POSTS IN READERS’ BLOG

 There are three kinds of people in the world:

Those who make things happen; those who watch things happen, And those who don’t know what happened.

Readers are not in the latter category. Paraphrased Chinese Proverb

 

Foreword

For many years, I have exchanged my “book notes”, as I call them, with friends, and many have urged me to publish them.  I call them “notes” as I’m not given to pretensions about their academic excellence.  In them, I have no axe to grind, nor do I seek to criticize, but, rather, to observe.  Still, when I decided to do this website, I was again urged by a good many fellow-readers to make my Lifeosophy website a platform to circulate my notes, along with my observations on life (which any Senior should be able to do in a manner that should help many of his/her Juniors).Regardless, since I know what I know, but I do not know what youknow, which well may be much more than I, I offer my book notes in a blog-format and invite you to contribute your personal views, hopefully rendering this Readers’ Blog as a learn-learn experience for thee and me.

Before leaping into my book notes, I’ll comment briefly on my background as a reader.  As one who took more English Lit classes than anything else through college, developing a profound love of English, prose and poetry, and, since my mid-twenties, my goal has been to read a book a week, and, for the most part, I have done so.  I have felt, and still feel, starved for well-turned phrases, elegant metaphors and laconic, lucid and beautiful wording – and for interesting and/or helpful information.  There is no data that I wouldn’t like to know, as all data help us deal with life, as all data help deal with, and enjoy, life.  Data may not convey wisdom, per se, but it does provide a foundation for it.   So, reading can do for the mind what fine cuisine and divine wines can do for the pallet, adding layers of loveliness to our waking hours.

I felt starved for data, because, during my school years, incongruously and inexcusably, I prided myself in doing the least work/studying possible.  Imagine such stupidity!  Upon graduation, the cold, stark realization hit me:  I had missed the bulk of what I might have learned!  Knowledge “crammed” for exams escapes us as quickly as we ingested it.  Post-college and law school, I was embarrassed by my self-imposed academic mediocrity, and I resolved to cure it by reading relentlessly for the rest of my days, and so I have.  My readings began with books on self-help and sales (to aid my career), then some ten years of metaphysics and philosophy (to help me find peace in an agnostic but kindly acceptance of our entropic universe and The Great Questions of Life), then a few years of classic, rhymed and metered poetry (which helped my heart and mind sing and soar into diaphanous literary-epiphanies), a few years of politics/current events (to reveal the fruitlessness of following those shenanigans), then years of books related to finance-economics (to realize that the best investments are in oneself and one’s own endeavors), and, finally, my truest love: literature, novels, with a heavy emphasis on classics (to help me find peace in the face of life’s insoluble conundrums, vicissitudes and tragedies).  Of late, I have enjoyed reading more scientific works of physicists, paleontologists, archeologists, and astronomers.  All of my readings, including novels and poetry, have taught me volumes about the world, its many epochs and we and the world came be as we are.

Growing up, I was inculcated in the arcane Christian Science faith, for which I still have boundless respect, but, when I felt compelled to leave it (as I chose to use medicine to avert my sons’ death from pneumonia), I felt lost, the proverbial rudderless ship, and, equally bad, I felt disloyal to family, all members of which remained devout Christian Scientists, but, to be intellectually honest with myself, I had to move terra firma that offered more comfortable footing, and I devoted a good ten years, no surprise, to metaphysics, consuming vast tomes of the scriptures of all the world’s major religions, from their original texts and some commentaries on same, including the Hindu’s voluminous Veda, the Buddhist scriptures, the Analects of Confucius, Taoism, Zen, the Koran, Scientology/Hubbard’s texts, and some 25 versions of the Christian Bible.  These readings led me into philosophy, which took me back to Socrates and forward, until, at last, finding comfort (especially in Kant, Hume, et al, and, above all, in Voltaire), but great solace can also be gained through Shakespeare, Dickens, the Russians and endless others.

Reading to Elevate Our Lives Fiction vs. Current Events

A friend confided that he was feeling less need to read fiction, as real life events seemed as interesting or even more interesting.  Having slept on that, I offered these thoughts.While “Life is [indeed] stranger than fiction,” as the maxim goes, great fiction has always given a perspectives on life, people and issues that most of us cannot “see” or grasp on our own.  We simply don’t concentrate hard enough to analyze the layers of what we see. There is no history book that can impart the Civil War with the poignancy, transparency, depth and reality of Mitchels’ triumph, Gone with the Wind, or the French Revolution as does Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities or Hugo’s masterpiece, Les Miserables,, or Napoleon’s assault on Russia as does Tolstoy’s War and Peace, or the social malaise of 19th Century England like the works of Dickens, or grasp China more fully than through Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth or India than through E.M. Forester’s Passage to India, or learn the evils of Communism and its 70-year reign of terror in Russia more compelling than Pasternak presented it in Dr. Zhivago, or  be suffused with the touching love and laughter of little people that O’Henry and Chekov imparted in their short stories, or present unforgettable word images better than the genius of Poe, or descry the multi-century societies so grippingly depicted in a spellbinding archeological dig in The Source, and whoever can eat a turkey without recalling Dickens mouth watering descriptions in The Christmas Carol, or experience pubescent first love as unveiled in Turgenev’s First Love, or middle-aged-andropause love as did Dreiser in Sister Carrie, and on and on and on, piling mountains of goose bumps, tears and joy upon us.  No newspaper article or even photograph can touch the depths, the beyond-human incisiveness, the life-lessons and the beauty that these magically articulated writings will imbue in us.   Such interludes elevate our lives and make us more than we will ever likely become without the guidance of great writers, who have devoted hours to each sentence in great, classic prose, which, of course, is why all adventurous readers return to the classics, eventually.Yes, fiction gives much more than fascinating plots/stories, intriguing and well developed characters, themes/morals to expand our life’s goals, all laced with poetic prose that bring words and feelings alive in sensory dimensions, evoking tears and laughter at will, thus awakening our sometimes stolid minds.  After being immersed in such prose, aren’t we driven to race to the next sunset and see if we can see in it what the nuances that the great author did?  Isn’t this equally true as such prose relates to the moon, ocean, a random pair of spellbinding eyes, satin skin, fluid dialect, redolent rose bud, etc., because, from what we read in great prose, it’s clear that we’ve missed so much – of everything.  Again, we “look” at life, but we rarely “see” it.  Great prose teaches us to see much more than we likely ever will on our own. We need to train our eyes, mind and sensitivities.  How could we be so blind -- but we are!  Great prose can change that.It’s true that 95% of fiction doesn’t rise to these levels, but that which does will fill libraries and renders “the game worth the candle” and elevates our lives to Elysian plateaus.  Perhaps heaven is on earth, after all?  For this reason, in my weekly book-consumption, I still alternate (at least) with classics, redirecting my compass towards excellence.  After discarding endless inferior books along the way, we stumble on something as sublime as Roberts’ Shantaram (2005) or Follett’s Pillar of the Earth, and, then, we are rewarded copiously for time squandered on mediocre works: the discovery of a rare, perfect pearl, “prose as delicate as a garnet”, as a critic curiously said of The Great Gatsby.Very rarely do current events make our lives more beautiful, as do interludes with great writers – of fiction, poetry, history, philosophy, science, biography, or whatever else they lovingly craft for us.As Thoreau sagaciously reflected,

“How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.”

So, now, let us turn to some of my wee book notes, in the hopes that some will inspire you to read more and to enjoy reading more and to freely submit your constructive comments on my idiosyncratic but well-intentioned observations.  I shall begin with my notes on three books.