Category Archives: Surly Joe

I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen – Sylvie Simmons

GUEST REVIEWER – Surly Joe

  • sylvie-uk2Title: I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen
  • Author: Sylvie Simmons
  • ISBN: 0061994987 (ISBN13: 9780061994982)
  • Series: Stand Alone
  • Published: September 18th 2012 by Ecco (first published October 18th 2011)
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Genre/s: Non-Fiction/Biography
  • Print Length: 576 pages
  • Source: Purchased

DESCRIPTION –  (from Goodreads) The legend behind such songs as “Suzanne,” “Bird on the Wire” and “Hallelujah” and the poet and novelist behind such ground-breaking literary works as Beautiful Losers and Book of Mercy, Leonard Cohen is one of the most important and influential artists of our era, a man of powerful emotion and intelligence whose work has explored the definitive issues of human life—sex, religion, power, meaning, love. Cohen is also a man of complexities and seeming contradictions: a devout Jew, who is also a sophisticate and ladies’ man, as well as an ordained Buddhist monk whose name, Jikan—“ordinary silence”—is quite the appellation for a writer and singer whose life has been anything but ordinary.

I’m Your Man is the definitive account of that extraordinary life. Acclaimed music journalist Sylvie Simmons crafts a portrait of Cohen as nuanced as the man himself, drawing on a wealth of research that includes Cohen’s personal archives and more than a hundred exclusive interviews with those closest to Cohen—from his lovers, friends, monks, professors, rabbis and fellow musicians to his muses, including Rebecca De Mornay, Marianne Ihlen, Suzanne Elrod and Suzanne Verdal—and most important, with Cohen himself, whose presence infuses these pages.

Starting in Montreal, Cohen’s birthplace, where he first found fame as a poet in the fifties, Simmons follows his trail, via London and the Greek island of Hydra, to New York in the sixties, where he launched his music career. From there she traces the arc of his prodigious achievements to his remarkable retreat in the mid-nineties—when on the cusp of marriage to a beautiful actress and enjoying the success of his best-selling album to date, he entered a monastery on a rocky mountaintop above Los Angeles—and finally to his re-emergence for a sold-out world tour almost fifteen years later. Whether navigating Cohen’s journeys through the back streets of Mumbai or the countless hotel rooms where he has stayed along the way, Simmons explores with equal focus every complex, contradictory strand of Cohen’s life—from the halls of academia to the arenas of rock ’n’ roll—and presents a deeply insightful portrait of both the artist and the man whose vision, spirit, depth and talent continue to move people like no one else.

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HallelujahLeonard Cohen

You finish listening to a song of Leonard’s and you know he’s said everything he had to say, he didn’t let the song go till he was done with it.”
Sylvie Simmons, I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen

REVIEW

CohenFive hundred pages deep into Sylvie Simmons biography I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, she describes the 75 year-old Canadian icon as he steps onto a small stage in a Fredericton, New Brunswick theatre at the start of his 2008 tour. He is “in his sharp suit, fedora and shiny shoes, looking like a Rat Pack rabbi, God’s chosen mobster”. He is playing to an intimate audience of 700, It’s a tune-up. Weeks later, he will be at the Glastonbury Festival in England in front of over 100,000 people. He is on a wave that will last almost two years and cross continents. It will become the biggest, most successful, most critically-acclaimed tour of his career, grossing over $50 million. After 50 years of work and conflict, drugs and depression, always searching for truth, always fleeing from convention, the poet/writer/singer-songwriter/performer is at his pinnacle. He is loved and respected worldwide. He is the epitome of cool.

cohen-beadsLeonard Cohen has lived a remarkable life and it is intimately documented in I’m Your Man by Simmons, a music journalist and author of both fiction and non-fiction. From his early years of privilege, growing up in an affluent Montreal community in a household that included a butler, a gardener and a chauffeur, she traces his most unusual path, having amassed an astounding amount of detail from over 100 interviews with Cohen’s friends, lovers, family, acquaintances, and with Cohen himself.

As a child, “he seemed conventional, respectful of his teachers, the least likely to rebel”. But while his appearance was conformist, his mindset was to seek. As a teenager, he would wander the streets of Montreal at night, passing bars, cafes and strip clubs, looking through windows at the otherworldliness of a strange subculture. His searching would become international as well as spiritual, literary and chemical. By the time he was in his early ‘30s, a published poet and novelist, Cohen had lived in New York, London, Paris and Greece. He had socialized with Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg, Jim Morrison, Jackson Browne, Patti Smith, played guitar with Jimi Hendrix, and had a 24-hour “relationship” with Janis Joplin. His relationships with hash, speed, opium, acid and alcohol lasted much longer. His spiritual searching has included Judaism, Scientology, Hinduism and, most importantly, Zen Buddhism, where he lived in a California monastery for five years and was ordained as a monk.

BLThe accolades that Cohen received in his later years were a long time coming. In 1966, his second novel, Beautiful Losers, was described by the Toronto Star as ‘the most revolting book ever published in Canada”. Some of his early music was called “blatantly bad…deliberately ugly, offensive”, also “matter-of-fact to the point of being dull…just irritating”. But by 2009, Cohen had received virtually every award and honour possible – Junos, Grammys, countless accolades for his poetry, the Order of Canada and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His song Hallelujah, which took five years to write, has been covered by over 300 artists in the last 20 years.

By 2012, the year I’m Your Man was published, and in his late ‘70s, Cohen was in more demand than ever. He had risen, fallen, and risen again. After a lifetime of complicated and intense relationships – with women, with record and publishing companies, with his words and music and with himself – he was also, finally, at peace.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

simmonsSylvieSylvie Simmons is a London-born, San Francisco based music journalist, named as a “principal player” in Paul Gorman‘s book on the history of the rock music press In Their Own Write (Sanctuary Publishing, 2001). A widely regarded writer and rock historian, she is one of very few women to be included among the predominantly male rock elite. She is also the author of a number of books, including biography and cult fiction. – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Email – sylvie@sylviesimmons.com

CKIn his own words – Surly Joe is a moderately nondescript Toronto-based white guy who spends too much time contemplating the nature of boredom.  His aspirations waver between wanting to be either a professional gambler or a Zen monk, with a touch of writing on the side.  After completing university with a degree in a subject that does not readily lead to any sort of viable employment, he wandered through Europe and Northern Africa for a while collecting stories and useless trivia,  Circumstance led to a career back in Toronto.  He now spends his money on food, friends, wine and annual trips to Las Vegas.

 

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For Anne – Leonard Cohen

GUEST REVIEWER – Surly Joe

“Deprivation is the mother of poetry.” ― Leonard CohenThe Favorite Game

Leonard Cohen Poem copy

Before his fame and acclaim, Leonard Cohen published this short poem in a 1961 collection called The Spice-Box of Earth. They were new words from an apparently old soul. Bittersweet, filled with regret, the poem is a brilliant twenty-four word realization that something very special was gone. It is stark, simple and stripped-down, where what is left is all that matters, like Hemingway removing his adjectives or Eric Clapton stressing the silence between the notes of his guitar solos.

So what is left? Presumably a young man thinking about his former lover. There is no explanation as to why the separation occurred but its reason is secondary to what he is experiencing in the current moment, and that is the discovery that he has been forced, perhaps by his own behaviour, deeper into adulthood and cynicism. Annie is gone and, in his hindsight, so too is the pure, idealistic love that he unknowingly had. Suddenly the world seems large and empty, the man-child is insignificant, and the concept of how to proceed is daunting.

In order to protect his ego and heal his wounds, he initially tries to remove himself from emotion. Annie becomes Anne. A name that is cute, tender and innocent is now more formal, stiff, detached. Despite the obvious feelings that remain, he attempts to create separation. The poem is not “To Anne’”. It is more formally “For Anne”, as if he was only addressing an acquaintance. The title implies he is trying to be aloof, but he is quickly exposed and the poem’s first three words open the floodgates to his remaining emotion.

Leonard Cohen’s first book of poetry, written in 1956 when he was a student at McGill University in Montreal, was called “Let Us Compare Mythologies”. In this poem, Annie has become his mythology. She is a story that he is re-reading. He may progress. But not yet. He is stuck. The word “compare” appears three times, more than any other word. It is the action in which he is trapped, like a hamster on a wheel.

The end result of “For Anne” is that there isn’t yet an end result. There is just the realization that what he had, and what he didn’t appreciate when he had the chance, is gone. But only because it is gone could he discover what he had in the first place.

LCLeonard Norman Cohen is a Canadian singer-songwriter, poet and novelist. Cohen published his first book of poetry in Montreal in 1956 and his first novel in 1963.
Cohen’s earliest songs (many of which appeared on the 1968 album Songs of Leonard Cohen) were rooted in European folk music melodies and instrumentation, sung in a high baritone. The 1970s were a musically restless period in which his influences broadened to encompass pop, cabaret, and world music. Since the 1980s he has typically sung in lower registers (bass baritone, sometimes bass), with accompaniment from electronic synthesizers and female backing singers.
His work often explores the themes of religion, isolation, sexuality, and complex interpersonal relationships. Cohen’s songs and poetry have influenced many other singer-songwriters, and more than a thousand renditions of his work have been recorded. He has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and is also a Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation’s highest civilian honour. Cohen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 10, 2008 for his status among the “highest and most influential echelon of songwriters”.

Leonard Norman Cohen. (2014). The Biography.com website. Retrieved 10:18, May 27, 2014, fromhttp://www.biography.com/people/leonard-cohen-9252529.

Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer GUEST POST

GUEST POST – Surly Joe

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SYNOPSIS – In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a party of moose hunters. How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.

Immediately after graduating from college in 1991, McCandless had roamed through the West and Southwest on a vision quest like those made by his heroes Jack London and John Muir. In the Mojave Desert he abandoned his car, stripped it of its license plates, and burned all of his cash. He would give himself a new name, Alexander Supertramp, and , unencumbered by money and belongings, he would be free to wallow in the raw, unfiltered experiences that nature presented. Craving a blank spot on the map, McCandless simply threw the maps away. Leaving behind his desperate parents and sister, he vanished into the wild.

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Freedom from everything… That is the main point.” – Zen master Shunryu Suzuki

REVIEW – There’s a derelict shell of a seventy-year old bus sitting empty in the Alaskan bush. Over the last twenty years, it has become a destination, the end goal of a pilgrimage for anti-establishment dreamers, drop-outs, hard-core wilderness lovers and curiosity seekers who want to honour an intriguing, complicated and, depending on the point of view, either an unintentional hero or a naive narcissist named Chris McCandless. At the age of 22, after graduating from Emory University in Atlanta, McCandless burned all his identification, donated his life savings to charity, and disappeared from his upper middle-class family without a word. Changing his name to Alexander Supertramp, he wandered alone to Alaska, where his body was eventually found rotting in Fairbanks Bus No. 42.

“I’m absolutely positive I won’t run into anything I can’t deal with on my own,” McCandless wrote early in his journal, one of the main sources of information author Jon Krakauer used for Into The Wild, his fascinating examination of McCandless’ short life. Even in the first phases of his wandering in California, Mexico and Nevada, when he was malnourished, dirty, and living under bridges or sleeping in the desert, he was in his element. “God it’s great to be alive! Thank you. Thank you,” his journal reads. In a letter to a friend he met on the road, he explained “nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.” And written on a sheet of plywood discovered near his Alaskan bus, he described himself as “an extremist, an aesthetic voyager whose home is the road”, who rejected society “to kill the false being within”. He was living his life his way, away from a corrupt, crushing establishment. He was free.

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To many native Alaskans, however, and other readers of Into The Wild , Krakauer’s portrayal of McCandless is irresponsible and romantic. To them, McCandless wasn’t a heroic figure at all, just “one more dreamy half-cocked greenhorn who went into the country expecting to find answers to all his problems and instead found only mosquitos and a lonely death”.

One of the last entries in his journal gives credence to this opinion. Desperately sick, knowing that he was near the end, McCandless wrote an SOS letter to the world. “I need your help. I am injured, near death…I am all alone. This is no joke.” Ironically, he signed it with his real name. He was reaching out to the society he had rejected, victim to his ultimate freedom.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Janis Joplin

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

avt_jon-krakauer_29261Jon Krakauer is a preeminent writer of narrative non-fiction. His numerous bestsellers include Where Men Win Glory, Under the Banner of Heaven, Into the Wild, and Into Thin Air. He is editor of the Modern Library Exploration series.


CKIn his own words – Surly Joe is a moderately nondescript Toronto-based white guy who spends too much time contemplating the nature of boredom.  His aspirations waver between wanting to be either a professional gambler or a Zen monk, with a touch of writing on the side.  After completing university with a degree in a subject that does not readily lead to any sort of viable employment, he wandered through Europe and Northern Africa for a while collecting stories and useless trivia, circumstance led to a career back in Toronto.  He now spends his money on food, friends, wine and annual trips to Las Vegas.

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – The Original Punk Feminist

GUEST POST – Surly Joe

SYNOPSIS – Jane comes from nothing but she desires everything life can offer her. And when she finds work as a governess in a mysterious mansion, it seems she has finally met her match with the darkly fascinating Mr Rochester. But Thornfield Hall contains a shameful secret – one that could keep Jane and Rochester apart forever. Can she choose between what is right, and her one chance of happiness?

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REVIEW

Let’s start with the blatantly obvious. Jane Eyre is a classic. Received warmly and immediately successful when it was first published in 1847, Charlotte Bronte’s novel has been read, studied and appreciated by millions ever since. The story is simple yet always engaging, the language is detailed and flowery, typical of nineteenth century English literature, however never daunting or overblown. For a book of almost five hundred pages, it is a surprisingly quick read.

SHPThis is not what makes it a classic. Jane Eyre, the character, is why it is a classic. She is a rebel with principles. She is a feminist. She is a survivor. In the 1920s, she would have been a flapper. In the 1970s, she would have been a punk. Not a sniveling, dirty, randomly-destructive punk. An innovative, creative, anti-establishment punk. She would have hung out with Vivienne Westwood and Patti Smith and lived her life her way.

“I can live alone, if self-respect, and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld, or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.”Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

tumblr_nuxdqbx5Nj1u7ezalo1_500Right from the earliest pages, when Jane is a child orphan living in an abusive environment with extended family who think they are doing her a favour by keeping a roof over her head, the seeds of her feistiness become apparent. She was conscious that she did not fit in, and so, “like any other rebel slave”, she says “I felt resolved, in my desperation, to go all lengths”. She had in her “the mood of the revolted slave” and found her surroundings “Unjust! – unjust!

As Jane matured, and even as she seemingly fell in line with convention, finishing school and getting a job as a teacher, her individuality and strength of character simmered under the surface. She admitted to herself, ”I desired liberty; for liberty, I gasped, for liberty I uttered a prayer”.

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It was a long and difficult path to find the freedom she craved. Oftentimes, owning only the clothes on her back, she trudged on and maintained her focus. In one instance, when she was forced to survive for two days with no food, water or shelter, it almost killed her.

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But Jane Eyre is not a tragedy and Jane Eyre is not a tragic figure, And when the good turns of fortune finally arrive, her principles and her individuality become even more pronounced and admirable. Despite the appearance of settling for conformity, it is her own conformity. It is dictated by no one. Her inner punk is alive and well.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Charlotte Bronte
Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Brontë was a British novelist, the eldest out of the three famous Brontë sisters whose novels have become standards of English literature.

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CKIn his own words – Surly Joe is a moderately nondescript Toronto-based white guy who spends too much time contemplating the nature of boredom.  His aspirations waver between wanting to be either a professional gambler or a Zen monk, with a touch of writing on the side.  After completing university with a degree in a subject that does not readily lead to any sort of viable employment, he wandered through Europe and Northern Africa for a while collecting stories and useless trivia, circumstance led to a career back in Toronto.  He now spends his money on food, friends, wine and annual trips to Las Vegas.

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Dubliners – James Joyce GUEST REVIEWER

GUEST POST – Surly Joe

I wanted real adventures to happen to myself. But real
adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.”
James Joyce, Dubliners


SYNOPSIS (From Goodreads) – This work of art reflects life in Ireland at the turn of the last century, and by rejecting euphemism, reveals to the Irish their unromantic reality. Each of the 15 stories offers glimpses into the lives of ordinary Dubliners, and collectively they paint a portrait of a nation.

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REVIEW – In Grade Ten English class, we were assigned to read a short story entitled “Araby” by an Irish author named James Joyce. It was one of fifteen stories in his collection called Dubliners. We were told he was one of the twentieth century’s greatest authors. None of us had ever heard of him. We read “Araby”, about a young boy’s first experience with infatuation, how his feelings made concentration impossible, and how every morning and throughout the day, he could not get the image of the girl out of his mind, “even in places the most hostile to romance”. When we had finished reading, our sentiment was almost unanimous. The story was slow. Nothing really happened. James Joyce was a master? Really? We didn’t get it.

Araby

Of course we didn’t get it. We were in Grade Ten. We were struggling with our own brand new adolescent feelings for the first time. We were only on the cusp of real emotional experience. We couldn’t relate to “Araby”. And if we had read the rest of Dubliners, we wouldn’t have related to it either.

This is the beauty of re-reading a book three decades later with an open-mind and a perspective that has been beaten up a bit by life. The subtleties and masterful language of Dubliners, the slow but perfect pace of the stories, and the themes of love, death, politics, religion and regret, are all only poignant to the reader who has experienced them.

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Tracing the course of life in early twentieth-century Dublin, Joyce’s collection begins with “The Sisters” and how a young boy is confronted with death for the first time, wondering why, surrounded by grieving adults, neither he “nor the day seemed in a mourning mood”. He saw the body in the coffin and listened while his elders spoke of the “beautiful death”, but the moment had little impact.

One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.” ― James Joyce, Dubliners

Following “The Sisters” is “An Encounter”, where a group of boys look for “real adventures” after reading about the Wild West and American detective stories. Wandering through town, they meet an old man who talked to them about books, poetry, and “sweethearts”. But the adventure turns creepy when the conversation shifts to how “all girls were not so good as they seem to be” and how some boys deserved to be whipped.

With each passing story, from childhood to adolescence to adulthood to death, Dubliners gets more bitter. Layers of innocence are stripped away, replaced by regret, anger and melancholy. This is best exemplified in “A Painful Case”, with a very solitary man living a regimented solitary life. “He had neither companions nor friends, church nor creed…his life rolled out evenly – an adventureless tale.” But his routine is briefly interrupted when he meets a woman and starts to trust and talk. When she hints at intimacy, however, he retreats and buries himself in his old ways. Years later, he has regrets, recognizing that “he was an outcast from life’s feast.”

I have no idea where my Grade Ten English teacher is now, who forced me and my classmates to struggle through “Araby” long ago. I’d like to say thanks retroactively. I re-read Dubliners. I get it now.


NoVfeTMGSSSSZul3pJ0M_James-Joyce-9358676-2-402ABOUT THE AUTHOR – James Joyce (1882 – 1941) is one of Ireland’s most influential and celebrated writers. His most famous work is Ulysses (1922) which follows the movements of Leopold Bloom through a single day on June 16th, 1904. Ulysses is based on Homer’s The Odyssey.

Some of Joyce’s other major works include the short story collection Dubliners (1914), and novels A Potrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Finnegans Wake (1939). Joyce was born in Dublin on 2nd February 1882 and attended school in Clongowes Wood College and Belvedere College (just up the road from the Centre) before going on to University College, then located on St Stephen’s Green, where he studied modern languages.

In 1940, when Joyce fled to the south of France ahead of the Nazi invasion, Paul Léon returned to the Joyces’ apartment in Paris to salvage their belongings and put them into safekeeping for the duration of the war. It’s thanks to Léon’s efforts that many of Joyce’s personal possessions and manuscripts still survive today. James Joyce died at the age of fifty-nine, on 13 January 1941 in Schwesterhaus vom Roten Kreuz in Zurich where he and his family had been given asylum. He is buried in Fluntern cemetery, Zurich.

WEBSITE


CKIn his own words – Surly Joe is a moderately nondescript Toronto-based white guy who spends too much time contemplating the nature of boredom.  His aspirations waver between wanting to be either a professional gambler or a Zen monk, with a touch of writing on the side.  After completing university with a degree in a subject that does not readily lead to any sort of viable employment, he wandered through Europe and Northern Africa for a while collecting stories and useless trivia, circumstance led to a career back in Toronto.  He now spends his money on food, friends, wine and annual trips to Las Vegas.

Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston GUEST POST

GUEST POST – Surly Joe


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BLURB – When Janie, at sixteen, is caught kissing shiftless Johnny Taylor, her grandmother swiftly marries her off to an old man with sixty acres. Janie endures two stifling marriages before meeting the man of her dreams, who offers not diamonds, but a packet of flowering seeds …


REVIEW

purpleIt’s tempting to review Their Eyes Were Watching God academically, to discuss its feminist voice, its African-American perspective, the poverty of its people only a generation removed from slavery. For a couple decades in the twentieth century, Zora Neale Hurston was one of America’s most distinguished authors, an acclaimed member of the Harlem Renaissance group of writers, until she disappeared from public consciousness and was not rediscovered by a wide audience until the mid-1970s when Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, wrote an essay about her after learning that she was buried in an unmarked grave in a Florida cemetery. Since then, the body of critical assessment has grown dramatically.

Published in 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston’s third novel, is the story of Janie Crawford, a young black woman in the Deep South who is torn between following cultural stereotypes and living her own independent life. Raised by her grandmother, Janie marries because it is expected and stays in the background because it is proper. Her marriage is loveless. Her independence screams to escape – “She was a rut in the road. Plenty of life beneath the surface but it was kept beaten down by the wheels”. Slowly she allows her own spirit to emerge despite the ridicule of her peers. Her life is difficult and tragic, but ultimately it becomes her own.

There’s no denying the importance and the seriousness of the themes in Their Eyes Were Watching God. But to stop there would be to miss out on the most magical aspect of the novel – its language. While the narration is formal, the dialogue is written phonetically in rural African-American vernacular, spoken by characters named Tea Cake and Sop-de-Bottom and Bootyny. When Janie finally makes the conscious decision to be true to herself, she tells a friend “Ah done lived Grandma’s way, now Ah means tuh live mine”. She knows it’s going to be a challenge, but she’s ready to face the obstacles with an open mind and without stressing – “Ah don’t aim to worry my gut into a fiddlestring wid no s’posin”. There is a spontaneity and musicality to the dialogue. It’s like the novel is being told instead of being written.

Ultimately by book’s end, despite her hardships, Janie is content with her decisions. Her final two sentences say it all – “Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”

Twenty-first century English can’t compete with that.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ZNHZora Neale Hurston was an American folklorist and author. In 1925, shortly before entering Barnard College, Hurston became one of the leaders of the literary renaissance happening in Harlem, producing the short-lived literary magazine Fire!! along with Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman. This literary movement became the center of the Harlem Renaissance.

WEBSITE


CKIn his own words – Surly Joe is a moderately nondescript Toronto-based white guy who spends too much time contemplating the nature of boredom.  His aspirations waver between wanting to be either a professional gambler or a Zen monk, with a touch of writing on the side.  After completing university with a degree in a subject that does not readily lead to any sort of viable employment, he wandered through Europe and Northern Africa for a while collecting stories and useless trivia, circumstance led to a career back in Toronto.  He now spends his money on food, friends, wine and annual trips to Las Vegas.

 

The Tao of Pooh – Benjamin Hoff

GUEST POST – Surly Joe


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SYNOPSISThe Wisdom of Pooh.

Is there such thing as a Western Taoist? Benjamin Hoff says there is, and this Taoist’s favorite food is honey. Through brilliant and witty dialogue with the beloved Pooh-bear and his companions, the author of this smash bestseller explains with ease and aplomb that rather than being a distant and mysterious concept, Taoism is as near and practical to us as our morning breakfast bowl.

Romp through the enchanting world of Winnie-the-Pooh while soaking up invaluable lessons on simplicity and natural living.


REVIEW

The New Year’s Resolutioners are out in full force with the best of intentions, wandering self-consciously through gyms, determined to get in shape and not be intimidated by the machines and the muscle heads. They are frantically downloading new diet plans, determined to lose the weight.  They are chewing nicotine gum and applying the patches, determined to kick the cigarettes.  But it’s hard.  It’s such a struggle.  And like every other year, many will have reunited with the old habits by Spring, feeling defeated, or rationalizing why it happened.  Again.

So what does any of this have to do with literature and Penny Dreadful?

The Tao of Pooh, a sweetly profound book by Benjamin Hoff, may be able to help.

Written in 1982, it quickly became a bestseller.  Its premise is simple and brilliant – use the characters of A.A. Milne’s classic Winnie the Pooh to explain the Eastern philosophy of Taoism, specifically its concept of “Wu Wei”, literally meaning “without doing, causing or making”, but in practicality, “without meddlesome, combative, or egotistical effort”.  This is the guiding belief of Winnie the Pooh, but because it’s so natural for him, he doesn’t even know it.  He is, according to Hoff, “the most effortless Bear we’ve ever seen”.  Never stressed, never frantic, he enjoys his Life.  “I don’t do much of anything”, Pooh says, but things sort of just get done.

The other animals of the Forest show the contrast.  Owl is the intellectual.  He sits for hours thinking, doing nothing.  Paralysis by analysis.  Eeyore the donkey is clever too, but cynically so, complaining about everything, enjoying nothing.  Similar to the New Year’s Resolutioners, it’s all such a Struggle.  Piglet is intimidated by everything.  He’s too Small and the world is too Big for someone so tiny.  And Tigger is impulsive, thinks he can do everything, and usually can’t.

Each character, except for Pooh, illustrates a fight with life in their various ways.  But according to Taoism, “the more forcing, the more trouble”.  Wu Wei “flows like water, reflects like a mirror, and responds like an echo”.  It is effortless so it doesn’t tire.

So what does any of this have to do with the New Year’s Resolutioners?

If the gym is a fight and the diets are boring and the call of the cigarettes is making abstinence seem an impossibility, maybe a step back from the Struggle is necessary.  Re-evaluate with Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh, absorb its wisdom and its childlike simplicity.  It doesn’t mean give up.  The resolutions can be achieved, just achieved in a different, non-combative way.  “Tao does not do, but nothing is not done”.  Just like Pooh.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

benjamin hoffBenjamin Hoff is an author based in the United States. The two books he is proud of are The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet. Hoff has an essay online:
http://www.benjaminhoffauthor.com/ This is the only website he has officially endorsed or been involved with.


CKIn his own words – Surly Joe is a moderately nondescript Toronto-based white guy who spends too much time contemplating the nature of boredom.  His aspirations waver between wanting to be either a professional gambler or a Zen monk, with a touch of writing on the side.  After completing university with a degree in a subject that does not readily lead to any sort of viable employment, he wandered through Europe and Northern Africa for a while collecting stories and useless trivia, circumstance led to a career back in Toronto.  He now spends his money on food, friends, wine and annual trips to Las Vegas.