Night by Elie Wiesel

Night by Elie Wiesel

nightNight is Elie Wiesel’s memoir about his experiences during the Holocaust. It is shocking and sad, but worth reading because of the power of Wiesel’s witnessing one of humanity’s darkest chapters and his confession on how it changed him.

In the new introduction to the ebook version I read, Wiesel talked about the difficulty he had putting words to his experience. “Convinced that this period in history would be judged one day, I knew that I must bear witness. I also knew that, while I had many things to say, I did not have the words to say them.” pg. 7, introduction

The original version of Night was written in Yiddish. I wish I knew enough Yiddish to read it. There’s something powerful about reading books in their original form.

Wiesel closes his introduction with his reasons for writing this book:“For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” pg 12, introduction.

Even though a member of his community warned Wiesel’s village about the horrors that awaited them, they didn’t believe him. After they were placed in a ghetto, the Jewish population of Sighet thought that the worst was behind them. “Most people thought that we would remain in the ghetto until the end of the war, until the arrival of the Red Army. Afterward everything would be as before. The ghetto was ruled by neither German nor Jew; it was ruled by delusion.” pg 26, ebook.

If I had been in their place, I don’t think that I would have acted any differently. How could one possibly imagine the horrors that they were going to face?

Wiesel is starved, overworked and beaten in the concentration camps. He loses more than his family and faith: “One day when I was able to get up, I decided to look at myself in the mirror on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto. From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me.”pgs 110-111 ebook.

Another Holocaust survivor’s memoir that I highly recommend isMan’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Never forget.

Thank you for reading.

Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms by Ethan Gilsdorf

Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms  by Ethan Gilsdorf

fantasyfreaksEthan Gilsdorf carried angst about his gaming habits for various reasons for years. This book could have been a healing for him, but he doesn’t seem to take that leap.

It made me sad. Yes, perhaps the start of his DnD experience coincided with his mother’s illness, but I think that was not the only reason why he entered the world of fantasy.

Some people are born wanting to see worlds beyond this one. Why that is, I don’t know. I just know that it is so. Ethan suggests, in Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, that it takes trauma to send a person in that direction, I disagree. I think some of us were born that way. 🙂

The content of the book is excellent. He travels from the UK to New Zealand and everywhere inbetween to find people who are engaging in LARPS, SCA, Tolkien, gamer conventions, WoW, EverQuest, and more.

I loved his interviews with the man/woman on the street. He’d ask why they were doing whatever it was they were doing and they’d answer with conviction. There’s something very satisfying in reading personal statements by passionate people.

The enthusiasm nearly drips from the pages. I loved that.

I was hoping that Ethan would learn from all of these people who absolutely loved what they were doing with no regrets. But, he seemed to go to his default mode of judging and self-pity rather than expansion.

Ethan made some steps towards self realization at the end of the book, but I wish he had gone further.

If you enjoy this book or topic, may I suggest Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It. It’s a non-fiction read about Dungeons and Dragons. It lacks the comprehensive nature of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, but David Ewalt carries none of the emotional baggage of Ethan Gilsdorf so it feels more light-hearted.

Thanks for reading!

Across Time And Death: A Mother’s Search For Her Past Life Children by Jenny Cockell

Across Time And Death: A Mother’s Search For Her Past Life Children by Jenny Cockell

acrosstimeJenny Cockell retained memories of a former life. In these memories, she died young and left children behind. Across Time and Death documents her acceptance of the memories and her search to find her previous family.

In childhood, my dreams were swamped by memories of Mary’s death. … All this, however, seemed inconsequential beside my fear for the children I was leaving behind.” pg 1.

In the religion of my childhood, reincarnation was neither taught nor accepted. But, as I’ve read different books, I’ve come to believe that it’s true.

I was so curious about it, in fact, that I participated in a past-life regression therapy session. The recording of it is mildly interesting, but mainly traumatic. I saw abuse, a lifetime of servitude and then a death that was penniless and alone in the dark.

The therapist can be heard on the recording, murmuring niceties about being “safe and secure.” There was a lot of, “let it go into the light” and “breathe in and out, slowly.”

Still, I walked out of that session and haven’t gone to another one since. I most likely never will.

If we do indeed live again and again, perhaps there’s a reason that we retain no memory of it. That’s my two cents. Back to Across Time and Death.

As a child, Jenny understood her past life memories more clearly than when she was an adult. “I had no cause to doubt that these memories were real. I assumed that memories of this kind were normal, and I expected everyone else to have them too.”pg 12.

Culture has such power to shape our worldview. Isn’t it true that part of the process for choosing the next Dalai Lama is that the candidate has to recognize the previous Lama’s belongings?

Jenny’s experience with regression through hypnosis seemed to echo mine. “Hypnosis is a strange experience even without the element of regression. All sorts of memories which have been hidden deep within the subconscious and cannot ordinarily be reached can be brought to the surface. This is double edged – both a wonderful and a disturbing experience at the same time.” pg 34. Yes.

When Jenny is finally able to overcome all of her doubts and fears, she then has to consider what the, now grown, children are going to think of her. “I needed to ask for help because I was beginning to panic. I wondered if I had any right to disturb Mary’s children or, conversely, if I had the right to keep my story from them.” pg 107. Which is a legitimate concern.

I’d recommend this book for people who are on the fence or just curious about reincarnation. If your mind is completely made up one way or another, I don’t know that Jenny’s testimony will mean as much to you.

Thanks for reading!

Journeys Out of the Body: The Classic Work on Out-of-Body Experience by Robert A. Monroe

Journeys Out of the Body: The Classic Work on Out-of-Body Experience by Robert A. Monroe

journeys out of the bodyA ground breaking work into the mystery that is the out-of-body experience by a leading researcher in the field. Ultimately, Journeys Out of the Body left me with more questions than answers, but, for the most part, I enjoyed the ride.

Charles Tart’s introduction is excellent: “… OOBE’s are a universal human experience, not in the sense that they happen to large numbers of people, but in that they have happened all through recorded history, and there are marked similarities in the experience among people who are otherwise extremely different in terms of cultural background. One can find reports of OOBEs by housewives in Kansas which closely resemble accounts of OOBEs from ancient Egyptian or oriental sources.” pg 8.

That statement reminded me of the near death experiences described in Wisdom of Near-Death Experiences: How Understanding NDEs Can Help Us Live More Fully by Penny Sartori. OOBEs like NDEs are a human experience rather than a cultural one.

Munroe points out a curious habit of society that I’ve noticed:“Many (in spiritual and occult circles) have deep professional jealousy for each other, and often are inclined to be suspicious of techniques and theories propounded outside their particular activity. They may even subtly deride or look with tolerant, superior amusement at results unrelated to their specialty. pg 37.

Why can’t we all just get along? I bet we’d learn more that way.

Munroe’s thoughts on the “natural” home for what he calls the “second body”, astral body, or body of light: “The Second Body is basically not of this physical world. To apply it to visits to George’s house or other physical destinations is like asking a diver to swim down to the ocean bed without scuba gear or pressure suit. He can do it, but not for long, and not too many times.” pg 75-76.

That was why Munroe believes that out of body experiences are so hard to substantiate. When explorers are looking for evidence from the physical world, it isn’t the natural place for that consciousness to be.

Munroe talks about going to an alternate dimension in his explorations. He quotes a college professor about the possibility of this: “Dr. Leon M. Lederman, professor of physics at Columbia University, has stated: “Basic physics is completely consistent with the cosmological conception of a literal antiworld of stars and planets composed of atoms of antimatter, which is to say negative nuclei surrounded by positive electrons. We can now entertain the intriguing idea that these antiworlds are populated by antipeople, who antiscientists are perhaps even now excited by the discovery of matter.” pg 100

I think that would make a great science fiction novel. Has anybody written anything like that?

I had imagined that learning about out of body experiences would be empowering and uplifting but parts of Munroe’s account didn’t really leave me feeling that way.

Take this journal entry in which he describes aliens and the loss of his belief system: “Then they seemed to soar up into the sky, while I called after them, pleading… By this time, it was getting light, and I sat down and cried, great deep sobs as I have never cried before, because then I knew without any qualification or future hope of change that the God of my childhood, of the churches, of religion throughout the world was not as we worshiped him to be- that for the rest of my life, I would “suffer” the loss of this illusion. Are we, then, just leftover laboratory animals? Or perhaps the experiment is still “in process.” pg 262.

Very, very bleak and, it just didn’t feel right to me. However, Munroe believes this is true and I felt very sad for him.

If you are interested in more information about OBEs, you may want to read Soul Traveler: A Guide to Out-of-Body Experiences and the Wonders Beyond by Albert Taylor or Multidimensional Man by Jurgen Ziewe.

If you want more one-on-one experiences with aliens, try The Key: A True Encounter by Whitley Shrieber.

Thanks for reading!

Trials of the Earth: The True Story of a Pioneer Woman by Mary Mann Hamilton

Trials of the Earth: The True Story of a Pioneer Woman by Mary Mann Hamilton

trials of the earthTrials of the Earth is Mary Mann Hamilton’s memoir about her hardscrabble life in America during the late 1800’s.

She uses period speech to illuminate a life of struggle and hard work. If certain anachronistic and racially insensitive terms bother you, especially the casual use of the N-word, you may want to chose another memoir. It was shocking but I kept reminding myself that Mary was a product of her times.

On top of the constant struggle of putting food on the table and keeping a roof over her head, it seems like she was perpetually pregnant and her husband was an alcoholic.

But Mary lived up to the challenges, raised and buried children, nursed her husband through his hangovers and illnesses- she was a survivor. That is mainly what Trials of the Earth was to me- a survival story.

“Nevertheless, this is not a book of repining; it is a tale simply told of what one woman has lived through in the Mississippi Delta. I say ‘lived through’ because at times this history reads like a record of the extreme limits of human endurance.” loc 75, introduction

So many of the modern conveniences that we take for granted didn’t exist. Mary moved around a lot and notes with relief every time her husband manages to install a pump in her new house so that she didn’t have to haul water from the river.

Mary’s relationship with her husband, Frank, isn’t a fair deal. She is a very young woman when she gets married and from the start he’s controlling- telling her what they will eat and what friends they will have. He even tells her what books she can read.

That would have been the last straw for me. But again, she was a woman of her times.

“To me he seemed like a man that had taken a silly child to raise rather than a wife. … As time went on I found there were plenty other things I didn’t know, too. The first thing I found out was that he drank.” loc 226, ebook.

In addition to the inequality in their relationship, Frank is from England and has a secret past. He won’t tell Mary, his own wife, his real name or talk about his circumstances or the family he left behind. But, Mary doesn’t let it bother her too much. I suppose she was too busy with everything else they had going on. That lack of trust would have driven me bonkers.

Not that she felt like anything was wrong with their relationship. “Women can stand more work, more trouble, and more religion than men.” loc 528, ebook. She accepted the hardships because she knew that she could. I admire her gumption but I also felt sad for her too. I felt sad because she didn’t have the option to live any other sort of life.

Frank is always talking about the sin of Eve and all the baggage that comes with it to Mary. There is a lot of mansplaining that goes on too. Parts of this book were infuriating to me.

Recommended for readers who enjoy memoirs that read like historical fiction. Ability to tolerate the bleak role that women occupied in society in the late 1800’s is a must.

Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for a free advance reader’s copy of this book. Reminder: some of the quotations in this review may change in the final printed copy.

Thanks for reading!

Amish Confidential by “Lebanon” Levi Stoltzfus and Ellis Henican

Amish Confidential by “Lebanon” Levi Stoltzfus and Ellis Henican

amishconfidentialI wasn’t expecting much from Amish Confidential, a tell-all memoir, by Amish mafia reality television star, Lebanon Levi Stoltzfus. Despite my expectations, it was quite good.

I picked it up because watching The Amish Mafia is one of my guilty pleasures. It is a reality, cultural, crime-syndicate show with horses.

The Amish, like other insular communities, have plenty to teach the outside world about they live their lives. Levi definitely has the inside scoop, having been raised Old Order Amish, a more conservative branch of the culture.

I loved learning about how the Amish were formed and the historical background of his people. I ate up the bits about Amish marriage ceremonies and the social customs surrounding the party afterwards. Celery, apparently, is huge. Who knew, right?

I wish he had talked more how he fell into the world of “Amish mafia” itself. It’s clear from his narrative that he feels the Amish are taken advantage of because of their religious pacifism. He believes that they desire to deal with potentially criminal matters among themselves rather than going to the authorities. That is the basis of the mafia. For legal reasons, he probably couldn’t be that transparent. But it would have been excellent if he had.

If you enjoy the television show, you may not like this as much because it lacks some of the moment to moment tension and drama that one gets from watching the show. But, if you go into it with an open mind to learn more about the Amish in general, it certainly accomplishes that.

If you enjoyed Amish Confidential, I’d recommend The Terrorist’s Son: A Story of Choice (a Muslim boy is raised one way but chooses to live another) or License to Pawn: Deals, Steals, and My Life at the Gold & Silver (a memoir by a pawn shop owner who has his own reality television show).

Thanks for reading!

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

yearofyesShonda Rhimes’ heartfelt memoir about the power of embracing who you are and having the courage to set aside what you are not.

Though outwardly successful, Shonda was miserable. Between over-working and her introverted tendencies, she turned down every invitation and social event. The ones that she was forced to accept were anxiety inducing trials or complete blanks because of panic attacks.

Shonda didn’t even realize she was unhappy until, one Thanksgiving, her sister tells her that she doesn’t say yes to anything. Something clicks and Shonda embarks on a Year of Yes. Her results are astonishing and so is this memoir.

I have never watched a single episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I didn’t even realize that that was her show. You don’t need to be an aficionado to appreciate this book.

Shonda begins with some crushingly honest passages about her discomfort at sharing her life and her passion for writing. “Making stuff up is responsible for everything-everything I’ve done, everything I am, everything i have. Without the tales, the fiction, the stories I’ve spun, it is highly likely that right now, today, I’d be a very quiet librarian in Ohio.” pg 6, ebook. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 🙂

The first part of this book was actually hard for me to get through because she was so obviously uncomfortable at creating a window into her heart and mind. She gets over it and so did I. “When it was first suggested to me that I write about this year, my first instinct was to say no. Writing about myself feels a lot like I have just decided to stand up on a table in a very proper restaurant, raise my dress and show everyone that I’m not wearing panties. That is to say, it feels shocking.” pg 12, ebook.

Shonda is just so relatable. Take this confession about motherhood: “I don’t know about you, but the mistakes and missteps I have made since becoming a mother… before kids, my confidence could not be dented. Now it’s shattered on a daily basis. I don’t know what I am doing.” pg 63, ebook. I know, right! Nobody knows what they’re doing. I take comfort in that.

Throughout her year of challenging herself, Shonda discovers that she’s uncomfortable in her own skin because of her weight. This next passage is for anyone out there who has body image issues: “I believe everyone’s body is theirs and everyone has a right to love their body in whatever size and shape and package it comes in. I will fight for anyone’s right to do so. I will kick ass and take names if I have to. Your body is yours. My body is mine. No one’s body is up for comment. No matter how small, how large, how curvy, how flat. If you love you, then I love you.” pg 85, ebook. End of story.

I also liked how she came to a new understanding about how life works: “I’ve started to think we are like mirrors. What you are gets reflected back to you. What you see in yourself, you may see in others, and what others see in you, they may see in themselves.” pg 120, ebook. I’ve started to think that too.

The Year of Yes is recommended for readers who enjoy memoirs or for those folks out there whose lives are in need of an awakening- a shaking of the snow globe of your reality, if you will. Shonda said yes to things that scared her and discovered, on the other side of fear, a life truly worth living. I hope that we can all be as fortunate and as brave on our journeys.

Thanks for reading!