Book notes: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz book summary review and key ideas.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Synopsis:

“Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship – the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.” -Audible


Opening thoughts:

I don’t exactly remember who recommended this book to me. I thought it might have been from Tim Ferriss’s 5-Bullet Friday, but now I feel like someone might have recommended it to me, either on facebook, instagram, or in person. But I can’t pinpoint who recommended it. I wish I could add a note whenever I add a book to my Wish List, but Audible doesn’t have that capability at the moment. @Audible, where you at?

Edit: So my gf Blessie reminded me that SHE recommended this book to me, haha. #mysterysolved


Key notes:

  • He felt alone as a pseudo-only child
    • He had twin, 12-year older sisters, and an 11-year older brother
    • His mother understood him and they had the same humor, but his dad was changed after he got out of the Marines
  • He felt embarrassed to be a guy because they were all stupid and talked about stupid things
    • He was worried he would grow up to be one of those assholes, but his mom said that it was just a phase they would grow out of
  • Aristotle, whose first name was really Angel, was named after his grandfather’s Mexican name
  • He met Dante in the pool, whom offered him swimming lessons
    • Dante’s father was an English professor
  • He wondered how Dante was so tough and disciplined and nice
    • He wondered how someone could live in a mean world and not have that meanness rub off on them. It was one mysteries of the universe
  • Dante said that he was secretly crazy about his parents, which is something Aristotle never heard anyone say before
  • Dante and his father had a loving and open relationship with each other
    • He also mentioned he figured out his father but not his mother who was inscrutable
  • Dante managed to make Ari’s dad smile twice within minutes of meeting him
    • Smiling wasn’t someone he was used to seeing his dad do as Ari didn’t really understand his dad
  • Dante has a weird thing about shoes and how he doesn’t like wearing them
  • Dante also had a thing about telling the truth out loud with words
  • One thing Ari learned about getting into fights is to move fast and take the guy by surprise
  • He loves his parents but doesn’t know how to love them
    • He always wonders about his brother and wants to talk about him, but he’s been erased from the family
  • Ari was in an accident, presumably he saved Dante from being hit by a car
    • He was out for a day and a half because he needed surgery for his bones
  • Ari instinctively pushed Dante out of the way and saved his life
    • Dante and Ari’s mom kept crying
    • Dante kept asking for forgiveness but Ari wondered what for
  • Ari says that he didn’t save Dante on purpose
    • He says it was a reflex that he didn’t consciously think about, so he doesn’t feel like a hero and gets annoyed when people say he is
  • Dante’s mom grabbed Ari’s face and told him she will love him forever, and Ari knew what she meant it because she wasn’t the type of person to say the word love very often
    • He could tell that she loved Dante more than he would ever know
  • He says he bet you could find all of the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand
  • There was a whole universe to be discovered in a pickup truck
    • Sitting in the driver’s seat made everything seem possible
  • He told his mom he had a dream he ran over Dante with a truck and he couldn’t stop
    • But he didn’t tell her that it was because he was distracted by a girl
  • Dante wrote letters to him about going to parties and experiences in Chicago and kissing a girl
    • Whenever he was sad, Ari would think about his brother and subconsciously start spelling his name
  • He has the idea that we have dreams because we are thinking about things we don’t know we’re thinking about
    • Those things sneak out of us in our dreams
  • He had this idea that he wanted to kiss the girl Iliana

Reader’s note: Well I guess he isn’t gay then?

  • He has driving lessons with his dad every weekend which he looked forward to
    • On the outside he was quiet and reserved like his dad, but on the inside he was like Dante, which frightens him
  • Dante told Ari that he’s been experimenting with kissing girls but he thinks he prefers kissing boys
    • Ari was more or less fine with it because they were so far apart
  • He wanted to drink his cans of beer in his car at home and experiment, in order to discover the secrets of the universe
  • He went to a New Year’s party and had a lot of fun and even kissed Iliana
  • The night he went into the desert to drink beer with Gina and Susie, he looked up at the stars and asked if they’ll ever discover the secrets of the universe
  • He said that his mom loved him so much he almost couldn’t stand it
    • Reader’s note: I think it’s because he doesn’t have enough self-love to accept his mother’s and everyone else’s love
  • He said he loves the pureness and innocence of dogs, how they just live in the moment and are genuine
  • He loved his parents as much as they loved him
    • The most beautiful thing an adult that wasn’t his parents said to him was when Dante’s mom said that they missed him
  • They made a rule that Ari would remain loyal and Dante wouldn’t try kissing him
    • They also found out that Dante is going to be an older brother
  • Dante said they needed to try kissing boys just so they can be sure and it confirmed what they already knew

Reader’s note: A gay friend of mine used this logic/tactic on me once in high school. It worked. And it confirmed that I’m not gay, LOL

  • One of the secrets of the universe is that sometimes our instincts are stronger than our minds
    • Another secret of the universe: sometimes pain was like a storm that comes out of nowhere
  • His aunt Ophelia has solved few of the many mysteries of the universe. One of which was that the body is a beautiful thing
  • Ari got mad at Dante for telling Gina and Suzy about the accident, and then they wondered why Ari kept his best friend such a secret

Reader’s note: My analysis is that he still doesn’t feel like a hero and doesn’t want people to know because he doesn’t want the praise. He still lacks self love in order to receive it

  • Ari’s aunt whom he spent time with as a kid and loved had a stroke and they were going to see her
    • He left his dog Legs with Dante’s family
  • His dad told him that he actually stayed with his aunt for 9 months during his brothers trial because his brother loved him and didn’t want Ari to see him like that
    • At the time, his mom broke down completely and seeing her like that also messed up his dad
  • He cried tears of happiness because him mom said she wanted to show him pictures of his brother
    • She also apologized that they hurt Ari and said they don’t always make the right decisions but they do the best they can
  • It’s not always wondered and then it always ended up back about his brother and parked there like his favorite spot in the desert
  • Maybe dogs were one of the secrets of the universe because they made everyone around them happy
  • Dante was beat up really bad and ended up in the hospital because some boys saw him kissing another guy
    • Dante ’s didn’t run because that’s who Dante is
    • Also Dante’s parents left are even more because he said he would be Dante’s friend forever
  • Ari said that it was hard to control what you do because you are feeling and feeling too much
    • Perhaps the difference between boys and men is that boys can’t control what they feel 
  • He understood that his father was a careful man, careful with his words and with people which is a rare and beautiful thing 
  • Ari’s parents made him realize that he loved Dante and that he had nothing to be ashamed of
    • He didn’t realize that he had loved Dante the minute he met him and was subconsciously fighting those thoughts this whole time
    • He finally felt free

Main ideas / Themes:

Secrets of the Universe

The following are references to the phrase “secrets of the universe” that I thought would be interesting to compile in one spot:

  • He wondered how someone could live in a mean world and not have that meanness rub off on them
  • Drinking his cans of beer in his car at home and experimenting in order to discover the secrets of the universe
  • Looking up at the stars (with Gina and Susie) and asking if they’ll ever discover the secrets of the universe
  • Sometimes our instincts are stronger than our minds
  • Sometimes pain was like a storm that comes out of nowhere
  • Maybe dogs were one of the secrets of the universe because they made everyone around them happy

Self love and acceptance

This is definitely a big theme in the book because Ari struggles with accepting love from everyone around him. His parents both love him, Dante and his parents love him, and even girls at school seem to send him affection that he easily brushes off. He even cannot accept the praise others give him for saving Dante because he feels like he doesn’t deserve it.

The main reason why he struggles with accepting love is because he doesn’t love himself. He doesn’t feel worthy of love because he has such a low opinion of himself for some reason. His mom constantly refutes that point and jumps on him whenever he puts himself down. He cannot see himself as a hero because he doesn’t feel like it was a conscious choice.

In the end, he realizes that the reason why he cannot love or accept love is because he hasn’t accepted himself. He repressed his attraction for men, particularly Dante since the very beginning. Once he accepted it, he felt free.

This reminds me of the last book I read The Courage to be Disliked which talks about self-acceptance and freedom.

Keeping Secrets

  • Ari’s secrets:
    • Ari not telling others that Dante was his best friend
    • Him saving Dante during the accident
    • Finally admitting that he was gay and loved Dante
  • His parents’ secrets:
    • Keeping his older brother Bernardo and the mystery of why he was in jail a secret
    • His father being secretive about the war and how it changed him

Closing thoughts:

So I thought I would really like this book. But in the latter half of the book, it started getting confusing and ambiguous. Then, when the plot twist revealed that Ari was in fact gay after all this time, I started to not like it as much. I know it sounds weird like I don’t like gay people (that is totally not the case, lol). I really thought it would have been better if he wasn’t gay, and then the two of them would have to figure out how to maintained their best friendship even despite that. I feel like it would have been a better story. Therefore, what they did wasn’t because of a romantic or physical attraction, but because love is a choice that transcends that attraction. Even though they don’t love each other the same way, they still love each other deeply. But then I felt the romance cheapened the love.

Again, this is just my thoughts and perspective on the plot and how it unfolded.

I think I also sort of felt betrayed or led on / lied to because I’m thinking “okay, so there’s all this weird imagery and language, but he’s literally kissing and dating girls, so he’s not gay”. Ari even openly denied he was when they kissed. We’re also so used to peering into his mind and knowing his thoughts. So when he finally revealed in the end that he was gay and really did enjoy that kiss with Dante, I was thinking “Okay bro, make up your mind. Either you are or you’re not, lol. Stop confusing us.”

I mean, maybe it’s not as simple as that. Maybe it really was repressed or really denied. But the storytelling I felt was off point. Maybe the author kept the reveal until the very end for dramatic effect, but I didn’t like it.

I also admit that maybe it’s because I can’t really relate to it. I’ve always known what my sexuality is, but I’m sure given the character’s context and weird environment growing up, he was in a process of self-discovery the entire time. So maybe he truly didn’t know. Except when he told Dante that he did know and he did enjoy it. So that’s why I kinda felt betrayed and led on.

Oh well. It was a cute story, but definitely not my thing. Even in movies with heterosexual romance, this type of romance is not something I particularly enjoy. I loved his relationship with his parents and the character development with them. I liked the contrast and dynamics between Dante and Ari, and slowly uncovering the mystery of his brother, and his father slowly opening up. I like how we can relate to Ari wanting to just escape and be reclusive because of the environment his parents created for him. But this kind of romance isn’t really my thing.

I really wished it would have been just Ari’s courage and love for Dante as a friend that compelled him to save his friend’s life and remain loyal to him despite their differences. That would have been a more inspiring story to me. The way it is, it seems like him saving Dante wasn’t a choice, but more as an effect of his repressed attraction for guys, particularly Dante. A lot less romantic in my opinion.


One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

I honestly cannot think of a main takeaway. It was a nice book that has a lot to digest and unpack. But I didn’t particularly enjoy it by the end and I wouldn’t read it again. Perhaps my takeaway will be my main impression from the book which is:

  • Self-acceptance and self-discovery is a lifelong process, but one of the most important things we do

I think most people are lost in life because they don’t realize they need to keep figuring out who they are through self discovery. Also, a lot of pain and sadness comes from a lack of self-acceptance. This is typically the root cause of unhappiness (again, the book The Courage to Be Disliked does a great job expanding on this point).


Nutshell:

Aristotle goes on a journey of self-discovery after meeting his new best friend Dante.


Similar books:


Rating:

⭐⭐⭐

2.5/5


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