I was going to wax poetic about how wonderfully magical Journal of a Novel was, but the last page summed up the whole book.
“The Reader – Well, by God, Pat, he’s just like me, no stranger at all. He’ll take from my book what he can bring to it. The dull witted will get dullness and the brilliant may find things in my book I didn’t know where there.
And just as he is like me, I hope my book is enough like him so that he may find in it interest and recognition and some beauty as one finds in a friend.”
That’s exactly what happened when I read East of Eden. It’s what happens each time I read any book. That’s what is supposed to happen. A book, especially a novel, isn’t a lesson or a lecture, it’s a version of events. We each bring to the story our own being and when we read it, something magical happens. There’s an interaction, almost a chemical reaction of sorts. Something new is created in us.
And when we share those interpretations with others, combine them with the world we know and the impressions others had while reading those same stories, something even bigger comes of it all. The author’s struggles and efforts to put words together turns out to be more than what he had thought to create.
Life can be lived in much the same way if we allow ourselves to be honest. When we come together to share our stories, we create new ones, if we can keep an open mind and respect the being of those around us.
Hmm… I’m still reading Reflections on a Mountain Lake each morning before my meditation time, and just this morning she was mentioning something similar. Each time I meet a new person, read a new book, or experience some new something, I grow a little bit if I allow myself to be open to the experience and not try to control it, let it be there as it is instead of trying to force it onto a frame of my own construction.
I’m so glad I found this book. It was a beautiful follow-up to East of Eden. As a writer, it gave me so much to relate to. I feel like a part of a community. I’m not alone or completely nuts. I was never a fan of John Steinbeck’s books, but now I feel like we’re friends.
The system finally worked! What system? My notecard system to keep track of why I put a book on my TBR list! I have a pile of notecards nearby and when I find a book I need to read, I write the title/author on one and below it I write where and when I learned about it. Then, when I get the book, I put that card inside of it so I can write about it later.
I needed a short, lighter book to read, so I picked Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney off my overburdened TBR shelf. It was late at night, I couldn’t sleep, so I sat up late reading. Two hours later, I was nearly halfway through the book wondering why I had added it to the list. It didn’t seem like my kind of book.
My card had no other notes than the title (something I have vowed to change), so I went to the original book, How to Live. What to Do by Josh Cohen. I just went back looking for a post about that book and it’s one I didn’t write about. I must have been in a blogging slump when I read it back in June. Thank goodness for his notes in the back of the book. I found where he had mentioned it and read the section again. Ahh… here we are.
It was in Chapter 4 – Adolescence Part 2: First Love. The book is clever because he is a psychoanalyst and uses characters from books as case studies. He brings up Frances in her story Conversations with Friends, mentions the relationships and their communications styles. “Roony’s novels turn on a similar problem: the weird and unsettling proximity of love to cruelty.”
Is that love? Really? We can be very cruel to each other when we are fearful of being vulnerable. The dance between new people is dangerous. If I open up to you, will you hurt me? It’s terrifying and delicious.
“In novels, as in life, we find the inner self is annoyingly uncongenial to the maintenance of a steady state. It is divided, pulled in different directions by different impulses – it wants safety and risk, consistency and change, to say yes and to say no.”
I’m trying to remember that he’s talking of adolescents, but Conversations with Friends characters are all over twenty-one years old, some are over thirty. When does he think we come out of this phase of our lives? I guess it depends on how much work we put into growing up. It’s something I feel we’re not encouraged to do these days. Many of us remain childish our whole lives, never learning our inner selves and knowing what real love is.
This was not what I was getting from reading Conversations with Friends. At halfway through, I was more drawn to the politics of these girls and their so-called “friends.” The way they talk to each other and treat each other doesn’t seem like friends at all. They seem closed off, never opening up to themselves or the people they call friends. They hide their true feelings, always pretending to be something they aren’t.
Also from How to Live. What to Do, “Frances, the complex, spiky narrator of Sally Rooney’s Conversation with Friends (2017), is immersed in this ether of doubt as she wanders the treacherous landscapes of love and sex. Her Dublin is a wired global city of big banks and coffee chains and trust fund kids, a far cry from the shuttered repression of the city of James Joyce’s Dubliners.
But much as we shouldn’t understate the place of historical change in determining the ways we love, perhaps we should be equally ware of overstating it. If Conversations shows us how our post-liberation age has transformed the conduct of love, it also reminds us how much stays the same. Confusion, anxiety and volatility are as present for Frances as they were for Werther.”
THAT book is sitting on my TBR shelf as well, and it’s on my reading list for The Classics Club, so guess what I’ll be reading next?
This morning I read more and my feelings about them are starting to change. The author is revealing them to me, and I like it. I seem to remember the same feeling when I read Normal People.
One thing I’m not liking is the lack of quotation marks in the dialog. I’m having a terrible time following who said what or just thought it. I know this is a new thing. Call me old, but I’m not a fan. I’ll post more about the book when I finish reading it.
I almost didn’t write today. I let the world get in and started to sink again. Again, I’ve realized something important, something we all probably see and advise ourselves about over and over again. Do the hard thing first. I need to write first, then go about the rest of my day.
It’s 10:50am. This morning started with great intentions. I read, felt like I had a lot to say but wanted to get my exercise out of the way. That done, I did my morning meditation, journaled, and then thought…I’m too hungry to write now.
During breakfast, I ignored the teaching in my meditation and instead of doing one thing (eat my breakfast) I decided to mulitask and answer a few texts. I got another cup of coffee and thought…I’ll read some of that other book and then write. Sapiens…ugg… I’m giving up on it. Life is too short to be depressed by a human hating history that reads like a textbook of doom. Another DNF on the list and I’ll write more about that later.
NOW I’ll write. I get my laptop from my desk and sit down to tap out words. What was I going to write about? Oh yeah, that other glorious book I started over the weekend. What a beautiful weekend that was! Rain and thunder, the windows all open, nothing to do but read and work on a quilt. But I’ll do that right after I check my email. Nothing there. I’ll check Facebook. There was a quote I wanted to share.
Then a “friend” messaged me. That didn’t go well. I guess I’m not acting like the person he would prefer me to be. I’m good at losing so-called “friends.”
Watch a funny video, click on an ad for stickers, find a cool one with an Oscar Wilde quote.
‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’ and then find an article about the quote. I’ll read that later.
Maybe I’ll just give up today and head to the grocery store.
And then…hold on. This is ridiculous. What would Steinbeck do?
That’s actually what I thought. I started reading Journal of a Novel by John Steinbeck over the weekend and it’s filled with some wonderful insight from the man, about his life, his time, and about East of Eden. I’m already halfway through it this morning. And THAT’S what I wanted to write to you about.
I mentioned it when I started reading East of Eden and thought I’d read it while I was reading the novel, as he wrote it. But I couldn’t. I was already trying to finish The Portable Atheist and Reflections on a Mountain Lake. A person can only have so much input at once. I saved it and was soon as I finished the novel, I jumped on that journal like a cat on a laser beam spot.
I’m not regretting it. Reading a highly regarded author’s private thoughts is enlightening in so many ways. And even though I don’t consider myself an author, I do write, and I consider myself a “creative” of sorts. His words are soothing to my soul.
“Perhaps that knowledge is saved for maturity and very few people ever mature. It is enough if they flower and reseed. That is all that nature requires of them. But sometimes in a man or a woman awareness takes place – not very often and always inexplainable. There are no words for it because there is no one ever to tell. This is a secret not kept a secret, but locked in wordlessness. The craft or art of writing is the clumsy attempt to find symbols for the wordlessness. In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable. And sometimes if he is very fortunate and the time is right, a very little of what he is trying to do trickles through – not ever much.”
I should not be so hard on myself. This is no easy task and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. What is it that I am trying to express? I may simply be trying to express who I am from my own point of view, from inside. Each day I read and think. I journal thoughts. I find the courage and discipline to open the laptop and fill a blank screen. Some days I find the courage to share it. But where is it going?
Nowhere in particular, just like Mr. Toad. And he’s certainly happy, as long as he doesn’t forget his friends.
Tomorrow I’ll be pulling a few more quotes to share with you. If you’re a writer, you might really like Journal of a Novel. He wasn’t writing to share his process or teach anything. They are just letters he wrote to his agent each morning before he got to working on the novel. A sort of “warm-up” exercise. He didn’t write them to publish, but he knew at least a few people would read them. It’s a raw glimpse into the author.
Reflecting on the gift of choice as I close the final pages …sigh…
I finished East of Eden. Ten days, 778 pages in 18.58 hours. Nearly two hours a day I spent in that book, and that’s a lot because I’m currently reading two other books. I loved it so much. The story covers three generations, and I never thought the story dragged. I never ached to know what was happening next. I never thought, “Why in the world is this chapter here?” I just watched it unfold, and every chapter was beautiful.
When I got to the end of the book, I paused before I turned to the last page. Please, please, please don’t destroy my dreams with your words, Mr. Steinbeck! It was gorgeous.
So, what’s the book about? Choice. Every single one of us has a choice in life. Do we do good for ourselves and those around us? Or do we do them wrong? We are all good and evil combined. It’s what we do with our lives that counts.
Chapter 24. around halfway through the book, was my “Ah-ha!” moment.
Lee explains to Adam his study of the story of Cain and Abel from Genesis. Word translations come into play, something I’ve spent time questioning myself. When we translate something from one language to another, it isn’t an easy task. One small tweak of a word and the whole thing changes tone. We also put our own background and culture on top of the words we’re translating, not to mention all the time that has passed between the original manuscript and our current work.
I don’t think the following quote will spoil anything, but if you want a pure reading, maybe save it for later and skip to the bottom.
“Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel – ‘Thou mayest’ – that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For it ‘Thou mayest’ – it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’”
“Any writing which has influenced the thinking and the lives of innumerable people is important. Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.”
“It is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of deity, saying, ‘I couldn’t help it; the way was set.’ But think of the glory of choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice, a bee must make honey. There’s no godliness there.”
We all have choices to make every single day.
It reminds me of last year when I cut my finger chopping onions for a sauce. I learned a lesson that day: always cook first, or at least finish using sharp tools, and then get a nice adult beverage. Never the reverse!
It’s rare that I hurt myself badly enough to need a visit to Urgent Care, but after holding it for thirty minutes the blood just came gushing back the minute I let go. I needed stitches. My husband drove me down to town and was thrilled to find out that, due to Covid restrictions, he didn’t have to go inside with me. He hates that kind of thing. Poor guy. I wouldn’t have made him anyway.
Once inside, the nurse took me in, numbed the pain, and then sewed up my finger. The process was fascinating to me, and I took the sharp pain of the needle without complaint. Once it was numb and she started sewing, I loved watching. I’ve never had stitches before. It was exciting.
I told the nurse what a great job she was doing, and I was so thankful that she was around to help me through my stupid moment. Everyone makes mistakes, right? Good thing there people around to help you through the pain of fixing them.
She was so grateful. She said most people come in angry when they are hurt. They snap at her as she tries to clean a wound and give them the means of healing it. “Why would they do that? We aren’t animals.” I commiserated. Everyone’s on edge lately.
Animals don’t have a choice to behave better. They only react to the present moment. They can’t see the bigger picture. We can if we take the time to calm ourselves and see it. We can respond instead of reacting. A large dog bred to fight, doesn’t think, “It’s in my blood and training to fight strong and win, but what if I don’t want to?” But a human has something animals don’t, that choice within them. It may be hidden away under years of experience and trauma, but it’s there. Which leads me to another track: my mediation this morning. But that’s another post.
I’m glad I found East of Eden at that used bookstore. I didn’t know I wanted to read it, only knew the title because I was sure it was an old movie, and Steinbeck. He’s famous, right? It was my first read from my Classics Club five-year reading challenge post. Not a bad start!
Another morning, nearly two hours straight, completely absorbed in a story. There’s so much power in stories. And it’s not only the story that’s grabbing my attention, but also the truths he’s touching on. The way he writes, narrating not only the story, but coming out of it to talk to you like he just thought of something to mention. It’s more like a conversation than a novel.
Four days, and this is where I am. Halfway through a fat novel I didn’t know I even wanted to read in the first place. It makes me want to go back and read his other novels that I initially hated. Was it the story I didn’t like, or was his voice different? Or was it because the first time was in a high school classroom, forced to read a story before I was ready?
The last few pages I read this morning are what I want to highlight today. And you don’t have to worry about spoilers. These are taken out of context and related to me personally. That’s the way I read. Author’s probably hate it.
“I think when a man finds good or bad in his children he is seeing only what he planted in them after they cleared the womb.”
There’s a lot of truth here. How our children behave has a lot more to do with how we raised them, than how we conceived them. Do we honor their natural temperament or squash it? Have we dealt with our own past demons or are we passing on that lesson, to be learned by the next generation?
“An unbelieved truth can hurt a man much more than a lie. It takes great courage to back truth unacceptable to our times. There’s a punishment for it, and it’s usually crucifixion.”
Have you ever told the truth and been ostracized for it? It destroys more people than lies do. The fear of it makes us hide our feelings, our thoughts, our true selves, from the world around us, especially those closest to us. Safety is a rare space.
“Lord, how the day passes! It’s like a life – so quickly when we don’t watch it and so slowly when we do.”
It’s lines like this, ones that express so eloquently what all of us know instinctually, that make my heart skip in joy.
“No story has power, nor will it last, unless we feel in ourselves that is true and true of us.”
That brings me back to wondering about those Steinbeck stories I read when I was younger. For whatever reason, they mean something to humanity in general, not individuals at any given time. Something that means something to generations, no matter what you personally get from it, are worthy of respect. As you change, they change. Something in them is important, something in them reflects humanity, you may not be able to see it yet.
“I’m feeling my way now – don’t jump on me if I’m not clear.”
This should be on the title page of my blog. It’s exactly how I feel each time I start to write a post.
Samuel had leaned on his elbows on the table and his hands covered his eyes and forehead. “I want to think,” he said. “Damn you, I want to think. I’ll want to take this off alone where I can pick it apart and see. Maybe you’ve tumbled a world for me. And I don’t know what I can build in my world’s place.”
Lee said softly, “Couldn’t a world be built around accepted truth? Couldn’t some pains and insanities be rooted out if the causes were known?”
This is the essence of my thinking lately, one I learned to see through secular Buddhism. We should be tearing down our worlds and rebuilding them constantly, not clinging to what we believe we already know. It’s the only way to stay sane. Keep an open mind, stay curious, try to see what’s right there in front of us, and use that information to build new worlds. This is progress.
Yesterday afternoon, I stopped at the mailbox on my way into town for groceries. This was inside.
By the way, I did make a bit of a fool of myself when I found the book in the mail. I ripped open the package right there in the car and took a picture, quickly texting it to several people I knew would be just as excited to hear about it. Yes, I’m THAT kind of geek!
East of Eden. Sometimes fiction can transport you to whole other world. It may surprise you, but I’m not usually one to read the same book non-stop for hours. I typically read for about thirty minutes, go to the bathroom, get a cup of coffee, read another thirty minutes, get some exercise, write some, read another thirty minutes… It goes on all day. About an hour is the most I can read in a single sitting, even when the book is thrilling and I’m getting a lot out of it. My mind wanders.
But this… It’s just different.
I didn’t sleep well again last night. I’m a light sleeper anyway, always have a hard time staying asleep, but summers are worse. It’s hot and uncomfortable, at least that’s what I’m telling myself. I’m on day three of eating less, one cup of coffee in the morning, no candy, and no alcohol. It’s an attempt to see what it is that is keeping me up. I’ve tried just about everything.
I skipped our morning walk today. I woke up at 4:45 and just didn’t have the energy to put on shoes right away. I dove into East of Eden while my husband got ready for work. Before I knew it, the sun was up, the livingroom was flooded with light, and it was two hours later.
Reading East of Eden is like being there or watching an amazing movie that you can’t take your eyes off. It isn’t a complicated read. The words flow and the scenes pull you in. The story is simple, yet so deep. It’s one of those books that you talk out loud to while you read. “No!” “You can’t!” “Why?” can be heard from the livingroom couch as I roll through each chapter.
Hopefully, as I write about what piques my interest in this book, I won’t give away any big spoilers. If you’re sensitive to that, maybe skip this next part if you haven’t read the book yet.
“When a child first catches adults out – when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not have divine intelligence, that their judgements are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just – his world falls into panic and desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child’s world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing.”
Do you remember realizing this? I wonder if it’s different for different kinds of people. Some people are far more sensitive, maybe they build others up to impossible standards in their minds, and when they fail to meet those standards, the repairs are complicated. Adam learned and accepted that his father wasn’t a god early in his life. Charles learned later. Neither of them is a well-adjusted and heathy adult. But then, good stories aren’t told about well-adjusted and healthy people. It would be boring. But we find little bits of ourselves in these stories. It makes us feel better about ourselves and others.
“As with many people, Charles, who could not talk, wrote with fullness. He set down his loneliness and his perplexities, and he put on paper many things he did not know about himself.”
I identified with this piece. I do talk, a lot, but it’s generally not about much. When I write, I feel like it’s easier to put my thoughts in order, but then I wonder how much of it is truly understood. Like Charles, I get little written response. It doesn’t detract from the value of writing though. I’m not writing too anyone specifically, as he was.
“…maybe love makes you suspicious and doubting. Is it true that when you love a woman you are never sure – never sure of her because you aren’t sure of yourself?”
That’s not love, my friend. It’s ego and possession. He’s right. To be that suspicious and doubting doesn’t say anything about who or what you love. It speaks about your love of yourself. You can love anyone, with all their flaws and mistakes, if you love and respect yourself. That’s something I only recently discovered and have begun to practice.
“I think the difference between a lie and a story is that a story utilizes the trappings and appearance of the truth for the interest of the listener as well as of the teller. A story has in it neither gain nor loss. But a lie is a device for profit or escape. I suppose if that definition is strictly held to, then a writer of stories is a liar – of he is financially fortunate.”
Every story is just a grand lie, right? We know that and accept it as listeners/watchers/readers. The teller isn’t trying to sell us false goods. But a liar…that’s different. We know it instinctually, but it’s fascinating putting it this way.
As you can probably see, I’m returning to my old way (way back to the beginning of this year) of writing a little about each day’s reading as I go. It seems the best way to tease out what I’m thinking and makes my little heart happiest. I hope it works for you too.
What plan? Michelle, you never have a plan. You just run into life head on, no regard for consequences, and then see what happens. Later, when things slow down, you sit back and put the puzzle pieces together as if you had a plan all along.
Yeah? So? I bought a book.
No! Really? You?
Yes, I did. And it was a book I didn’t need. I have a whole shelf of books to read. In fact, I have four shelves of books to read, even though I swore that I would never have more than one. That…well… it wasn’t working out for me and it all started when a friend moved out of state and gifted her library to little ol’ me.
There I was, relaxing in Big Bear, out for a day in the (slightly) cooler temps of the mountains and a dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant. I can’t be there and not check out the used bookstore. That would be wrong. I don’t need more books, but then again, “need” really is subjective. Isn’t it?
I try to keep my spontaneous book purchases to used books, preferably classics. I need to find a way to create a list on my phone of what I already have though. Suggestions are extremely welcome in the comments. I picked up five books that day, one of which was a disappointment. I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Probably the extra margarita. And it turned out to be an abridged version of a book I had been wanting to read. I don’t like those. But at least I only paid $4.
I came home and posted a picture of my haul on my Facebook page, and my brother mentioned he wanted to read one of them, East of Eden. I told him I’d send it to him and then rethought it and told him to buy one of his own. That way, maybe we can read it at the same time.
Sidenote: Searching for a link to East of Eden on Amazon, I found this: Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters. And now THAT is on its way to my house as well. I may have a problem, but how can I pass that up? Steinbeck wrote letters to a friend as a warmup while writing East of Eden. I’ll be reading this alongside the novel; as it should be, make it so, engage!
The next week, I stumbled across The Classics Club and immediately joined it. Looking through their classics list to create my own five-year reading list, I saw East of Eden and decided it would be my next read, the first one to check off the list. I started reading it this morning and lost my mind.
The only thing I knew about East of Eden before I started reading it was that it was by John Steinbeck. I wasn’t a fan of Steinbeck. I read Of Mice and Men when I was in high school, by force, and it was depressing and boring. And this book…wow…it’s a thick one, like Stephen King thick. 778 pages. I only hoped it wouldn’t be as terrible as I remember Of Mice and Men being.
I had a vague recollection there may be a movie of the same name. My husband confirmed it. “East of Eden? Yeah, babe… James Dean? You don’t remember that?” I looked it up and, of course, it’s not on any of the streaming platforms that I pay for. Nothing that I search for directly ever is. But you bet I’ll be watching it once I finish the book.
When I started reading this morning at 4:30am, I was instantly pulled into the story. I was there. Forty-five minutes later felt like an instant to me when my husband walked in and reminded me we were going to go for a walk. All I could think was that I needed to get back there as soon as possible.
Let’s see…how do we begin this? I didn’t just “pick up” The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, I ordered it from Amazon on my phone while I was still out. I’d heard it mentioned on the podcast I was listening to, which now I can’t remember the title of. I found it in my mailbox two days later, a miracle in my neighborhood, and added ten minutes of reading it into my morning routine, just after my meditation time.
Did I love it? Not really and I feel a little bad about that. If I had not impulse bought it, if I had come home and researched it a little, I probably would have moved on to something a little less…spiritual. What did I expect from a book with the subtitle A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment? But then again, if I had, I would have lost the gems I did find in it.
“I cannot live with myself any longer.” This was the thought that kept repeating itself in my mind. Then suddenly I became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. “Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with.” “Maybe,” I thought, “only one of them is real.”
Who is this person that I can’t live with anymore? It’s my mind! Around the same time I started reading this is when I also started talking to her in kinder tones. We’ve been getting along much better lately.
“Emotion literally means “disturbance.” The word comes from the Latin emovere, meaning “to disturb.”
Think about that for a second. You’re a spider on a web, and there’s a disturbance. You turn in that direction, wait, see if there’s anything there that needs your attention. And then move on.
“Don’t get stuck on the level of words. A word is no more than a means to an end. It’s an abstraction.”
We could be trying to express the same emotion but using different words and actions. What if we try to get understanding instead of attacking each other over semantics?
“The inner equivalent to objects in space such as furniture, walls, and so on are your mind objects: thoughts emotions, and the objects of the senses. And the inner equivalent of space is the consciousness that enables your mind objects to be, just as space allows all things to be.”
I wrote this one on a post-it and keep it close to my desk. “Pay attention to that space between things.” Silence is the space between thought. When we’re paying attention to the space, we allow more peace in, and we tend to relax and see the bigger picture.
“Most people pursue physical pleasures or various forms of psychological gratification because they believe that those things will make them happy or free them from a feeling of fear or lack.”
This one hit me like a brick. I’m the one that says, “If you just texted me…” “If you just did the dishes…” “If you…” That’s not what makes anyone happy. The happy comes when you accept the world around you as it is, without conditions. That doesn’t mean you take all the crap that comes and live miserable. There’s more about that in this book.
“A victim identity is the belief that the past is more powerful than the present, which is the opposite of the truth. It is the belief that other people and what they did to you are responsible for who you are now, for your emotional pain or your inability to be your true self.”
The world just is. What are you going to do now? I refuse to call myself a victim of anything.
“When a condition or situation that the mind has attached itself to and identified with changes or disappears, the mind cannot accept it. It will cling to the disappearing condition and resist the change. It is almost as if a limb were being torn off your body.”
When I’m sad about how something is going, I can feel it in my body like I’m having a heart attack. It really sucks and causes panic, which I respond to and then create more drama. I recently tried NOT doing that, sitting with the pain, knowing it was my mind, feeling it all over, and then…it left me. More magic. Emotions aren’t real. They are primal warnings to things that may or may not be there.
“Don’t look for peace. Don’t look for any other state than the one you are in now; otherwise, you will set up inner conflict and unconscious resistance. Forgive yourself for not being at peace. The moment you completely accept your non-peace, your non-peace becomes transmuted into peace. Anything you accept fully will get you there, will take you into peace. This is the miracle of surrender.”
This last one was my favorite. It sounds totally nuts, but it works. I tried it myself. One morning I woke up grumpy. I had a bad dream, didn’t sleep well, felt like an ogre. In the past I would have begun a downward spiral. “This isn’t what I want! I should do better than this! All this practice is for nothing!” Angrier and angrier until someone in the house said or did something that irked me even more, and then BOOM. Michelle is on a rampage and hating herself for it.
What I tried this time was to say to myself, “Yeah, that night sucked. I’m tired and grumpy. I’m human!” And then I altered my day a bit, chilled more, read more, watched my favorite show and had some popcorn and a cola. When my husband asked me how my day was going, I said, “I am feeling grumpy and tired, so I took the day off. Let’s go get tacos!” I surrendered and accepted my feelings instead of fighting with them.
There were so many little sparks to capture in this book. I wrote many more down but tried to distill it to only my favorites here. I wasn’t a fan of the spiritual bend this author takes. I felt like he was trying to pull in several different religions to explain things instead of letting them be based in psychology or human nature. I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone just getting started with meditation, but it does have a lot to teach if you have the patience to wade through. But if the spiritual speaks to you, it might be right up your alley!
I’m so excited! Why? Two big reasons of which I shall now elucidate!
First of all, thanks to Laurie at Relevant Obscurity, I have discovered The Classics Club! What?! A blog that links together other classic readers?! Yes, please! I know, I get excited about the strangest things, but it’s not often that I find other people that are reading the same kind of books that I read.
As per their rules for membership, this post is a declaration of sorts. I’m listing fifty classic books that I promise to read between now and August 29, 2027. Five years to read fifty assigned books is perfect for me because it let’s me read many of the other glorious books that come across my path at the same time. But what to choose?!
The first thing I did was print their list and find the books I had already read. That was a little disappointing. It turns out I KNOW more of the titles on the list than I have actually read, but I’ve read quite a few, so I’m not unhappy, I’m inspired.
The second thing was to look on my TBR shelf for any books from the list that I have already bought. I found ten, so that takes me well into the first year of the challenge. And it gave me the nice picture for this post!
The last thing to do was put a mark next to any book on the list that I had heard of and was planning on reading already.
And now I have my list! Are you ready?
Flatland by Edwin Abbott Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? By Edward Albee Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs The Plague by Albert Camus Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas Middlemarch by George Eliot
The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison Tom Jones by Henry Fielding Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster Faust by Johann Goethe Lord of the Flies by William Golding The Maltese Falcon by Dashiel Hammett A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne Catch-22 by Joseph Heller A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
The Iliad by Homer The Odyssey by Homer The Alchemist by Ben Jonson The Dubliners by James Joyce Ulysses by James Joyce The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka The Man Who Would be King by Rudyard Kipling Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe The Misanthrope by Moliere The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott East of Eden by John Steinbeck
The Red and the Black by Stendhal Rosencratz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard Idylls of the King by Alfred Tennyson Candide by Voltaire The Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut The Once and Future King by T.H. White Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
A formidable list to be sure, but at less than one book a month, it is doable even when the book gets hard or I have other books I MUST read or else perish. Yeah, feeling a tad dramatic. I’ll be coming back and linking any post that I write about these books as I read them, so stay tuned.
But Michelle! You said there were TWO reasons you were excited. What is the other reason?
Oh, yeah! Well, it pertains to this list, the blog, and spending countless hours reading and writing in general. You’ve probably read something from me along the lines of angst and broodiness since my sons have deserted me…I mean grown up like they were supposed to and struck out on their own. I’ve been a housewife and mom for over twenty years now. What am I supposed to do with all my time now that I’m not raising other humans?
I thought about getting a job to fill the time. Didn’t sound very exciting, and amazingly it’s not as easy as it sounds, even in today’s economy (at least the one reported on the news). It seems that the old story (which I do not understand) is true, businesses aren’t keen on hiring people that haven’t worked in years. Maybe they’re jealous, I can’t say. But I’ve put out ten applications in my town and only one called me back, but still no work. I decided to take it as a sign that I was needed elsewhere.
I love reading and writing about things, but it doesn’t pay at all. I’m not published, and this blog isn’t all the popular. I get discouraged. What’s the point of spending all this time?! And then it dawned on me.
I’m happy and content with my life. Why do I feel like I need to be paid to be making a difference in the world?! And I do make a difference here, in small ways. So that’s what I’m doing. I’ve been reading more blogs like mine, branching out, talking to people, and then this classics club shows up in my feed and I’m off to the races!
My husband laughed at me as I sat at one of my bookshelves with a printed list of books.
“What are you doing? You look like you’re on a mission.” Glasses on, pencil in hand, on the floor running my finger across the spines. “I joined and book club of sorts and I’m finding books to add to my list and write about. They read books like I do!” “That’s what I love about you. You get so excited about things.”
If the only thing I got from this book was Bertrand Russell, it would be 100% worth all the hours and pages.
Amazingly (because I thought it would be extremely boring or maddeningly condescending), I’m about halfway through The Portable Atheist – Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever selected and with introductions by Christopher Hitchens. I’ve changed my initial feelings about the book and now say they are essential readings by anyone, nonbeliever or believer. The essays have certainly shed a new light (for me) on many authors I thought I knew and helped me to think in a whole new direction. I wouldn’t say the collection has convinced me to become an atheist, but I can see their point of view more clearly.
My problem with atheism is the same as theism. You’re saying you hold a position of belief, one that cannot be proven. I prefer to remain agnostic. I do not know. I have a belief that brings me peace of mind and directs my actions, but I would not go to battle over these beliefs or waste my efforts in forcing anyone else to believe them. My beliefs may change, probably will. In fact, I hope they will, because that means I’m learning and adapting, which seems to be the best way to live.
This past week, I read an essay in The Portable Atheist by Bertrand Russell called An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish. I’ve heard of him, seen quotes from him on social media, but I’ve never read any of his work. I’m sorry that I haven’t, and I’ll certainly be searching out more since I’ve read this.
The following are excerpts that outline some incredibly useful rules for anyone attempting to make their way through this plane of existence.
“To avoid the various foolish opinions to which mankind are prone, no superhuman genius is required. A few simple rules will keep you, not from all error, but from silly error.”
Not ALL error because every human is fallible. We make mistakes, big ones, even incredibly intelligent and famous people, even people in power like government officials and church leaders. Gasp!
#1 “If the matter is one that can be settled by observation, make the observation yourself.”
Don’t assume you know something. Go find out firsthand, if possible. And if not possible, you can ask, read, research, and come to your own conclusions, but they will always be yours alone.
#2 “If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a sign that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do.”
I am SO guilty of this. My husband is much better at being curious. What we should be doing is thinking, “Hmm…this stirs something in me. Why?” And then asking questions to see if that person knows something we don’t.
“The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way.”
#3 “A good way of ridding yourself of certain kinds of dogmatism is to become aware of opinions held in social circles different from your own.”
Getting your news from your favorite radio or television station, or social media, is not the way to do this. Branch out, be curious, see what else is out there and respect other people’s opinions.
#4 “Be very wary of opinions that flatter your self-esteem.”
There’s a perfect example of this in my circle of homeschoolers. We tend to pass around a meme that has a list of all the brilliant people that were homeschooled. It makes us feel good that we are in that company, but it is not proof that it is great and good. It IS, but it isn’t proof. (That’s me being funny. Insert sarcasm font.)
“It is more difficult to deal with the self-esteem of man as man, because we cannot argue out the matter with some nonhuman mind. The only way I know of dealing with this general human conceit is to remind ourselves that man is a brief episode in the life of a small planet in a little corner of the universe, and that, for aught we know, other parts of the cosmos may contain beings as superior to ourselves as we are to jellyfish.”
Maybe you can’t find a nonhuman mind to argue with, Bertrand, but some of us can. I’m not saying who. Let’s just say, some of us have ways of getting off this planet, and some have ways of getting on. At least, that’s what I’ve been led to believe by Star Trek, Dr. Who, and Rick & Morty.
#5 “Other passions besides self-esteem are common sources of error, of these perhaps the most important is fear.”
Fear. Yoda has it right, my friends. Fear is what keeps us from the greatest things in life and drops us into the depths of human depravity.
“Fear is the main source of superstition and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom, in the pursuit of truth as in the endeavor after a worthy manner of life.”
Let me repeat that last line because I believe it is now my new mantra.
“To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom, in the pursuit of truth as in the endeavor after a worthy manner of life.”
Simple, right? I know that it isn’t. We get one down and then forget another. I’d like to create a poster with these and frame it on the wall where I read, write, and socialize most, my living room. Maybe then, I’d do a little bit better.