Sunday, February 26, 2017
Saturday, February 25, 2017
I've pre-ordered the latest book by Sarah Bakewell and can't wait for it to drop through the letter box.
Here is a snippet from a review in the FT:
Bakewell’s exegetical skill is also well exemplified in her discussion of a key difference between Sartre and Camus. The latter believed that when we look at the world truthfully, we see it as empty and meaningless. Sartre insisted that to view it this way is not to see it properly at all, since seeing properly is inextricably bound up with meaning. “If I watch a football match,” Bakewell writes, “I see it as a football match, not as a meaningless scene in which a number of people run around taking turns to apply their lower limbs to a spherical object.”
.... Perhaps the aphorism that best captures the book is one of Bakewell’s own: “Thinking should be generous and have a good appetite.” Her hunger is infectious. I was left wanting to read more Sartre, Edmund Husserl, Heidegger, Emmanuel Levinas and de Beauvoir, a plan I suspect won’t survive first contact. Bakewell is fond of Heidegger’s image of a mind as a clearing in a forest, and her book is a clearing in a dense philosophical thicket few of us have the ability or inclination to navigate alone.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Complete Prose is a compendium of Woody Allen's three popular books, Without Feathers, Getting Even and Side Effects. Without Feathers and Getting Even were read and reviewed in 2014 but it was worth giving them a second read.
Woody Allen's absurd writing sings when he's hitting all the notes, but half the time it feels like he slips into excessive absurdity as a means of getting a cheap laugh, a bit like how some stand-up comedians get cheap laugh by dropping the f-bomb. This quibble aside, Woody Allen does occupy a pretty unique space in the comedy landscape and I'm pretty sure I'll be returning to my favourite pieces whenever I feel the need for an asburdist lift-me-up.
The pieces I rate between 4 and 5 stars are worthy of revisiting are:
From Without Feathers
Selections from the Allen Notebooks
Examining Psychic Phenomena
Match Wits With Inspector Ford
The Whore of Mensa
If the Impressionists Had Been Dentists
From Getting Even
The Metterling Lists
The Schmeed Memoirs
Yes, But Can the Steam Engine Do This (p177-181)
A Twenties Memory
From Side Effects
The Kuglemass Episode
My Speech to the Graduates
Quotes From Without Feathers
Quotes From Getting Even
- Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends.
- Eternal nothingness is O.K. if you're dressed for it.
- The universe is merely a fleeting idea in God's mind - a particularly uncomfortable thought, particularly if you've just made a down payment on a house.
- As a teenager he was punished by his father for varnishing his brother's head, although his father, who was a painter by trade, was more upset by the fact that he gave the boy only one coat.
- July 10 - Today was generally a good day, despite the fact that we were ambushed by Arryo's men and badly decimated.
- when it came time to see the Minister the appointment was postponed....an assistant said 'Certain vague notions have arisen and he is not seeing anyone.'
- Brooklyn: Tree-lined streets. The Bridge. Churches and cemeteries everywhere. And candy stores…. Stifling heat and humidity descend on the borough. Residents bring folding chairs out onto the street after dinner to sit and talk. Suddenly it begins to snow. Confusion sets in. A vender wends his way down the street selling hot pretzels. He is set upon by dogs and chased up a tree. Unfortunately for him, there are more dogs at the top of the tree.
- where was the celery? Was the omission deliberate? At Jacobelli's, the antipasto consists solely of celery. But Jacobelli is an extremist. He wants to call our attention to the absurdity of life. Who can forget his scampi: four garlic-drenched shrimp arranged in a way that says more about our involvement in Vietnman than countless books on the subject.
- The sentence clearly cannot be stated as 'The fettuccine was delicious'. It must be stated as 'The fettuccine and the linguine are not the rigatoni.' As Godel declared over and over, 'Everything must be translated into logical calculus before being eaten.'
On literature (preserved insights from the great Helmholtz): "All literature is a footnote to Faust. I have no idea what I mean by that."
Rapid Reading: ...This course will increase reading speed a little each day until the end of the term, by which time the student will be required to read The Brothers Karamazov in fifteen minutes. The method is to scan the page and eliminate everything except pronouns from one's field of vision. Soon the pronouns are eliminated. Gradually the student is encouraged to nap. A frog is dissected. Spring comes. People marry and die. Pinkerton does not return.
The bulk part of "Yes, But Can a Steam Engine Do This?":
"The sandwich," it read, "was invented by the Earl of Sandwich." Stunned by the news, I read it again and broke into an involuntary tremble. My mind whirled as it began to conjure with the immense dreams, the hopes and obstacles, that must have gone into the invention of the first sandwich. My eyes became moist as I looked out the window at the shimmering towers of the city, and I experienced a sense of eternity, marvelling at man's ineradicable place in the universe. Man the inventor! Da Vinci's notebooks loomed before me—brave blueprints for the highest aspirations of the human race. I thought of Aristotle, Dante, Shakespeare. The First Folio. Newton. Handel's Messiah. Monet. Impressionism. Edison. Cubism. Stravinsky. E=mc2 . . .Holding firmly to a mental picture of the first sandwich lying encased at the British Museum, I spent the ensuing three months working up a brief biography of its great inventor, his nibs the Earl. Though my grasp of history is a bit shaky, and though my capacity for romanticizing easily dwarfs that of the average acidhead, I hope I have captured at least the essence of this unappreciated genius, and that these sparse notes will inspire a true historian to take it from here.
1718: Birth of the Earl of Sandwich to upper-class parents. Father is delighted at being appointed chief farrier to His Majesty the King—a position he will enjoy for several years, until he discovers he is a blacksmith and resigns embittered. Mother is a simple Hausfrau of German extraction, whose uneventful menu consists essentially of lard and gruel, although she does show some flair for culinary imagination in her ability to concoct a passable syllabub.
1725-35: Attends school, where he is taught horseback riding and Latin. At school he comes in contact with cold cuts for the first time and displays an unusual interest in thinly sliced strips of roast beef and ham. By graduation this has become an obsession, and although his paper on "The Analysis and Attendant Phenomena of Snacks" arouses interest among the faculty, his classmates regard him as odd.
1736: Enters Cambridge University, at his parents' behest, to pursue studies in rhetoric and metaphysics, but displays little enthusiasm for either. In constant revolt against everything academic, he is charged with stealing loaves of bread and performing unnatural experiments with them. Accusations of heresy result in his expulsion.
1738: Disowned, he sets out for the Scandinavian countries, where
1741: Living in the country on a small inheritance, he works day and night, often skimping on meals to save money for food. His first completed work—a slice of bread, a slice of bread on top of that, and a slice of turkey on top of both—fails miserably. Bitterly disappointed, he returns to his studio and begins again.
1745: After four years of frenzied labor, he is convinced he is on the threshold of success. He exhibits before his peers two slices of turkey with a slice of bread in the middle. His work is rejected by all but David Hume, who senses the imminence of something great and encourages him. Heartened by the philosopher's friendship, he returns to work with renewed vigor.
1747: Destitute, he can no longer afford to work in roast beef or turkey and switches to ham, which is cheaper.
1750: In the spring, he exhibits and demonstrates three consecutive slices of ham stacked on one another; this arouses some interest, mostly in intellectual circles, but the general public remains unmoved. Three slices of bread on top of one another add to his reputation, and while a mature style is not yet evident, he is sent for by Voltaire.
1751: Journeys to France, where the dramatist-philosopher has achieved some interesting results with bread and mayonnaise. The two men become friendly and begin a correspondence that is to end abruptly when Voltaire runs out of stamps.
1758: His growing acceptance by opinion-makers wins him a commission by the Queen to fix "something special" for a luncheon with the Spanish ambassador. He works day and night, tearing up hundreds of blueprints, but finally—at 4:17 A.M., April 27, 1758—he creates a work consisting of several strips of ham enclosed, top and bottom, by two slices of rye bread. In a burst of inspiration, he garnishes the work with mustard. It is an immediate sensation, and he is commissioned to prepare all Saturday luncheons for the remainder of the year.
1760: He follows one success with another, creating "sandwiches," as they are called In his honor, out of roast beef, chicken, tongue, and nearly every conceivable cold cut. Not content to repeat tried formulas, he seeks out new ideas and devises the combination sandwich, for which he receives the Order of the Garter.
1769: Living on a country estate, he is visited by the greatest men of his century; Haydn, Kant, Rousseau, and Ben Franklin stop at his home, some enjoying his remarkable creations at table, others ordering to go.
1778: Though aging physically he still strives for new forms and writes in his diary, "I work long into the cold nights and am toasting everything now in an effort to keep warm." Later that year, his open hot roast-beef sandwich creates a scandal with its frankness.
1783: To celebrate his sixty-fifth birthday, he invents the hamburger and tours the great capitals of the world personally, making burgers at concert halls before large and appreciative audiences.
Friday, February 17, 2017
One does not have to live among these things to remember them, and I do. They were and are part of me.
Indeed, I find that distance lends perspective and I often write better of a place when I am some distance from it. One can be so overwhelmed by the forest so as to miss seeing the trees.
There are worlds of which I write are no longer out there. There are here, ever present in my mind. Seated at my typewriter, I can in one moment move to the mountains of Pakistan or India, to vast invading armies with their forests of spears, all bright and golden in the noonday sun. I have read the history; I know the land. I know how it feels to be a fighting man entering combat, so I can ride with those men, fight beside them, fall to the field and lie wounded or die with them.
As I wrote the stories I could sell, I was like a squirrel, gathering the nuts of future stories and storing them for the years when my writing would be better and my market larger.
A thing to remember is that the audience wants you to be good. No matter whether they know you or not, they do not want to be bored, so whether you realise it or not, they are rooting for you.
This is an age of communication. At one time or another, nearly everyone will have to stand up and sell his bill of goods, whatever it may be.
Professor Thomas Davidson: "Associate with the noblest people you can find; read the best books; live with the mighty. But learn to be happy alone;. Rely upon your own energies, and so not wait for, or depend on other people."
Knowledge is like money: To be of value it must circulate, and in circulating it can increase in quantity and, hopefully, in value.
Upon the shelves of our libraries, the world's greatest teachers await our questions.
Yet for those who have not been readers, my advice is to read what entertains you. Reading is fun. Reading is adventure. It is not important what you read at first, only that you read.
Many would advise the great books first, but often readers are not prepared for them.
Often ambitious young men or women write, wanting to work for me or assist me in my research. What they do not understand is that it is a labour of love, and I would relinquish no part of it at any price. I do not need help; I need time.
I want to read books, examine the archives, trace the routes on maps or charts. As I trace the routes, I relive the lives; I walk with the caravans; I handle canvas on the ships; I pull an oar in the galleys. I know the smell of the seas because I was there, and a thousand years ago it would have been no different. I know how it feels to ride a horse or a camel, and I want to live again with the caravans and seafarers.
I am not some mill that grinds our stories simply to make a living.
We writers, of course, stress the dramatic, and often readers forget the long periods of simply hard work that went to build the country. Gunfights were very rare, raids by horse thieves rare, but hard work was every day. Fencing land, plowing land, grubbing roots for firewood, all this was every day.
In Sinkiang and the Pamirs, the Taklamakan and some parts of Tibet, when one party meets another on the way, the greeting is often, 'May there be a road!' It is a land of frequent snow slides, rock slides and cave-ins. Roads are casually made, bridges are usually hanging from ropes, so the saying is apropos: One hopes the way will be clear, the road open. So, as one pilgrim says to another, I leave you with that wish: 'May there be a road!'
Monday, February 13, 2017
Although I had saved a little money during the war, I knew it would not last long. To write was imperative, and not only to write but to sell.
The western pioneers were select people, selected by themselves. They chose to break the mold, to leave all they knew behind and venture into new country, with new problems, new standards. Each one was expected to stand on his own two feet. He was moving of his own volition, on his own support system. Nobody was paying hos way or showing him the way; nobody had told him to go, or where to go. He simply packed what goods he could carry and headed west, looking for what chance might offer.
Man seeks a means to exist; then he strives to improve that situation. At first he wants something to eat; then he tries to store food against times of famine. He tries to find warmer furs, a better cave, a more secure life. He creates better weapons with which to defend himself, to form alliances that will assist in his protection. It is a normal, natural thing and has existed forever.
Success often means security, safety in your home, safety in your possessions. To me success has meant just two things: a good life for my family, and the money to buy books and continue the education of this wondering man, who has ceased to wander except in his memory, his thoughts, and the books he writes.
Books are precious things, bit more than that, they are the strong backbone of a civilization. They are the thread upon which it all hangs, and they can save us when all else is lost.
He opened a door for me that has never closed.
It was never part of my nature to focus on one area to the detriment of others. I wished to understand it all, and to have a clear picture in my mind of what was happening in all parts of the world. And wherever I could, I listened to all the stories of along the caravan trails, in bars, in coffee-or tea-houses, and wherever they might be heard.
Much of my life has been spent in deserts and mountains; much of what I have seen I remember. Sitting here now, I can close my eyes and see the desert in all its many aspects. There is no need to see it again, although I often shall, nor is there any need to go to the mountains, for the mountains are always with me. I have walked the high country; I have breathed its air, bedded down under its trees, watched the white clouds drift and the storm clouds gather. Far away, I have seen dust-devils do their weird dance and I have heard the pelting rain on the trees above me.
Thursday, February 09, 2017
Start writing, no matter about what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. You can sit and look at a page for a long time and nothing will happen. Start writing and it will.
I have delved deep into the literatures of the world, yet what is available is scarcely a dusting of what must have been. Great libraries have been destroyed, and books or manuscripts are vulnerable.
A book can be carried and read at leisure. It needs nothing but an eye, and the ability to read.
'A book is a friend that will do what no friend does - be silent when we wish to think' - Will Durant
Shaw was a many-sided man, not easily understood and not wishing to be understood - as a person.
Writing as craft varies much from individual to individual. Probably no two writers write in the same way in any respect. Some write slowly, like Gustave Flaubert, who needed seven years to complete Madame Bovary. On the other hand, William Shakespeare, Honore de Balzac, Charles Dickens, and Anthony Trollope (to name a few) wrote with considerable speed. ...It has nothing to do with the quality of their work; the speed or frequency of their writing is a matter of personal inclination or temperament.
(on Shakespeare) His writing was done backstage, in taverns, in the homes of friends, or in his own quarters.
People are always interested in how a writer works, as if that made a difference. Some imagine a writer must have complete quiet, or some special atmosphere. The fact is, a professional writer can write anywhere, although some environments are undoubtedly more favourable than others. Some excellent writing is done these days by newspaper people working in a bustling, busy newsroom.
Personally, I prefer my study or bedroom at the ranch. In the first place, I am surrounded by my library, where I can check any fact that requires it. At the ranch I have a view of the timbered mountain ridge at the back of my property, or I can look up a valley in the hills where the elk and deer come down to feed in the evening. Forty of fifty can be there at once, as we do not allow hunting, and they are beautiful to watch.
Gustave Flaubert once said that 'Talent is nothing but long patience'.
The key to understanding any people is in its art: its writing, painting and sculpture.
Due to the narrow vision in many of our schools, few people have any knowledge or appreciation for the culture of Asiatic nations.
As much time as I have spent walking in cities and working among people of all kinds, I liked the wild country the best. Again and again I returned to the desert or mountains, seeking out the lonely water holes, studying the wildlife, learning to exist on the margins.
Given paper with which to write and a typewriter, I can be happy anywhere.
The frontier is that line beyond which man has not been, or where he is only beginning to go. I am, for example, concerned now (as I have been since I was twelve) about the frontiers of outer space...There are endless frontiers out there, each one is difficult, each one offering fresh discoveries, unexpected challenges, and rewards beyond belief.
There was no time for writing during the war but one could always think, and one could observe and remember.
There were place and people to be seen and remembered, there were stories to be heard, and I was hungry for them all. Ours is a rich and wonderful world, and there are stories everywhere. Nobody should ever try to second guess history; the facts are fantastic enough.
Tuesday, February 07, 2017
Hunger I was to experience many times, but it was reassuring to know others had survived, although most written accounts of hunger are by those who never experienced it. Knut Hamsun is the only one I can think offhand who wrote with any knowledge of the experience. In the movies, one always sees a hungry man stuffing himself with food when first he gets a chance. That's ridiculous, of course, for a truly hungry man eats very slowly, savouring every bite, and is almost overcome by having food at last. Moreover, hunger shrinks the stomach and one's capacity is slight. On the second and third day, of course, there is no satisfying him.
A mistake constantly made by those who should know better is to judge people of the past by our standards rather than their own. The only way men or women can be judged is against the canvas of their own time.
People are forever asking me where I get my ideas, but one has only to listen, to look, and to live with awareness. As I have said in several of my stories, all men look, but so few can see. It is all there, waiting for a passerby.
(on the qualities of those who live the pioneer life). Dignity. They all had dignity, a certain serenity and pride that was theirs completely. They might be poor, they might be eking...a precarious living, but they had dignity.
They knew where they had been and what they had done, and were content. Something was theirs, something within themselves that neither time passing nor man nor hard times could take from them. I have worked beside then, eaten at their tables, sat beside them in sunlight and moonlight and firelight. I never knew one of the old breed who did not have it.
"An idea upon which attention is peculiarly concentrated is an idea which tends to realize itself.' -Charles Baudouin.
(on education) We teach a child to creep when he should be running: education becomes a task rather than an excitement.
We do not at present educate people to have think but, rather, to have opinions, and that is something altogether different.
I studied purely for the love of learning.
A person or a situation can only be understood against the background of its own time.
Writing, however, is a learning process. One never knows enough, and one is never good enough.
Wednesday, February 01, 2017
Here are some quotes from Education of a Wondering Man by Louis L'Amour.
He was a lone reader but somehow never felt alone in the company of a book. (from the introduction)
This is the story of an adventure in education, pursued not under the best of conditions. The idea of education has been so tied to schools, universities, and professors that many assume there is no other way, but education is available to anyone within reach of a library, a post office, or even a newsstand.
Today you can buy the Dialogues of Plato for less than you would spend on a fifth of whiskey, or Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for the price of a cheap shirt. You can buy the fair beginning of an education in any bookstore with a good stock of paperback books for less than you would spend on a week's supply of gasoline.
Often I hear people say that they do not have time to read. That's absolute nonsense. In the one year during which I kept that kind of record, I read twenty-five books while waiting for people. In offices, applying for jobs, waiting to see a dentist, waiting in a restaurant for friends, many such places. I read on buses, trains, and planes. If one really wants to learn, one had to decide what is important. Spending an evening on the town? Attending a ball game? Or leaning something that be with you your life long?
Byron's Don Juan I read on an Arab dhow sailing north from Aden up the Red Sea...Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson I read while broke and on the beach in San Pedro.
My life may not be great to others, but to me it has been one steady progression, never dull, often exciting, often hungry, tired and lonely, but always learning.
One thing has always been true: The book or that person who can give me an idea or slant on an old idea is my friend.
If I were asked what education should give, I would say it should offer breadth of view, ease of understanding, tolerance for others, and a background from which the mind can explore any direction.
Education should provide the tools for a widening and deepening of life, for increased appreciation of all one sees or experiences. It should equip a person to live well, to understand what is happening about him, for to live well one must live with awareness.
Ours was a family where everybody was constantly reading, and where literature, politics, history, and the events of the prize ring were discussed at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
How many books we had in our home I do not remember...All of us had library cards and they were always in use. Reading was as natural to us as breathing.
Historical novels are, without question, the best way of teaching history, for they offer human stories behind the events and leave the reader with a desire to know more. Due to such books, and later reading, I found that no matter what country I visited or whom I met, I knew something of the history or romance of the country, or about a person's homeland.
My intention had been to write, and consequently I had made no effort to acquire a trade. Naturally, living such a life one picks up certain knacks and skills but not enough to become an expert at anything. All I had to offer was considerable physical strength and two hands, but for most jobs that was all that was required. I carried a hod, mixed concrete, shoveled sand or gravel, and dug ditches. All the while I read. There was no plan, not at the time could there be. One had to read what was available, and it had been so from the beginning.
There is no reason why one cannot get an education if he or she wants it badly enough and is persistent. ...Books are available on every subject ad there are many very good 'how to' books from which one can learn the basics of a trade.
For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.
Monday, January 30, 2017
'I hope this hits close enough to home so as to awaken you from your contented slumber' says Joshua Brown in his latest article on the Reformed Broker blog. It sure did for me. Brown highlights the long history of ugly, explicit racist sentiment that has been pervasive across the continent over the years. It's pretty cold stuff. Have a read.
Before we get self-righteous about the horribleness that we are seeing across the pond, we should remember that Europe has it's own version of this woeful history. I remember growing up in the 1980s when we wouldn't go a certain park because it was where skinheads hung out, and if you crossed their path you might get you head 'bashed in'. I remember when children openly told hateful racist jokes in the playground. I remember when nationalists and skinheads marched down the streets, and when we sealed up our letter box in fear of petrol bombs being posted. I remember walking home from school one day when I saw I really brutal fight taking place - it was a racist attack I was told to move on out of there as quickly as possible.
I am a definitely an optimist when I look at the trends of violence and the onward and upward march of human freedoms in general, but this episode serves as a reminder that one mustn't get complacent, because as much as we don't want to admit it, horrible live underneath the thin veneer of everyday civility, monsters with an an ancestory that stretches all the way back into past centuries.
Saturday, January 28, 2017
Thursday, January 26, 2017
Goodreads is a great site for book review and quotes. Here are some of my favourite quotes, culled from the site:
“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Friday, January 20, 2017
After posting 'Some quotes about reading', where I noted some choice quotes from the famous author of Western novels, Louis L'Amour, I figured would go ahead and give 'Education of a Wondering Man' a try. It is an excellent autobiography that focuses on the author's 'yondering' years, when Louis took on all variety of occupations and travelled the world over, all the while managing to read finding pockets of time to read an infinite number of books. His experiences and learnings over these years served as the foundation for his future career as a writer.
Here's a little background of the author, taken from the "About" section:
"Spurred by an eager curiosity and desire to broaden his horizons, Mr. L'Amour left home at the age of fifteen and enjoyed a wide variety of jobs, including seaman, lumberjack, elephant handler, skinner of dead cattle, miner, and as an officer in the transportation corps during World War II. During his "yondering" days, he also circled the world on a freighter, sailed a dhow on the Red Sea, was shipwrecked in the West Indies and stranded in the Mojave desert. He won fifty-one of fifty-nine fights as a professional boxer and worked as a journalist and lecturer. He was a voracious reader and a collector of rare books. His personal library contained 17,000 volumes."Impressive chap, eh.
L'Amour also had an astounding memory, which made his voracious reading all the more valuable and enriching. In contrast, I read far fewer books, and can recall fewer still. In fact, on a handful of occasions, I have found myself a quarter the way through a book only to realise it's a road I've been down before!
L'Amour's genuine interest in the world around him, and his love of the writing process (a large part of which is background research), comes through strongly and by the end of the book I truly felt that here was a man who had found his calling, stuck to it and revelled in it. Take this quote for example:
"Often, ambitious young men or women write, wanting to work for me or assist me in my research. What they do not understand is that it is a labour of love, and I would relinquish no part of it at any price. I do not need help. I need time.'
At the end of the book, Louis also provides a list of books and plays read from 1930 to 1935 (and 1937). The tally is testament to the author's appetite for the written word:
1930 - 115
1931 - 120
1932 - 120
1933 - 105
1934 - 114
1935 - 73
1936 - 84
The lists include many books worth looking into, and I'm sure many will be added to my reading list.
I'll post my favourite quotes in separate entry because there's quite a few to jot down.
Friday, January 13, 2017
There is too much to write about 'The Master and Margrita', a Russian classic by Mikhail Bulgakov. As I don't know where to start and wouldn't know where to finish, I'll collect together my thoughts and researches in another post. For the time being, reader, know that The Master and Margarita occupies the very top bracket, sitting alongside the likes of Don Quixote and The Princess Bride. It is exquisite and will surely be read again. More will follow.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
I found these quotes on Farnham Street Blog:
Often I hear people say they do not have the time to read. That’s absolute nonsense. In one year during which I kept that kind of record, I read twenty-five books while waiting for people. In offices, applying for jobs, waiting to see a dentist, waiting in a restaurant for friends, many such places. I read on buses, trains and planes. If one really wants to learn, one has to decide what is important. Spending an evening on the town? Attending a ball game? Or learning something that can be with you your life long? - Louis L'Amour
It is often said that one has but one life to live, but that is nonsense. For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time. - Louis L'Amour
It is the same in literature as in life. Wherever one goes one immediately comes upon the incorrigible mob of humanity. It exists everywhere in legions; crowding, soiling everything, like flies in summer. Hence the numberless bad books, those rank weeds of literature which extract nourishment from the corn and choke it. - Schopenhauer
They monopolise the time, money, and attention which really belong to good books and their noble aims; they are written merely with a view to making money or procuring places. They are not only useless, but they do positive harm. Nine-tenths of the whole of our present literature aims solely at taking a few shillings out of the public’s pocket... - Schopenhauer
It would be a good thing to buy books if one could also buy the time to read them; but one usually confuses the purchase of books with the acquisition of their contents. To desire that a man should retain everything he has ever read, is the same as wishing him to retain in his stomach all that he has ever eaten. He has been bodily nourished on what he has eaten, and mentally on what he has read, and through them become what he is. - Schopenhauer
Saturday, January 07, 2017
I know, I know, I keep breaking my vow not to read 'improving', life-hacky books like these. My excuse this time around is that the book cost me a mere £1 from the charity shop. Also, Richard Wiseman is a pretty cool cat and he writes well. Check out his Youtube channel here. Despite the cheesy cover of this book, The Luck turned out to be very insightful.
Notes from the book
Throw a lucky man in the sea and he will come up with a fish in his mouth - Arab proverb
Some of the biggest fools I know are the wealthiest. As a matter of fact, I believe that success is 95 percent luck and 5 percent ability. Take my own case. I know that there are any number of men in my employ who could run my business just as well as I can. They didn’t get the breaks — that’s the only difference between them and me. - Julius Rosenwald, past president of Sears, Roebuck and Company
Luck exerts a dramatic influence over our lives. A few seconds of bad luck can unravel years of striving, whilst a moment of good luck can lead to success and happiness.
Luck example: Maureen Wilcox bought lottery for the Rhode Island and Massachusetts lotteries. She got the winning numbers for both tickets but on they were on the wrong tickets.
Luck example: Donald Smith won the Wisconsin State Lottery three times (the chances of winning even once is over one in a million)
Luck example: Fleming discovers penicillin by chance. A piece of mould fell into an uncovered petri dish, killing the bacteria he was studying. He went on to identify the substance and discovered antibiotics.
Luck example: Mel Gibson is attacked on the street the night before his audition for Mad Max. He turns up looking battered and tired and is immediately offered the part.
A thought while reading: Significant random events early in a person's life can be a big shaper of their outlook and of their future.
Each one of us could tell stories of how crucial, unplanned events have had a major career impact and how untold thousands of minor unplanned events have had at least a small impact. Influential unplanned events are not uncommon; they are everyday occurrences. ...Serendipity is ubiquitous. (me - it's always there, in the possibility spectrum, life is a series of lucky and unlucky breaks. The dice is always being rolled).
To many, this (the roll of luck in our lives) is terrifying. Most people like to think that they are in control of their future. ...this feeling of control is an illusion. Luck makes a mockery of even our best intentions. It has the power to change everything...Any time, any place and without warning.
Lucky people..happened to live lives that were peppered with chance encounters.
Being lucky and unlucky is not related to intelligence.
Do lucky and unlucky people approach life in the same way? Lucky people's expectation of winning the lottery was much higher than unlucky people, according to Wiseman's study. '"When it comes to random events like the lottery, such expectations count for little. Someone with a high expectation of winning will do as well as someone with a low expectation. However, life is not a lottery. Often, our expectations make a difference. They make a difference to whether we try something, how hard we persist in the face of failure, how we interact with others and how others interact with us."
PRINCIPLE ONE - Maximise your Opportunities - Lucky people create, notice and act upon the chance opportunities in their life.'If you don't enter (the competition), you've no chance of winning'.
1. Lucky people build and maintain a strong network: Robert really enjoys meeting people and spending time with them, and the more people he meets, the greater his chances of coming into contact with someone who can have a beneficial effect on his life. ... Perhaps not surprisingly, far more extraverts than introverts are 'social magnets'. ...They are easy to get to know and most people like them. ...This creates a massive 'network of luck' and a huge potential for chance opportunities.
Same opportunities, different lives.
The lucky people smiled twice as much...and engaged in far more eye contact. ...Lucky people tend to engage in three times as much 'open' body language as unlucky people.
Luck is believing you're lucky - Tennessee Williams
Strategies - Initiate conversations with people who look friendly and approachable. Be authentic and natural. Asking for something (e.g. time, where they bought some clothing, etc? as ice breakers). Don't be afraid of rejection. There are lots of people out there. Play the contact game.
2. Lucky people have a relaxed attitude towards life. Quite often, we are simply unaware of the opportunities that surround us because we are too focused looking for something else. Lucky people ...by not trying too hard, end up being able to see more.
Lucky people have lower neuroticism scores than unlucky people.
Strategies: meditation, try looking at the world through the eyes of a child - without expectations and prejudice. Have fun.
3. Lucky people are open to new experiences in their lives.
Strategies - shop in different places, choose a colour and speak to people wearing that colour (a game for yourself at social occasions), roll a dice to choose an option of a list.
Nobody gets justice. People get good or bad luck - Orson Welles
PRINCIPLE TWO - Listen to Your Lucky Hunches
We are conscious of only a tiny fragment of the factor that influence the way we think, decide and behave. Instead, we are often driven by our unconscious. (e.g. judging people).
Strategies: Boost intuition by: meditation, returning to the problem later, clearing the mind, finding a quiet place.
PRINCIPLE THREE - Expect Good Fortune
Lucky people expect the sun will always shine on them, while unlucky people expect storm clouds to gather in their personal and professional lives.
Lucky people see any bad luck in their lives as being very short lived. ..in doing so, they are able to maintain their expectations of a bright and happy future.
..the unlucky expectations held by unlucky people resulted in them being especially ineffectual at getting what they wanted from life. (e.g. I know I will never find a job and so never really try to get one anymore.) Expectations are transformed into realities.
Lucky people expect their interactions with others to be lucky and successful (me - the payoffs are not linear but chaotic - enjoy the process)
Lucky and unlucky people seem to be living in different worlds.
- Affirm your luck (e.g. say out loud 'I am a lucky person and today is going to be another lucky day')
- Think about all your goals in all aspects of your life: next month (short), 6 months (medium), and 1 year (long-term). Take it one step at a time. These are your expectations for the future. > Attempt to achieve your goals even if your chances of success seem slim and persevere in the face of failure.
- For motivation: do a cost (actions required, time) benefits analysis and keep adding to the list as you go. Do the benefits outweigh the costs?
- Me: think of it as a game.
- Me: think of the CBA from the perspective of the process, not just the outcome.
PRINCIPLE FOUR- Turn Your Bad Luck into Good Luck
See the positive side of bad luck. Soften the blows by considering that it could have been worse, can learn from it, taking the long view, necessity is the mother of invention, etc.
Create a phoenix from the ashes (turned down for a job, well there may be a better one around the corner).
Approach the bad luck with a positive mindset - learn from it, take constructive steps to prevent more bad luck in the future.
My acronym: ELBO
Expectations - expect good fortune
Listen - to hunches
Bad luck - turn to good
Opportunities - maxmise
Sunday, January 01, 2017
This book of colourful nonsenses and creative wordplay was another Christmas holiday treat to myself. It is an enjoyable light read to close what has been a nonsense year. As with most Wordsworth Classics, the presentation of the text is excellent and includes the original illustrations.
For the first time to my knowledge, the Introduction actually recommended reading the book first, so as not to learn of the surprises ahead of time. Why all introductions don't do this, I'll never understand.
"...because the pleasures of reading are inseparable from the surprises, secrets and revelations that all narratives contain, we strongly advise you to enjoy the book before returning to the Introduction"
The author of the Introduction also rails against the academisaiton of literature, a particularly valid grudge when it comes to classic children's tales.
He also observes how Lewis Carrol upbringing may have been filled with the type of nonsensical comedy that Carrol employed to full effect in his stories. Here is Lewis Caroll's father writing back to his eight-year old son, who asked him to bring back a screwdriver:
. . I will not forget your commission. As soon as I get to Leeds I shall scream out in the middle of the street, Ironmongers—Ironmongers — Six hundred men will rush out of their shops in a moment — fly, fly, in all directions — ring the bells, call the constables — set the town on fire. I will have a file and a screw-driver, and a ring, and if they are not brought directly, in forty seconds I will leave nothing but one small cat alive in the whole town of Leeds, and I shall only leave that, because I am afraid I shall not have time to kill it.
Then what a bawling and a tearing of hair there will be I Pigs and babies, camels and butterflies, rolling in the gutter together — old women rushing up the chimneys and cows after them — ducks hiding themselves in coffee cups, and fat geese trying to squeeze themselves into pencil cases — at last the Mayor of Leeds will be found in a soup plate covered up with custard and stuck full of almonds to make him look like a sponge cake that he may escape the dreadful destruction of the Town . . .
Alice in Wonderland ****
Through the Looking Glass ***1/2
From the book:
(as Alice is shrinking) And she tried to fancy what the flame of a candle is like after is is blown out...
'I can't explain myself, I'm afraid sir,' said Alice, 'because I'm not myself.'
'Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here.'
'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to', said the Cat.
'I don't much care where -' said Alice.
'Then it doesn't much matter which way you go.' said the Cat.
'- so long as I get somewhere,' Alice added as an explanation.
'Oh you're sure to do that ,' said the Cat, 'if you only walk long enough.
“Crawling at your feet,' said the Gnat (Alice drew her feet back in some alarm), `you may observe a Bread-and-Butterfly. Its wings are thin slices of Bread-and-butter, its body is a crust, and its head is a lump of sugar.'
And what does it live on?'
Weak tea with cream in it.'
A new difficulty came into Alice's head. `Supposing it couldn't find any?' she suggested.
Then it would die, of course.'
But that must happen very often,' Alice remarked thoughtfully.
It always happens,' said the Gnat.”
Off with their heads.
It's all her/his fancy that ....
'There's nothing like eating hay when you're faint', he remarked to her, as he munched away.
'I should think throwing cold water over you would be better,' Alice suggested...
'I didn't say there was nothing better,' the King replied. 'I said there was nothing like it.' Which Alice did not venture to deny.
Everybody has won and all must have prizes.
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
I really shouldn't be wasting my time on books like this but there you have it. I currently believe that happiness is a futile goal in and of itself, and that a positive state of mind in relation to happiness/well-being/satisfaction (call it what you will) is best achieved by oblique means. However, Happier is a very slim text so I excused myself the indulgence of a quick read. It turned out that a lot of the material resonated with my views, and offers a few points for consideration, which was a pleasant surprise.
Society awards results, not processes; arrivals not journeys.
On happiness as the overall experience pleasure (emotion) and meaning (purpose): Emotions cause motion; they provide a motive that drives our action. ...Experiencing positive emotions is necessary but not sufficient for happiness. ...To live a meaningful life, we must have a self-generated sense of purpose that possesses personal significant rather than one that is dictated by society's standards and expectations...As George Bernard Shaw said, 'This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognised by yourself as a mighty one.'
'...The important thing is that we choose a purpose in accordance with our values and passions rather than conforming to other's expectations. An investment banker who finds meaning and pleasure in her work who is in it for the right reasons - lead a more spiritual and fulfilling life than a monk who is in his field for the wrong reasons'
Consider your day and what gives you pleasure and meaning.
...the best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.
According to..Montaigne, 'The great and glorious masterpiece of man is to live with purpose.' Having a purpose imbues our individual actions with meaning...
“Ralph Waldo Emerson explains, "It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”
Happiness presupposes our having to overcome obstacles. In the words of Frankl, 'What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.'
Self-concordant goals: We pursue these goals not because others think we should or we feel obligated to, but because we really want to - because we find them significant and enjoyable. ...We first of all need to know what we want to do with our lives and then have the courage to be true to our wants.
When we know where we are going-and know we really, really want to get there-it is much easier to stay on course, true to ourselves.
The author notes their is a prejudice against work vs leisure. We make a clear distinction and enjoy one and often despise the other, viewing it as a form of suffering, a source of pain. Cognitive reframing can help (e.g. view it as a privilege vs a duty).
'To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven' - Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The way we are orientated toward work - whether we experience work as a job, a career, or a calling - has consequences for our well-being at work and in other areas.
Finding the right work can be challenging. ...We can begin by asking three crucial questions (the author calls this the MPS process):
What gives me meaning?
What gives me pleasure?
What are my strengths?
Instead of quitting and looking for the perfect job, first look to change routines at work to focus on work you find inspiring.
Notes to myself:
- View goals as enablers for a process.
- Consider how values and concordant goals may change over time, as I change.
- Consider how values, meaning and interests and drives can be born out of new experiences and actions. Often you go into an experience with the expectation of getting y out of it, but you get x, y, and z. Go in with an open mind.
- Focus on trading/buddhist/stoic approach of managing the downside and letting the upside take care of itself.
- Self-respect and mental toughness - keep appointments with yourself.