Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut

“Despite our enormous brains and jam-packed libraries, we germ hotels cannot expect to understand absolutely everything.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 336 pages.
Read from October 2, 2018 to October 10, 2018.

It’s been years since I read Vonnegut and I had clearly forgotten how witty and dry his humour and writing style can be.

Set in a futuristic but realistic world, Hocus Pocus follows Eugene, a Vietnam war veteran, who through a strange turn of events finds himself a teacher at a private college for wealthy youth with learning disabilities. Eugene is an unremarkable man who ends up marrying a woman with a family history of mental illness, and after she follows her mother into madness, Eugene begins a number of affairs with other women. Eugene then ends up becoming a teacher at the local prison after being fired for misconduct because a student at the college randomly recorded his conversations and comments which, of course, were then taken out of context. That, and Eugene also gets caught shagging the wife of a big head honcho of the school.  While he is working at the prison there is a prison break that results in a bloody scene at the school in which the prisoners barricade themselves inside and start killing people off. Eugene is then mistakenly named as one of the ringleaders in this prison break and soon finds himself imprisoned and dying of tuberculosis.

Eugene’s story is a strong satire and commentary on everything from war, capitalism, politics and sex, just like many of Vonnegut’s other works. However, in comparison to Vonnegut’s other works, especially his masterpieces like Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradlethis book falls a little flat in terms of interest and readability. You need to get about 75 pages into this book in order to feel some sort of interest in the story and to find the flow of the plot and narration. Eugene narrates the story while he is already in prison as a reflection of what really happened in his life prior to his conviction and tuberculosis diagnoses so it does take a bit to figure out what’s going on with the timeframe of the plot but I suppose it is to be expected since Eugene informs the reader that he is writing his story on scraps of paper making the story seem like a large series of digressions. hocus-pocus-kurt-vonnegut-telling-the-harsh-but-liberating-truth-sparknotes

While this book combines a ridiculous story with humour, profound wit and commentary all at the same time, it was not a novel I generally enjoyed reading. I liked most of it but I did not find it as captivating as some of Vonnegut’s other works. If you are a Vonnegut fan, however, and have not read this book, I would still recommend it.

Also, for those that have read the book, Eugene mentions that he realizes that while he was in Vietnam he killed a certain number of men and that number also ended up being the same as the number of women he has slept with.

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Source: discipuloo on Reddit

If you’re curious about the answer to his math riddle the number can be found in some inside covers of the book with an illustration.

I also happen to find someone good at math who broke down the numbers:

Eugene Debs died on – 1926
Arthur C. Clarke movie – 2001
Hitler’s birth – 1889
The gestation period of opossum in days – 12
Divide by square route of 4 – 2
Subtract 100 times 9 – 900
add the greatest number of children from one woman – 69
1926-2001= -75
-75+1889= 1814
1814=12= 1826
1826 / 2 = 913
913-900= 13
13 + 69 =

82

Cheers to mrchoon who did the math on Yahoo Answers.

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

You think, “Great, I understand this. I got this. I can understand Stephen Hawking, damn I’m smart!”. It is a false hope.

3/5 stars.
ebook, 280 pages
Read from September 26, 2018 to October 5, 2018.

Stephen Hawking was a brilliant man, I don’t think there are many that can deny that (well, maybe a few religious fundamentalists). All over the world, the science community mourned the loss of Hawking this last spring when his struggles with ALS came to an end. Hawking made powerful contributions to the realms of physics, he was also an accomplished author and was one of the most recognizable faces of a modern-day genius. After his passing, I meant to finally read one of his books and while it’s a bit delayed I did finally manage to. I clearly did not know what I was getting into.

Despite being an English major, I have always enjoyed the sciences. That is, except for physics because I fucking suck at it. That doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in the questions that physicists have, it’s that my brain isn’t capable of doing the equations to solve them. I’m still interested in the process and the conclusion, just when someone else does them and then I can read about it later. Having said that, this book was by no means a cakewalk and I would be lying if I said I understood it all. The first part of the book gently sucks you in as the content feels like a nice refresher on high-school level physics. You think, “Great, I understand this. I got this. I can understand Stephen Hawking, damn I’m smart!”. It is a false hope. sh I do not know the target audience that Hawking was aiming for as some parts of this book break down the concepts so well that any beginner can grasp them but the once the quantum physics comes in and Hawkings starts talking about black holes, he just assumes that his brief intro to physics basics will be enough to understand the hard concepts and theories he then elaborates on for the rest of the novel.

Would I say this book is enjoyable? Not really. Is it worth reading? Yes. Is it important? Yes. Despite its challenges this book is probably as simple as these complex concepts are going to get and it’s mind-blowing to look at our world, space and the universe from this perspective.

“I am just a child who has never grown up. I still keep asking these ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions. Occasionally, I find an answer.”

 

Vi by Kim Thúy

“My first name, Bảo Vi, showed my parents’ determination to “protect the smallest one.” In a literal translation, I am “Tiny precious microscopic.” As is often the case in Vietnam, I did not match the image of my own name.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 88 pages.
Read September 28, 2018.

Having enjoyed Ru for its beautiful prose, I was happy to find this short read by Thúy.

This story follows a similar formula to Ru, as it follows one girl, Vi, and her family’s story of immigration from Vietnam to Canada during the midst of the Vietnam war. Their father does not take the perilous journey over with causing a tear in the family. Once in Canada, the once affluent family has to make serious financial adjustments in their new home. In a way, Vi is another adaptation of Ru. Vi is a first-generation Vietnamese-Canadian stuck in between the cultures and traditions her mother believes in and the new ones in their new home in Montreal, Canada. As with many first-generation immigrants, Vi is at odds with her values and identity. Her mother is traditional and wants her to follow her upbringing but the current atmosphere in Canada is very different compared to where she grew up and she dabbles in what her mother views as scandalous behaviours.

The story is short and the ending is ambivalent but it’s an honest rendition of one person’s struggles to come to terms with their own identity as they grow in a new country there is, however, some jumping around with the timeframe in the plot that is hard to follow at times.  As with Ru, I am curious to know how much of the story actually happened to the author as she shares a similar background story to her characters.

Overall, this book is a beautiful read and an easy way to get a quick read in if you’re looking to catch up on a reading goal.