"The book I'm looking for,' says the blurred figure, who holds out a volume similar to yours, 'is the one that gives the sense of the world after the end of the world, the sense that the world is the end of everything that there is in the world, that the only thing there is in the world is the end of the world."
- Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Death and Enlightenment!

A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion [link]

I liked this book very much. Truth be told, I read this well before Christmas, and it's kind of hard to remember anything too specific, because I pretty much never take notes while I'm reading (the secret's out!). The book is a memoir about the very sudden death of the author's husband. The title comes from the way in which, despite knowing he was dead, she continues to simultaneously believe that he isn't exactly gone. The two examples that just kill me are these: 1) she can't throw out his shoes, because somewhere in the far back of her mind she thinks he might need to wear them again, and 2) she doesn't want obituaries to run, because she imagines it will be awkward to explain her husband's presence at parties later on. So... yes. This is a sad book. Didion has a clear, strong non-fiction style, but the topic wore a little thin for me as the book went on.

Sidhartha (Audiobook) by Herman Hesse [link]

It must be hard to write a "philosophical novel." Characters just stop and deliver speeches, have debates with one another, sit in rooms and THINK about stuffs. I can't imagine how you even begin to make that interesting, or even just make it not-obnoxious. The best book like this I've ever read is a different book by Herman Hesse: The Glass Bead Game. It's not as popular as some of his other books (like this one), maybe because it doesn't have as much of the hippie-dippie stuff in it that made him popular in the 60s, but it is so good you guys. It's sort of science-fiction-y, and is about the leader of this weird academic club that plays a game called "the glass bead game" and is great. Go read that one!

Siddhartha is fine. It follows the life of a young man during the time of the Buddha as he (the young man, not Buddha) searches for Enlightenment. The young man is inscrutable and annoying, always correcting people and being kind of dickish to his best friend or dad, but whatevs. It's not about what he's like, in a book like this; it's about what he says.

And the things he says are... OK. One of the major themes of the book is the value of experience over teachings in achieving spiritual enlightenment. So, like: experiencing nature or love or family tells you more about how to be spiritual than any religious teaching can. I agree with this, buuuuutt... the book is basically written like a religious teaching! It's a parable: dry, technical, boring.

C.S. Lewis explores this idea about 1,000x better in Till We Have Faces, in large part because the character in his book is better realized, so rather than just being TOLD the final conclusion, we experience it WITH her. Though, it might also just be that I’m culturally Christian rather than Buddhist.

Next time: 1491 and The Turn of the Screw and maybe others!?!???!

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