A section from my (hopefully) upcoming book, “Home”.
I have been thinking a lot about Death.
Yes, I guess that’s how this chapter starts after all. I guess it’s the cleanest way. The most honest way. I’ve been thinking a lot about Death.
When I was about eight or nine, my great grandmother, who I love dearly and who I will always love dearly, was… there was something wrong. I can’t remember the circumstances, being so young, but as I remember it the idea was floating around that it probably was cancer. That she was dying. They were pretty sure.
It was expected. She was old, just around eighty or so. Past her life expectancy.
At the time I was still religious (in some shape or form, read more in whatever chapter I wrote about religion). More than that, I was still a child. I have grown away from the concept of childhood since, I think, even though I might not want to admit it (see, I admitted it). So, I was a child, and, like most children, childish. And, in being childish, I believed, in some shape or form, in magic and miracles.
When I was told (or learned or something, I don’t remember) about my great grandmother’s illness (or whatever it was), I prayed. I prayed for a miracle, I prayed for a cure, I prayed for something to be a mistake. I prayed for her to live. I prayed for her to stay with us. With me.
The day after, I learned that it had been a mistake. She did not have cancer. Something was weird, but it was alright – it just seemed like cancer on the surface and when they looked deeper it was alright. She was going to live. She was going to stay with us. With me.
At that time, as you, dear PR, probably guess, I assumed it was my prayer which helped her. In hindsight, I realised that I was wrong. First of all, it is possible if not even likely that this story is all a figment of my imagination. This is how I remember things going, but it’s likely that it really went very differently. It’s just an anecdotal memory of an eight-year-old brain a dozen years later. Second of all (as I discuss in too much detail in the chapters on Science, God, Superstition and other such topics), there’s no such thing as a miracle. There’s no such thing as a cure. There are aweinspiring advances in medicine made every year, and we should thank the amazing scientists and doctors for what they accomplish with that, but they are only postponing the inevitable -
Death comes to all of us.
Death comes to all of us.
Death comes to all of us.
I have been thinking a lot about Death.
When I was thirteen, a classmate of mine was killed by a large wave of water crushing his body, killing him instantly. It was the 2005 tsunami, and my friend was in Thailand. I knew he was there when it happened, but only learned that he had been a victim a week or so later. I remember my mother telling me after she had taken the call. I remember not being surprised.
In hindsight, ofcourse I was surprised. My friend had died. But I had no concept of what it meant. I had no idea of what Death was. I was only thirteen, and apart from my paternal grandfather, who I had had absolutely no contact with, I had had absolutely no contact with Death.
After trauma you often go into denial, and only later crash down completely. I did so after learning my father had been in a drunk driving accident. I did so after my most severe break-up, for that matter, not realising what had actually happened until later.
The scary thing is, I don’t remember crashing after my friend died. I can still see his smile and I can still remember him much better than I can remember any other classmates I had at the time. I feel like we are closer now than we were when he was alive. And we were never that close. Death took him away, and I don’t think I ever even realised it. I don’t think I was ready. I think I am now. I am waiting to learn that any of my close friends or my brother or my father or my mother or my great grandmother has died, I am waiting to hear it and to crash. In some sense I want to crash. In some sense I want to feel it. I want it to destroy me.
In some ways I still feel guilty for never crashing after my friend died. Some days I regret not going to his funeral, even though I know he’s gone and don’t mind.
It’s not only strange to imagine he has gone. It’s impossible. I am slowly starting to realise, day by day, that Death is a real thing and not an imaginary monster god in a Lovecraft mythos. I am slowly starting to realise, day by day, that Death is coming, and that Death is eternal.
Death comes to all of us.
Death comes to all of us.
Death comes to all of us.
When I was maybe five or six, I lay in bed trying to sleep when
I suddenly realised that Death is for all of us.
The concept had never truly struck me before, but now it did.
I started to cry and I ran to my parents’ bedroom.
I told mom what had made me cry.
She embraced me and didn’t let me go. I think she cried too. I think she too realised – even if not for the first time – the horrifying concept in it all.
Even the most religious person must find it hard to one hundred percent believe in an afterlife.
Everyone, everyone, everyone, will be scared to look beyond the veil. It is easy to imagine a paradise.
It is easy to imagine hell.
It is even easy to imagine, like I long did, an emptiness to stand in. I long imagined Death to be an empty hall for me alone, where I could never again talk, or read, or run, or explore
I cried for hours the day I realised how wrong I was.
Death is not only an emptiness to stand in. Death is an emptiness. Death is nothing. Death is an end.
There is an old, possibly aprochyful story about a believer who asks a non-believer where we go when we die, if there is no afterlife. The non-believer (and I have heard many famous names attributed, I have no idea who it really was or if it really took place), is supposed to have said
“When I die,
I go to the same
place where I was
before I was born.”
This is truly horrifying in my mind. It is not only a life changing abruptly. It is not a prison camp. It is not eternal sleep. It is nothing. It is a moment of last chance of thought, and then nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
For in that sleep of Death, what dreams may come?
I see, I hear, none more, none less, none now.
Forever and always, together in life,
An end to all eternal stuff of dream, of love,
And end to all adventures, thoughts and hopes,
To love, to dream, to dream no more
Ay, there’s the rub.
To dream, to love, to love no more
Ay, there’s the
It took me a long time to digest “Mortality” before sitting down and writing this review. In short, this is a non-fiction tale of a man’s battle with cancer (or rather, as he would put it, cancer’s battle with him) and his ultimate death.
Whether or not you like Chris Hitchens’ philosophy, views on religion and his politics (I like many others agree with his views on religion but despise many of his political views), you should read this book. “Mortality” is a collection of essays and short scribles Hitchens wrote in his last year (2010-2011) after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. True and from the heart, the reader can – at least to some extent – understand what it feels like to suddenly realise your own mortality.
The book deals (to a much lesser extent) with the thoughts of dying as a non-believer, fairly certain that nothing is to come after the final breath, that this is it. The book consists of seven essays written in Hitchens’ life time, and ends with an eight chapter of “fragmentary jottings [...] left unfinished at the time of the author’s death”.
Read it. Read it. Read it.
These are the books read in June. As with May, it’s been kind of slow due to school and work.
- Patrick Rothfuss: “The Name of the Wind: The Kingkiller Chronicle Day One” (2007)
- “The Kingkiller Chronicle” quickly became one of the best fantasy series I have ever read. The first book is an excellent beginning, sharing the story of a legendary life as told much after the hero’s haydays are over. Rothfuss manages to make a very believable, almost biographical fantasy story, with believable magic and true characters, while simultaneously creating an exciting and beautiful story.
- Harry Harrison: “The K-Factor” (1960) [audio book]
- The book quite honestly was extremely boring and almost non-existant. I barely remember it at all. Maybe it just wasn’t for me, but I didn’t enjoy it at all.
I’ve never read one of the most famous Sherlock Holmes stories, “The Hound of the Baskervilles” before – it’s one of those stories that I know very well thanks to all the filmatisations and parodies, but which I indeed have never read.
Cori Samuel is an amazing audio book reader who I discovered through her recording of “The Wood Beyond the World” and who I briefly praised here. Samuel recently recorded a new audio version of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” with a full cast, herself playing Dr. Watson’s part. Seeing as Watson is the narrator as well as the main character of the story, this makes for a great deal of Cori Samuel. This was an excellent reason to finally delve into the classic Arthur Conan Doyle story.
What follows is a short review of the recording, and I’ll write a future short review of the book itself at a future point.
The main problem with LibriVox… first, to whoever is unaware, LibriVox is a non-for-profit website cataloging public domain literature to audio recordings. They allow anyone to record a piece to send in, some are amateurs and some are professionals, some are good and some are bad. Again, the main problem with LibriVox is the huge difference in quality from piece to piece. Most recorders are extremely good at what they do, and only a scarce minority ever annoy me to the degree of shutting off the audio book. Still, in many cases the actual recording device is too poor to lead to good quality, and as such many recordings are difficult to hear (though again, very seldom is it very annoying).
In the case of “the Hound”, only one recorder of the 19 showcased bad quality (again, not to be confused with the recorder himself/herself, who did a good job in spite of the technology). However, having just actor with bad quality annoys quite a lot in the midst of 19 actors, in fact it annoys much more than it would have done had this recorder done the entire book by himself/herself. Annoying and sad, but then again it’s all free, so what to do?
All voice actors did very well. I was ofcourse biased towards Cori Samuel, who did a great job as Dr. Watson, but I was also pleasanty surprised by the work of Arielle Lipshaw as Sherlock Holmes, and of Amanda Friday as Laura Lyons. As I said, all of the actors were good, but these are the examples that really stood out to me. Lipshaw did an especially great job of capturing Holmes’ attitude and elitism without sounding like she faked her voice. I’m not sure how much work lies behind Amanda Friday’s characterisation of Laura Lyons, but to me it felt perfectly natural, and her voice simply suited the character perfectly, without feeling at all forced.
An interesting factor, which Samuel points out in her blog, is the abundance of female voices for male characters. I don’t know if there was a specific plan for this, but nonetheless it worked excellently – Dr. Watson, Holmes and Sir Henry are all played by women. It worked very interestingly, and seeing as this was my first meeting with Sir Henry (having read many Holmes stories before but not this one) I found myself constantly imagining a lady and not a gentleman. A sign of how well it worked is how it never struck me as odd, merely interesting.
In short: a great recording of a great book which I’ve stayed away from for way too long. Thanks, Cori Samuel and all the rest!
Listen to the recording at LibriVox here.
These are the books read in April.
- Douglas Adams: “Mostly Harmless” (1992) [audio book]
- A great finish to a great series. Is there anything else to add? I don’t think so. Ah, the nostalgia.
- George R. R. Martin: “A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire I” (1996)
- I finally had to try this series. It does not disappoint. George R. R. Martin is excellent at bringing true emotions to all of his unique characters, and the book is a perfect blend of realism and fantasy. Read it.
- Aesop: “Aesop’s Fables” (6th century BCE) [audio book]
- It’s interesting to read such a primordial collection, with ideas that all seem so obvious but that in many cases started out here (or rather, they were finally collected here). The introduction on the history of Aesop and his fables is also very enjoyable.
These are the books read in February.
- Andrew B. Kipnis: “Producing Guanxi: Sentiment, Self, and Subculture in a North China Village” (1997)
- Except for some excellent examples of real life guanxi production, sadly not all that enlightening as I hoped it would be. Then again the real life examples may well be enough to ask for.
- Kathleen McMillan, Jonathan Weyers: “How to Write Dissertations and Projects” (2007) [in Swedish translation]
- A good summary of the most important things to remember, especially the somewhat short sections on scientific research and scientific conduct.
- Richard Dawkins: “The Greatest Show on Earth: the Evidence for Evolution” (2009)
- If someone has to read just one book on science in a lifetime, this is the book to read. Dawkins goes back to the beginning and produces the plain evidence for evolutionary theory, including magnificent examples and combating many misunderstandings and critical questions. A great book to read both if you have no clue about evolution but are open minded to understand it, and if you – like me – find it interesting and want to learn a lot more, both about what we know and why we know it.
Anna Troberg, författare och ledare för Piratpartiet, är proffs på att skriva. Sedan hon blev partiledare 1 januari 2011 har hon pushat ordentligt på att få ut fler insändare och debattartiklar om partiet (exempelvis genom sin insändarskola i text och i video), och det är knappast heller bara prat – hon skrev under 2011 en enorm massa debattartiklar som trycktes i diverse tidningar, online och offline.
Nu släpper hon alla debattartiklar skrivna 2011 i en 200-sidig e-bok, under det passande namnet “Debatt 2011″. Boken släpps under en CC-licens (sprid sprid sprid!) och är mycket läsvärd. Att artiklarna är så korta (ett par till ett tiotal sidor styck) gör det dessutom till rätt bekväm läsning. Du kan ladda ner PDF:en här eller läsa online här eller precis nedan här i posten.
Troberg är en extremt skillad författare, med en personlighet som ständigt lyser igenom i texterna. Hon är kort och koncis samtidigt som hon ständigt får fram både lätt humor och extremt allvar i sina artiklar – det perfekta sättet att locka in de som sällan är så intresserade av politik, men utan att det för den delen balanisera de faktiska problemen artiklarna är till för att informera om. En bra läsning både för den som är intresserad av piratpolitik, och för den som vill ha en introduktion.
The Dark Tower novel “The Wind Through the Keyhole“, due late April, has now been ordered from Amazon. I could have ordered it from a Swedish retailer a tad cheaper, but I couldn’t stand not having the beautiful Simon & Schuster hardcover edition which I’ve loved so much since the cover art was released (view below). Apparently only the much uglier versions were sold in Sweden.
The story looks to be an excellent addition to Stephen King’s Dark Tower magnum opus – though the original seven-piece-story was finished in 2004 (and those who read the final novel knows it can’t be resurrected), this novel will take place between the fourth and fifth novels (Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla), being a story within story within story set in the Dark Tower universe. It is advertised as a standalone novel, different from the past seven which were a continuing story.
Apparently, a five-page preview of the novel was released back in December, but I’ve resisted reading it until I get my hands on the actual book and can read it beginning to end like the past seven. Unfortunately, delivering it from the US means I won’t get it until late May or early June, but then again it perfectly coincides with passing my final school exams.
Carl Sagan’s 1997 “The Demon-Haunted World” is a celebrated book deserving its celebration, one of the absolute best – if not the best - introductory books to scientific philosophy and skepticism for both the lay person and the academic. Throughout the 400 pages Sagan varies between discussing why certain paranormal concepts (especially ufology) is wrong, and discussing why we don’t need them in the first place – the beauty of science should be enough. Sagan postulates that science is not just a nice thing to have around for the practical technology it creates, but it is absolutely vital for our continuing survival as a species, a candle in the dark, flickering and trembling before the darkness of superstition.
Sagan puts this forth to excite the reader and make her think, while at the same time bringing both comic relief, grave seriousness and spirituality, in the agnostic way Sagan defines it. Sagan both plays with the ideas of extraterrestrial visits to Earth, and only pages later writes of the mixed emotions when facing his father’s death in a naturalistic world view.
Sagan’s final book before his 1997 death is not only a book for debunking pseudo-scientific claims (if that’s your goal, there are much better books and web sites). Much like his TV series Cosmos, “The Demon-Haunted World” is a testament both to critical thinking and to the human species and the cosmos. Sagan doesn’t look down upon the human brain for its creation of superstition and religion. He celebrates it, and he hopes it to continue its journey with science.
“I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us-then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.”
- Carl Sagan: “The Demon-Haunted World”