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Tag: philosophy

READING THE TBR, DAY 297: God is Not Great (2007) by Christopher Hitchens

In this somewhat strident effort, celebrated athiest Christopher Hitchens argues — very persuasively, very successfully — that humanity has outgrown religion in these science-blessed times, and in fact that religion is far more harmful than it is helpful nowadays.

Hitchens is very much preaching to the choir (if he will forgive the church-based metaphor) in this one, but even I found myself more and more convinced of his point the further the book went on. I don’t know how it would play with anyone who was fundamentally opposed to the idea at the outset — or, indeed, with anyone who is a fundamentalist of any sort — but I like to think that the logical, if occasionally extreme, force of his argument might at least arouse the occasional question in the minds of even the most devout.

Because he just makes so much sense.

And religion… just doesn’t, does it?

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 297: God is Not Great: The Case Against Religion by Christopher Hitchens
GENRE: Philosophy, Non-Fiction
PUBLISHED: 2007
TIME ON THE TBR: ~10 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Dymocks.
KEEP: Yes!

READING THE TBR, DAY 128: The Alchemist (1988) by Paulo Coelho

I know this is the kind of book that is supposed to teach me something. It has the cadence of a parable, of an allegory, of a universal truth I must needs master. But subtext is hard, you guys, and the message I got from the book — that believing in prophecies and omens and following your (often literal, in this case) dreams is a fool’s errand is not, I think, what Coelho was actually trying to say. I’m pretty sure he was going for the reverse. 

I’m failing at philosophy here.

This book is a modern day classic, and I bought it because every now and then I go through a phase of wanting to catch up on all the works that habitually show up on those Must Read Before You Die lists. This is definitely one of those, and I’m not saying I didn’t like it. It is lyrically told and beautifully rendered, as we follow the gentle exploits of shepherd boy Santiago as he gets a job and makes improvements to the business (largely without reward) in order to save up enough money to buy some sheep, because it’s difficult to be a shepherd without them. He follows the advice of a fortune teller/dream interpreter and travels far and wide, eventually meeting his true love and also getting himself those sheep. As a sweet story of self-discovery and a long journey to just kind of end up back where you started, it’s nice, I liked it.

But as a text, as a kind of self-help-y preachiness about ask-and-ye-will-receive, I really fundamentally disagreed with its premise and purpose. I’m pretty sure this book is where The Secret person got the idea of the universe owing us all something — it’s not so much personal responsibility as it is personal wish fulfillment, and no, that’s not how stuff works. No one owes you, any of us, anything, and anyone who tells you otherwise really wants you to buy what they are selling.

So, on one level, I liked this story. It’s sweet and simple and I have to assume the translation gives a pretty good idea of Coelho’s intended dreamlike vibe. (The only other Coelho book I’ve read is Veronika Decides to Die, because Buffy‘s Sarah Michelle Gellar was going to be in a movie based on it, and its style is entirely different to this one.) But on another level — on most every other level — I disliked it and everything it stands for.

I do wish alchemy was a real thing, though. 

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 126: The Alchemist, aka O Alquimista by Paulo Coelho
GENRE: Philosophy, General Fiction
PUBLISHED: 1988
TIME ON THE TBR: 15 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Barnes and Noble.
KEEP: Maybe?

READING THE TBR, DAY 90: The Madman and His Parables (1918) by Kahlil Gibran

I’m honestly not sure I understand any of this short but dense text. Kahlil Gibran is, of course, best known for The Prophet, which I read years ago and believe I got the point of, but this disjointed collection of, I think, metaphorical tales of alienation and a search for identity amid religious oppression, just kind of made my head hurt.

It’s not often I feel I’d like to study a particular work, consulting experts and having theories expounded to me, rather than making up my own mind, but this is one of those rare exceptions to my own, probably arrogant, self-reliant rule. I feel like I hover on the edge of comprehending the point of these “parables and poems”, but just need a helpful scholar to get me over the line.

Or, maybe I’ll never get it. And that’s okay, too. If nothing else, reading this book has reminded me of my own limitations, and we can all use a dose of humble pie once in a while, can’t we?   

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 90: The Madman and His Parables by Kahlil Gibran  
GENRE: Philosophy
PUBLISHED: 1918
TIME ON THE TBR: ~12 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: Yeah. I might understand it one day…

READING THE TBR, DAY 88: The Name of the Rose (1980) by Umberto Eco

This is one of those books that you see on someone’s shelf, and you are impressed that they have — presumably — read it. It is a cultural touchstone, a translated historical classic of Italian literature that made of Umberto Eco a must-own author for all members of the intelligentsia.

I’ve been meaning to read it forever, and actually bought a copy seven years ago, because I want to be in the intelligentsia, too. How depressing, then, when I tried to read it, grew more and more confused and, frankly, bored, and abandoned it only a few chapters in.

I felt like a failure at reading, but at the same time, really didn’t care.

But it’s still been on my TBR, of course, and I knew that I would have that enormous feeling of virtue you get from doing something worthy, if not especially enjoyable, should I actually make my way through it, so I have been reading several chapters most every day for most of this year, and at last, oh happy day! At last, I am done.

And, huh. Sure, I feel good about it. I get why it became one of those badges of popular intellectual honour. I mean, it has sold more than 50 million copies! But the book itself was very, very long, and very very over-written, with way, way too many soliloquies and far too much medieval internecine Catholic politics to make it on my personal list of favourites.

The story deals with Friar William, a religious scholar in the fourteenth century, who heads to an Italian monastery expecting to take part in a dispute between two Catholic sects who disagree about the role of the Pope and the necessity of that pesky vow of poverty they’re all supposed to take. Upon his arrival, however, he and his narrator novice assistant, Adso, become embroiled in a murder mystery, as their colleagues begin to drop dead over the succeeding days, and it has something to do with the library.

But it isn’t the mystery that takes up the majority of all those 500+ pages, it is philosophy and Bible study and extended speeches from supercilious clerics and a history of the Catholic church on the march towards Inquisition. There are long, long scenes in which Adso contemplates the sins of the flesh, and there are even longer ones when religious imagery is painstakingly poured out onto the page and then even more painstakingly explained.

Did I like it? No. Especially when the climax — and I totally guessed the killer, though not the method; very clever — takes longer to resolve itself than Return of the King. But, as I thought I would, I feel very virtuous having at last read it; moreover, there were times where it definitely held me gripped with its expansive ideas, and I quite enjoyed William’s fumbling attempts at detection. So I’m doubly glad to have read it.

Also, I do love a library as a setting. There should be more books set in libraries. It just makes sense. 

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 88: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco  
GENRE: Medieval, Mystery, Philosophy, Religion, General Fiction, Historical Fiction
PUBLISHED: 1980
TIME ON THE TBR: 7 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: Definitely not, despite how impressive it would look to have it on my bookshelf, apparently.