The Unit book cover

The Unit by Swedish author, Ninni Holmqvist

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

My rating* – 2

This book was one of our reading picks for the month by my book club. I joined this group because book clubs always expand your reading “palate”. They open your world up to reading material you otherwise might not have chosen on your own. At least this is the case for me since I’ll quicker read a memoir than a novel.

A good book for me is one that causes me to think and when I’m absorbed by a book, I climb into the story and stay there for the duration. I suppose my first foray into dystopian science fiction literature would have been in high school Lit class when we read The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. I actually loved this book and to this day when I think about it I still am tempted to do a piggy count. Dystopian Literature however, has come a long way since ’96.

“One day in early spring, Dorrit Weger is checked into the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material. She is promised a nicely furnished apartment inside the Unit, where she will make new friends, enjoy the state of the art recreation facilities, and live the few remaining days of her life in comfort with people who are just like her. Here, women over the age of fifty and men over sixty-single, childless, and without jobs in progressive industries-are sequestered for their final few years; they are considered outsiders. In the Unit they are expected to contribute themselves for drug and psychological testing, and ultimately donate their organs, little by little, until the final donation. Despite the ruthless nature of this practice, the ethos of this near-future society and the Unit is to take care of others, and Dorrit finds herself living under very pleasant conditions: well-housed, well-fed, and well-attended. She is resigned to her fate and discovers her days there to be rather consoling and peaceful. But when she meets a man inside the Unit and falls in love, the extraordinary becomes a reality and life suddenly turns unbearable. Dorrit is faced with compliance or escape, and…well, then what?” (Back of the book blurb)

To be honest, I never read the blurb, a fellow book-club member gave me a synopsis of the book and I started reading. Based on that, the first few pages held a lot of promise for a great story. But as I delved deeper, it really dragged in the middle and I seriously wanted to shake Dorrit.

I could not understand why someone who was such a free spirit and valued her individuality, when presented with the opportunity to leave and regain that freedom, would not choose to take it? She was way too obedient for me, she seemed more concerned with the creature comforts available in the Unit and sex than the horror of what was happening around her. And I don’t think a feminist 50 yr old who would have experienced life before the change of rules in society would just accept life in the Unit.

Dorrit’s favourite place in the Unit was the replica of Monet’s Garden in Giverny. I thought this was quite ironic since Monet did not like organized or constrained gardens. He left his flowers to grow freely with only colour to rule them, which was quite the opposite of everything the Unit was about.

While I get that Dorrit was a creative and an artist in her own right, the constant descriptions of everything was annoying after a while. Whole pages of descriptions left me very bored and to make it easier I would do a quick scan to get to the end of it. I felt that the sex scenes were unnecessary as well. But my biggest problem with this book is the ending. After crawling into this story and almost rooting for Dorrit, it was emotionally unsatisfying.

Because of this, I have been thinking about how to write this review. On the one hand, it caused me to think as I wondered how this society would fit into my island culture. It would certainly solve our vagrancy problem. But on the other, I hated the ending. Maybe Ninni should have ended the story at page 262 and I strongly suggest if you do choose to read this book that you stop reading at that point. Part 4 of the book is short and stupid.

But it is Part 4 that has inspired the most thought. It struck me in the shower, that this is a story about power and vulnerability and it is a story about love. Dorrit’s decision to return was both for her legacy as much as it was for herself. She was giving someone an opportunity she didn’t have as well as giving her legacy a chance to live on, while keeping the promise she made to a fellow dispensable and friend. Her actions were ultimately for the greater good of all involved. But was Dorrit at heart simply weak or brainwashed by society? Maybe she was daunted by the fact that she had no money, no friends, nowhere to live and most possibly no lover?

Or maybe that is the whole idea behind the plot. Here was a society inherently made up of sheeple who allowed their lives and “freedoms” to be dictated by the ruling class. Man has always wanted dominance over all things including his fellow-man. Those with power have always found ways to justify the oppression of those weaker than they are as long it can satisfy some greater good. The residents of the Unit, while living independent lives in the Community ultimately accepted their fate once they got there often times talking about the various experiments they were involved in like it was an achievement. They too were caught up in furthering the greater good. And most certainly Dorrit who even when she had something other than herself to fight for, she chose the sheeple way out. Love was not enough to make her fight. Or maybe her final decisions were her biggest acts of love.

As much as I hate the ending of this book, it caused me to think and that at least made reading it worthwhile.

*my personal quality ratings are the scores I give books on a scale of 0-5 based on my personal opinion of a book. 0 is “birdcage liner” and 5 is “off-the-hook good”

Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman

Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman

My rating* – 2.5

A book that changes lives

I have had this book on my Amazon wish list for some time. That’s how it is with me and books. If someone recommends a book on a blog or in an article, I usually look for it on Amazon and add it to my wish list to review at some later date and decide if I want to purchase or not.

It so happened, my friend Lucy during a conversation spoke about the book and at that time Mastin Kipp on his blog shared a quote from the book and I remembered that I added it to my wish list a while back. So when I got home that night, I bought it. It arrived on Friday juste à temps for my trip to Tobago. Perfect. I would be at this Zen eco resort for the long weekend and what better book to read than something about being a peaceful warrior.

This is a part-fictional, part-autobiographical book based upon the early life of the author Dan Millman. The story tells of a chance meeting with a gas station attendant who becomes a spiritual teacher to the young gymnast, Dan. The attendant, whom Millman names Socrates, becomes a kind of father figure and teaches Millman how to become a “peaceful warrior.”

On our laziest day, I took my book down to our private beach and found a nice spot and started reading. I went through a lot of emotions. I liked it, I hated it, it was ok, it was funny and it seemed really contrived at times. It’s a narration of his story with some made up parts. This was the biggest disappointment about this book for me, the whole time all I really wanted to read about was Dan’s real story.

As I was reading I couldn’t understand, why if Dan wanted enlightenment so badly and was actively seeking it by returning night after night to the gas station there was so much resistance to what Socrates had to say. I liked the short stories or fables littered throughout the book. I started looking forward to them as they broke up the monotony of the story. I especially liked the one about Gandhi.

When I got to Book Two, it hit me, here I was in this moment, at the beach reading a book on being fully present to the moment and I was ignoring all the gorgeousness around me. There was a hummingbird flitting from flower to flower to my right, the lovely ocean in front of me. I felt this desperate need to put down this part fantasy, part real life storybook and immerse myself in the moment, in what was real. This is exactly what I did. I got up and went into the water. I had to touch it, be in it. Feel it.

getting my read on!

I eventually went back to the book, if only to finish it. It is a slow read. It takes a while to make its point. I thought maybe that was part of the lesson. In this world were bullet points are the norm, this book required that you slow down and really take the time to get into the message that “there are no ordinary moments”.

Most poignant message for me is that the “warrior is here, now.”

the time always was, is and always will be now! Now is it the time; the time is now … Remember, the time is now and the place is here.

I had a roll eyes moment with the whole Joy/romance thing. For me that wasn’t necessary. Socrates’ “death” was very anti-climatic and I could have done without that particular embellishment as well. And before he vanished in a flash of light in a toilet no less, Socrates could have at least given us a recipe or two for the teas that he shared with Dan; I kept trying to figure out what was in them.

There are lots of quotable quotes. But for the most part, if you are a seeker, you’ve already heard most of these messages in one form or another. It just re-enforced what I already knew, that the time is always now because this is all we have. I give this book a 2.5. It does not live up to its title A book that changes lives. But it is definitely an ok read, if you’re just starting out on the path to being present to the Present.

*my personal quality ratings are the scores I give books on a scale of 0-5 based on my personal opinion of a book. 0 is “birdcage liner” and 5 is “off-the-hook good”

29 Gifts by Cami Walker

My rating* – 4

29 Days of Giving

My odyssey with 29 Gifts started last November, when I was the recipient of a “gift” from my friend, mentor/coach…hmm I’m at a loss for words as to how to truly do justice to Giselle Hudson. She is definitely in my inner circle of awesome and I will soon dedicate a post to her and her tremendous impact on my life thus far.

After Giselle gave me my gift, she then described the book and what it was about to me. I immediately looked it up on Amazon and added it to my wish list. It’s been languishing there for at least 6 months; but nothing before its time.

I finally bought a copy in June.

Cami Walker, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) a month after her wedding day, at the age of 32. She thought her life was over. Then she got a “prescription” from a friend to give 29 gifts in 29 days. Cami took up the challenge and watched as her life changed in amazing ways.

The premise of this book is pretty simple: healing is not just physical, it’s also mental, emotional and spiritual. By helping/giving to others we often times help ourselves. I learned a lot about MS and its debilitating effects through Cami’s struggle and her triumph as well.

This is a great read, but at times it’s not very easy to read about Cami’s struggle to overcome this life-changing diagnosis. She is direct and there is no sugar-coating of her experiences. She however, never once comes across as seeking sympathy. I especially liked the journal-like entries of each day of gift-giving and the fact that the gifts at times, were intangible things, small things given in an “authentic and mindful” way transforming them into great things, priceless in value.

The gifts didn’t need to be big. Anything would do, as long as it was given authentically and mindfully.

Through her journey, Cami launched to encourage as many people as possible to take up the challenge and share their experiences. As I embark on my first 29 days of Giving, I also encourage you take up this challenge.

*my personal quality ratings are the scores I give books on a scale of 0-5 based on my personal opinion of a book. 0 is “birdcage liner” and 5 is “off-the-hook good”