Triple Choice Tuesday: C.B. James

Triple-Choice-TuesdayWelcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers, writers and readers to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles, new authors and new bloggers.

Today’s guest is C.B. James from Ready When You Are, CB.

C.B’s blog, which has been running since 2007, features book reviews, author interviews and other bookish endeavours, including a Western read-along during the month of May.

C.B. lives in Valejo, California, with his spouse C.J., four pet birds, two pet rabbits and two dogs, including Dakota, the book-eating Bassett hound. He has taught middle school for just over 20 years.

Without further ado, here’s C.B. James’ Triple Choice Tuesday selections:

Tristram-Shandy A favorite book: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne

Laurence Sterne’s 18th century masterpiece, divided into ten ‘books,’ was originally published in ten installments over a ten-year period. I plan on reading one installment a month. I’ve just finished book four and hope to complete the novel this October. I can already see that it will be on my yearly list of top ten favorite reads. It’s a blast.

The central idea is that Tristram Shandy, an English country gentlemen, will tell the story of his own life and present his views on all the issues of the day. He becomes sidetracked from his central story as soon as he begins, goes off on tangent after tangent, providing all the background he feels we need to know and all the historical and personal information related to the background until now, four ‘books’ later, has just gotten himself born.

It’s a very funny book. When I read sections of it out loud to C.J. we both end up rolling around with laughter. Books are much funnier when you read them out loud. 18th century books were meant to be read out loud, too.

Mans-search-for-meaning A book that changed my world: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

When I began Man’s Search for Meaning I believed there was nothing left to be said about the Holocaust. So much has been written on this topic from so many different angles, that I’ve become a bit jaundiced about it. While Dr. Frankl’s book does not cover new ground (though it must have when first published in 1946), it offers a perspective on the experience that both horrifies the reader and offers a profound hope for humanity.

Dr. Frankl’s basic thesis is that the key to a healthy psychology is that one’s life should have meaning. The second half of his book describes what he calls logotherapy, a psychotherapy he developed based on the belief that to be psychologically healthy, one’s life must have a purpose. What the specific purpose is does not matter so much.

I’m generally skeptical of psychotherapy, but when faced with a theory discovered and developed while a prisoner in Auschwitz I had to give in. Whether Dr. Frankl is right or not, I want him to be. I’ll let Dr. Frankl speak for himself:

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

We have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.

Everyone should read Man’s Search for Meaning. It will change your life for the better.

Wizard-of-the-crow A book that deserves a wider audience: The Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o

This is a very difficult book to explain. The Wizard of the Crow is about the probably crazed ruler of a fictional African nation, his underlings, their attempt to build a tower that will reach up to heaven called “Marching to Heaven” and the ruler’s subsequent illness which causes him to well up like a big balloon. The ruler’s efforts to get funding from the World Bank for “Marching to Heaven” are thwarted by the Wizard of the Crow, a powerful sorcerer who seems determined to undermine the government by convincing every citizen in the nation to leave their homes and queue up outside government buildings bringing the country to a standstill.

In “reality,” the Wizard of the Crow is two people, a man and a woman, both down on their luck, both opposed to the government, who declared themselves a wizard to prevent the police from entering their home and arresting them.

You can see my problem. I’m sure that the book is a satire of East African politics — the author is Kenyan — but I don’t know enough about East African politics to get the satire. I do know that I loved The Wizard of the Crow. Seldom have I had so much fun reading a book. The characters are both fully human and very funny. The situations they find themselves in are also funny. Even if you don’t know the particulars that Ngugi Wa Thiong’o is addressing, the human nature that underlies it all is universal enough for everyone to get part of the joke.

Take a look at political movements in modern America and you’ll see that they’re often not all that different from those in The Wizard of the Crow. As I type this, there is a group in Kentucky currently building a replica of the Tower of Babel in a religious theme park. Haven’t they read the Bible enough to know what happened the first time around?

Thanks, C.B, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!

I’ve not read any of these books, but they all sound intriguing, particularly Man’s Search for Meaning. And The Wizard of the Crow sounds delightfully surreal. This is what I love about compiling this series: I get to find about interesting books that I might not otherwise hear about.

What do you think of C.B’s choices? Have you read any of these books?

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8 thoughts on “Triple Choice Tuesday: C.B. James

  1. I would have loved it if James could have been my teacher in middle school. I might have taken a whole different path in life! I’ve only read Man’s Search For Meaning (because of James) and would echo his sentiments. I’ve read dozens of WWII novels, but this one really digs into your brain and makes you think. It is totally worthy of a re-read every year or two.

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  2. Man’s Search for Meaning sounds fantastic. I recently visited Auschwitz and I still can’t believe humanity committed such atrocities.

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  3. Isn’t Auschwitz spine-chilling? I went there in 1998 and I still remember feeling sick to the stomach when I saw all those shoes and spectacles piled up, but the bit that really got to me was the hair.

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  4. This is the most compelling review of Tristam Shandy I’ve read, and I want to start it now. It sounds like it is right up my alley, and dividing it into ten separate segments seems like a reasonable approach to conquering it.

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  5. The hair was really shocking and grotesque. I think what really hit me over the head was Auschwitz-Birkernau. Just the sheer size of it and the rows and rows of bunkers. While I was there, a group of Jews were making a pilgrimage and as they walked, they were singing this beautiful and mournful hymn which made me cry even more.

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