The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 106 pages.
Read on June 5, 2018.

When I realized I was two books behind my reading goal I was frantically looking for a short book on my to-read list to help me catch up. This book has been on my list for a while as it is considered a classic piece of children’s literature, but if I am honest I knew absolutely nothing about this book before reading it other than that. This book is one of the world’s most translated books, over 250 languages in fact. Even in Hong Kong, you can find the book just about anywhere and there is tons of cute apparel and swag that you can buy your kid to accompany it. This is a kid’s book that is kind of meant for adults, hence why it is so appealing to both the young and old.  Many people adore this book and revere it, perhaps I got a bad translation (I did find a free copy online) or maybe this book is best read in French, but this book did not meet the hype for me.

The plot is about a little boy who lives on a planet by himself. The planet is not very big and he has to tend to it otherwise this certain type of tree will grow and destroy his ability to live on the tiny planet. He also has a sheep and a rose. The boy tends to the rose dutifully and does whatever it asks of him in order to make it comfortable. However, the boy decides to leave his planet one day after growing tired of the monotony of it all. On his journey, he encounters other people on their own planets, each of them with a different drive an purpose, like the businessman who is all about money and greed.  The boy eventually finds himself on Earth in which he meets the narrator who is trapt in a desert after a plane crash. The boy also befriends a fox who reminds him of his responsibility and care to his planet, sheep and especially the rose.

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Antoine-de-Saint-Exupéry – photo from Britannia

The plot of this story is like an intense acid-trip that creates a somewhat-fun and philosophical children’s story.  I mean, that isn’t what happened to the author but his own personal story and history is actually quite interesting and based on his inspiration for the book you can kind of understand how the Little Prince came to be. Not only was Antoine an accomplished writer but he ended up becoming an infamous pilot as well. Antoine failed in architecture school before joining the military where he became a pilot. Prior to WWI, Antoine flew everything from mail routes to testing piloting, he even attempted to beat a world record for the fastest trip between Paris and Saigon, in which his plane crashed in the Sahara desert. You can see this experience directly in The Little Prince, with the narrator having also become stranded in a desert from a plane crash. So perhaps The Little Prince is a heat/water-deprived hallucination inspired story? Antoine disappeared during one flight and was presumed dead after he was not found in summer of 1944.

The story is intriguing but my translation definitely seemed clunky, I imagine much of the lessons that the Little Prince learned are much more poignant in French.  I found the story did little to capture my imagination and I am curious as to what a kid today would think of the story.  As an adult, I caught on to the messages of the story but found myself wanting to know more about Antoine, the author, than the story of the Little Prince and his silly rose. I would, however, re-read this book. I think there is more to be taken from it and I think perhaps a better translation might lend itself better to the story.

Parents, what do your kids think of this story? Do you read to them out of nostalgia and do they appreciate it? Perhaps this book is better left for adults even though it was written for kids.  Overall, I am still glad that I read it and can now at least understand and appreciate the references made to this novel in other works.

 

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

“You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.”

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 328 pages.
Read from May 17th, 2018 to May 28th, 2018.

Why don’t I read more true crime novels? It is a question that I never thought to ask myself until now and even I don’t really have the answer to. I adore watching crime documentaries and programs so why not books? Michelle actually said it best:

“I love reading true crime, but I’ve always been aware of the fact that, as a reader, I am actively choosing to be a consumer of someone else’s tragedy. So like any responsible consumer, I try to be careful in the choices I make. I read only the best: writers who are dogged, insightful, and humane.”

This book became an overnight sensation as the author, Michelle NcNamara, passed away before completing it. In life, Michelle was married to Patton Oswalt, a famous comedian. Michelle’s abrupt and unexpected death hit Patton very hard. He decided to finish his wife’s obsession and life’s work with the help of a few others with the remaining data that Michelle had left.

If you had not heard of the Golden State Killer before the publication of this book, I am sure that you have now as this book has brought to light a cold case that has (had) evaded authorities for decades. The Golden State Killer paralyzed Northern Californa in the 70s and 80s by committing a suspected 50 rapes. He had a routine of breaking into peoples homes where they are supposed to feel safe and was not deterred if the woman’s partner was present, in fact, that seemed to become his preference later on. The Golden State Killer got his nickname, coined by the author later on, when he took his crimes to the southern part of the state and committed 12 spine-chilling rapes and murders.

Michelle became obsessed with tracking down the Golden State Killer. She interviewed and befriended detectives that had worked the case previously and scrupulously reviewed all previous evidence with the use of modern technology and the wonders of the internet.

“That summer I hunted the serial killer at night from my daughter’s playroom. For the most part I mimicked the bedtime routine of a normal person. Teeth brushed. Pajamas on. But after my husband and daughter fell asleep, I’d retreat to my makeshift workspace and boot up my laptop, that fifteen-inch-wide hatch of endless possibilities…”

This book, at least the sections that were written by Michelle herself, are about her journey and obsession to track down this horrible murderer and rapist. Michelle’s intrigue into crime came from an incident that happened in her own hometown and from there Michelle fell in love with true crime. Michelle talks about how strange it is to be obsessed with something so morbid and to try and escape the fear and hate that it creates when dealing with such horrific acts caused by a man.

“I love my husband. I hate men.”

The sections of the book that Michelle wrote are intimate, gripping and full of the talent and passion that she truly possessed. Had she been able to complete this book on her own I have no doubt that its literary merit along with its exquisitely detailed research would have landed Michelle an award. However, because she passed before finishing this book the story feels unfinished and disjointed. Incomplete. But perhaps it is best left that way.

Michelle’s efforts with this book helped bring new light to the Golden State Killer case and shortly after the book was published, Joeseph DeAngelo was arrested for the crimes.

“The Daily Beast was the first to report that DeAngelo was the suspect arrested after an interview with journalist Billy Jensen, who worked with researchers on a book about the crimes, I’ll Be Gone in the DarkThe book was written by Michelle McNamara, who died before it was published. It was finished by Jensen, researcher Paul Haynes, and McNamara’s husband, the comedian and actor Patton Oswalt.” – The Daily Beast – April 25, 2017

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Joeseph DeAngelo in court in Sacramento. Image credit The LA Times: https://lat.ms/2tvWy5I.

Michelle was using online ancestry websites to help try and find a DNA match. The police authorities were also using this method but not in the way you might think. They were using the websites the same way you or I would use them as they did not additional or special access to the databases. Companies who own these ancestry-type websites claim privacy laws won’t allow police to access their data for investigative purposes. Police authorities were able to connect Joseph DeAngelo to the case through the DNA of a relative on one of these ancestry websites.  Begging the question, should police have access to these types of DNA and ancestry websites for active investigations?

While I am disappointed with how unfinished this novel feels I am still glad to have read it as I am sure it will go down in true crime history. For those that are considering reading it, approach the book with the understanding that this is not the perfect novel that Michelle would have envisioned but appreciate the pieces of her that she left within in the novel and her admirable efforts to help track down and imprison this abominable killer.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

“Thou art god, I am god. All that groks is god.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 448 pages.
Read from April 17, 2018 to May 7, 2018.

I have to say the cover of this book is my all time favourite, the 1986 edition that is, and the one I have featured here. I have been drawn to this book long before I even know about this classic or the author or even science fiction as I remember seeing this cover when I was a kid and it left an impression.

Did you know? The artist that created the 1987 cover that I love so much was created by Andy Warhol’s brother, James Warhola

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Such striking artwork.

This novel was originally published in 1961 and made waves with its literary, yet firmly science fiction, plot. The eventual promiscuity of the characters I am sure also helped with the interest in this book as well as things did get pretty sexy at times but free love is just one of the delicate topics that are breached in this story.

Valentine Michael Smith is a Martian. Or rather, he was born on Mars but is actually a human. After an expedition from Earth to Mars, the Martians ordered Valentine, who was a bit of an outcast, to go back to Earth with the astronauts.  After recovering in a hospital to adjust to the atmosphere of Earth, Valentine meets a nurse called Gillan who helps him escape the Earthly politics that he has yet to understand. Gillan enlists the help of Jubal, who is a wealthy man of many intellectual qualities that has a harem of women that he keeps around to serve him. Jubal ensures that the US government cannot claim anything on Valentine or on Mars while also taking the time to learn about Valentine and teach him what he can about Earth.  Valentine, despite being with his own kind, knows nothing about the cultural ways of humans and through his journey to understand, or grok, he also teaches his friends or water brothers what it means to be Martian which, offers amazing internal insight, knowledge and powers that humans did not even know they were capable of.  Valentine comes to understand humans so well that he even founds his own religion in order to teach those who are wanting to know his ways.

Throughout Valentine’s story, the author intensely reevaluates major institutions and taboos like religion, money, monogamy, the fear of death and even cannibalism. There are sections that are highly philosophical but they also occasionally derail the main intrigue of the plot making for some very dull moments. The philosophy itself is interesting, but as a reader, you feel as if you are no longer reading a science fiction novel but rather a piece of academia and it can be jarring. The political nuances were particularly boring and just about put me off the book. Some of the sections involving free love are quite sexy and liberating but in general, the author was still a man of his time as there are some highly misogynist sections. Here are two such examples,

“No, you’re really bright, for a female.”

“Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped it’s partly her fault.”

While the misogyny is forgivable due to the timeframe the book was written in, it doesn’t make it any less annoying when you are reading it as a modern woman.

Valentine’s character is superbly executed and watching him grok his new world is a unique experience that not many authors could not have pulled off.  I enjoyed portions of this book and the ending but in general, I felt bogged down with sidetracked details and characters that added little to the main plot.  Did I grok this book in fullness?  As Valentine would say, perhaps not, but I have no regrets in finally picking up the novel whose cover art fascinated me so long ago.