do androids dream of electric sheep? | a book review

“Empathy, he once had decided, must be limited to herbivores or anyhow omnivores who could depart from a meat diet. Because, ultimately, the empathic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim, between the successful and the defeated.”

a few days ago i finished philip k. dick’s do androids dream of electric sheep? and enjoyed it immensely. prior to this book, the only work of PKD’s that i’d read was his essay “how to build a universe that doesn’t fall apart two days later,” which i liked a lot but was more philosophical in nature. i don’t read that much science fiction – i think the last time i loved a sci-fi novel as much as this one was ender’s game, which i read years ago – but i wanted to go more into the genre since a few of my friends are taking a science fiction class at school this year.

and this book was so good. i think part of my enjoyment comes from the timing alone. my schedule last week was chaos, and i needed something that i could dip into and out of easily during any breaks i had between classes, at the bus stop, during lunch, and so on. do androids dream of electric sheep? was a perfect choice. the story’s incredibly action-packed and fast-paced. even though i don’t usually like sci-fi, i couldn’t stop reading; it was like watching a film and i loved it.*

PKD is no salman rushdie or donna tartt, but his writing is super readable and easy to understand. also, while do androids dream of electric sheep? is traditional science fiction, we do get extensive introspection from the main character, rick deckard. that was my favorite part of the story: deckard’s thought processes. the entire narrative takes place in a single day. in the morning deckard’s a bounty hunter – a cop with crude cop’s hands, as his wife iran puts it, whose job is to destroy rogue androids. by the end of the novel he literally becomes the epitome of empathy. he continually questions himself as he takes on his assignment of six nexus-6 androids, the latest model that’s more human-like than ever before.

what is the line between humans and androids? it was empathy, but even that is blurred when deckard meets rachael rosen, who turns out to be an android as well. there’s a terrifying, reality-shattering moment when he goes to an opera house to retire luba luft, an alleged nexus-6. she successfully avoids taking the voight-kampff test (the only reliable empathy test people on earth have to identify androids) and calls the police on deckard after accusing him of perversion. he’s then arrested and taken to a police station that he – a veteran bounty hunter – has never, ever seen before. here i had to pause and wonder if that was the twist – that deckard himself was actually an android with false memories. (he isn’t, but the twist following his arrest is pretty great.)

there were definitely a few issues with this book. the story flies by so quickly that i felt like PKD told us, rather than showed us, his characters. we are told that dave holden was the best bounty hunter in his department before he was shot by the third nexus-6. we are told that iran loves shopping too much to save money for a real animal. we are told that deckard falls in love with rachael rosen in the span of two pages. i found this last part particularly unnecessary; given the foci of the novel on post-war life on earth, the role of media in society, and moral issues concerning humans and androids, the romance between deckard and rachael feels contrived. i could easily see deckard learning to empathize with androids after watching luba luft perform. his change in perspective didn’t have to be because of rachael.

at first i didn’t understand why animals were such a prominent status symbol. couldn’t they use clones instead of electric replicas? then it was revealed that androids only had a life span of about four years since scientists hadn’t figured out cell replication, so the fixation on real animals made a lot more sense. also, how did the empathy box work? setting mercer aside, how were people able to physically share each other’s emotions and sustain wounds from their collective climb? i had to reread the part where deckard fuses with mercer before i understood what was happening. i couldn’t bring myself to believe buster friendly, either, since he could’ve been propagating fake news (haha, get it?) in order to ruin mercer, who was technically his rival.

ultimately, however, the problems i had with do androids dream of electric sheep? didn’t hamper my reading experience. i’m honestly still shocked by how much i loved this book. it’s a short read with crisp language, a fascinating plot, and a surprisingly satisfying ending.

4/5 stars – besides the timing, the title of this book alone boosts my rating by half a star.

have you read this book? what are your thoughts? also, do you have any science fiction recommendations?

 

*i don’t think i’ll ever watch blade runner, though. apparently there’s more emphasis on visuals than on the characters, and the plot of the movie deviates wildly from that of the book.

the year of magical thinking | a book review

from my bookstagram

from my bookstagram

last year i made a belated new year’s resolution to talk more about the things i read instead of simply rating them out of five stars. i’ve learned since then that it’s much easier for me to accomplish something if i don’t ~officially~ commit to it first – i know that sounds counter-intuitive, but that’s apparently how productivity works for me. for example, i decided to read 66 books last year on goodreads and failed, whereas this year i lowered the bar to 36 books, and i’ve already finished six even though we’re only halfway through january (!!!). hence, no real ‘2017 new year’s resolutions’ post from me this time.

2017 is the year i want to read more nonfiction – both books and essays – and poetry. i’ve had a surprisingly good time with nonfiction in the past. one book that’s influenced me the most is peter ostwald’s biography of glenn gould, which i read two years ago. last summer i read joan didion’s slouching towards bethlehem, “how to build a universe that doesn’t fall apart two days later” by philip k. dick, and marjane satrapi’s persepolis, which were all amazing reads. i want to continue this trend and learn more about everything – politics and race and food and music and finance and botany and more.

the year of magical thinking was the first book i read this year. i don’t know much about joan didion’s background besides what i’ve learned from STB and this novel, but her writing is as clear and detailed as ever. she guides you through her year of magical thinking after her husband dies, and her language indicates that: allusions to poetry and myths, her unwillingness to donate her husband’s shoes (because then he wouldn’t be able to wear them if he returned), the vortex in her memories that always leads her back to her living husband and healthy child.

didion’s certainly privileged. you can feel it through the places she’s been and the people she knows, but as much as that might disconnect the reader (as it disconnected me, at first), she doesn’t rub it in your face. she’s relating her personal experience with grief, and if her closest friends and clearest memories happen to be celebrities and glitzy cities, she only mentions it as context before focusing on the topic at hand: grief, or mourning, or the warning signs she thinks she should have heeded before december 30, 2003.

when i read TYOMT i was reminded of bluets by maggie nelson. didion does with grief what nelson failed to do with the color blue. while i thought nelson’s writing was lovely, it seemed to lack something – coherence or resolution, i still can’t say. when i finished bluets i felt as though the author hadn’t really written the book, that there was another version of bluets that hadn’t been published yet (but would be, eventually), and this version was just an outline. nelson drops facts about the color blue, litters her segments with allusions and beautifully-styled sentences, but ultimately goes back to a topic (her love life?) that isn’t really about the color at all.

on the other hand, didion picks apart the concepts of grief and mourning and death, and she doesn’t skim over topics the way nelson does. she explains medical terms that doctors tell her about her daughter, quintana. she returns repeatedly to the night john gregory dunne slumps over dinner, a movement so sudden that didion first registers it as a joke. (you sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.) she studies the literature of grief, not just the novels and the poetry and the rituals, but also the medical papers and the psych studies and the etiquette handbooks, how society currently encourages hiding sorrow as something shameful and perceives grief as a form of self-pity.

the documentation in TYOMT is unbelievable. how many notebooks did didion keep? she and dunne seem to have made records of nearly everything – planners, notebooks, marginalia, kitchen books, microsoft word documents, a box with lines three-year-old quintana had said. it frightens me. when will i experience that grief? i can anticipate it, i can imagine it, but how broken will i be when it finally happens to me? have i written enough to leave a record of whoever has left? have i recorded enough of my life, shared with theirs, to somehow resurrect them?

this is a wonderful read, objectively, but it becomes a necessary one when you have experienced devastating loss yourself. simply reading TYOMT made me feel an overwhelming sadness – i tend to empathize, maybe overly so, with whatever i’m reading. however, i think my timing was off with TYOMT. i loved it, but i didn’t need it. i haven’t yet experienced the death of a loved one. this book offers the most to those who are in the process of grieving, offering not closure (“i realize as i write this that i do not want to finish this account,” didion says) but an exploration of an experience the bereaved alone feel.

4.8/5 stars. you should definitely read TYOMT when you get the chance (and listen to this song). if you have read it, what are your thoughts?

 

 

bookish thoughts

one of my new year’s resolutions is to express my reactions to the things i’ve read – whether it be through writing reviews on goodreads, verbally recommending books to others, or posting thoughts on this blog – since i’ve never been that great at pinpointing exactly what i liked or disliked about a book. so, two months into 2016, i’m making good on that promise!

last month i read vladimir nabokov’s pnin and loved it. i want to read it again before i give a full review, but in the meantime, i’m going to share my impressions (and show that this blog is still alive and well, haha).

“Pnin slowly walked under the solemn pines. The sky was dying. He did not believe in an autocratic God. He did believe, dimly, in a democracy of ghosts. The souls of the dead, perhaps, formed committees, and these, in continuous session, attended to the destinies of the quick.”

pnin feels more like a string of anecdotes rather than one continuous narrative, and follows a russian academic’s life at an american university. the whimsical diction and lengthy sentences are enchanting, and the story itself is full of ghosts. pnin’s personal history constantly haunts him throughout the novel; he’s followed by hundreds of people who move in and out of a lifetime of moments. the physical structures that exist within pnin are incredibly tangible, too. i watched pnin trying to create his home at waindell college or exploring the pines and felt as though i were the one filling my living space with russian memorabilia and carefully weaving through the ancient, beautiful vestiges within cook’s castle. for me, reading pnin was an immersive (and surprisingly relatable) experience – cruel, hilarious, warm, and nostalgic all at once.

also! here are some books on my ‘to read/finish’ list for march:

the castle, franz kafka – i began reading this last year and have somehow never finished it. i share an on-and-off relationship with this book; i’ve read it in little chunks of narrative since i first started it. k., the protagonist, tries to gain entry into a castle in which mysterious authority figures govern the village below. i want to finish this eventually, but if i remember correctly, k. was still circling hopelessly around the village where i left off last.

fight club, chuck palahniuk – currently reading. it’s been gut-wrenching and atavistic and violent so far, but also brilliantly technical when it comes to minute details. i’m really enjoying it right now, and i hope i can finish this soon!!

the little friend, donna tartt – i’m starting this today! after reading tartt’s the secret history (which i absolutely adored) last summer, i’m super excited to read the little friend, which is set in the american south in the 1970s. right now i’m also reading flannery o’conner’s wise blood for school, so i’m on the lookout for cultural and/or thematic parallels between the two books.

and then there were none, agatha christie – this has been on my ‘want to read’ list for so long, and i was finally able to get a copy of it (along with christie’s the murder of roger ackroyd and the mysterious affair at styles) at a garage sale, of all places! once i finish the little friend and fight club, i’ll probably read this next.

right now school takes up most of my time, and 2016 has been a whirlwind of tests and papers and sleeplessness so far, but i love it all. i’ve already learned and read and written so much in the past two months alone, and there’s still a wealth of knowledge that’s out there for me to absorb as my intellectual self grows. so here’s to a new year of books – of myriads of unread literature – waiting for us all to explore!

tell the wolves i’m home

 

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seen at wellesley books, summer 2016.

tell the wolves i’m home

author: carol rifka brunt

goodreads summary:

1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.

i don’t know where to start. all i can say is that tell the wolves i’m home is a lovely, lovely book, and the best i have read in a long time. the novel is full of smooth, poetic prose, beautiful and not overdone. i won’t include any excerpts here, but i will tell you that there are many – too many – that are quote-worthy, and that you should read this book. there are vibrant characters and an engrossing story overshadowed by certain realistic issues that can’t be ignored.

i can relate to june. i can relate to her passion for her interests, her loneliness, and what she thinks is “wrong love, embarrassing love.” the characters are so alive. not just june, who matures naturally throughout the book, or toby, finn’s lover. the sister dynamic between june and greta is so real that the tension leading up to their reconciliation punched me in the gut. i loved their relationship, and its ups and downs, the most. and june’s parents are there as well, developed and fleshed out and not cardboard caricatures at all. even ben dellahunt, who takes an interest in june, has his own life and hobbies outside of june’s story. and toby. toby is my favorite character. he’s seemingly ordinary and drab, but is actually amazing in his own quiet way. he has golden hands, and can make all sorts of what he calls his “fiddly-hand things.” i wish there had been more focus on toby and finn’s relationship before finn’s death because they seemed to be so happy and in love – i want to know more. finn seems to come alive, too, through june’s flashbacks and stories told by toby and june’s mother. i loved how finn and june always listened to mozart’s requiem, and how it only added to the beautiful closeness they shared. toby and june first come together and bond over memories of finn, then slowly move on to cherish each other as themselves, and not as extensions of their first love. june’s revelation about her relationship with toby was just another stab to the heart, along with everything else that happens in this book. there are so many fine details here, mixed with emotions and truths that the characters learn to accept by the end.

it took me a day to read this book, and i was an emotional wreck when i finished. it is now one of my absolute favorites. this review doesn’t do the book any justice (so it will probably be edited over time as i try to properly express my thoughts). please, please read it and tell me what you think.

also, please listen to mozart’s requiem while reading. it fits the atmosphere perfectly.

rating: 5/5 stars.