse
Author's website: Daniel Rirdan (It also contains links to Amazon and other sites, where you can order the book from)

When Daniel approached me for a book review, owing to many prior book review commitments and a very hectic schedule, I had to say no. At the same time, I was well aware that the issues he is speaking about in this book, are crucial. If we don't take steps today, there will be no tomorrow.

After having read the extract available for download from his website and a peek that Amazon offers into some pages, I decided to quiz him instead (I never interview authors without having read their book - the book review and interview go hand in hand) Only this time, I made an exception. After all the message contained in the book was important and I did not want to imitate our weather, ie: Delay of the monsoon season and delay the insights that I could share via my blog.

This is what Amazon showed me as a peek preview: Some studies indicate that with a carefully controlled, economical irrigation regimen, it is possible to reach about 80% water savings. This one straightforward measure can cut our water consumption like nothing else. With the use of subsurface drip irrigation we can save perhaps 1,000 billion cubic meters of water every year if we postulate 35%–40% water savings.66 If you take this 1,000 billion cubic meters and use it to fill five glasses of water daily for every one of the billion inhabitants of Africa and also for every one of the billion inhabitants of India, you could keep doing this, year in, year out, for about eight hundred years.It does take some doing to bring about a water crisis aboard a water planet and have the leading cause be the indiscriminate flooding of a field instead of the utilization of a piece of plastic with little watering holes.

My country India is largely dependent on the monsoons, since there seem to be some delays this year, we are anxiously watching the skies, hoping that grey clouds will form and burst and rejuvenate earth and our economy. I do hope we are better able to spread the use of drip irrigation which would be a boon in our country.

Here is the interview with Daniel and I do hope someday soon to read and review the book.

1) Tell me something about yourself and what prompted you to write the book: The Blue Print - Averting Global Collapse.

I could have told you what I've studied or did in the past, but in the end, the most meaningful answer I can give is this: "I am the man who wrote The Blueprint." The two-years writing journey I have undertaken transformed me, and I must say, aged me--both matured and wore me out. You cannot wake up every morning with the burden of the world on your shoulders and not be changed. And the only way to have written that book was to assume the role I took on: like the fate of the world rests with me, like this is my responsibility. I had to mean it to care. I had to care in order to go the extra mile needed to produce viable, highly detailed plans that are devoid of sentiments. Why did I write it? I identified what is the most important thing I could do, and then went ahead and did it.

2) Shortage of water is an issue that not only developing countries like India are grappling with, but also countries like the USA. How do you propose countries could resolve this problem? What could be the possibilities that India could look at?

Let's get something out of the way first. No viable technological solutions, such as the ones I am about the outline, are possible within the existing economic and political framework--had they been, you would have noticed it by now. I do urge and offer a concrete plan for a total makeover of our political and economic paradigms, which is a topic all of its own. Thus, in my answer I will suspend, set aside, the accompanying economic and political issues and present in broad brushstrokes the technological solution. My plan is the desalination of the ocean water coupled with a system of canals pumping the water inland and then using the existing network of rivers to get the water where it needs to go throughout the land. This can take care of all our water needs--in perpetuity. Let's talk numbers. Very generously, I reckon 10 kWh to desalinate 1 cubic meter of water. Based on the existing Arizona Central Project, I reckon 1.48 kWh to move one cubic meter of water 500 kilometers and lift it about 1,000 meter high (assuming the terrain is slowly going uphill). To provide for all the water needs of USA would take 678 TWh a year. This last number can give you a reference point for the electricity required to desalinate water in other regions of the world. As a secondary point my plan calls for the wholesale switch from the existing irrigation practices to sub-surface drip irrigation--which uses drip lines buried underground that release small amounts of water into the plant root zone. With them it is possible to reach 80% water saving. Given that irrigation accounts for the vast majority of water consumption, the importance of switching to sub-surface drip irrigation this cannot be overstated.

3) You mention about nature restoration and bringing back the wilderness, but with a need for space, especially in countries like India or China how can this be attained?

China's eastern seaboard is heavily populated and obviously cannot be re-wilded. However, its western regions, are fairly sparse and thus are viable candidates. Second point, for many reasons we have to bring down our collective numbers. It is another topic all of its own, but when you end up within 150 years with 15% of the existing population numbers, you have a lot more space for restoring the biosphere, which is currently teetering on the edge of collapse. And another relevant point yet-- I call on a right of passage, residence, and work for everyone everywhere (implemented in stages, over a fifteen years period). For one, this means that some of the one billion people crowded in the Indian Subcontinent may choose to move elsewhere, reducing ecological stress, making it possible to restore some of the local ecosystems.

4) Why hasn't solar power become as popular as it ought to have? What is hindering its spread? After all the nuclear disaster in Japan has made many countries wary of the use of Nuclear power.

You have to ask yourself what is the driving force of the economy and politics--which explains, as a matter of course, everything that happens and doesn't happen. This aside, solar panels don't make much sense by themselves--as they are intermittent and provide only daytime power. Furthermore, there is no vision, master plan and mandate to orchestrate a unified power grid that would provide the needs of an entire continent. Each agency, each utility company has a tunnel vision. With this very localized view, what sense is there to put solar panels in the middle of the desert, when there is no agency capable of constructing long distance power lines reaching the population centers? Finally, no decision maker--at least in his professional capacity--cares about tomorrow. Today, fossil fuels can be cheaply extracted and burned to make electricity. So why go with a more expensive technology? And as for tomorrow? Well, let tomorrow take care of itself. This has been our way of thinking.

5) Are you optimistic that we can undo, even if partially, the damage that we have done to Mother Earth?

Not with the existing state of mind. We are too preoccupied with trivia to affect the needed changes; we are too wedded to the existing social paradigm to affect a transformation. The means our at hand, though; we can undo much of the damage. And I will only say that much: historically, we have mobilized ourselves and have shown great spirit of sacrifice and courage under crisis. Give people hope, show them a concrete, viable plan and even for half a chance of success, they will jump upon it with both feet. No, not everyone. But a determined, inspired minority can steer humanity away from the brink of ecological collapse.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Duffy Barkley Seek Well (Book 2)

Book: Duffy Barkley Seek Well Tales of Uhrlin Book 2

Author: Dixie Goode
Available on Amazon and other sites

I had read and loved the the first book in this series, viz: Duffy Barkley is not a Dog. Thus, when Dixie kindly offered to send me the second book in this series, viz: Duffy Barkley Seeks Well, more as a gift rather than for review, how could I resist?

You can see my review of the previous book by clicking here.

Considering that this book is equally amazing, I just had to review it and share my views.

"Duffy Barkley, the protagonist of Duffy Barkley Is Not a Dog, has returned in the sequel, Duffy Barkley: Seek Well. Now 11 years old, he cannot remember the events that happened the first time that he was in Uhrlin, or a time when his Cerebral palsy was cured, or when he flew. But those memories are breaking through and Uhrlin remembers him and is calling him back. He can't remember why he is fascinated by Guatemala, or anything about a giant, bald, orca colored mer-woman with the voice of an angel. But he has to seek her". Well this is a good enough teaser for any fan of Duffy Barkley!

Dixie Goode has worked with children and obviously knows them and loves them, this reflects in her books. Middle graders (Age group 10 to 14) will love reading this book. Even adults can enjoy and read it from a different perspective.

The book unfolds with Duffy, behaving like a typical adolescent, even as he loves his parents and little sister Izzy, he is more argumentative – even as he himself doesn’t know why. Duffy also sponsors a child Noe, in Guatemala, the land where Milee whom he met in the alternate world Uhrlin grew up. He has a sudden desire to visit this nation and luckily for him, his parents agree to have their family summer holiday there.

The sights, sounds and smells of Guatemala are vividly described in this book. But, things cannot remain ‘normal’ for Duffy, for long. Suddenly, he finds himself riding on the back of the great turtle and he is transported back into Uhrlin.
Only this time, he remembers his past adventure in Uhrlin and how having given the last healing berry to Smelter he is once again unable to walk. Yet, the River of Time helped him to undo the past and Skull, once his tormentor is now his best friend. In Uhrlin, he meets all his old friends.

He meets Ahee, Whee-Oh, Sea-Bee, Smelter, Mailee, the Flowstones, Tricky and his pal Diana, Little White Cloud the buffalo, Boo and Boo’s new found baby – Fred, whom they all think is a baby dragon, but who turns out to be a sea-monster. Fred, of course has imprinted Boo to be his “Daddy” and thinks himself to be a little fur ball, despite his gigantic size and he keeps growing!

Sadly, Glori the Mer-woman is alleged to be a traitor. It appears that she has sold a map which pinpoints the directions to Princess Sea-Bee’s whereabouts. Duffy’s mission is to find her. He is told to seek her, but to seek well!

As in real life, all is not as it appears to seem. Both Duffy and Sea-Bee are steadfast in their belief that Glori is loyal and would do no wrong. Perhaps there is more than meets the eye. Even as the Pyramids tell Myskva and the others what seems like a different story. While they are on this quest, Icebird, captures Duffy and tells him to go slow in his search for Glori. Unfortunately, Icebird can say no more.

Duffy knows his belief in Glori is true. When Glori is captured the real story spills out, she was trying to protect the islands and Sea-Bee. When the Tree of Life was injured and began to tip, before Smelter could undo the damage he had caused, there crept into the gap, Cailleagh, who has awesome creative energy. She always varies in age. While trying to heal the Tree of Life, her creative energy saps and she begins to grow old and senile. An evil force has also followed her through this gap. It is Glori’s task to protect Cailleagh till she becomes coherent and normal again. It is up to Duffy to ensure the evil force, who is attracted to creativity (the opposite of creativity is chaos and we know that opposites do attract), is banished out of Uhrlin and the Tree of Life is balanced again. This he does so, with the help of all his friends. When a triumphant Duffy returns to Guatemala, this time, he continues to carry with him the memories of Uhrlin.

The entire story is delightful, packed with lively characters and deep messages. Duffy’s unshakeable belief in Glori is a delight to behold. Life is complex, sometimes it is not possible for us to understand why someone whom we love and trust is behaving in a peculiar manner.

Duffy’s meeting with Ivor, was what I liked best. Like Duffy, I too love Ivor. He is a wise soul. If you recall the previous story, Aunt Peg gave Duffy a medallion, the same medallion which was at the bottom of the chest, where Duffy landed spiralling him for the first time into the alternate world of Uhrlin.

On this medallion Duffy saw Ivor as a white flying Tiger, but Aunt Peg (who had also visited and is fondly remember in Uhrlin) saw him as a strong water buffalo.
When Duffy questions Ivor about this, Ivor replies: “I gave you a chance to see all the potential you carried within you, reflected in the part of me you saw”. So Duffy, then a weak, clumsy boy who could barely walk, saw the traits of strength, warmth and courage, reflected in the image of a white flying Tiger.

Aunt Peg, on the other hand, had to work tirelessly on the farm. She needed to experience a strength that would keep her going steadily and undaunted even as farm life was tough. The Water Buffalo symbolised strength and hard work.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have Ivor as a friend, who would be able to tell us our true potential? Look around. Your best friend, or family member may be your Ivor. Or if not, look deep within yourself, you will realise your true potential. Never let self-doubt get into the way.

Now, if I try and visualise what I would see in the medallion, I see myself as curious, intelligent, sensitive, creative (I love to write), kind, freedom loving, reliable (Of course, I have negative traits as well, but let us for now, stick to the nice ones). What is that I see looking back at me? It seems to be a cross between a freedom loving horse and an intelligent creative raven.

Imagine holding that very medallion. Now, look deep within yourself and tell me, what do you see?

Source of the photograph: Downloaded from Flickr and used as per the terms of the Creative Commons License.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

This Mobius Strip of Ifs (Part 2 of the Book Review)

This Mobius Strip of Ifs


I’ve reviewed part of the book earlier. You may click here for the previous post.

There are two reasons for splitting the book review. One, the book was too complex, at least for me, to digest in one quick read. I had to read the first part of the book again. The second and third part of the book, were different, even if connected by fine threads to the first part.

The second part of the book began on a new note, in which the author’s admiration for literature and films came shining through. Unfortunately, there is a generation gap, between the author and myself. I haven’t had a chance to read all of the authors he admires nor watch all the films he mentioned (and perhaps I will not follow all his recommendations). His essays in this sphere, included those on : Buster Keaton, Orson Welles…His insights into the film – La Dolce Vita was interesting and one sentence stood out: The movie was complex to my mind. I didn’t get it, nor did I understand that Fellini was education us in how to see without a straight narrative (this quite reminded me of the book itself – This Mobius Strip of Ifs). The author’s essay on Kazantzakis is what I liked best. We do have a choice to reach for what we can, or reach for what we cannot – and the latter makes our life much richer and as the author adds, also dearer. The essay, ‘Camera as remembrances of things past’ now only portrays the value of memories captured for eternity, but hints of the changing times.

It is in the last part of the book that one gets to see the sensitive side of the author. He talks about the pangs which a parent feels when his child first steps into school, the evolving role of a father as his daughter begins to grow, the courage of one of his daughters who was suffering from Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfuction Syndrome and the emptiness he felt when she committed suicide. One of the essays is titled: I really don’t know me and I really don’t know you. This can be said of the book itself, the nuggets of wisdom have to be dug out patiently, decoded and understood, because else they seem to be lost in the outpouring words and yes, the unheard scream.

To sum it up: This book is not everyone's cup of tea. When I first began to read it, I struggled as a reader. On hindsight, I do not regret committing to reviewing it and to reading it.

Now, for the interview with Mathias B. Freese, recent winner of the National Indie Excellence Awards in the Non-fiction category:

1. If you could rewrite this book, what would you change, if at all?

I have read and re-read the book several times over in search of what I feel are the latent as opposed to the manifest themes. At moments I am blind to what others, such as yourself, have discerned and detected in the book. As I have said in the book we are often blind to ourselves.

What concerns me the most is my “failure” to spot poor phrasing or awkward sentences. I will rewrite and revise some sentences at the end of the year so as to make the book better written, more felicitous. That said, I would not change anything at all. The book stands as it is.

2. You have quoted many authors, who is your favourite and why?

Kazantzakis appeals to me the most for the passion he includes in his writing, for his descriptive powers, for the organic simplicity of his writing which often carries the most profound sentiments one can imagine. Above all, he makes you feel! I struggle all the time to have the reader feel, but Kazantzakis is at the top of the mountain and I am miles away.

3. One of the things that the book, in the first part, reflects deeply upon is the need to be ‘free’. This is also reflected in the other sections of the book. How are you progressing in your endeavor to be free and what does being free truly mean to you?

I really feel that these two questions should be returned to the questioner. For me to be free is to be psychologically free, free of culture, religion and society, of friends and family. I believe the task of each of us is to de-condition ourselves of the rust that grows all over our minds. Often we come to die not knowing that we are slaves of systems and religions and of others. Eastern thought, as I see it, deals with this issue, although it ties itself up in knots just as thorny as religious dogma and doctrine. I read Krishnamurti because he abhors conditioning, questions each of us to question ourselves and refuses to offer the balm of answers. He takes no prisoners and detests disciples.

4.What attracted you to Krishnamurthi’s teachings? Did it help you deal with your struggles in life?

Presently I am reading Krishnamurti’s last book, Krishnamurti to Himself ,which he dictated into a tape recorder before his death in 1985. He must be read closely, carefully and one must be aware; you cannot sweep through pages of his thinking, for you will come away with nothing but a blur. I was attracted to his teachings by his brilliance, his refusal to give answers, his posing better questions of myself that I had difficulty phrasing. He was new, he was refreshing and he stunned the intellect. In the past year I wrote a manuscript about my three decades of reading him and how I had to disenthrall myself from him as he can become a very powerful presence in one’s mind. He has made me see.

5. During your tenure as a teacher how did you try and change the system? You seemed to have skimmed the surface when describing such incidents. As you look back, what can you be proud of trying to change?

I am being feisty now. I had three essays about my experience as a teacher and other random comments are strewn throughout the book. The book, if we wish to narrow its scope, is about education in all areas of life, not just the suffocating dreariness of schools and their systems.

I am most proud if that is the word of working on myself.

I believe people get into a mind set about change. Change to what? Often reform is just a change from one glove size to another. Often revolutions are followed by counter-revolutions and the poor schnook in the street is worse off than ever – French and Russian Revolutions, etc. Look at the so-called Arab spring and Egypt in particular. Since I began teaching in 1962-63 there have been “reforms” galore and the American school system is as decrepit as ever. The system will not abide change for it changes the system. Notice the language we use. School system (?) with all the defects of systems anywhere. You may not like my “answer,” but here it is: change yourself and others might be affected by that. I expect nothing from change as we know it and how we go about practicing it.

I am so terribly weary of the injunction to change the system if you don’t like it when that person, he or she, has never changed a whit in his or her own life.

6. Did writing the book help you come to a closure on many issues that were haunting you – such as the relationship with your mother? Have you found peace?

Closure is a societal myth, a fabrication without meaning. When you are stricken by death in your family, you never forget it and you never get “over” it for as long as you live. If you do, then I argue you have a very dull sensibility. As to peace, why would anyone want peace? That is an abstraction that I cannot accept. It sounds as if one comes to dead stop on an ocean liner.

As to my relationship to my mother, isn’t that a private issue for me to wax and wane over? I can share that I am in no way immobilized by my past relationship with her nor that I am haunted like some character in one of Poe’s fever dreams.

I argue irascibly that to find peace is to be dead in life. Your genes demand better of you.

7. Why isn’t there any instance of a joyous moment reflected in your book? True life is a struggle, but life is also a roller coaster ride, there are highs and there are lows. Most people seem to have let you down in life. Are your expectations from others too high, even as you say, Overdraw me Lord and who cares if I break.

I can only say you missed them, memories of my wife, interactions with my son, essays about my daughter at 11 and my son at 5. If you review my talk about the Holocaust I specifically tell the audience how I deal with that horror in myself; that I do have joy in life, that I am very much alive. Why does the reader assume that if the writer speaks of dark things in darker ways he is an inch away from throwing himself off a bridge? My essays on filmmakers and on the books and films I’ve seen reveal, at least to me, my pleasure in all these things. One famous historian of the Holocaust had his sister embroider throw pillows with such sentiments as “Life is good,” “Smell the flowers,” et al and gave them to her brother to assuage what she felt was his pain. He disabused her of that notion that he was depressed and all that by telling her this was his life’s work, to understand, to learn and to gain insight into the Holocaust. I subscribe to his thinking.

8. Since I prefer to look at the silver lining, instead of the dark cloud, I’d like to end my interview by asking: What has been your most joyful memory?

Marrying my deceased wife, Rochelle.

Note: This book was sent to me by the author for the purpose of review.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

This Mobius Strip of Ifs (Part 1 of the Book Review)

Title of the Book: This Mobius Strip of Ifs
Author's webpage: Mathias B. Freese

Author's own review of his book
Available on Amazon, etc

In his query requesting review of the book, Mathias Freese said: 'This Möbius Strip of Ifs', is a new book of essays and memoirs written over four decades, a kind of Bilsdungroman of my psychological life as a writer, psychotherapist, spiritual seeker, and teacher. I am glad he explained, else given the use of the word Mobius, I would have at first glance thought whether the book covered the intricacies of mathematics. After having read the book, I couldn't agree more with the title.


Somerset Maugham is one of my favourite authors. And one of his quotes which remains stuck in my head is: “The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you”. On a first read of: This Mobius Strip of Ifs, by Mathias B Freese, the book seemed to have little if not, no meaning.

It came across a pure rant by the author. A rant against the education system which churns out robots with no mind of their own who march into society to be a success (in material terms); a rant against a mother-daughter duo who while they did not overtly flaunt their wealth were the top bidders at an auction (the auction was to sell the assets of a rich couple who were divorcing each other) -- the author disliked the gluttony he witness as the economy especially in these parts (Nevada) was down in the dumps; a rant against bloggers turned book critics; a rant against an overbearing mother; a rant against an unethical therapist; a rant against his ex wife (this relationship had ended in a divorce)… The underlying current of the book was: I do not care what you think of my book – I’ve written it only for myself! This in fact was stated by the author in the chapter titled: A spousal interview (yes, his wife did interview him and even wrote a beautiful foreword).

The unheard scream or screams resonated not only in the chapters which dealt with the failure of the education systems , one of the chapters ended with the use of this term, but the unheard scream resounded through-out the book, was quite high pitched at times and was quite painful to hear.

In one of the chapters the author has raved and ranted against a blogger, who ridiculed his query for review of his book and then through ‘sheer malice’ ripped him apart in a review (presumably after having taken the trouble of purchasing his book). The author takes care to point out that he does not mind negative reviews of his book but he did mind this assassination of himself. I wonder how an obscure blogger could cause him anguish. Her opinion could have been entirely ignored. After all, the author inscribes each book with a part of a prayer: Overdraw me Lord and who cares if I break – Kazantzakis

Jane Freese, his wife explains in the Foreword, the meaning of this part of the prayer is to except a gret deal from oneself and nothing for the world. Then should a blogger whom he doesn’t even know in person, cause enough turmoil to make him unleash his vast vocabulary of words describing the incident and the pain? Thus, quite a few such narrations in the book, which seemed contradictory to each other, puzzled me.

In a book, which is all about him the author and his journey, his pains, his tribulations and his opinions (I wish he had also captured his joys), the distinction between the book and the author is bound to get blurred. I agree that his mother could have been overbearing and perhaps this experience dates back to an era where parents were not friends and there was no open communication. Yet, surely there were some joyous moments that he remembers? Or does he prefer to live in the dark gloom of despair and knowingly or unknowingly pull his readers into the same vacuum?

A first reading of the book gave me the impression that it was just one big rant. Yet, at a sub-conscious level, I knew the book was also trying to tell me something, I need to connect the various threads and see the real design as it was meant to be seen. There are questions which I have asked, which the author has also asked. I wish to ‘see’, to be ‘self-aware’, I don’t believe in herd mentality. Even through the din of the ranting and raving, these questions were captured in the book and opinions were expressed. So I went back, to read it again.

I realised, who am I to judge people (in this case the author and his book). We as human beings are complex. We are made of layers and layers. Peel the first layer and then there is the second, and then the third.. We can continue peeling without finding the core.

Our core? Sometimes we are not even aware of it ourselves. But, it was essential, at least for me, to try and peel a few layers of the pages of this book. To understand, to find out what meaning the book held for me. And I was truly touched by one sentence in his review of his own book: As the child he is at times, he is saddened at being misunderstood — aren’t we all?
So, in the next few paragraphs I will deal with what the pages of this book meant for me, when I read it again for a second time.

When I first read about the author’s rants against the education system, I felt angry, confused and betrayed that he had not tried to change the system. I even shot an email to the author, expressing my opinion. He mentions in the book: “I retrained as a shrink, because I didn’t want to come to my death being only a teacher, not what it is in this culture”.

Then, I realised that the author was no quitter. He had put in several long years trying to change the system. He was against the monotonous recitation of the pledge, yet wanted his students to understand what true patriotism truly is. What comes across on a first read is that he was happy to escape. A second read was really warranted to peel away the first layer of the book. He wanted to make kids see, perhaps he just had an unorthodox way of doing that, ruffling many along the way. At least one student wrote to him, calling him a breath of fresh air. Perhaps he had the same impact on others. I wish his experience as a teacher had not been that traumatic.

I recall the story narrated to me when I was a school kid, of a boy at the beach, who kept picking star fishes that had landed on the sandy shore. He collected them and threw them back in the sea. People told him, his efforts were futile. However, picking up yet another star fish and throwing it back into the sea, he smiled and said: It made a difference to that one. So yes, his teaching experience could have made a difference to many.

Post the few chapters of his struggle as a teacher, the author describes his experience as a therapist. Ironically, the unethical therapist for whom he penned many a paper as he could not afford her fees, for which she got good scores made him realise that he too could do post graduate work in a doctoral program in psychology.

Not the very best reasons, was my first impression, for turning to another career. It did show a lack of passion in pursuing another field, probably the passion within had died in the monotonous gloom of the education system.

Yet, it is these chapters that I like the best. In the chapter: Introductory remarks on retirement from a therapist, drawing on his experience, he states: “Few of us give as much energy to what we psychologically, spiritually and emotionally need…”What is important is how we have lived our life, as opposed to how much we have saved for our retirement. In another chapter titled “Ten Canon(s)” the author pends down ten tenets which could lead to a healing awareness. My favourite is: Self esteem is the scree, rock and earth at a mountain’s base. The author tells us, “Think of the essence you have, not what others say you are, or what societal lint you garner…”

(The next two sections are yet to be read and perhaps re-read. The book review will continue. I will also send across to the author a few questions and hope to gain his insights. Watch out for the second part of the book review and the author interview)

Announcement: The book is the winner of the National Indie Excellence Awards in the Non fiction category. Congratulations, Matt.

Note: This book was sent to me by the author for the purpose of review.

Source of the photograph:Downloaded from Flickr and used as per the terms of the Creative Commons License.