Category Archives: Books

November 22, 1963

The passing of two high-profile figures on the same day (Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson) reminds me of another such day: November 22, 1963. Everyone can tell you immediately who the most famous person was who died on that day, but while many people know who C.S. Lewis was, few people realize he also passed away that day. Poor guy… probably got the smallest and most delayed obituaries that any famous author ever received. Same goes for Aldous Huxley (author of Brave New World), who also checked out on that date.

Stranger still: Someone had the bright idea to write a theological novel about them all meeting at the Pearly Gates.

“What should I do?”

People have written me to ask a question or two. ‘When is collapse going to happen?’ Well, I do not want the economy to collapse before everyone gets a chance to purchase this book, so let us hope for the best. ‘What do I plan to do?’ Well, I am not sure. But I do wish to share this: I certainly do not plan to be trapped by any one plan. ‘What should I do?’ Well, you should figure out what it is you absolutely need to lead a happy, healthy, fulfilling existence. Then figure out a way to continue getting it…

I firmly believe that only an individual approach can bring something close to happiness. That is, ultimately no one can know what is best for you and no one can prepare you for anything except you yourself. This, unfortunately, is impossible to do without feeling the pain of loneliness when things are not going so well. However, this pain does not have to be permanent: it also allows you to feel joy and satisfaction when the situation changes for the better. What many people forget is that most everyone feels pain in their lives. Although superficially it creates a feeling of separation from the rest of the world, it can also bring us closer together.

–Dmitry Orlov, “In Conclusion,” Reinventing Collapse

Some light reading

Does it make me a complete nerd if news of a possible global pandemic makes me want to link to this?

The Decameron

Not that I’ve ever read it — but if by some chance we all get confined and quarantined, I should have plenty of time to do so…

But let’s remain calm.

Twitter, Tolkien and talk

“What do they call people who use Twitter – twits?” That’s my sister, the social media Luddite, talking. The video below is probably something she would enjoy (I found a link to it via, um, Twitter):

Funny – though it does repeat the misconception people who use social media somehow “don’t have friends,” when the majority of people who use it are probably using it to keep in touch with existing friends and acquaintances. As for social media representing a fantasy escape from “real relationships,” ironically this skit ends with the two guys falling back down to “the real world”… which is nothing but their boring, sterile work cubicles. If that’s all there is to real life and real relationships – the straightjacketed “reality” ultimately defined by the corporations that employ us — well, no wonder people are hungering for such flights of fancy.

But it’s also true that some people use Twitter as a virtual stream of consciousness, and it can be exhausting. Have you ever thought about how much space we feel the need to fill up with reports about the course that society has planned for us? This isn’t limited to social media. Advertising, talk radio, and news are blared at us 24/7. Even coffeeklatsch chitchat about weekend errands, engagements, weddings, pregnancies, vacations… it’s the “stuff of life,” true, and social glue – but it’s everywhere. Even church services have become more enculturated – after mass, we seemingly can’t wait to return to the normal talkstream in the vestibule, or at the apres-church Sunday picnic. We have less and less actual space for divine silence in our lives.

Last Sunday I went to the second annual local International Tolkien Reading Day, which was held this year at the Eastwood Palace in the “upper room.” Last year, it was held at a cafe in the Valley, which I at first thought was a more congenial public spot for this kind of thing than the Palace. It turns out that the Palace venue worked well too. The event was a straight-through reading of The Hobbit (probably good that you don’t try that in a cafe). I didn’t make it nearly that far, but a handful of hardy souls did. For hours and hours they did nothing but read fiction aloud. The audacious eventual goal with the Tolkien day reading project is to one day read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy straight through, which would take days if they went nonstop.

Some people see a straight-through public reading as a cool thing to do, an achievement of endurance and focus – which it would be. But also, imagine days of this kind of breathing room hacked into the teeming sociality of our lives. Days during which there could be no chitchat about whatever it is that we all chat about. Reading silently to oneself is subversive — but so is a public reading, during which voices are focused completely on something other than the world we’re expected to constantly uphold, promote and amplify with our talk. That would be getting closer to the silence that has been missing.

You can’t fake curiosity

Every once in a while there’s a story in the paper that just makes me feel good. Here’s one about a local student who got a perfect score on the SAT:

“He’s very bright, but he’s always been one to read everything he can get his hands on,” [his mother] said. “As a kid, he would take 50 books out of the library at once and read them all in a few days. He would walk to the store reading a book, and he’d remember everything he read. When he was 5, he would recite passages at dinner from a book he just read.”

Today, James Barger reads whenever he has a free moment, and he devours National Geographic, Time, U.S. News & World Report and Sports Illustrated cover to cover every week. He also loves classics such as Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and just finished the four-volume set “History of the English Speaking Peoples,” by Winston Churchill.

“I like to read because I’m interested in a lot of things,” he said. “I like sports and music and keep up on world and current events. And I’m good at remembering and understanding what I read, so I usually do well with critical reading.”

Yeah, they still do make kids who love to read for the love of reading. James attends F-M, which is surely one of the wealthiest school districts in the area, if not the wealthiest. You can’t create a love of reading — particularly, you can’t create innate curiosity — with money alone, or else students like him wouldn’t stand out so much. But the money in the district sure must help bring it out. Which is why it’s imperative that we get more funding to any and all of the James Bargers who are attending the less well-administered schools in our area. You can’t synthesize these diamonds — you can only make sure they aren’t buried in the dirt.