Friday, September 10, 2010

A Good Book Tells Us Something About Ourselves

I was speaking to a friend on the phone the other day. She was excited about a book she had just read. The title is "Cloud Atlas", written by an English author, David Mitchell. I decided I would read the book, so that I might discuss it with her when she comes for a visit, next week.

I started by reading some literary reviews of the book, which were universally positive, then started to read the book itself. It's an interweaving of several short stories and the short stories themselves are interwoven with references to the other stories. The stories are written in different voices, from different points of view, in different genres and in different times ranging from the historic past, present and speculative future. They are not, at least on the surface, related. The underlying theme seems to be that human society is neither in advance or decline but has always been fucked up and that virtue is not rewarded, enterprise is not gainful and any kind of attempt at personal fulfillment is vainglory. It's not particularly difficult reading but it's not real interesting, at least not to me and required from me a fair amount of application to the task.

I gave it a couple of hours and made it about a third of the way through, then went to bed.

This has caused me to realize something about myself. I'm lazy and undisciplined. Even though I'm capable of reading this book, have the time and I'd like to please my friend by being able to discuss it with her, I'm unwilling to do so. This has always been the case with me. It's no doubt the reason why I am not really an intellectual or considered by most to be a serious person. Dilettante would probably be the kindest description for me.

I should have worked on this condition when I was younger. I'm sure I would have reaped great benefits from it. I could probably still do it today.

Maybe some other time. I don't feel like it.

I like to read. I have even been known, sometimes, to read things that are considered literary. I am not averse to exploring profound themes or universal truth but I think these things can be expressed just as easily by authors willing to explore them using characters who are cowboys, detectives, space pirates or sexually precocious young women with glistening, lust swollen vulvas, in 325 pages or less, using vocabulary and construction a 4th grader would be comfortable with.

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