Upcoming 2020 International Book Fairs!

In order to support the practice of reading and the beauty of books, RXTT's Intellectual Journey has partnered with KOTOBE (https://www.kotobee.com ) in order to share this amazing compendium of world-wide Book Fairs taking place in the next 12 months.


 The URL above will take you to a comprehensive and exhaustively researched list of International Book Fairs, sorted by date. Wonderful stuff! The good people at KOTOBEE specialize in helping writers, businesses, and organizations create ebooks. It is a worthy effort.


I Ran Across a Biting Satire for Our Modern Times

Mischief – Chris Wilson (1993)

            I often spend much of my lunch hour at work reading (lucky me!).  One day, as I was leaving the Baylor College of Medicine cafeteria, I noticed a bookshelf tucked away in the corner.  Taped to the top shelf was a sign reading “Your Free Library.”  I am always drawn to Libraries of any type, even tiny ones.  I perused the contents of the shelves, finding many magazines, medical periodicals, and quite a few books, both fiction and non-fiction, that were interesting to me.  Among these was a well-worn paperback titled Mischief, by English author Chris Wilson.  Reading the blurbs and the synopsis on the back page I was intrigued, and took the book with me.

            From the moment I began to read this novel I found myself both engaged and amused by turn, and began to really relate to the protagonist, one Charlie Duckworth.  He narrates his own tale, describing himself then his humble beginnings, where he was found beside a Brazilian river by a British botanist who brings Charlie back to the UK as his adopted son.  This book resonantly speaks to the outsider’s experience upon being thrust into British society and culture, mirroring somewhat my experience as an outsider Puerto Rican who was brought to Houston, Texas, leaving behind every bit of societal culture I understood, and having to adapt and join the alien American culture I had seen so much on TV and movies.

            Like the very best works of satire, this is one funny book.  Also, like the very best works of satire, the jokes are there to shed light upon the horror inherent in the culture being savaged.  Charlie is, in nearly all respects, the opposite of a British gentleman.  His skin is yellow, his body is hairless, and his frame is tall and gangly.  He is a devout vegetarian.  He is so overcome with empathy and sympathy for anyone who appears in pain or suffering that he unconsciously mimics their afflictions, thereby causing the very people he is sympathizing with to reject him, fearing that he is only ridiculing their woe.  He does not understand sarcasm, nor lies, nor the very British trait of extreme politeness to the point of delusion.  He sees himself as an animal, not a Homo Sapiens Sapiens human being, and the responses and reactions he receives from the British people as he maneuvers school and life only reinforce that idea.

            Charlie Duckworth is also an astute observer of humanity, sharing with the reader the many conclusions he has come to regarding the human creature and the actions of such.  Here is an example of the type of interactions Charlie had with his University professors,

            “Holzinger gave a rhesus Monkey an electric shock every time it ate a banana,” Dr. Jobson told our seminar group. “Why do you suppose he did this?
            “Was he a sadist, a psychopath?” I asked.  It seemed a rhetorical question, but I wanted to make a contribution.
            “Duckworth,” Dr. Jobson declared…”don’t be a smart-arse.  Not in my seminars.”
            “But look at it from the monkey’s point of view…” I protested.
            “The monkey doesn’t have a point of view,” he snapped.  There was this prevalent view in psychology that animals didn’t have pleasures or feelings.  There were only things that happened to them, and things they did in reflex reply – stimuli and responses.  I knew better.  Though, I didn’t say so.

            Charlie experiences much of what constitutes a “typical” British upbringing, always experiencing things in a way that exasperates the Brits around him.  They do not know how to cope with someone who has not yet assimilated all their self-delusion mechanisms.  This is very much how life is like in our modern world for anyone not interested in acquiring wealth and/or power, or for someone whose personal values are deemed worthless by the society he finds himself in.  The kind, giving, friendly person is the first victim of the mean, selfish, and antagonistic person. 

Charlie’s insights into us humans may cut deep, but they are true insights, and exceedingly valuable.  I would recommend this book to anyone who has felt marginalized by the world at large, or out of place within a world that you did not create.  I know it resonated deeply with me, and my experiences.  Author Chris Wilson has created a profound book, dripping with the sharply observed satire expected out of someone like Mark Twain or Jonathan Swift.  It is a satire for our modern age, asking what being human really means, and whether it is worth it to try.


Alexander Hislop wants to Chant Down Babylon, and So Do I

The Two Babylons: or, the Papal Worship Proved to Be the Worship of Nimrod and His Wife – Alexander Hislop (1916)

            (Recently I came across a Reading List for a University lecture course taught by the great Sun Ra back in the day.  Fascinating stuff.  This is my review of the first book on the Sun Ra Reading List.  I hope to make it through them all this year. - RXTT)

            This one is heavy.  First, a little background.  I am the son of an Episcopal Priest.  Because of this, I grew up in church, and because of my curiosity, I was always reading the Bible, or any theology that came my way.  I wanted to know what in this collection of books (BIBLIA means a collection of separate books, hence our Bible) was the source for the seemingly infinite variety of denominations and sects that claimed to be following the teachings of Jesus the Christ.  In all my study as a youth, and in the decades since, I have never found any of what Jesus the Christ taught, preached, or espoused, to be complex.  His teachings are exceedingly basic, and applicable to all humans in all lands.  The many religions/sects/cults (they are all the same thing) that sprung up in Jesus’ wake, however, have conflated his teachings, and obscured the simple message behind walls of ritual, baroque language, and the seemingly impenetrable man-made creation of the priesthood.  The worst one seems to be the Roman Catholic Church.

            A quick history lesson: the times in which Jesus the Christ lived are estimated to be between 2,000 and 2,100 years ago.  No one can be sure. There is no record anywhere of the date of his birth, the date of his mitzvah (Jesus was a Jew, you know), or of the date of his death.  There are no Roman or old Israelite records showing Jesus specifically being tried and executed.  All we have are the words of Scripture, in which very little of Jesus’ life is actually discussed.  There is nothing in the Bible between his birth and the time he came of age, and very little between that and his rise as a prophet and leader of men.  You can find Bibles that mark all of the words claimed to be spoken by Jesus the Christ in red letters, and let me tell you, it is barely two pages of text collectively.  That is, two pages of text, out of a collection of books running thousands of pages long.

            The initial Christians, in the three to four-hundred years after his passing, maintained for the most part the teachings he gave.  People today talk constantly about Jesus’ calls to be humble, to turn the other cheek to your enemy, to not use violence, for violence is an evil method.  These are all great teachings and deeply valuable, as evident in the US Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s non-violent protest, and in India’s Revolt from the yoke of the British Empire, with Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent protest tactics.  They were also central to the early Christians.  However, if you actually read the Gospels instead of accepting your local cult leader’s (priest’s) interpretation, you will see that Jesus preached against many things which, today, are not so commonly discussed.  Jesus preached against all organized religion of any type, and the idea that any intermediary can or should come between a human and his divinity (God).  He saw first-hand the corruption Rabbinical “leaders” caused in his Jewish faith.  He saw how those people get assigned power over the rest of us, power which only leads to evil and ill.  Jesus also preached heavily for the personal dissolution of the family.  He states many times that a good person values god more than their family.  Jesus lived in a time where one’s family dictated everything about your life.  If you were born to a rich landowner, you were to be a rich landowner.  If you were born to a destitute family, you deserved it and you were going to stay destitute.  The modern ideal of a human being making something out of themselves, regardless of their familial status or where they come from, is a very recent phenomenon, and for most of human history this has not been the case.

            Jesus also preached separation from the concerns of the state.  He witnessed the corruption inherent when a powerful religion (concerned primarily with men’s souls) comingled and eventually entrenched themselves into local (Roman) politics.  What is the old saying?  “Power tends to corrupt.  Absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.”  Jesus preached against the old codes in the Bible, stating that, as he had come to redeem the world of all sin, past and present, the old Abrahamaic and Mosaic laws of the Hebrews were null and void, and there was but one way to salvation, faith in the teachings of Jesus.  This may have been his greatest act of rebellion, and is most definitely the teaching that caused him to be executed by religions leaders using the Roman courts as their proxy.  (Many claim that Jesus was put to death for preaching to non-Jews.  In fact, many of the apostles were against Jesus teaching his lessons to non-Jews.  Jesus did not see the difference, for we are all human, and his teachings applied to all.  He began preaching to “gentiles,” the non-Jews such as Greeks, Phoenicians, Egyptians, etc. who happened to live in or near Israel.  It is easy to see how this would piss off some rich bastard priesthood/rabbis whose sole claim to power was being able to guide Hebrews to God.)

            In other words, Jesus’ teachings amounted to a direct and absolute threat to all established powers in his world.  “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” as Jesus stated so famously when asked about money and taxes.  Jesus did not care about money.  The early Christians followed his teachings, abstaining from blind obedience to families, the state or any organized religion, and not seeking to hoard riches or wealth.  They met in un-decorated rooms, and humbly prayed, quietly, as Jesus taught.  It only took three to four hundred years for these good teachings to be overrun by an organization seeking to regain their power, both religious and political, and for them to claim to be the sole and only source for true salvation.  That group of evil bastards is, according to Mr. Hislop, what is currently known as the Roman Catholic Church, home of endless nun-rapes, pedophiles, bastard children, and the most exquisite blasphemies and idolatries ever, all the while telling the millions of Christians worldwide that they are the sinners, that they are born evil, and that only through the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and their priests can humans hope to achieve redemption.

            It is this organization, at one point so powerful that the Pope actually ruled an entire empire (Papal States - edit, thanks to !@#$#%$), that Alexander Hislop has put squarely in his sights.  His disdain for the evils of the RCC is so great that he spent a great part of his life in research, reading, learning, and understanding exactly how the RCC has managed to enslave much of the world in a deeply Pagan and un-Christian religion.  Hislop goes into extravagant detail about pretty much every single aspect of what we call today Roman Catholicism, and how it is all just a subversion of Christian tropes in service of a more ancient pagan belief, the worship of the god/godman called Baal, Cyrus, or Nimrod.  This individual, Hislop claims, was the son of Noah, the first creator of a large walled city after the Biblical Flood (Babylon), who, after his death in a violent manner, was deified as having been resurrected as the God of all Men.  His wife, Semiramis, gave birth to a son, Tammuz, in a virgin birth.  The Babylonian religion coalesced these two entities, the father and the son, as being the same person, essentially having Nimrod father himself and be reborn as Tammuz.  They also ended up worshiping Semiramis as a goddess who had a miraculous “Virgin” birth.  She became so very powerful as a goddess object of worship that Tammuz was infantilized, and both of them were portrayed just as Mary and Jesus are now portrayed, a virgin mother saint holding her sainted son, reborn of the Father.

            When the Roman Emperors’ began to attempt to control Christianity, they essentially couched the old paganism in Christian symbolism, turning the ancient festival of Saturnalia (celebrating the Virgin birth of Tammuz/Mithra) into Christmas, turning the spring festivals to Ishtar (a goddess Hislop shows to be just an inversion of the worship of Semiramis) into the High festival of Easter, supposedly commemorating Jesus’ reincarnation after his crucifixion, but celebrated with Pagan symbols such as eggs, rabbits, and other ancient stand-ins for fertility.  They declared formally that they were the only true Christian religion, that no others are valid, and that redemption and salvation do not come from faith in Jesus the Christ and following his teachings, but in endless cycles of pagan bullshit such as flagellation, contrition, the paying of tithes, suffering for suffering’s sake, and the constant reminder of the horrors that the human body of Jesus endured by the fetish of the Roman execution device of the cross.  This is essentially religious horror-porn.  Christ never mentioned any of these things as divine and in fact, actually denounced most of them.

            One of the biggest areas that Hislop explores is the method by which the Roman Catholic Church has ingrained the cardinal sin of idolatry into its very essence.  The very first of the Mosaic Commandments states thus, “I am the Lord, thy God.  Thou shall have no other gods before me.  Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.”  Jesus, in his Gospels, states that this Commandment takes precedence above all others.  However, this is exactly the opposite of what the Roman Catholic Babylon Church has forced upon the devout.  Their houses of worship are covered in idols, images, and statues that are MEANT to be prayed to.  Instead of praying quietly to god, as commanded by Jesus, Roman Catholics are expected to supplicate to dead saints (many of them converted Pagan gods or ideas), and Mary and the priests to plead to God on their behalf.  Nowhere is Jesus mentioned.  The pagan worship of a Virgin Mother has so corrupted the Roman Catholic Church that even the Popes exclaim that Mary is the redeemer, the one who makes Jesus save us.  That is deep blasphemy.

            I have not even scratched the surface of what Hislop exposes.  In the Gospels, Jesus states that we are all to confess our sins to each other, including religious leaders.  This keeps everyone humble, and human, and understanding of our failings, and better able to accept the faults of others (a very Christian thing to do), but the Roman Catholic Church does not follow Jesus’ teachings on this.  They demand that all subjects confess their sins to a Priest, who remains anonymous, and then the priest will give them some rote bullshit to do to be “absolved,” such as reciting countless prayers to Mary (more blasphemy). Never, ever, do the Priests confess their sins to the people in their care.  In fact, when the people come out and inform authorities that many of the Roman Catholic priests/monks/nuns are pedophiles, rapists, abusers, inveterate drunks, gamblers, and all-around professional sinners, there is never any accountability!   Rapist pedophile priests are slightly chastised and sent to a different parish, where their evil can continue unabated.  Recently a comprehensive list of priests accused of credible sexual rape and abuse, has been published.  It runs over THREE THOUSAND NAMES LONG.  None of these assholes will be jailed.  None will even be prosecuted in court.  The Roman Catholic Church treats their priest’s crimes as “sins” to be dealt with internally, regardless of the horror and trauma they cause to countless generations of people.  This has been the case for hundreds of years.  If anyone does come to trial, it is always some ancient old priest who raped kids for decades, but now looks so feeble and old that people feel pity for the rapist!

            Religion is, to me, the last great superstition left in humanity.  It is the single largest source of pain, suffering, and outright evil in the world.  The biggest crimes against humanity have been done in the name of religion, or attempting to stop one specific religion.  It is all a crock of shit.  As soon as we all rid ourselves of the idea that cryptic and debased belief systems are truth and the key to happiness once we are dead, then humanity will reach a deeper closeness with the true teachings that Jesus the Christ died to impart.  Mr. Hislop, as a Christian in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, is a devout believer in Jesus.  He deeply believes that Jesus and his sacrifice were, as Jesus stated, the final redemption of mankind, and that no other redemption is required, which is the exact opposite of what the Roman Catholic Church preaches.  I do not feel this way.  I do not “believe” in anything.  I am purely a human being, living my life as best I see fit, and trying my hardest to help others when I can, and not hurt others when I am able to stop myself from doing so.  I have had many people in my life, people very close to me, tell me that in my day to day living, I am the closest thing to a Christian they know.  I take it as a compliment.  Jesus was a REBEL.  Jesus knew his teachings were important enough to die for.  Jesus whupped some money-lender ass when they defiled his father’s house. 

            This is not an easy book to read.  The work is dense, and Mr. Hislop gives you everything he can find to prove his point.  There are so many examples, so many unavoidable truths within, that I can see why this book is not more widely known.  The Wizard of Oz does NOT want you to see how he makes the magic happen.

(EDITED for clarity - 2/5/2020 - RXTT)

(This book can be downloaded as a PDF here: http://www.ldolphin.org/PDFs/The_Two_Babylons-Alexander_Hislop.pdf )


The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Mother-load is Mine

Star Trek – The Deep Space Nine Companion – Terry J. Erdman, Paula M. Block (2000)

            From 1993 until 1999, what I consider the greatest science fiction television show ever aired in syndication in the United States.  Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) turned the Star Trek formula upside down.  Instead of a ship and crew of high-end achievers exploring the galaxy and encountering a new threat or danger or problem every week, DS9 showed us a flawed Commander and crew who take over a commandeered Cardassian outpost orbiting a small, seemingly inconsequential planet named Bajor.  Whereas, in Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) the entire ship was populated by Starfleet personnel and their families, in DS9 the command crew is composed of a mix of Starfleet officers and staff, Bajoran military and government officials, and a whole slew of civilian shopkeepers and workers, not to mention the constant arrival of travelers seeking refueling, repairs, or just some rest and relaxation after a long voyage.  Because of this, DS9 was able to tell deeper, more involved stories, sometimes taking years to fully understand.

            DS9 began in 1993, as a premium syndication show, meant to be the showpiece of a new network, UPN, now defunct.  It aired for 7 years, and because it was a syndicated show sometimes it was moved, pre-empted, or otherwise ignored by the UPN people.  DS9 always sought to maintain a sense of continuity between its episodes, but once they began to fully explore serialized storytelling, if became a difficult show to follow if you had missed a few episodes.  TNG, on the other hand, told stand-alone episodes, capable of being watched in nearly any order.  Watching DS9 out of order would lead to massive confusion!  It was a good thing that the people in charge of DS9 knew how special the cast and show were and kept this all in mind as they crafted season after season of amazing science fiction television.

            Because of this, Terry Erdman and Paula Block’s book, Star Trek – The Deep Space Nine Companion, is such a favorite among fanatics of DS9. (We call ourselves Niners, BTW)  Not only does this heavy tome detail every single episode’s narrative, but it provides countless piles of data and information about the show, including cast members, trivia from behind the scenes, the production teams, and thoughts about each episode from the pertinent cast or crew members involved.  It is literally the DS9 bible, and it fetches a fair price on the secondary used book market!

            I am a huge fanatic of reference material, and to have such a motherload of data about my all-time favorite television show is so cool.  I enjoy the insight provided to me by the cast and crew as they look back on some of the best work they ever did.  I look forward to a lifetime of curiosity leading me to dig back into the Deep Space Nine Companion.  I highly recommend it, either for yourself if you are a Niner, or as a gift for someone in your life that loves Deep Space Nine.


God Comes to Earth to Converse with Humans

Chats with God in Underwear – Eduardo Chapunoff (2019)

            What a weird little book!  Recently, I received a request from this author to review his book, Chats with God in Underwear (translated from the Spanish, “Charlas con Dios en Calzoncillos”, explaining its themes and topics.  I was told this book concerned a trip that God makes to Earth, and his thoughtful conversations with the people he meets.  I was immediately intrigued, especially after I saw that the author is an eminent cardiologist and prominent member of some very serious medical boards.  There are not too many cardiologists out there writing books exploring the nature of man, death, the Universe, and its creator.

            This was a quick and lively read.  The book is structured almost like a screenplay or stage play, consisting mainly of dialogue between God (who goes by the name Rogelio), and John, a man he meets upon arriving on the shores of Brazil unharmed in the middle of a hurricane.  John takes Rogelio to his beach-side home, where he is informed that Rogelio is God, and that he is interested in talking to learned people of various faiths, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Agnostic.

            The story proceeds to detail the various conversations that God/Rogelio engages in, each of them polite, but intense questions regarding their faith, their specific beliefs, and the way they view the Divine, without avoiding the pain and horror that humans suffer through and must come to grips with if they chose to believe in an all-powerful, all-good deity.  No one but John is aware of the fact that Rogelio is God, although they react to him in a way that lets you know they can sense his innate goodness and kindness.

            These conversations are great, and likely the type of self-analysis that many devout people do regularly, as they try to understand their god, their beliefs, and how it all applies to the world around us, so full of evil and pain and hate.  Many of the people that God interacts with admit as much.

            There are sections of this book where the author goes into the personal life of John, and his marital troubles, children troubles, etc.  God/Rogelio offers advice to help John in these matters, even though John is not very receptive to it.  Several asides are included which try to show the relationship John has with his three children and they are not very successful, apart from being plot devices that allow God and John to continue their conversations.  I would have preferred that these sections were omitted.

            Other than that quibble, I really enjoyed reading this, and seeing how Chapunoff imagines God would interact with the humans he meets.  Many of the questions that God poses to the people he meets are things that all of us should think about, especially the religious among us, for they can help us understand the complexity and mystery that is the world we live in, and our daily existence.  Very cool stuff.

(This book can be purchased (Kindle Edition) here: https://www.amazon.com/CHATS-GOD-UNDERWEAR-Eduardo-Chapunoff-ebook/dp/B07RD8Q4YM )


Céline Blows My Mind, Which is Awesome

Journey to the End of the Night – Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1932)

            One of the greatest sources of information about books and writers that I am not aware of comes from the authors I read.  Charles Bukowski, and his raw, unvarnished views on the world around him, always fascinated me, and when I read a quote stating that Bukowski considered Louis-Ferdinand Céline “…the greatest writer of 2,000 years” I was intrigued, having heard mention of this French author whose style and mind helped set the stage for the modernist works of the 20th century.  As I always like to note any synchronicities around me, soon after reading that quote by Bukowski I was listening to the Doors, specifically the song “End of the Night.”  Looking up the song I found that it was a reference to a Céline novel titled “Journey to the End of the Night.”  I had to go and find this novel, and see what all the fuss was about!

            We jump right into the story of Ferdinand Bardamu, a veiled double for our author, and his cynicism about the world he inhabits, France during The Great War.  While talking about the terrible state he and his companions find themselves in, with the war getting closer and closer to them, our protagonist rashly jokes he will join the army, as he has no other prospects.  The crowd’s patriotic fervor eggs him on.  He proceeds to fool around, joining a column of marching soldiers.  By the time he realizes that the cheering crowds have thinned out, he was inside the army compound and in the military.

            The novel jumps from there right to Bardamu in the middle of a predictably chaotic and pointless skirmish, and his cynical view of things stands in sharp contrast with the patriots and flag-wavers he encounters.  His superior officers are brain-dead nitwits, some seeking glory, and others seeking power, with no concern for the safety and well-being of the men they lead.  This is a point that Céline/Bardamu reiterates constantly.  He finds the war to be as stupid and vapid as the cheering morons who support the war from the safety of their cafes and parlors.

            We follow Bardamu as he proceeds to go AWOL, get discovered by another patrol, gets sent to a far-flung outpost in Africa, manages to find his way out of that, get “Shanghaied” on a steam-ship, and then make his way to the United States.  In New York, he sees the glittering lights, absorbs countless films at the air-conditioned movie house, and is overwhelmed by the massive amount of beautiful, young, energetic, hopeful women he sees.  Compared to the lifeless women he knew in France it was a big change. 

            From the moment he entered the military, Bardamu’s tale coincides with a fellow Frenchman named Robinson. They run into each other in the Army, again in NYC, and then again in France once Bardamu returns home.  Bardamu eventually ends up in Medical school, and becomes a doctor for hire in one of the poorest parts of the poor parts of Paris.

            Throughout these adventures, Bardamu lets fly with some of the wittiest and most caustic analysis of the world around him that I have ever read.  I can see why Bukowski, Heller, Beckett, and others were such big fans.  Céline lays bare every bit of corruption, chicanery, and falsehood that we all live under.  These lies and obfuscations help make our society function as a whole but they destroy the individual mind and will.  I would love to re-read this novel with a highlighter in my hand so I can mark every amazing sentence and truth.

            Céline was one of the first authors to make use of ellipses, jumping forward in time with no connective exposition.  Kurt Vonnegut makes use of this method in his novels, and I first found it in Slaughterhouse 5, thinking it was a very cool way to tell a story.  This is Céline’s first novel, and it was a sensation in Paris, with people discussing the crudeness, pain, and horrors that Céline describes casually.  In the Europe before WWI, the aristocracy and well-off lived their lives ignorant of the common masses and their troubles.  This book must have been one bitter pill for them to swallow, as Céline excoriates the people in power, showing their stupidity, greed, and self-delusion.  Not many novels before this one delved into such ugly things.  It really is a great piece of writing.  I am very glad the synchronicities lined up to introduce me to this book.

(This book can be downloaded and read in PDF format here: https://neoalchemist.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/louis-ferdinand-celine-journey-to-the-end-of-the-night.pdf