Stories Make Us Human

Douglas Coupland’s newest novel, Generation A, can be summed up by those simple and aged words.  It is not our gizmos, gadgets, or social networking sites that create our identities, but the stories we create and hear.  And the stories shared that make our communities.  In age becoming increasingly technological and where technology is a part of almost every part of our lives, Coupland writes a story of brilliant social satire.  In fact, he almost loses his readers in the beginning by making his characters fairly disgusting; to the point that most readers probably don’t finish because they may find it difficult to invest anything in them.  They are shallow echoes/shades of the digital generation.

The plot is simple.  Something (no one knows quite what) kills the bees on earth.  But five bees commit suicide by stinging five different people (and separated by several thousand miles).  Why the bees chose these people and what this event means is the focus of scientists who collect the people for testing.

In part, Coupland is right.  Technology has helped people become lost.  However, its not just technology, but the desire to not attach themselves to any stated philosophy or religion.  More so this generation chooses to be individualistic and create their own brand of philosophy and religion and to do this they choose to abandon everything else.  A chain of personal experiences creates the meaning in life, so to speak.  But through creating meaning from these expriences, one can easily lose themselves in the wash of artifical presences (created through digital environments) or thousands of experiences.  With no guiding principle, it is easy to be stationary and thus desirable to live only in the present.  Hence the appeal of Coupland’s alternate universe.

In the end, the story’s premise is not brand new, but his criticisms I have found to be thought-provoking.  Most readers will be annoyed with the either the beginning, the end, or just the story in general, but this story is not meant to be read quickly.  And if anything, the short stories scatttered throughout the end are fantastic and can be read alone.

Winter Lentil Vegetable Soup

Today I watched people outside the huge front windows of the library run, most of the time franticlly, through the rain.  The rain had no mercy.  And even though California needed the rain, we were not ready for it (nor are we ever ready for any serious weather).  As most classes require a ten minute walk outdoors, students were forced to go out and with little relief from any shelter.  And some, after classes and lunch were over, took an inner-tube to try to coast down the street.  It was not raining much then and the water was already subsiding, so it didn’t work out great, but come tomorrow maybe there will be better chances for inner-tubing down the street.

Brian walks to work everyday, so today I decided that soup would be the best dinner option.  We tried a new one and it was fantastic.  I generally like soups that are thick and hearty, and this one lived up to my hopes.  It was the best way to end a cold and rainy day, so here’s the recipe (with my modifications).

Winter Lentil Vegetable Soup

1 cup of red lentils

1 cup of chopped onion

1 stalk of celery, chopped

3 carrots, chopped

1 clove garlic, diced

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

1/2 tsp. dried basil

1/4 tsp. sugar

1/4 tsp. curry

1 can (28 oz) chopped and diced tomatoes

2 cups of vegetable stock

1 cup of chopped spinach

Cook the lentils first.  Add water to cover lentils, bring the pot to a boil, then let it simmer for 15 minutes.  Drain, then add lentils backs to pan.

Add vegetables (except tomatoes) and spices.  Cook until the vegetables are softened, about 5 to 10 minutes.  Add tomatoes and vegetable stock.  Bring to a boil and then lower heat to simmer.  Simmer for about 1 to 2 hours (just cook until lentils and vegetables are soft).

I added vegetable stock instead of chicken because that was what we had and spinach instead of cabbage.  In the end I think I really liked the spinach.  It added great flavor to the soup (more than cabbage would do).  I made biscuits from Cook’s Country Cookbook, that were incredible too.  I never had such light and fluffy biscuits (and they were incredibly easy too).  It was a great dinner to start off a busy and rainy week.

recipe from: Allrecipes

Ruth by Gaskell

In many ways, Ruth is another story about an independent woman.  Some compare it to Hardy’s Tess, but I think that Tess had more determination and independence than Ruth [and I would say read Tess rather than Ruth].  Ruth is a story about a woman who became an orphan as a teenager and was sent into the world to make money without any guidance.  She is innocent as she grew up in the country with her parents alone (so it appears).  Within the first fifty pages or so, she is courted and taken advantage by a young gentlemen outside her class.  And he leaves her.  Without much word, and she is left with the consequences of their sin.

The rest of the book is mostly about Ruth coming to terms with her sin.  She is apparently so innocent, that she doesn’t think what she is doing is wrong until an innkeeper tells her bluntly what she is “a mistress/prostitute”.  This is the first thing that I didn’t quite believe.  Is someone so innocent?  Even a country girl?

I was pleased by the approach of the minister (who was a dissenter), in that he did not combine the consequences of her sin with the act of sin itself.  A baby should be loved and cherished with the hope that he or she can do good in the world.  I hoped that this would be a novel of redemption, but in the end it really was not that.  Redemption apparently only reaches those who have been wronged for centuries — the woman.  When the man comes back into the story, he is given little chance to redeem himself.  I was shocked.  Ruth can be given a chance, but not the man.  Maybe it was because of his willfulness in deceiving her, but no matter his sin, it should still have the chance to be forgiven, just as Ruth’s was in the beginning.  Redemption should be shown to all, not just some.  Isn’t that was why this book was written in the first?  To show that women should not receive all the blame?  And to be held just as responsible as man?

And Ruth, in the end, was really only made independent because she was a good-hearted creature who strove to make right the rest of her life.  Throughout the book most of her decisions were her own, unless she was forced to make her own decision.  She was independent, but only to a point.  I would call Tess much more independent.  Even Emma from Jane Austen’s story as she manipulated the people around her.

Another good, but still failing, attempt by a Victorian to make a case for the independence of women.