The Philosophical Apprentice

“Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.” Albert Einstein

Archive for the category “Book Review”

Codeword Emil

One of the great benefits of buying books at thrift stores is that the low prices allow you to buy and read books you would ordinarily forego.


I hit a few thrift stores on our way to Atlanta for the recent Thanksgiving holidays.  One of the items I came across was a copy of Erich Kastner’s Emil and The Detectives.  I did not know to make of the book when I first saw it and I had never heard of Kastner but it $.50 and the illustrations were by Maurice Sendak which was a good selling point so I said what the heck and bought it.


As things would have it I was casting about for something to read last night. I wasn’t looking for anything too heavy mind you but rather something to delight the mind. Additionally, I’ve been meaning to read more of the fiction on my kids’ homeschool reading list. So when I came across Emil and the Detectives sitting on my desk waiting to be entered into my book database I decided to give it a try.


Well. It turned out to be a delightful book. Set in Germany in the 1920s the novel relates the story of Emil a provincial country boy who having lost his father lives with his mother who is a cosmetologist by trade. Helping support their grandmother in Berlin, Emil’s mom sends him to Berlin to carry her savings for Emil’s grandmother. On the train ride in to Berlin Emil falls asleep and is robbed in the train by a man in a bowler hat. Now penniless Emil is determined to win back his money and begins following the man who robbed him. On the streets of Berlin a pack of neighborhood boys comes to Emil’s aid and under the tutelage of a boy named the ‘professor’ they develop a plan to recover Emil’s money. After which much hilarity ensues. The boys win the day and get the thief arrested. The thief turns out to be a wanted bank robber and his capture results in Emil not only recovering his money from the thief and the reward for his apprehension but in Emil getting a write up  in the paper and becoming a minor celebrity.

The copy I have turns out to be the third rendering in English of the classic novel. J.D. Stahl, the translator, did a good job of rendering the dialogue into the colloquial 21st century English. The language sparkles and is very playful, who could forget names like Tabletoes or Crumbagel. Readers in past decades have thought same as well and the book became an instant classic and was later adapted for both stage and cinema.

Overall, the book was a good indication that my goal of spending at least 2 hours a night in reading whatever gives me a pleasure (including more literature) is a good one since the book managed to reawake some of the ancient delight of literature that has lain dormant in me for some time now. I need make no apology for my emphasis on reading for pure pleasure. We could all use more literature like Emil and the Detectives which manages the difficult feat of making a good and earnest boy like Emil an endearing character. We could also use more literature depicting children working on their own in their innocence toward a common goal without the excessive adult oversight that is common now with today’s children. In today’s world Emil accomplices would be strung out on Ritalin, that or glued to their video games and iPads.

So in honor of honor of this classic the codeword is Emil.


Focus, Focus

The latest obsession of mine is to increase my ability to focus and get more work done. This ability is affecting me not just in my job but in my school studies and, increasingly, in my personal life.

It seems as if the modern world is nothing more than a giant conspiracy to distract us away from what is important. We want to read and what do we get, the internet, where there is an infinite amount of material, vast amounts of which are junk. We start reading here but then something else comes along and we drop what we are reading to read something else. Of course while you are doing this you, if you are like me, probably have about 20 tabs open. The end result is that we really only skim and browse through the ephemera of our nebulous online universe.

My complaint is compounded by the fact that my job requires me to read and write all day long. In addition, I work in a cubicle farm where there is, I have counted, close to 3 million different distractions. The continuous all day long stream of information often leaves me almost dizzy and short of breath.

And it is taking its toll on my personal life. Like many people I am discovering that I am finding it increasingly difficult to sit down and read a traditional book. I still read a lot mind you but I have noticed it only being done in the in-between times. I will read if I am eating by myself or when I’m having my morning bowel movement. But it is becoming rarer by the day that I can sit still for a couple of hours and simply read. I remember fondly when I first got out of the army. I lived by myself in a small cabin in the woods. i did not have a television much less a computer and all I had to entertain myself was to read. So read I did. Usually three or four books a week. Oh happy times.

For a long time I have wanted to recapture that magic.

So it what somewhat fortuitous that I came across Leo Babauta’s free e-book Focus. Babauta is a well-known blogger at the popular Zenhabits. Babauta’s contention is that we have become addicted to our digital connectivity. He is on to something here. You cannot go a day without reading something about studies showing people displaying depression like symptoms if they go a day without their facebook. Babauta recommends we put strict limits to our internet usage for our own sanity if we are to reclaim our focus on what is important in our lives. Babauta’s book includes some good tools and techniques to limit the distractions that serve as attention thieves. They are all very simple and workable and I recommend the book thoroughly. Best of all it is free and you can download it at the link above.

If you read it you may be able to reclaim the magic of slipping into a good book and losing yourself completely every night before you go to bed. Just as I hope to once again.


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