Locke's Commonplace  

By clicking to the left, you can add your commonplace thoughts by filling out the form, completely revisable. Your thoughts will appear on this page, but only once you've given permission to publish, and always completely revisable and deletable when you say! I'm putting my own post right below this, as an example. 

DANTE KARI (April 11, 2023) - Thoughts on the short stories of Harlan Ellison

I recently discovered and read some short stories by Harlan Ellison (A Boy and His Dog, Repent Harlequin, & I Have no mouth and I must scream). Harlan Ellison won multiple Hugo awards, and his story "A Boy and His Dog" was made into a movie and also inspired the Fallout and Mad Max franchises. I hesitate to recommend Ellison because his stories are rather graphic. It's not good bed time reading, but I found his stories to be readable, short, and thought provoking. Ellison seems to repeatedly present characters inhabiting a post-ethical world. What if being 3 minutes late was a capital crime? What if AI took over the world, and it hated you?

What if a can of peaches was worth killing over? Ellison's characters are condemned to live in a world they did not create. The characters don't really grow or change; they suffer and survive to suffer more.

LOGAN PEARCE (April 11, 2023) - Thoughts on The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russel 

This is one of my very favorite books. Written in the 1980's, in 2019 humanity receives its first signal from an alien civilization, and it's around Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to ours. The first group of humans to travel to the planet are a group of Jesuit missionaries. All the pieces align and miracles seem to be happening to make their trip a success, but the book opens with the sole survivor of the mission returning home to Earth. The book is a meditation on the question of why bad things happen. God seemed to be blessing their trip and sending them on the mission, but his plans ended in destruction for them personally. Why? My favorite thing about this book is that it doesn't pretend to have an answer. It is also full of imaginative world building and linguistics, and it is pretty intense in some parts. Trigger warning for sexual assault.

Thoughts on Leo Tolstoy's Huge Book, War and Peace - Fiore Sireci (April 3, 2023)

I have a teenage student and they challenged me to read this huge book, which in the fat edition I'm holding in my hands right now, is 1,094 pages. I thought it would be a slog. Surprisingly, I am falling in love with it. In War and Peace there are so many things that start to emerge, slowly, gradually, in Tolstoy's way of allowing characters to grow, rather than typecasting them the very first minute they appear (as American movies do). One thing that struck me is the soldier as tale-teller, the idea that no account of war, no matter how well or poorly written, is without value, some insight, some weight. Just as Samuel Johnson said, every autobiography, no matter how badly written, has something we can learn from, or in Johnson's inimitable phrasing, "I have often thought that there has rarely passed a life of which a judicious and faithful narrative would not be useful." 

So, as Napoleon pursued his onslaught on the heart of their country in 1812, and stunned Russian soldiers and officers attempted to make sense of the overwhelming feelings they had, that experience is worth telling! Now of course you might say it is all filtered through a literary lens, so it's not outright testimony. True, Tolstoy was a master writer, master storyteller, and his characters' words are sifted through his powerful literary style (he's not a chronicler like the amazing Studs Terkel) but there is something implicit in the pages and pages he lavishes on individuals who are roaming the battlefields, pondering life, pondering death, pondering honor and pondering shame. By highlighting their experiences and allowing the text to linger with them and not on the author, it puts weight on the experiences of soldiers rather than on some beauty in narration, or clever commentary.