Priscilla Fujimura

Priscilla Fujimura is a reader, gamer, coffee lover, and art appreciator living in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She has a BA in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics from The King's College. Her favorite genre is science fiction and she never turns down a good graphic novel. If you see her on the subway and she's not reading, she is listening to The Beatles. Priscilla was a contributor to Museweddings.com and you can find her blog on books and young adulthood at priscillafujimura.blogspot.com.

Books for the Transition

Book cover
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Like so many other things I adore or despise in life, my opinion of a book is based on more than just merit — it can be seriously altered by circumstances.

April was a transitional month. I traveled internationally, returned home to unemployment, and was then serendipitously hired into the busiest work I’ve had since college finals week. I started several books while unemployed, but with so few distractions, I was incapable of finishing a book that wasn’t confusing, mysterious, or driven.

Sophie’s World, by Jostein Gaarder was one of the three books I managed to read through over the jobless months. I began and finished it during a period of unusual activity – my eight day trip to Guatemala over Easter. I took my traveling companion’s good advice to bring just one book, and this was the perfect one. I could read it on the plane, in the morning with a cup of coffee in the sunlight, at a loud hostel at night, anywhere. I began reading this book once before, as a young teen with no philosophical education, and never finished. A few years studying the subject for my degree, and a trip of beautiful, tiring travel and practical conversations were the proper background to a philosophical, experimental novel.

The book reminded me that philosophy can and should be a part of our everyday lives. It elevates us, helps us understand humanity and the world, and is a part of culture whether or not most people are aware of its influence. I can’t say that I agree with most philosophers who (unsurprisingly) assert that the philosopher is the highest level a human can reach. But I do agree with Jostien Gaarder, and my old professors, about the importance of the subject.

Sophie’s World is quite a novel. It’s now been about 20 years since it’s first publication in Norwegian, but a book containing an understandable and concise history of philosophy is always relevant. The reader learns to become a philosopher along with the main character, Sophie. And what makes a person a philosopher? Asking questions, keeping one’s mind open to possibilities, and learning from history. It’s simple, really.

Back at home with my laundry piles and mice infestation, I blew off reading The Big Short for book club and stayed up late for Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore.

Reading Murakami is like listening to someone describe a vivid dream. He writes in contradictions, broken metaphors, mystic poetry. Sometimes you’re not even sure he knows what he talking about.

Kafka on the Shore was sometimes indecipherable, occasionally shocking, mostly lovely – full of art and music and natural beauty. There are a two characters I absolutely adored – Oshima, a wise, transgendered librarian assistant with a charming smile and Hoshino, a Hawaiian shirt-wearing truck driver who feels protective of grandfatherly types and learns to like Bach. It was a mysterious, coming of age, epic journey fantasy. It felt like a race to the answers at the end of the book, but one through Wonderland. Most of the questions are left mysteries, and though that is a little confusing (like the whole novel), it’s better. It wouldn’t be as beautiful with all the secrets revealed.

Around the time I was hearing rumors of a decent available job, I borrowed Colum McCann’s Let The Great World Spin. Sometimes it was good for subway reading with short chapters, sometimes it was a bit confusing for interrupted reading, though the subway is my second favorite place to read, as long as I can find a seat.

Let The Great World Spin, a mosaic of stories in the tunnels of New Yorkers lives, is the best Manhattan-based novel I’ve read. The characters are caricatures, cliches, and exaggerations of New Yorkers. The story I liked best was the one with the most regular characters – a group of mothers meeting to commiserate over the loss of their sons in Vietnam. It was full of the tension, uncertainly, awkwardness and regret of real life.

I think McCann chose to anchor his novel to Philippe Petit’s 1974 wire-walking stunt between the Twin Towers because it was a true New York moment, completely un-inimitable, and in his words, like creating a living monument to the city. Let The Great World Spin is a written monument to our city and neighbors, full of the sadness, goodness, craziness we witness daily. It is a quick read because it is precisely written, with paragraphs of concrete examples pulled from characters’ thoughts. It is also a good, fulfilling read, and pretty much worth all the hype.

Once I began my insane new employment, I had so many distractions to block out that I found the focus for slower books. I finished up Thaler and Sunstein’s Nudge in two days, and have somehow found the patience for France Maye’s poetic and rambling Under The Tuscan Sun. It’s more a memoir about Italian cooking than Italy. When I was unemployed, I could barely read five pages before wanting a nap in the sun, but the rattle of the N train arouses a new longing for fresh olive oil and dark espresso.

My receptiveness to books, stories, and concepts depends on my personal situation. Maybe reading is more about the reader than the book itself. I can happily read about siestas and fresh tomatoes when I’m working ten hour days on little sleep. I need plot with direction when my life is directionless. I can appreciate something as an educated adult that I couldn’t understand as a self-absorbed teenager. There isn’t any secret to properly appreciating a book, except that maybe if you don’t like one, it isn’t the right time. You just need to take a break and let it mellow on the shelf for a few months.

Books: Every Unhappy Worker’s Safety Net

An unhappy worker generally has three ways to respond to a nightmarish job . . .

1. Survive

She can aim for survival if her circumstances don’t allow the luxury of unemployment, so she should pick up Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. At least 40 hours of an unpleasant job is better than this.

The journey in The Road confronts our ideas of morality, compassion, and society. An anonymous father and son traipse southward through a bleak, ash-covered country. On the hopeless gray road, they are more likely to be food than to find it. After an unexplained disaster, perhaps a nuclear war, the earth and almost all living creatures have died. Through the father’s will and wit, he and his child manage to survive for years.

The boy is naïve, especially for a child born in a decimated world ruled by cannibals. He acts as his father’s conscience. He sees another child, an elderly traveler, a dog, and begs his father to help – but the man refuses, hardening his heart to the compassion the child craves. The boy cries, but survives.

It is a slow, arduous read. The brutality of the post-apocalyptic world is sickening. This is what becomes of humanity when morality no longer contributes to survival. The man constantly reassures his son that they are the “good guys” and the marauders are the “bad guys.” He tries to create a sense of right and wrong in the boy when those distinctions are nonexistent. Somehow, the boy becomes the personification of compassion and connectivity, seeking out the good in everyone, even worrying about a lone traveler who stole their precious food supply. Clearly this goodness in the boy is a disadvantage on the journey.  Yet it persists, even when his father – his whole experience of humanity – leaves other survivors to die.

2. Recover Optimism

Our unhappy worker can also ditch her attitude and try to recover the happiness the job used to supply. Myriam Warner-Vieyra writes a depressing, but hopeful example that recovering optimism is possible in Juletane.

Recover optimism: Myriam Warner-Vieyra’s Juletane.

Helene, a French social worker, discovers an old notebook as she packs up her apartment in preparation for her wedding. In it is Juletane’s bizarre and tragic autobiography.

Juletane was an orphan living a simple life in Paris after her guardian passed away. She decided to marry the first man who showed interest in her. While sailing to her new home in North Africa, she learns that her husband is already married. Juletane quickly becomes depressed, deepening in her alienation, listlessness, and madness. In the next five years, she hardly attempts to go back to France, preferring polygamist misery. She blames her misfortunes on forces she cannot resist and lives alone with her fatalism.

Helene sits awake through the night, drinking and devouring Juletane’s story. A man also broke her heart when she was young, and she responded as Juletane did. She internalized her pain and masked it with promiscuity. She cooly considers her approaching wedding- a transaction she’s agreed to so she can have a child before she is too old. After reading Juletane’s diary, the “block of ice around her heart” is broken.

People can’t live in isolation. Juletane was isolated by language and culture. She could have chosen to live with her circumstances or to go back to Paris. Helene rejects meaningful relationships after her first fiance’s betrayal. She imagines her solitude is strength and plans to only use her fiance for his sperm without getting close to him. But she recognizes the detriment of her self-imposed isolation. She cannot follow Juletane’s path. What will Helene do? The novel ends after she finished Juletane’s diary. But, I suppose the way to start is to form true, lasting, and deep relationships.

3. Move On

Or, our worker can rationally, irresponsibly abandon her junky job, move on, and try to find her passion. Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist is like a motivational seminar for people trying to find a meaningful career.

Move on: Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist.

Swift and grand, the tale sweeps over a transcontinental journey, enormous life changes, and vast philosophies without wordiness. Brevity is power, and the book quickly snared my affection. A seminarian becomes a shepherd (symbolism!) out of wanderlust, dreams of a great treasure and forsakes the safety of familiarity on a mission to complete his life’s narrative. It is an adventurous, romantic, philosophical coming-of-age tale. Every character was likable, even the thieves and bandits, who are each an important part of Santiago’s quest.

The story is warm, the writing poetic and the message inspiring, despite the pantheism.

I consumed this book and felt nourished and encouraged. It is an optimistic fantasy, but surprisingly pertinent. Discovering suppressed desires, resisting the easy routine, trusting instincts, accepting opportunities, conquering disappointments on the way to a higher goal – it is the quite an enjoyable self-improvement book. Some might think it is too idealistic or too pagan. They wouldn’t be wrong. But with captivating images, charming characters and a satisfying conclusion, there is only everything to love about this short book.