How so many absurd rules of conduct, as well as so many absurd religious beliefs, have originated, we do not know… but it is worthy of remark that a belief constantly inculcated during the early years of life, whilst the brain is impressible, appears to acquire almost the nature of an instinct; and the very essence of an instinct is that it is followed independently of reason.
-- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man --
Have a great Monday!
Sunday, October 05, 2014
My suitcase is packed, and now I have a few minutes to write about some recent reads. In the morning I will be flying away for a week in Atlanta, on work-related business. I'm not sure what I am more excited about -- Atlanta itself, which was such a blast last year, or just the fact that I will not be really working for a week!
I'll be taking along The Remains of the Day to read on my flight. Hopefully it's a good book.
The first book in the above picture is The Spinoza Problem, by Irvin D. Yalom.
I love this author, having read two of his books now. Yalom likes to take real historical figures and basically elaborate a bit on their life stories. In this one, the subjects are 17th Century philosopher Baruch Spinoza, and 20th Century Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg. How in the world can these two figures be juxtaposed? Well -- here's how it goes. Rosenberg, a frothing at the mouth anti-Semite, discovers that all of the great German philosophers he worships, all, in their own right, were influenced by Baruch Spinoza. Then Rosenberg finds out that Spinoza was a Jew. This fact, this "problem" -- completely knocks his ideology for a loop. Each chapter alternates between what is going on in the life of Spinoza and Rosenberg in their different centuries of life -- and when Rosenberg is assigned [via Hitler] the title of Official Looter of Occupied Territories, his main task becomes the confiscation of Spinoza's library. It is an amazing story. I thoroughly loved it.
The second book is The Humans, by Matt Haig.
Picture this -- an alien civilization finds out that humanity has discovered the answer to a mathematical problem that will launch them [us] into realms we have no business getting into. So they transmorph one of their species to look exactly like the scientist who discovered the equation -- they send him to Earth, and abduct the other guy. Now the alien is Professor Andrew Martin -- running around naked like a lunatic -- slowly learning the ways of the world. His task is to kill anyone else to whom Martin has divulged his discovery , even if that means his wife, and his son. But the alien takes a liking to the ways of the Earthlings, and begins to question his commitment to kill Martin's family. It is a hilarious book, but also serious. And well worth reading. In the end, the alien writes 97 pieces of advice to "his" son.
Here are just a few of them listed, but they are all as equally profound:
#33. You are not the most intelligent creature in the universe. You are not even the most intelligent person on your planet. The tonal language of the humpback whale displays more complexity than the entire works of Shakespeare.
#19. Read poetry. Especially poetry by Emily Dickinson. It might save you. Anne Sexton knows the mind. Walt Whitman knows grass, but Emily Dickinson knows everything.
#24. New technology, on Earth, just means something you will laugh at in five years. Value the stuff you wont laugh at in five years. Like love. Or a good poem. Or a song. Or the sky.
#36. One day humans will live on Mars. But nothing there will be more exciting than a single overcast morning on Earth.
#42. In a thousand years, if humans survive that long, everything you know will have been disproved. And replaced by even greater myths.
#44. You have the power to stop time. You do it by kissing. Or listening to music. Music, by the way, is how you see things you can't otherwise see. It is the most advanced thing you have.
#46. A paradox. The things you don't need to live -- books, art, cinema, wine and so on -- are the things you need to live.
#50. At some point, bad things are going to happen. Have someone to hold onto.
#52. If you are laughing, check that you don't really want to cry. And vice versa.
#60. Obey your head. Obey your heart. Obey your gut. In fact, obey everything except commands.
#65. Don't think you know. Know you think.
#76. In your mind, change the name of every day to Saturday. And change the name of work to play.
#77. When you watch the news and see members of your species in turmoil, do not think there is nothing you can do. But know it is not done by watching news.
#84. You are more than the sum of your particles. And that is quite a sum.
#86. To like something is to insult it. Love it or hate it. Be passionate. As civilization advances, so does indifference. It is a disease. Immunize yourself with art. And love.
#90. Know this. Men are not from Mars. Women are not from Venus. Do not fall for categories. Everyone is everything. Every ingredient inside a star is inside you, and every personality that ever existed competes in the theatre of your mind for the main role.
#91. You are lucky to be alive. Inhale and take in life's wonders. Never take so much as a single petal of a single flower for granted.
#92. If you have children and love one more than another, work at it. They will know, even if it's by a single atom less. A single atom is all you need to make a very big explosion.
The third book I read recently is the memoir At Home In The World, by Joyce Maynard.
Joyce is a bestselling novelist currently residing in the San Francisco area. The main point of interest in this memoir however, involves somewhere else she once resided. J.D. Salinger's home in Cornish, New Hampshire. When Joyce was eighteen years old she wrote an article for The New York Times that caught the attention of the already venerated and reclusive Salinger. A correspondence developed, initiated by him. At 53 years of age, Salinger invited Joyce to come and live with him. The freshman student at Yale packed up her gear and became his mistress, two years senior to his own daughter at the time. At Home in the World is a very engaging story of how this crazy-ass relationship, so suddenly [and so mercilessly] ended on the beaches of Florida, affected Joyce forever. Many people criticize Maynard for writing so forthrightly about this affair, claiming that a man who guarded his privacy so diligently should be afforded the privilege of silence concerning his dealings with such a young and impressionable girl. I disagree. I think that she has every right to be telling it. A devastating, inspiring, and triumphant story.