A Virtual Colloquy - What are YOU reading?!

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Mr. Feynman’s book “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman!”

The Mr. Feynman book cover on the couch with the dog.

“Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman!” is another used book from the 2020 book stash! Yay for free books!

I love memoirs and biographies, so I saved it based on that and because it sounded familiar, like I should know the title. I don’t know why and since I’ve looked it up a little before I started reading it, I still don’t see why it sounds familiar to me.

On my quick internet search, I found out that he is relatively famous, a Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist. Maybe I’ve heard the name in a movie or tv show?

It doesn’t matter. Like I said, I love memoirs and biographies, so that’s why I picked it up. I learn so much by reading about other people’s lives. It’s an addiction. No matter who they are, famous or not, and from any corner of the earth, short or long, reading memoir is like living multiple lives.

Reading history, I learn the framework of the past, the who, what, when and where. Reading historical fiction helps me get some perspective, adds details, the skin, hair, and nails to the skeleton framework of time.

Reading memoir, I step into a person’s thoughts and begin to add the muscles and tendons to that skeleton.

Everyone on this planet has their own personal perspective. If we could see the world through everyone else eyes and thoughts, instead of just our own, we’d have a better idea of what the world really looked like. Life would become far more multi-dimensional and less flat!

That’s why I read memoir and biography, to experience more than one life a time.

This one looks like it’s going to be fun. The man worked with Einstein! And if we learned anything from “The Big Bang Theory,” it’s that theoretical physicists are fun people to learn from.

Do you know of Richard Feynman? If you’d like to read it, you can find “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman!” at Thriftbooks.com. I’d love to know what you thought of the book. Make a comment and we’ll talk!


At the end of each month I send out a newsletter where I describe all my juicy immediate afterthoughts about the books I read that month, along with various other hilarious tidbits, and a few links to my favorite posts.

It’s a special, once-a-month edition that only those who opt-in through my email list receive. If you want to be part of the club, subscribe by entering your email below!

Relationship Problems: You Need the Right Tools to Repair Them

Do you solve your relationship problems with the wrong tools? I frequently do. It’s reactionary. I sense an issue and immediately reach toward the nearest tool. What can I do instead? Wait. Listen. And communicate. Sometimes things just need time.

Relationship problems quote on a desert background.

“The trouble that broke up the Gordon Winships seemed to me, at first, as minor a problem as frost on a window-pane. Another day, a touch of sun, and it would be gone.

The Breaking up of the Winships by James Thurber

Imagine getting up one cold and wet winter workday morning. You come downstairs into the kitchen for a hot cup of coffee first thing. Thank god for coffee pots with timers! Make some toast, drink your coffee, while you stare out the window. Man, it looks cold out there. You glance at the clock, ugg…I better get moving.

Showered, shaved, and “dressed for success,” you grab your car keys as you open the front door and take that first step into the frosty air, only to find the car windshield covered in a heavy frost.

“I can’t drive it like this! What can I do?!”

You grab a hammer from the side of the yard where you were working on the fence over the weekend, walk back to the car and smash the windshield in, gummy tempered glass shards cascade down inside the car, covering the dashboard and seats with a glittery mess. You wipe it off with a mittened hand, letting loose a satisfied sigh.

“That’s better. I can see through it now.”

Only you can’t. There’s a reason that cars have windshields. By the time you get to work, you’re windblown and covered in dirt and ice.

No one in their right mind would do that. We all know that we’d wait for the sun to warm it if we had time, use the windshield wipers to clear it away, or get out the ice scraper in those colder climates where I still can’t believe people actually live. There is a myriad of logical ways to clear the frost and still have the comfortable use of your vehicle.

And yet that’s how we try to solve our relationship problems every day.

An old co-worker that used to like and comment on all your social media posts. A friend that used to call you every week for coffee. A lover that always brought a gift when he came to visit. Your partner seems to not be as excited to see you when you come to bed. Instead of having the patience to wait for a mood or situation to pass, instead of looking into the why and solving the mystery, we break the windshield and attempt to keep driving.

Communication is what’s missing from our relationships.

We all feel and react as if we are operating completely alone in this world. Each of us walking around in our own bubble of reality, believing that the beings that move in and out of our lives are simple non-playing characters in our game. What if we didn’t?

What if, instead, we began to take a breath and wait at first? We could observe, journal our thoughts for a bit. Maybe we’d find it was us that had brought on the frost. Our bad mood or busy schedule has made it difficult for our relationship to go as it had in the past. That can change. Maybe the other person is going through something. We could ask, take the initiative to spend some quality time finding what’s going on.

“I’ve noticed,” you say. “Is there something wrong? Is there something I could do?” And then you listen and respond.

We need our windshields intact to use our vehicles well, to get where we are going. We need our relationships the same way. Sure, we can survive without them, but it’s much more comfortable and safer if we have those people in our lives. Let’s learn to communicate instead of just breaking the windshield.

This book was filled was some wonderful short stories and memoir pieces that sparked my creativity and inspired my thinking. Want to read more? Go back to my first post about it, “The Thurber Carnival” by James Thurber.

If you want to read more about him and his work, check out his website James Thurber.org.

Making Space for Ourselves to Better Control Our Emotions

Identifying what we’re feeling is the first step to taking better control of our emotions. If we know what we’re dealing with, it’s easier to find a solution. But what do we do when there are loved ones around us that want to help?

Book quote on desert rocks background.

“There is no worse experience than to have someone shout at you to look out for something you don’t see.”

The Admiral on the Wheel by James Thurber

I’m standing on the stage, coiling cable, minding my own business, when I hear a shout from behind me. “Look out!” I jump up and look around to find what it is I’m supposed to look out for.

I’m walking a hiking trail in the mountains, watching birds, thinking the deeper thoughts that the quiet walk allows to the surface when I hear from behind me, “Look out!” For what? I turn to look and am confronted with a mountain biker.

It happens everywhere, every day. You’re warned by another human to “look out” for something you don’t see. It’s not helpful. All it does is startle you into a “fight or flight” mode, at which point you must quickly look around you to assess the threat, and then decide an action. It takes too long. By the time you’ve turned around to see, the threat is on you and you have no time to react well.

What’s a better thing to shout in an emergency when you need someone to quickly act? A precise direction. “Duck!” “I’m on your left!” Or “Don’t move!” That requires the person giving the warning to be aware of the need and communicative enough to express it quickly and well.

The same principle works well when you are trying to better control your emotions.

When you are angry, jealous, or tired, it is better a better thing for the humans around you to hear what you need them to do, instead of “Look out!”

And that requires that you know what you want or need and be willing to speak it and the work through it. That’s rarely the case for me when I’m having those feelings. It’s something I’m working on, something I get frustrated about too. I’m 48 years old and only just starting to get a handle on dealing with my feelings in a more positive way. Why is that? Why am I so slow? Everyone moves at their own pace, I suppose.

But I have discovered a new trick lately, a way to let those in my inner circle know that I’m dealing with something I’m not sure how to explain and that I don’t yet know what I need them to do to help. I say, “I’m trying to remember that there is no spoon.”

Remember “The Matrix”? There’s a scene with the little boy bending spoons. He says the trick is to remember there is no spoon and then you can do whatever you want with it. In the movie, the reality they are experiencing is only in their heads. They are all in a simulation and the physical world isn’t what they are experiencing in their minds. What they see is just computer code fed to their minds. Once you can understand that you can change the code as you wish. It’s not easy, and few can do it well.

I’m not certain our physical reality is a simulation. I know there is talk of that on the interwebs, but that’s not what I came here to sing about. I’m here to talk about the draft.

No, sorry, an Arlo Guthrie song got into my head there.

I’m a firm believer in the human ability to use their minds in amazing ways. Like being in the matrix and manipulating the code, it isn’t easy. Emotional states are reactions to the code your mind has built through experience, culture, and the world around us.

They are real, yes. I am disappointed that I didn’t get to do the thing. I’m jealous of the attention you are giving someone else. I’m worried that this might happen. But because we created them, we can change them. We can think, “There is no spoon.” And reimagine.

When I tell people, “I’m trying to remember there is no spoon,” I’m saying that I’m feeling something I’m not sure is healthy or useful and I’m attempting to reassess. I’m in need of patience while I try to make adjustments to my thinking. Is this feeling useful to me? Does it get me where I want to go? Can I change how I look at things and adjust? How can those that love me help me get where I want to go, emotionally?

They give me a little extra love, a pet (because my most prominent love-language is touch) and let me figure it out. Then we go for a walk and talk it out. It’s working so far. Mostly. It is still a new skill and I know it will take time to master. I’ve made little reminders to help me not yell, “Look out!”

There will be many days in the future when I will think to myself, “But I like the spoon. It’s so much easier just to accept what I see and not attempt to change the code underneath.” But then I remember those emotions don’t get me where I want to be, and I put my shoulder to the harder work again. This time though, I have the support of those that love me because I’m able to warn them in useful ways that I’m doing the work.

This book was filled was some wonderful short stories and memoir pieces that sparked my creativity and inspired my thinking. Want to read more? Go back to my first post about it, “The Thurber Carnival” by James Thurber.

If you want to read more about him and his work, check out his website James Thurber.org.

Want Social Progress? Be a Better Human

Thurber book cover.

That guy! Teaching me how to be a better human from 80 years away. What better way to promote social progress!

Through his book there we are, James Thurber and I hanging out, being cool. How awesome is that?! I read that bit about writing his magazine articles and smiled…ahh yes, we don’t all have to be in the middle of the battle taking notes.

“So it came about that when other reporters were out wearing themselves down in quest of the clangorous and complicated fact, I could be observed wandering the quiet shore above the noisy torrent of contemporary history, examining the little miracles and grotesqueries of the time.”

Memoirs of a Drudge by James Thurber

I’ll admit, there are times when I wonder what in the living hell I’m doing here. Does any of this even matter? There’s so much going on in the world and I sit here disconnected from it and write about 80-year-old books, walks in the desert, and bird sightings. And don’t forget my feelings and how I cope with them. That must be important. Right?

Of course, it is! And do you know why?

Why, Michelle? Please tell us!

You know I will. Just shush a bit.

Because being human never changes. Being human is what we always will be. And being a better one helps the future more than any political movement.

I could sit and research what the best economic system is, the best parenting choices, the best political stance on government, state, national, and world-wide. I could spend my whole life doing that and there are many people far smarter than me doing it. You should listen to them.

But do you know what I think will have a much more lasting effect in this world? If I spend my time making myself a better person, a nicer, more calm, healthy, and loving person. And, because I love to think, and talk, and share, I think spending my time putting how I’m growing up into understandable words is a wonderful exercise.

I enjoy focusing on what makes me happy and healthy. And I think that makes me nicer to be around, nicer for my family and friends, and nicer for you, and nicer for the world to see and hear.

I’ve found same amazingly wonderful quotes in this book. Some are fun, hilarious, and even offensive. The times have changed, that’s for sure, but it’s still full of gems!

Want to read more? Go back to my first post about it, “The Thurber Carnival” by James Thurber.

If you want to read more about him and his work, check out his website James Thurber.org.

I am Always in Awe of Humanity’s Insignificance – Just Dust in the Wind

That dust in the wind settles everywhere. Book cover on a desert floor background.
That’s one dusty desert floor!

Reading this book, I kept remembering that scene from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, when Ted is waxing philosophical with So-Crates. “All we are…is dust…in the wind.”

“The speeding wind rumples the surface of the oceans into whitecaps. Whitecaps are masses of bubbles. When those bubbles burst, little droplets of salt water fly into the air. The water evaporates, and a little crystal of salt remains, airborne.”

The secret life of dust by hannah holmes

And that is why we smell the salty air long before we can see the ocean. I love the smell of dust in the wind, tiny particles that float on the air and are blown for miles, even across oceans.

I live about 80 miles from the Salton Sea in California and on days when a storm brings the wind from the south, up over the Gulf of California, I don’t need a weather report to tell me. The rotten smell of the dying lake reaches all the way up here, 80 miles across and 3500 feet up.

But according to this book, that’s just a tiny jump for dust. Dust from the Saharan desert covers South American jungles. And dust from Japan floats over the American Southwest. Crazy to think, but it’s true. Nature is one wild thing.

“Rivers of dust flow around the world, riding the invisible currents of the air. They are such an integral part of the planet that without them, rain and snow would be rare. But now, as scientists map these subtle rivers, they’re troubled by a human addition to the natural dusts. The dust rivers are becoming dangerous. And they flow from one nation to the next without discrimination.”

the secret life of dust by hannah holmes

One question always pops into my head when people write or speak about how humans do unnatural things. Are we not a natural part of this planet? Did we not evolve here along with the rest of the natural world? Why is it that if mankind dams up a river it’s unnatural, but if a beaver does it beautiful?

Yes, it is cliché, but all we are is dust in the wind.

This earth does not give a damn what creatures live on it. Species come and go; they evolve, they thrive, they grow and overwhelm the resources, they adapt (or not) and then they die out and are replaced. All species, including humans. This is the natural cycle. And we are a part of it, a conscious and intelligent part of it, yes, but still natural and still insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe.

That doesn’t mean we can’t try to make things better. We can use these big brains to cooperate and adapt, to make our civilization last as long as possible, but we are not outside of the natural world any more than an ant colony, a wolf pack, or a virus is.

I wrote about this wonderful book back in January. Hop over the post, “The Secret Life of Dust” by Hannah Holmes to read my first thoughts on it.

Have you read this book? Want to read along with me? Go get The Secret Life of Dust and leave me a comment about your thoughts on it. I can’t wait to hear from you!

“Wild Mind” by Natalie Goldberg

"Wild Mind" book cover on a the bed background.
“Wild Mind – Living The Writer’s Life” by Natalie Goldberg

“Wild Mind” looks to be a Zen book about writing! …swoons… We should be living the same way this author tells us how to find our writing inside of us and let it out for others to experience.

Pulled this down from the overflowing TBR stack yesterday morning and was immediately sucked in. How does a book find just the person that needs it? That’s what I want to know! Wow!

From the very first pages of the book…

“The mind is raw, full of energy, alive and hungry. It does not think in the way we were brought up to think – well-mannered, congenial.”

“When you are done with it, you know the author better. That’s all a reader really wants…”

Strange…isn’t that why author’s write? To explain themselves, their thinking, their desires, to you and to themselves as well. To share another point of view in the world, in the hopes of connecting with another human.

When you read, is that what you get from the article, essay, or novel?

When you write, do you find yourself thinking more clearly about who you are and what you want out of this life?

I’m looking forward to reading this. The chapters are short and there are “Try this:” pages to work through. I think I’ll take my time reading and work on creating some new habits.

I’ve never read anything by Natalie Goldberg. I didn’t go looking for this book. I just saw a book about writing with the word “wild mind” on the cover and was pulled to it. I listen to those voices that speak quietly to my heart now more than I ever have. I’m only fifteen pages into this book and I’m glad I did!

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can find “Wild Mind” by Natalie Goldberg at Thriftbooks.


At the end of each month I send out a newsletter where I describe all my juicy immediate afterthoughts about the books I read that month, along with various other hilarious tidbits, and a few links to my favorite posts.

It’s a special, once-a-month edition that only those who opt-in through my email list receive. If you want to be part of the club, subscribe by entering your email below!

“A Man Without a Country” by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut book cover on a desert planter background.
Old Books Smell Good

I’m not a fan of Vonnegut. I know! Everyone likes him! But I find him funny in a negative way, not an uplifting one. Like…we’re all going to die, everyone is horrible, ha ha…kind of way. It makes me sad. And, according to my astrological sign, that’s intolerable to me.

And it is, really! That’s what’s so strange to me. I know not why, but I looked it up yesterday. My squirrel brain was overly active, so I decided to let it run free and follow it, much like I’m doing right now.

I’ve always been fascinated by horoscopes but a little skeptical, but then something comes up that is so right, and I think, “The stars know me!” Yesterday was one of those days. I swung all the way from “This is ALL SO much bullshit!” to “I’m basing every decision from here on out on what my stars tell me!” in a matter of minutes.

Where was I?

Oh, yes!

Kurt Vonnegut makes me sad, so I make him go away. But his stories are good, I’ll admit that. This book, specifically, is another one I picked out of the redistribution library back in December, “What Did My Blog Accomplish in 2020?” Why did I pick up a book by an author I’ve already read but don’t enjoy? Because I’ve heard of it and if I’ve heard of it and haven’t read it, it goes in the TBR pile!

So here I am reading it, laughing, and then then thinking, “Geez, Kurt. Way to be a downer.” I don’t always agree with him. Our politics are different and so are our personalities and outlooks. I’m giving it a chance because even if we have NOTHING in common, I can still find something to enjoy about a book by another human that lived on this earth.

Do you like Kurt Vonnegut? Have you read his books? Watched the movies? You can find his books at Thriftbooks.com! Leave me a comment and tell me what you think! Hell, leave me a comment and tell me what your sign is. I’m a Sagittarius, but you probably already know that.


At the end of each month I send out a newsletter where I describe all my juicy immediate afterthoughts about the books I read that month, along with various other hilarious tidbits, and a few links to my favorite posts.

It’s a special, once-a-month edition that only those who opt-in through my email list receive. If you want to be part of the club, subscribe by entering your email below!

Weird Science: A Kangaroo Rat’s Unhappy Flight

The life of a kangaroo rat. If you think your life is hard, that too many crazy things just happen to you and you have no control what-so-ever, just think of him. Not only does he contend with attacks from above and below, he is regularly swept up by strong winds AND humans on a weird science quest to determine windspeeds!

“The kangaroo rat has proved to be a useful unit of measurement for the upward speed of a dust devil. Or so concluded one researcher in 1947, according to the scientific literature: Having noted that dust devils sometimes snatch up these luckless creatures, the investigator measured the speed at which a kangaroo rat falls when dropped from a tower. From this observation he was able to calculate that the upward speed of dust devils must be at least twenty-five miles an hour. He further observed that the kangaroo rat was angered by this employment but unhurt. Since California’s Mojave Desert, as an example, can host thousands of dust devils a day, evolution may have furnished the oft-lofted kangaroo rat with a crashproof anatomy.”

The Secret Life of Dust by Hannah Holmes
Weird science experiment "lab rat"
A rescue from the cat.
Those fluffy bouncing tails
are just too tempting!

You come up from your burrow to the surface, squinting your big black eyes at the brightness. The sun is low on the horizon, casting long shadows of joshua trees and cholla across the ground, perfect hiding places from predators up above. You take some tentative hops out onto the hot desert floor, your little rat feet barely noticing the sandy 150-degree surface.

A warm breeze brushes past your short whiskers and you sniff…smells dry and dusty. You stop, lean back on your giant back legs (the better to jump with my dear) and take a long look around. That ridge there looks promising for delicious seeds. Dropping forward into a long fast hop to the next shady spot, the breeze gets stronger and your whiskers twitch in alarm.

You lean in and pick up speed, your big but stout ears can hear the roar of the wind coming on like a freight train (if you knew what one was). Suddenly, you’re airborne, tumbling through the sky, fluffy tufted tail over tiny nose and around again.

“Not again,” you grumble to yourself as you spin through the air along with pieces of paper, abandoned grocery bags, and loose sand. Bits of rocks and twigs bite your ears as you tumble and turn in the air with them. “Where will I land this time? And how long will it take me to find my burrow? My wife just won’t believe it happened again!”

As quickly as you were picked up, the dust devil drops you back onto the hot desert floor like a human toddler tired with its toy. You roll along the ground and land head down with your back smack against a large rock, a rock larger than you, anyway. Righting yourself, you shake your head in disgust, throwing the fine sand from your ears and take stock of your situation.

You have no idea where you are. Everything looks familiar, but the smells here are so different. “How many miles from home has that devil taken me this time?” A few tentative hops tell you that nothing is broken, just a bit battered and confused, when you’re suddenly pounced on by a cat and brought into the human house like a toy, or worse, scooped up by a lab coat wearing researcher to be dropped ON PURPOSE, your fall timed with precision, all in the name of science!

I wrote about this wonderful book back in January. Hop over the post, “The Secret Life of Dust” by Hannah Holmes to read my first thoughts on it.

Have you read this book? Want to read along with me? Go get The Secret Life of Dust and leave me a comment about your thoughts on it. I can’t wait to hear from you!


At the end of each month I send out a newsletter where I describe all my juicy immediate afterthoughts about the books I read that month, along with various other hilarious tidbits, and a few links to my favorite posts.

It’s a special, once-a-month edition that only those who opt-in through my email list receive. If you want to be part of the club, subscribe by entering your email below!

Cultural Literacy is the key to Communication On the Internet

The best way to build cultural literacy is to read widely.
Last post about this gloriously written book!

Rebuilding a common cultural literacy doesn’t mean we all have to return to the same classical books as our grandparents. We don’t all need to read all the same dead western white guys to understand each other, but we probably should start reading (and watching, listening, and experiencing) a little of as many different works of art, from as many different cultures and backgrounds as possible, if we’re going to save civilization from ourselves.

“How does an audience identify an allusion? The whole system of signaling depends, quite obviously, on a high degree of cultural literacy – an easy assumption in traditional societies with fixed literary canons and a high capacity for verbatim retention of texts, but something of a problem for contemporaries, who often come to literary texts from a background of loose canons, little reading, and languid memory.”

The Pleasure of Reading in an Ideological Age by Robert Alter

That’s a lot of fancy words for we aren’t all coming from the same entertainment background. We aren’t all reading the same small collection of books these days, even more today than when he wrote this because our world has become infinitely larger and more connected virtually.

Funny story, and one you’re probably familiar with. My kids think the memes they find on social media are hilarious. Sometimes, when they show them to me, I don’t get the joke. Or the other way around. I think something is deep and wonderous and they look at me like, “Huh?”

We don’t get the allusion in each other’s media. We don’t see the signals. Once again, I’m reminded of the Star Trek TNG episode “Darmok and Jalad”

To understand each other, especially in the written word, we have to come from a similar background first of all. The more figurative the media, the more it relies on allusion, the more similar our backgrounds need to be for us to “get it.” I can’t understand why you say that the character is like Sisyphus if I haven’t heard or read that story. And you won’t understand that I “Trumped your sly comment with a better one” if you’ve never played the game.

Each nation, each culture, each generation alters its canon a little at a time. We build on the past, let some things go, and add new things, all in an effort to do what? Describe and understand the world around us? Communicate with others near and far, now and in the future? Too bad we can’t send messages back in time and warn them. “Don’t light that match mom!” or “Don’t invent that device!” But then, I’m not sure that would help us really. If we know anything from time travel movies, it’s that events are sticky. They seem to want to happen no matter what we do.

Unlike most children in the U.S., my sons grew up in close proximity to us, 24/7, not because we’re paranoid about someone taking them, or over-protective. It was because we liked them. I wanted to be around them more and figured they’d go to school later when we got tired of each other. I’ve talked about it before, but we unschooled instead of homeschooled. We lived as if school didn’t exist. I should write a new post about THAT!

The short version is that we lived and worked from home, together for 18 years. They had a very similar canon of books, tv, movies, and music as we did because that’s what we knew and shared with them. As we grew, so did they. New movies. New books. New music. Human events unfolded around us. All of it happened in light of what we already knew, our own family’s background canon.

So, when we write a story, share a joke, or make a reference, all of us almost always get the allusion. Until…cue dramatic music…they began to move in circles outside our house. Noooo!!! Once, they found social media, got jobs, friends, and then started college, it all changed. Their canon shifted from ours. And I know that shift isn’t over. Now that they have moved out on their own it will keep growing and changing as long as they live. We’ll be coming back together for holiday gatherings and sharing our worlds with each other for a long time to come.

Michelle? What they heck? What does that have to do with reading?!

It’s the same with books, not to mention articles, movies, and music. The artist creates his work from the memory of his own canon, assuming that the audience has a similar enough background to understand the allusions. If I read something by someone that is so far outside my world, it’s more difficult for me to understand the deeper meanings of the references the creator is trying to convey. That’s what happened to me when I read, “The 28 Mansion of the Moon.”

I think most of us tend to remember that when we’re reading a book but tend to forget that we need to do the same when we read or watch anything, especially on the internet. Here we are with the world at our fingertips. We can see and hear everyone all over the world, but are we communicating? Rarely. It’s not because we’re mean and evil, or less smart than we ever were. It’s simply because we are assuming that everyone we see and hear has the same canon, the same cultural background, as we do. Translation is not simple. We may even be speaking the same language but come from entirely different worlds.

It’s going to take humanity a long time to adjust to this new development. Let’s hope we don’t destroy each other in the process.

Click over to my original post, “The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age” to read my initial thoughts on this book!

Find “The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age” on Thriftbooks and read along with me. If you do, be sure to comment so I know you’re out there. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The love of classic books can help humanity be more empathetic.

Book cover on book shelf of classic books.
The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age

What do we have to learn from classic books? What could be relevant to me inside something written by someone that has so little in common with my own time and person? How can I possibly learn anything other than what happened in the past and what went wrong?

“Much of the way we perceive ourselves and the world manifestly changes as society, language, ideology, and technology change; but we also continue to share much as creatures born of woman, begotten by man, raised with siblings, endowed with certain appetites, conscious of our own mortality, confronting nature from our various locations in culture.”

“The characters and life situations of the narratives of different eras speak to us not because they reflect a knowledge which never changes but rather because they express a set of enigmas with which we continue to wrestle.”

The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age by Robert Alter

That’s what a good book is all about. This is why we read novels, why we pick up books written a hundred years ago, by a person completely unlike us, from a place completely unlike ours. We see the commonality in the experiences of others throughout history, in fiction and non-fiction.

When we write, we create characters and put them in situations to experience and work through. While we write them, we are working through our own things, “wrestling” with that “set of enigmas.” And when you read it, you see our work and incorporate it into your own. It’s magical and crosses time and culture in a way no other medium can.

No, I’m not a young white female in Victorian England, but I can understand that character and use her experience to round out my own thinking. I’m not a black male in the American South, escaping slavery and falling in love…but I can feel those feelings, experience it, in a way through the authors words, and see ways we share humanity.

We learn empathy when we read classic books, fiction from ages past. We learn about ourselves when we experience life through another person’s thoughts, real or imagined. And we learn that what it really means to be human across all times and cultures doesn’t change that much. There’s some comfort in continuity.

Click over to my original post, “The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age” to read my initial thoughts on this book!

Find “The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age” on Thriftbooks and read along with me. If you do, be sure to comment so I know you’re out there. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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