If you’ve hung around me long enough to hear me talk about my philosophy regarding book reading, you’ve probably, at some point, heard me talk about my belief in the importance of reading a book when the mood strikes as opposed to arbitrarily reading it.
Something I don’t really talk about much, but that I actually think is far better than reading when the mood strikes, is reading a book when you feel it’s an absolute necessity to read–i.e., when you’re in a sea of despair or confusion or in the darkness and something draws you to a particular book and seems to say that it just might contain a lifeline or a light to help you find the truth, or wisdom, or consolation, or comfort, or faith, or the answer that you need at that moment. Sometimes, one passage at the right time is enough to resuscitate. I guess the reason I don’t usually include “reading out of necessity” in my philosophy about reading is because, the times that I find myself reading out of necessity are, for the most part, times that I really wouldn’t wish on anyone. The finding a lifeline part is great, the feeling like you’re drowning part not so much.
I’ve had a pretty rough month and a nightmare of a last week. It’s been difficult to find something I’m in the mood to read, because, really, I haven’t been in the mood to read anything. But read: I must. So I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what would be good for me to read right now.
I think I found my answer last night, when I suddenly felt it was incumbent on me to read Soren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. It isn’t too surprising as, lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about sacrifice and faith. I’ve also been feeling a lot like Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac, trying not to look at the horror of the thing, but instead trying to hold on to the faith and belief that it’s the right thing to do and that somehow it will all work out for the best. I don’t know how Abraham did it. My sacrifice seems to make far more sense and, yet, half the time, having faith that “all manner of thing shall be well” still feels impossible. But all that to say, if ever there were a perfect time for me to read this book, that time would probably be now.
This actually isn’t the first time I’ve tried to read Fear and Trembling. In early 2014 I started reading it, but I skipped the 30 page introduction and jumped right in. That was probably a mistake, as I didn’t really understand what Kierkegaard was doing and what he was trying to say and I ran out of motivation to continue reading after about twenty pages. It was also probably just a matter of it not being the right timing too. I was pretty comfortable with my life and not being asked to make any leaps of faith or momentous sacrifices at the time. I came at it from a place of intellectual curiosity, but definitely not out of necessity. Right now, though, it feels like a necessity.
I’ve gotten twenty pages into the introduction, today, and, so far, everything I’ve read has confirmed that this is the perfect paper path for me to tread at this moment. I’ve also found myself thinking that this might be a good book to blog about, so I’m gonna try that, but I make no promises. I’ve tried to do this in the past, alas, so far, without success. Hopefully, this time around, I’ll be more successful. I guess time will tell.
Disclaimer disclaimed, consider this the first installment. 🙂
I was reading T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets today when this section from “East Coker” hit me right in the heart like a jolt from a defibrillator.
On it’s own, it’s an amazing and brilliant passage. But, in addition to that, it pretty much sums up everything I’m going through and everything I need to hear right now.
“I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing—
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.
You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again,
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.”
—T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets: “East Coker”
I can remember thinking, when I read it the first time, that this was a brilliant and deep passage, but it didn’t quite jump out at me. I guess I didn’t need it as much then. This time, reading it was like being resuscitated. Everything about it is perfect for me, at this very moment. It’s as if it were written just for me.
I’ve been learning to be still and sit with the discomfort, but it isn’t easy and I still needed someone to “say it again.” Who better to have say it than the supreme T. S. Eliot? 🙂
I’d heard about this video a few times in the last few days, but I finally watched it today, when a friend shared a direct link. Apparently, it’s based off a book by a psychologist named Randy J. Paterson called How to Be Miserable: 40 Strategies You Already Use. I don’t know if I’ll read the book, but the video is great and so true. It made me laugh a lot. 😀
Ps. The last minute is just an ad for Audible.com. I found it a bit annoying. If you want save yourself a bit of time, the maximizing misery part ends at about the 6:15 mark.
At the end of last month/beginning of this month, I visited my brother and his family in California. During one of my last days there, my sister-in-law took me to her favorite place to to look for books: the Fountain Valley Friends of the Library Bookstore; a tiny, little, room of a, gem of a bookstore run by book-loving, friendly, volunteer staff. 🙂
For some reason, I’d always imagined library bookstores to be full of old, worn library books, that no one was reading any more, with ugly library card pockets glued to the front of the book and stamped all over with an ugly “WITHDRAWN” stamp–overall, a pretty drab and aesthetically unappealing collection. I figured if I were to ever visit a library bookstore it would be for the sole purpose of a book’s contents (e.g. to look for some scholarly, obscure book that I couldn’t afford to buy at the regular, new or used price), never for aesthetics. I’d never been to a library bookstore, so I had my doubts when I walked in, but about five minutes later, I was sure that if I lived even remotely near there, I’d likely be a very strong contender for the label of “most frequent customer”. 🙂 It turned out that all the books there were, as far as I could tell, donated by readers. I found a few ex-libris books, but I didn’t find a single ex-library book.
It was such a pleasant surprise to discover a vast and quality selection of books, in excellent condition, in such a tiny place. Best of all, their prices. were. incredible. Most books were 1 dollar; the most expensive books were 2-4 dollars; and romance novels…well, they were on sale! 🙂
Unfortunately, romance novels aren’t my thing, but I imagined for a moment how lucky I’d be if they were: 100 romance novels for 10 dollars! (Oh, the joy! 😀 )
We only had about thirty minutes there, because closing time was at 5:00 pm, but it was a small enough of a store that I felt I was able survey all the essentials, and yet it still left me with more to explore. As it was, I had a hard enough time cutting down the stack of books that I’d collected, in about 20 minutes, to a size and weight I was sure would be manageable in my luggage on my flight home.
In the end, I settled on the nine awesome and beautiful books you see at the top of this post, for the incredible price of $11! They are all in excellent condition and the Kafka and Isben books look as if they’ve never been read before! I walked away feeling like a treasure hunter who’d stumbled on to some local secret. 🙂
It’s funny because, prior to my trip, I thought I’d have a lot of extra time and imagined that I’d use it to visit plenty of bookstores. Things turned out differently and I ended up without much time to spare, but that was okay, because thirty minutes at the Friends of the Library Bookstore was really all I needed. 🙂
If you’re someone who loves to own a physical copy of the books you read and you’re lucky enough to have a Friends of the Library or any library bookstore in your vicinity, I can’t recommend them enough. They are lovely and fantastic places to explore; the gems you can discover and prices you can purchase them for are a book lover’s best-kept secret.
Here’s a look at what I’ve read, so far, in 2017.
- The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
- A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
- Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
- Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
- The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear
, Larissa Volokhonsky
- Nevsky Prospect, The Diary of a Madman, The Nose, The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol (four out of six of the St. Petersburg Tales), Richard Pevear , Larissa Volokhonsky
- Oddkins by Dean R. Koontz
- The Martian by Andy Weir (Not pictured because I borrowed it from a friend)
- Rise of Endymion (Hyperion Cantos #4) by Dan Simmons (Not pictured; I listened to the audiobook)
I’m having a bit of a dilemma regarding Nikolai Gogol’s works; I’m not exactly sure how to count or list them, as his tales are collected/listed differently depending on the publisher. I think I’ll just wait until I’ve finished reading the other two St. Petersburg Tales and then count all of them as one book. In that case, so far, I’ve finished reading ten books this year (1/3 of the way through my reading goal for the year, yay! 🙂 ). All of them were great reads, though I’ve only managed to blog about one. Hopefully, I’ll eventually get around to blogging about a few more of them.
These are the books I’m currently reading.
How to be Decadent by George Mikes
I and Thou by Martin Buber, Ronald Gregor Smith (Translator)
Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear , Larissa Volokhonsky Notes from Underground (A Norton Critical Edition / 1st Edition) by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Michael R. Katz (Translator/Editor)
The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear St. Petersburg Tales (The Portrait, The Carriage) by Nikolai Gogol , Larissa Volokhonsky , Richard Pevear , Larissa Volokhonsky
The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright
For the last few weeks, I’ve been focusing on Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. I’ll be meeting up with a friend this Sunday to discuss it, so I’ve been using that as impetus to really dig in and finish all the critical essays and background information included in my Norton Critical Edition. In addition to that, I’ve also been re-reading Notes from Underground for the second and third time simultaneously. (As you can see I’m somewhat obsessed. 🙂 ) I’m actually not exactly sure how you would count it, as I’m reading two different translations simultaneously (i.e. I finish a chapter in the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, and then I read Michael R. Katz’s translation of the same chapter). I don’t think I could manage to pull off this kind of simultaneous reading with any other book, but Notes from Underground is short enough and such brilliant piece of work, I’m finding it’s actually a really interesting way to read it. 🙂
I’ve been slowly making my way through George Mikes’ How to be Decadent and Martin Buber’s I and Thou for about a year now. I actually started reading Buber’s I and Thou last May, but it was a tough read and hard to follow. I only got about 20 pages in before I put it down. I figured maybe it was problem with Ronald Smith’s translation and decided to wait till I could get my hands on a Walter Kaufmann translation instead. But, recently, I came across a few paragraphs from I and Thou that I really liked that turned out to be a section from the Ronald Smith translation just a few pages down from where I left off. So I figured maybe I’d just stopped before the good stuff, and decided to have another go at it. I’ll still likely still buy the Kaufmann translation, eventually, but I’m gonna give Ronald Smith another go and we’ll see how that turns out.
N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God is a tome I’ve been meaning to read for nearly a decade now. I finally bought a copy as a sort of Christmas present to myself last year and figured I’d make it my Lent reading project this year. Unfortunately, that plan got hijacked, by my Notes from Underground reading project. Still, I’ve been slowly chugging along at it. I’m only 50 pages in, so there’s no way I’m gonna finish it by Easter, but I’m determined to slowly make my way through it this year.
I haven’t started reading Dostoevsky’s The Gambler or the last two of Gogol’s Petersburg Tales, but they’re up next, after I’m finished with Notes from Underground.
Aside from those books, in celebration of National Poetry Month, I’m hoping to dig into some of the poetry of my two favourite poets T. S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins.
I especially want to focus on T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, and possibly “Ash Wedsnesday”. But definitely Four Quartets, which I think is the best of T. S. Eliot’s best. I’ve been wanting to really dig into to it ever since I read it for the first time in November, 2015.
It’s such a deep and profound and beautiful and perfect collection of poetry, I think I could explore and meditate on it for a lifetime and still have more to discover and explore. I feel like it will take me years to even begin to scratch the surface of it’s depth, but I’m looking forward to making some progress towards that this next month. 🙂