Two For Tuesday

March 8, 2011 § 2 Comments

When I’m reading I like to mix things up every other day and thus I tend to read books in two’s.

I read a lot and recently I’ve been trying to add some of the classics (that I should have read in high school but opted for the clifs notes) to my reading list.

Don is a big reader too. I’d even go so far as to say he’s a bibliophile since after reading a book, he’ll check to see if it’s printed in a leather-back edition to display on his bookshelf.

So for one of my most recent reads, we decided to do a kind of couples book club, and chose to read The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

There are a TON of relevant lessons in this book, and I wish I’d read it earlier as so many of the lessons can be applied to current views on society, vice, pop-culture, art, citizen class, perceptions of beauty, and temptation.

One of the themes I found most strikingly relevant was Wilde’s emphasis on youth and beauty. The main character, Dorian Gray is young and handsome. Wilde goes to great lengths describing Dorian Gray’s physical perfection through the perspective of the artist Basil Hallward, who takes Gray as his muse. This emphasis on youth and beauty is best described by the wealthy socialite Lord Henry, who discusses the matter with Dorian Gray:

Because you have the most marvelous youth, and youth is one thing worth having.

Dorian replies

I don’t feel that Lord Henry

Lord Henry replies

No, you don’t feel it now. Some day when you are old and wrinkled and ugly, when thought has seared your forehead with its lines, and passion branded your lips with its hideous fires, you will feel it, you will feel it terribly. Now, wherever you go, you charm the world…And Beauty is a form of Genuis – is higher, indeed than Genius, as it needs no explanation…It cannot be questioned. It has the divine right of sovereignty. It makes princes of those who have it.

How often are we presented with this very ideal of youth and beauty being the key to success and happiness? It is all around us, in the magazines we read, in the television shows we watch – we see examples of people who are treated like pop-culture royalty because they are well, pretty. Take Kim Kardashian for instance – why is she famous? Because she exemplifies the physical qualities that so many women strive to achieve.

I think looking good and feeling confident in your physical appearance is important and shows that you take pride in yourself, but to what extent should we as a society lift people up as examples of what we admire – when they only thing they contribute is their physical presence?

There are more themes to explore throughout this book, and I am sure that it has lived on as a classic because it presents ideas from which we can still take lesson.

The next book, I read on my own & I literally flew through it. I think it took me a total of 3 sittings.

The Dissapeared by Kim Echlin is a fantastic love story that takes place in two strikingly different locations, Canada and Cambodia. The story is told through first and second person narrative as the main character, Anne Greeves tells her lost love Cambodian exile Serey, her vivid memories of their love. It reads almost like you are reading Anne’s long lost love letters to Serey. The story begins in the mid 1970’s – the same time that the Khmer Rouge had taken over Cambodia – killing close to 2 million of it’s citizens. Serey is in Canada exploring a career in music and is inevitably locked out of his home country where his family had no opportunities for communication, which leaves him haunted be the nagging question of what the fate of his family will be. He is plagued with guilt for having left his family, but takes comfort in the new young love he has discovered with Anne, who is only 16 when they meet.

Years later when the Cambodian borders re-open, Serey takes the first opportunity to return to Cambodia to find his family and leaves Anne behind – because of her age and because of the volatility of the situation.

The book goes on describing Anne’s obsession with her lost love, and the great lengths she goes to to become reunited.

This story reminded me of the compelling, blinding power of love. Anne is completely enveloped in her memories of Serey, so much so that she would leave her safe life in Canada behind in order to find him. It’s the kind of gut wrenching love story that brought me to tears. All the while, author Kim Echlin does an excellent job of illustrating a intensely serious historical account of the genocide in Cambodia.

I often forget that so many people aren’t aware of the atrocities that occur throughout the world. That is one of the reasons I chose to study political science. I didn’t want to remain unaware of what has happened and is happening in the world around me. It’s easy to tune out the rest of the world when we are so insulated. We can just turn off the news and pretend like it doesn’t exist because most of us remain unaffected. But when you read the histories of those who were victims of tragedies like the genocide in Cambodia, you start to look at human nature with a completely different perspective.

Here we are, human beings capable of loving so deeply that we would give up all we know to be with the one we love, and yet we are capable of completing nightmarish atrocities in the form of genocide.

And that’s what this book did for me. It made me question what makes people so capable of love and yet so capable of hate. And what is it that drives us to go on after being affected by these incredibly strong emotions?

These are two very different, but equally valuable books and I’d highly recommend both!

My next two reads are Once a Runner by John L. Parker Jr. and The Company We Keep – A Husband and Wife True Life Spy Story by Robert and Dayna Baer so stay tuned for future book reviews 🙂


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§ 2 Responses to Two For Tuesday

  • Kara says:

    I love your decision to read some classics! I do that occasionally because even though I have a degree in English Lit, there are still some classics that I’ve never read.

    I may have to track down that second book, I’ve never heard of it and it sounds good!

    • Maxine says:

      Thanks for telling us more about The Disappeared; cannot wait to read it! I finished “The Beauty of Humanity Movement” by Camela Gibb and it was really good too. It is set in Vietnam during various times and looks at the life of Mr. Hung during the time before, during, and after the war.
      The leather bound books are really classy…

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