Tag Archive: books


brainpickings

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/03/15/a-calendar-of-wisdom-tolstoy/

Real wisdom is not the knowledge of everything, but the knowledge of which things in life are necessary, which are less necessary, and which are completely unnecessary to know. Among the most necessary knowledge is the knowledge of how to live well, that is, how to produce the least possible evil and the greatest goodness in one’s life. At present, people study useless sciences, but forget to study this, the most important knowledge. (Jean Jaques Rousseau, March 16)

There are two types of ignorance, the pure, natural ignorance into which all people are born, and the ignorance of the so-called wise. You will see that many among those who call themselves scholars do not know real life, and they despise simple people and simple things.(Blaise Pascal, April 18)

There is only one real knowledge: that which helps us to be free. Every other type of knowledge is mere amusement.

(Vishnu Purana, Indian Wisdom)

The way to true knowledge does not go through soft grass covered with flowers. To find it, a person must climb steep mountains.

(Josh Ruskin, September 20)

Read less, study less, but think more.Learn, both from your teachers and from the books which you read, only those things which you really need and which you really want to know…………….A scholar knows many books; a well-educated person has knowledge and skills; an enlightened person understands the meaning and purpose of his life.

We live a senseless life, contrary to the understanding of life by the wisest people of all times. This happens because our young generations are educated in the wrong way—they are taught different sciences but they are not taught the meaning of life.The only real science is the knowledge of how a person should live his life. And this knowledge is open to everyone.

It is better to know less than necessary than to know more than necessary. Do not fear the lack of knowledge, but truly fear unnecessary knowledge which is acquired only to please vanity……………….i think this is  apt  for me

Beware of false knowledge. All evil comes from it.

A thought can advance your life in the right direction only when it answers questions which were asked by your soul. A thought which was first borrowed from someone else and then accepted by your mind and memory does not really much influence your life, and sometimes leads you in the wrong direction. Read less, study less, but think more.          Learn, both from your teachers and from the books which you read, only those things which you really need and which you really want to know.

creativity and luck

BOOKS TO READ

How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997)
The Consolations of Philosophy (2000)
The Art of Travel (2002)
Status Anxiety (2004)
The Architecture of Happiness (2006)

Alain de Botton – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia »

 

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison – review »

The clinical psychologist’s 1995 memoir of living with manic depression has yet to be surpassed

http://99u.com/articles/6775/is-consumerism-killing-our-creativity

Have you ever fallen into a black hole of comparison shopping? …………………….. As Annie Leonard says in The Story of Stuff, “Our primary identity has become that of being consumers – not mothers, teachers, or farmers, but of consumers. We shop and shop and shop.” We love our stuff. Yet more than the stuff itself, we love the act of finding it – the search, the anticipation………………………….Highly creative adults frequently grew up with hardship. Hardship by itself doesn’t lead to creativity, but it does force kids to become more flexible—and flexibility helps with creativity.
When we have less to work with, we have to be more creative. Think about that the next time the consumerist impulse is threatening to encroach on your creativity.

http://99u.com/articles/7292/More-Insights-on-Sharpening-Your-Creative-Mind

http://evelynrodriguez.typepad.com/crossroads_dispatches/2011/06/you-start-out-into-the-dark-strange-help-mates-come-along-joseph-campbell-ally.html If the path before you is clear, you’re pro“bably on someone else’s.” – Joseph Campbell….

“They thought it would be a disgrace to go forth in a group. Each entered the forest that he had chosen where there was no path and where it was darkest.” Now, if there’s a way or path, it’s someone else’s way; and the guru has a path for you. He knows where you are on it. He knows where he is on it, namely, way ahead. And all you can do is get to be as great as he is. This is a continuation of the dependency of childhood; maturity consists in outgrowing that and becoming your own authority for your life. And this quest for the unknown seems so romantic to Oriental people. What is unknown is the fulfillment of your own unique life, the likes of which has never existed on the earth. And you are the only one who can do it. People can give you clues how to fall down and how to stand up; but when to fall and when to stand, and when you are falling and when you are standing up, this only you can know.

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/03/08/buckminster-fuller-synergetics/

Synergetics, a hefty tome of nearly 1,000 pages, is fascinating and mind-bending in its entirety. Complement it with Benjamin Betts’s Geometrical Psychology from nearly a century earlier and Bertrand Russell’s Education and the Good Life.

Children freed of the ignorantly founded educational traditions and exposed only to their spontaneously summoned, computer-stored and -distributed outflow of reliable-opinion-purged, experimentally verified data, shall indeed lead society to its happy egress from all misinformedly conceived, fearfully and legally imposed, and physically enforced customs of yesterday. They can lead all humanity into omnisuccessful survival as well as entrance into an utterly new era of human experience in an as-yet and ever-will-be fundamentally mysterious Universe.

https://i0.wp.com/www.brainpickings.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/synergetics.jpg https://i1.wp.com/www.brainpickings.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/milton_millman.jpg

books to read

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2011/03/21/must-read-books-music-emotion-brain/What Freud has to do with auditory cheesecake, European opera and world peace.

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2011/01/25/must-read-books-happiness/From Plato to Buddha, or what imperfection has to do with the neuroscience of the good life.

i think russell shud hav been added to the list – https://excerptsandm.wordpress.com/2011/05/08/the-conquest-of-happiness-bertrand-russell/

poetry,q – books

Do not look for a sanctuary in anyone except your self.”

                                                                                                          — Siddhārtha Gautama

“I opened a book and in I strode.
Now nobody can find me.
I’ve left my chair, my house, my road,
My town and my world behind me.
I’m wearing the cloak, I’ve slipped on the ring,
I’ve swallowed the magic potion.
I’ve fought with a dragon, dined with a king,
And swam in a bottomless ocean.
I opened a book and made some friends.
I shared their tears and laughter
And followed their roads with its bumps and bends
To the happily ever after.
I finished my book and out I came.
The cloak can no longer hide me.
My chair and my house are just the same,
But I have a book inside me.”

Julia Donaldson

“You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day. This is a power you can cultivate. If you want to control things in your life so bad, work on the mind. That’s the only thing you should be trying to control.”
Elizabeth Gilbert     http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/11679.Elizabeth_Gilbert

“A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man’s mind can get both provocation and privacy.”  – “A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man’s mind can get both provocation and privacy.”

“To me a good book is like a quiet friend—a friend who’s happy to share thoughts and feelings with you, who’s always there when you need them. Best of all, this friend doesn’t have any secrets. They trust you to understand them. They take you to their innermost places. They share their sensations and emotions—and they let you experience them. Wherever you go and however you feel, they are always by your side. For an hour, a day, a week, or forever, their life becomes yours. Their story is your story. That’s the kind of book I’m trying to write.”  Kevin Brooks

https://i1.wp.com/25.media.tumblr.com/344bedd03474ffc28d0e3d5da16b54a1/tumblr_mhf278Yc8d1r46fnpo1_500.png

aseaofquotes  Paul Auster, The Invention of Solitude

“Great books give you a feeling that you miss all day, until you finally get to crawl back inside those pages again.”Kathryn Stockett

“Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times? As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells, and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower, both strange and familiar.”

“Wear the old coat and buy the new book.”

Austin Phelps
Cornelia Funke

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-literaryreview/crime-born-of-passion/article4373936.ece

But the book’s lingering quality — its ability to stay under a reader’s skin long after its secrets had been disclosed — hinged on its portrayal of two characters who match wits: one a brilliant physicist-sleuth named Yukawa (also known as Detective Galileo) and the other a criminal with almost unfathomable, monk-like reserves of personal dedication and forbearance.

When it is revealed, a reader’s instinctive response might be to snort and say “Impossible” (which is what the detectives listening to Yukawa do). I even felt a little cheated at first, as if the author had blindsided me by stepping outside the permissible limits of the genre. But further reflection shifted my perception of what was possible and what wasn’t; I began to see the peculiar internal logic of the denouement in light of the personalities and the lifestyles involved, and the crime no longer appeared unfeasible.

The actual writing has some of the functional woodenness that you find in most commercial fiction of this sort — too many references to a character’s eyes “widening in surprise”, for example, or hands gripping a phone tightly when unexpected news is received — but these are tics of the genre, easy enough to ignore up to a point. (Besides, as has often been observed, when Japanese is translated into English, the results can seem a little stilted and over-formal, especially when the reader is from a culture that doesn’t understand why a detective might remove his shoes outside a house before going in to question a murder suspect.)

This book is about a crime born of very deep passion, but with no sudden bursts of action, no explicit violence or dramatic confrontations, it is unnerving in ways that more conventional thrillers are not. And despite the fact that the setting is a homogenous modern city and the characters are in some ways indistinguishable from upper-middle-class people living anywhere in the world, there is something distinctly Japanese about it, something of the deceptive placidity of the filmmaker Ozu or the novelist Ishiguro. There is a sense of a neat and ordered contemporary world with mystical rumblings beneath its surface, reminiscent of the Sheep Man in Haruki Murakami’s novels, hidden in a forgotten corner of a glass-and-steel skyscraper, or a videotape being employed by supernatural forces in Koji Suzuki’s Ring series. Higashino’s book is set in a world of tidy kitchens with coffee-makers and bottled mineral water, of sophisticated dinners and dating parties, but beneath it all is something more primal. The image one is left with at the end is the indelible one of a predatory spider watching quietly, patiently over her web.

The Hindu : Arts / Books : One for the bookseller.

Colin Franklin’s memoir, Obsessions and Confessions of a Book Life (published jointly by Oak Knoll Press, The Book of Kells, Bernard Quartich Limited, 2012) written in his 89th year is a book for booksellers. A bibliophile will take deep pleasure in it, but a bookseller will feel a closer kinship and resonance with Franklin’s accurate, precise, and stylish recollection of transactions between dealer and collector. I was charmed by Franklin’s diffidence; can a rare book dealer even afford to be as diffident and shy today? Did his diffidence belong to that time — those days — or does it stem from him being a scholar-book dealer? The minutiae of bookselling made him awkward.

He was often embarrassed about selling, asking prices or quoting them; even thinking of referring to someone as customer made him uncomfortable. Franklin thinks catalogues are self-advertisements and, after doing about some eight of them, he stopped noting that they felt like ‘an infinitely vulgar form of self offering’. Instead he exhibited at international antiquarian book fairs and talks of how they are composed of invariably painful moments, inescapable boredom, some discoveries and surprises — best of all, at end of day, dining out with other booksellers and gossiping.

‘No bookseller is free of the fear that he will never sell another book’.

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-sundaymagazine/cancer-cuisine/article4373998.ece

http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/leisure/the-faces-that-make-the-fte/article4360253.eceHappy consumers are not the only ones that look forward to Numaish. For some Hyderabadis it is less a shopper’s paradise and more a place of vocation; Zeenab Annez speaks to the groups of people who make Numaish safe and enjoyable to the visitors-    …..Whether in fashion, food, home décor or electronics, Numaish has always been up to date with the latest trends in the market but there is one thing that stubbornly refuses to change according to consumer taste: the music. As radio announcer Rashid aptly puts in “You will not hear any ‘Munni badnaam hui’ here,” and he is right. As one walks through the stalls, shopkeepers and sales boys lip-sync involuntarily to the catchy tunes they have been hearing for the past few weeks. Spend enough time there and you will find yourself doing the same.  The man in charge, Ajay Jaswal of Ajay Sounds boasts of a large collection of old Hindi classics.

My absolute favorite thing is finding a book I can’t put down

And reading it until really late at night

And only stopping when my eyes start to hurt and my vision gets blurry from either sleep or strain

And when I put it down I realize how tired I am and fall asleep instantly.

In the morning, I wake up, and the first thing I do is pick up the book

And I read until I’m hungry.

I just love that.

http://exp.lore.com/post/40839657205/alan-watts-famous-recently-resurfaced-lecture-on

https://i0.wp.com/25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_mdhjdzBs0A1qdvuy7o1_500.jpg

e FROM FICTION

I recall those years there is an unreality about them that I am unable to dispel. The problems discussed—the theories maintained of life, death, art, poetry, and any number of other unfathomed subjects, appear to me now so preternatural—the conceptions of his wonderful brain so startling, that I can hardly realize having ever been a part, even though but a faint reflex, of that dazzling and unsated life.

There was the long-barreled and elaborately ornamented gun of the Arab—the scimitar of the Turk—the blow-gun of the South American Indian—the bow and arrow of his northern brother. At the bottom of this array was a pair of French rapiers of the seventeenth century. The blades were crossed and rested upon a brass-headed nail, and upon this nail there hung, point downward, a jewel-hilted Italian stiletto or dagger, suspended by a silken cord.

“The insect has a true instinct,” he said, gently; “it has no fear of capture.””No; I should only hurt it and destroy its beauty.”

“Butterflies,” said the artist, “are like beautiful thoughts. They hover mistily about us, flitting away whenever we attempt to capture them; and if at last we are successful we find only too often that their wings have lost the delicacy of their bloom.”

“Good and bad are relative terms only,” he said, as one pronouncing a text. Every man fulfills his purpose. I can put a stroke of paint on my canvas, and you will call it white. I put another beside it, and by contrast the first appears gray. Still another, and the second has become gray, and the first still[Pg 46] darker. And so on, until I have reached the purest white we know. It is the same with humanity. Men are only dark or light as they are contrasted with others; nor can they avoid the place they occupy on God’s canvas any more than my colors can choose their places on mine. The world is a great picture. God is the greatest of all artists. His is the master hand—the unerring touch that lays on the lights, the half-tones and the shadows. Each fulfills its purpose. Without the shadows there would be no lights.

“What is true of masses is likewise true of individuals,” he continued, after a moment’s pause. “In a landscape, every blade of grass, every pebble, has its light and its dark side. If you see only the light side of an object, it is only because the shadow is turned from you. It is so with men; one side is sun, the other shadow. Sometimes the light, only, is presented to view, but the darker side is none the less there because unseen. Nature is never unbalanced. Whatever of brightness there is toward the sun there must be an equal amount of shadow opposing, with all the intergradations between. If the light is dim the shadow is soft; if the light is brilliant the shadow is black. Some of us are turned white side to the world, some the reverse; some show the white and the black alternately.”

“You believe in fate, then, and the absence of moral freedom,” he said reflectively”I believe nothing. Belief is not the word. What is, is right. To assert otherwise is an insult to the Supreme. He is all powerful, hence—wrong cannot exist.”  “I should be glad to hear your argument in support of that position.”

Argument! It is a self-evident truth! Argument is not necessary! Argument is never necessary! If an assertion is not true no amount of discussion will make it so, while the truth requires no support.

“Oh, they have! And how do you know that anyone has crossed over? You do not believe in the mortality nor the slumber of[Pg 49] the soul; no more do I; but time exists only with life. A man dies and in the same instant opens his eyes upon eternity, and yet a million of years may have been swept away in that instant. As a tired child you have fallen asleep. A moment later you have been called by your mother to breakfast. And yet, in that moment of dreamless sleep, the long winter night had passed. Adam, the first man, closing his eyes in death; you and I, who will do the same ten, twenty, forty years hence, and the generations who will follow us for a million years, perhaps, will waken to eternity, if there be a waking, in one and the same instant of time, without a knowledge of the intervening years. There were no years. Eternity has no beginning, no end, no measurement.”

I read some lines once that seemed to express the idea:

“I sometimes think life but a dream

Of some great soul in some great sphere,

And what appear as truths but seem,

And what seem truths do but appear.”

 

He repeated these words with slow earnestness, adding solemnly, “Who knows? Who knows?”

“But a man must stand somewhere. He that stands nowhere stands upon nothing.”[Pg 53]

The artist paused before the open window and stood looking out upon the dusk of the little scented garden. A faint reflected glimmer from some far-away lamp dimly illuminated one side of his face, silhouetting his striking profile sharply against a ground of blackness.

“If you mean,” he began, slowly, “that I should have some opinions, then I will tell you what they are.

“I believe neither in tariff nor trade. Currency nor coin. Traffic nor toil. I believe in nothing—but the absolute freedom of every living being. Freedom!—freedom from the curse of creeds, the blight of bigotry, and the leprosy of the law. Freedom to go and to come, to live and to die. Life without loathing, love without bondage. To live in some sunlit valley, where the bud is ever bursting into flower, the flower fading to fruit, and the fruit ripening to sustenance. The untouched bosom of Nature would yield enough for her children had not the curse of greed been implanted in their bosoms.”

Goetze had turned away from the window and was again striding up and down the floor in the dark.

“A beautiful poem, Julian,” said the other, dreamily; “but a sort of delightful barbarism, I’m afraid.”

“Barbarism? No! A higher, purer intellectuality than we have ever yet known—a civilization that knows not the curse of avarice nor the miseries of crime—the weariness of wealth nor the pangs of poverty. The garden of Eden is still about us, but we have torn up the flowers, and desecrated it with the lust of gain. Man was never driven out of that] garden. Greed was planted in his heart and he destroyed it.”

http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/metroplus/article2597859.ece

LATHA ANANTHARAMAN

Yes, we take books and don’t always return them, but sometimes we’re told to

I would never take a coconut that had fallen from our neighbour’s tree into our yard. So why do I covet books that have been left behind in homestays and pensions? Maybe because I rank them as abandoned puppies. When I travel light, I pack books that I can leave behind if needed. There are so many books I read only once. They may be fifty-rupee volumes I picked up at a used-books sale. Or scruffy paperbacks passed on to me by a friend, with the firm injunction, “Don’t give these back to me.”

So I immediately deduced the provenance of the paperbacks on a forlorn shelf in the hallway of the Hotel Mimosa in Rome. There I found “The Trial” by Franz Kafka, the Holocaust novel “Sarah’s Key” by Tatiana de Rosnay, and other titles in Italian, English, Russian and German.

Who owns those books, anyway? The person who runs the pension? He won’t care, and surely he can’t read all those languages. And why does he leave them out of sight of the reception desk if he didn’t mean for us to help ourselves? And if he wants them, why not put up a sign saying “Please put back the books”?

In short, I was determined to steal. I developed my own code of honour for future fits of covetousness. I will take it only if I haven’t finished reading it during my stay, or only if I can’t live without knowing how it ends, or only if it’s a title I know I won’t find elsewhere. I will also try to leave behind a book in exchange. I took “Sarah’s Key” from that bookshelf in Rome. It was poorly written but impossible to leave half-read. I finished it on the train to Chiusi and left it on the seat for the next reader.

This was the first time I “borrowed without permission.” Usually, I take books only when I’m told to. A couple of years ago, at a suburban bus stand in the U.S., I found a shelf with books, from which riders were encouraged to take one. On each ride I took one. And now I read that a national book swap was recently launched in the U.K. Throughout this autumn, readers can pick up books that have been left out in public places and leave them for others afterwards, and then tweet about where they left the books.

As with chocolate left out for guests, one should strictly take just one. I violated that rule when I left the Hotel Mimosa. I had so few pages left in “Sarah’s Key” that halfway through my coming train ride I would be left bookless. Unthinkable.

So I took the Kafka as well. It was a tea-stained, dog-eared Penguin paperback with copious scribbles in it. And who reads Kafka any more? And just look at the tiny black and white author picture on the back of the Penguin edition. He looks exactly like an abandoned puppy.

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/pradeep_sebastian/article2324862.ece

Endpaper: Stories with a personal history

Other People’s Books: Association Copies and the Stories They Tell. Photo: Special Arrangement

Other People’s Books: Association Copies and the Stories They Tell. Photo: Special Arrangement

Artistically produced, scholarly and entertaining accounts about famous association copies of rare books.

When bibliophiles make books for other bibliophiles, you get a book like the one I have the pleasure (and the luck) to write on. Other People’s Books: Association Copies and the Stories they Tell is the ultimate book about books: richly illustrated essays about famous association copies of rare books. An Association Copy in bibliospeak is a book signed and inscribed by the author to someone famous or someone significantly associated with the author. To illustrate: a hypothetical, plausible example, if Nehru were to have signed and inscribed a copy of Glimpses of World History to Gandhi. Such an association copy would be valued not just in the collector’s market, but would be a cultural artefact to be pursued and preserved. Another nice association copy would be a copy of A God of Small Things inscribed by Arundhati Roy to her mother. An intriguing association copy would be a copy of Sir Vidia’s Shadow, signed and inscribed by Paul Theroux to Naipaul. (I’ve heard that such a copy exists).

………………………………You can feast your eyes on the actual handwriting of Whitman, Thoreau, Fitzgerald, Jane Austen, and Herman Melville. Their personal inscriptions vary from being intimate to witty to overwrought. The physical book is quarter-leather (8×11 inches) hardbound, 224-pages, and “printed in four-colors in Italy in an edition of 1000 with 112 images”……………………

In his lively, wide ranging introduction here, scholar-bibliophile Thomas Tanselle writes that an association copy “indicates the life history of an individual copy…that they have both scholarly and emotional appeal… they make us probe deeper, inscriptions raise our curiosity – who is this person the book is presented to, what did they mean to the author? Sentiment is valid here, not sentimentality….”

A particular copy can evoke memories and associations that is quite outside the book, and in this sense, observes Tanselle gently, “We all have such personal associations with the books — inscribed or uninscribed — that we posses, and in this sense all copies of books are association copies.” But if an Association Copy has to arouse the interest and curiosity of a larger community of readers, scholars, and collectors, it has to have a personal history that culturally or historically resonates with and for everyone. (In other words, a book you inscribed to your mother is going to be of great worth and interest precisely to two people: you and your mum). Featured in this book are numerous marvellous instances of such unique, high-end copies. As one vintage book catalogue once described it: “An exhibition of books made interesting through their association.”

Thoreau and Whitman met just once in their lifetime and exchanged copies of their books after inscribing it to each other. Mark Dimunation, Chief of the Rare Book Division at the Library of Congress, records the story: It was an autumn afternoon in Brooklyn, 1856, when they met; Whitman with his Leaves of Grass, and Thoreau with A Week on the Concord, 1849. They offered each other their books. “Thoreau carefully pencilled: “H.D. Thoreau from Walt Whitman on the flyleaf. Whitman scrawled his signature…later Whitman documented this extraordinary meeting in the book with a longish note: ‘We had a two hours talk+walk — I liked him well — I think he told me he was busy at a surveying job down on Staten Island. He was full of animation – seem’d in good health — look’d very well — WW’. A century later, two separate book collectors pursuing both association copies tracked them down, and they are now reunited at the Library of Congress.

Gift from an aunt

Also featured here is a copy of the poems of William Cowper, gifted by Jane Austen to her favourite niece, Fanny. Cowper, poet and hymnodist, was Austen’s favourite verse maker and, visiting Fanny once, she couldn’t pass up the chance to thrust a copy of these poems on her. The inscription on the verso of the front free endpaper, which you can see a detailed close-up of in Other People’s Books, reads: ‘Fanny Cath Austen/June 29, 1808/The Gift of her Aunt Jane’.

Other association copies in this book that interested me: a copy of The Whale that Melville inscribed to his whaling mate, Richard Bentley in 1851, and the T.S. Eliot-inscribed copy of The Great Gatsby, with Fitzgerald, known for poor spelling, oblivious to the misspelling in the inscription: “For T.S. Eliot/Greatest of Living Poets/from his entheusiastic worshipper/ F. Scott Fitzgerald/Paris/Oct/1925”.

just books programme

today 24th sep on just books    Philip Larkin , Kingsley Amis  – The Riverside Villas Murder , Georgette Heyer .

bbc weekend world – sculptor Antony Gormley http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antony_Gormley places works on alps etc.

File:Leighton-Stitching the Standard.jpghttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Leighton-Stitching_the_Standard.jpg

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/62/Edmund_Blair_Leighton_-_On_the_Threshold.jpg

review –http://www.amazon.com/review/R1QVLLI7GYA4TG/ref=cm_cr_pr_viewpnt#R1QVLLI7GYA4TG

This is not a book of formal philosophy; more of introspection. Of course Russel introspected with the same brilliant and critical mind that he used to contribute to mathematics and philosophy. But this is not rigorous, apologetic or systematic. Actually, it’s more like gentle advice. And quite reasonable.

I’d like to quote a few passages that I found thought-provoking, to give a reader a sense of what to expect if you purchase and read this book:

p. 27, “[T]o be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.”

p. 29, “The habit of looking to the future and thinking that the whole meaning of the present lies in what it will bring forth is a pernicious one. There can be no value in the whole unless there is value in the parts.”

p. 43, “I do not deny that the feeling of success makes it easier to enjoy life…. Nor do I deny that money, up to a certain point, is very capable of increasing happiness. What I do maintain is that success can only be one ingredient in happiness, and is too dearly purchased if all the other ingredients have been sacrificed to obtain it.”

p. 74, “The essentials of human happiness are simple, so simple that sophisticated people cannot bring themselves to what it is that they really lack.”

p. 94, “[R]emember that your motives are not always as altruistic as they seem to yourself… don’t overestimate your own merits… don’t expect others to take as much interest in you as you do in yourself.”

p. 99, “No satisfaction based upon self-deception is solid, and however unpleasant the truth may be, it is better to face it once and for all, to get used to it, and to proceed to build your life in accordance with it.”

p. 107, “One should respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways.”

p. 109, “Happiness is promoted by associations of persons with similar tastes and similar opinions.”

p. 123, “The secret of happiness is this: let your interests be as wide as possible, and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile.”

p. 142, “In the best kind of affection a man hopes for a new happiness rather than for an escape from an old unhappiness.”

p. 175, “To ignore our opportunities for knowledge, imperfect as they are, is like going to the theater and and not listening to the play.”

Well, that’s a reasonable sample. It’s not a philosophical masterpiece, but it is mature, wise and edifying. I think most people who read books would do well to read this one too, so I give it a hearty endorsement.

http://www.gurus.org/dougdeb/Courses/Happy/Conquest/outline.html

The Causes of Unhappiness

1. What Makes People Unhappy?

“My purpose is to suggest a cure for the ordinary day-to-day unhappiness from which most people in civilized countries suffer, and which is all the more unbearable because, having no obvious external cause, it appears inescapable. I believe this unhappiness to be largely due to mistaken views of the world, mistaken ethics, mistaken habits of life, leading to the destruction of that natural zest and appetite for possible things upon which all happiness, whether of men or of animals, ultimately depends.” [page 17]

2. Byronic Unhappiness

“It is common in our day, as it has been in so many other periods of the world’s history, to suppose that those among us who are wise enough have seen through all the enthusiasms of earlier times and have become aware that there is nothing left to live for. … I do not myself believe that there is any superior rationality in being unhappy. The wise man will be as happy as circumstances permit, and if he finds the contemplation of the universe painful beyond a point, he will contemplate something else instead. … I wish to persuade the reader that, whatever the arguments may be, reason lays no embargo upon happiness.” [page 24]

3. Competition

Russell paints a bleak picture of the businessman so obsessed by competing with other businessmen for success that the rest of life passes him by. “Success can only be one ingredient in happiness, and is too dearly purchased if all other ingredients have been sacrificed to obtain it.” [page 43]

4. Boredom and Excitement

We have come to associate boredom with unhappiness and excitement with happiness, but Russell argues that boredom and excitement form a separate axis entirely, having little relationship with happiness. “Running away from enemies who are trying to take one’s life is, I imagine, unpleasant, but certainly not boring. … The opposite of boredom, in a word, is not pleasure, but excitement.” [pages 48-49] The confusion of excitement and happiness, and the flight from boredom that it entails, is a chief cause of unhappiness. The cure is to teach oneself to endure boredom without running from it.

5. Fatigue

This chapter is actually about worry. Russell believes that such physical fatigue as people feel in the industrialized world is mostly healthy, and that only “nervous fatigue”, caused largely by worry, is really destructive to happiness. Russell believes most worry could be avoided by learning good thinking habits, by refusing to over-estimate the significance of possible failures, by taking a larger perspective, and by facing fears squarely.

6. Envy

“If you desire glory, you may envy Napoleon. But Napoleon envied Caesar, Caesar envied Alexander, and Alexander, I dare say, envied Hercules, who never existed. You cannot therefore get away from envy by means of success alone. … You can get away from envy by enjoying the pleasures that come your way, by doing the work that you have to do, and by avoiding comparisons with those whom you imagine, perhaps quite falsely, to be more fortunate than yourself.” [pages 71-72]

7. The Sense of Sin

Traditional religion, in Russell’s view, has saddled us with an ascetic moral code that will make us unhappy if we keep it (by denying us joy in life) and also if we break it (by causing us guilt). The only solution is to root this moral code out of our unconscious, and replace it with a code less inimical to human happiness.

8. Persecution Mania

This is probably the most amusing chapter of the book, as Russell uses his droll wit to puncture human self-importance. “My purpose in this chapter is to suggest some general reflections by means of which each individual can detect in himself the elements of persecution mania (from which almost everybody suffers in a greater or less degree), and having detected them, can eliminate them. This is an important part of the conquest of happiness, since it is quite impossible to be happy if we feel that everybody ill-treats us.” [page 90]

9. Fear of Public Opinion

“Very few people can be happy unless on the whole their way of life and their outlook on the world is approved by those with whom they have social relations, and more especially by those with whom they live.” [page 100] Fortunately the modern world gives us some choice about where we live and who our friends will be.

The Causes of Happiness

In general, the second half of Conquest is not as impressive as the first. Not only is this section shorter than the first, but Russell has more of a tendency to ramble. These rambles can be entertaining, but they are usually not very informative. I am left with the impression that the causes of happiness remain mysterious to Russell. Once the obstacles to happiness are removed, happiness just happens — somehow.

10. Is Happiness Still Possible?

“Fundamental happiness depends more than anything else upon what may be called a friendly interest in persons and things. … The kind [of interest in persons] that makes for happiness is the kind that likes to observe people and finds pleasure in their individual traits, that wishes to afford scope for the interests and pleasures of those with whom it is brought into contact without desiring to acquire power over them or to secure their enthusiastic admiration. The person whose attitude towards others is genuinely of this kind will be a source of happiness and a recipient of reciprocal kindness. … To like many people spontaneously and without effort is perhaps the greatest of all sources of personal happiness.” [pages 121-122]

11. Zest

Zest is the x-factor that causes us to be interested in life. Russell has little to say about what zest is or how to obtain it. He does argue against those who would devalue zest by claiming that it is a mark of superior taste not to be interested in vulgar or lowbrow subjects. “All disenchantment is to me a malady which … is to be cured as soon as possible, not to be regarded as a higher form of wisdom. Suppose one man likes strawberries and another does not; in what respect is the latter superior? There is no abstract and impersonal proof that strawberries are good or that they are not good. To the man who likes them they are good, to the man who dislikes them they are not. But the man who likes them has a pleasure which the other does not have; to that extent his life is more enjoyable and he is better adapted to the world in which both must live.” [page 125]

12. Affection

“One of the chief causes of lack of zest is the feeling that one is unloved, whereas conversely the feeling of being loved promotes zest more than anything else does.” [page 137] Unfortunately, considering the importance of affection to happiness, this chapter is almost completely descriptive rather than prescriptive. Russell describes the types of affection and evaluates their effects, but gives little advice about how to either give or get higher quality affection.

13. The Family

“Of all the institutions that have come down to us from the past none is in the present day so disorganized and derailed as the family. Affection of parents for children and of children for parents is capable of being one of the greatest sources of happiness, but in fact at the present day the relations of parents and children are, in nine cases out of ten, a source of unhappiness to both parties, and in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred a source of unhappiness to at least one of the two parties. This failure of the family to provide the fundamental satisfactions which in principle it is capable of yielding is one of the most deep-seated causes of the discontent which is prevalent in our age.” [page 145]

14. Work

“Whether work should be placed among the causes of happiness or the causes of unhappiness may perhaps be regarded as a doubtful question.” [page 162] Russell places it among the causes of happiness for a number of reasons:
1. It passes time.
2. It provides an opportunity for success.
3. The work itself may be interesting.

15. Impersonal Interests

Certain interests are central to a person’s conception of his/her life: career, family, and so forth. In this chapter Russell asserts the value of having interests that are not central, that have no effect on the major issues of life. Such hobbies and pastimes serve two purposes: (1) They provide an escape from larger worries, and distract the conscious mind so that the unconscious can work productively toward a solution. (2) They provide a reserve pool of interest in life, so that if disaster or a series of disasters destroy the pillars that support our central interests, we will have the possibility of growing new central interests.

This chapter contains an important tangential discussion of “greatness of soul” which I discuss under the Transcending Personal Hopes and Interests theme.

16. Effort and Resignation

What Russell calls resignation is more popularly referred to these days as acceptance. The question discussed in this chapter is basically: Should we try to change the world or accept it the way it is? Russell takes a middle position, roughly equivalent to the Serenity Prayer.

17. The Happy Man

In the final chapter Russell comes back to his main point: attention should be focused outward, not inward. “It is not the nature of most men to be happy in a prison, and the passions which shut us up in ourselves constitute one of the worst kinds of prisons. Among such passions some of the commonest are fear, envy, the sense of sin, self-pity and self-admiration. In all these our desires are centered upon ourselves: there is no genuine interest in the outer world, but only a concern lest it should in some way injure us or fail to feed our ego.” [page 187]

the alchemist

Edward Said – Orientalism

http://www.butler-bowdon.com/alchemist

The Alchemist is remarkable for being a love story that renounces the idea that romantic love must be the central thing in your life. Each person has a destiny to pursue that exists independently of other people. It is the thing you would do, or be, even if you have all the love and money you want. The treasure Santiago seeks is of course the symbol of the personal dream or destiny, but he is happy to give up on it when he finds the woman of his dreams in a desert oasis. Yet the alchemist tells him that the love of his oasis girlfriend will only be proved real if she is willing to support his treasure search.

Santiago’s dilemma is about the conflict between love and personal dreams; too often we see the love relationship as the meaning of our life, but the obsession with romantic coupling can cut us off from a life more connected with the rest of the world. But surely the heart has needs? Live your life around the dream, Coelho says, and their will be more ‘heart’ in your life than you can now comprehend: ‘…no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity’. Romantic love is important, but is not your duty as is the pursuit of your dream. Only through devotion to the dream is the ‘Soul of the World’ revealed to us, the knowledge which destroys loneliness and gives power.

Treasure of the present

The alchemist Santiago meets in the desert is the real thing. He actually can turn base metals into gold, the goal of the medieval alchemists. Santiago asks why the other alchemists never succeeded, and gets the strange answer, ‘They were only looking for gold.’ That is, they were seeking only the treasure of their destiny rather actually trying to live the destiny. Their focus on a prize lessened the quality of the present.

This is similar to Hindu concept of not seeking the fruit of our actions, but just doing according to our dharma, or purpose. There is a subtle distinction between living out the destiny, as you have comprehended it, and scrabbling to achieve some distant goal. Destiny is not a prize but a state of being, realised only when, as the camel driver counsels Santiago, we live in the present. Alchemy is difficult to understand for today’s mind, because it was a ‘science’ that blended matter and spirit. The alchemists spent years patiently heating and purifying metals, but the end result, a product of their total immersion in the task, was a purification of themselves. The moral being can make the distinction between the prize and the journey.

http://www.hindu.com/lr/2011/05/01/stories/2011050150210600.htm

A wise aunt recently shared with me her mantra for happy families: the acceptance that there are only two things you can give your grownup children – unconditional love and freedom. The rules, the values, and the corrections taught by parents must be internalised by this stage, and not vocalised.

As with many mantras that sound simple yet offer an essential truth of contemporary life, this one is anything but easy to practice. It is the failure to understand this mantra that results in the hurt experienced by many central characters in Jonathan Franzen’s dazzling new novel Freedom.

The early part of the Berglunds’ 20-year stint there sees them as the perfect Norman Rockwell family; successful, seemingly happy, well-intentioned and just worthy enough not to have real friends among their neighbours.

Over the course of its 562 pages, Freedom reads as a forensic examination of the disintegration of baby boomers forced to inhabit the disappointing skins of middle age in contemporary America. Which begs the question: why are we interested in the novel in India?          In part, it’s because the much-debated idea of “freedom” is universal, and has reference points with middle-class societies in all countries with a reasonable degree of social stability. The freedom attained upon becoming a sovereign country is much more easily defined than the freedom pursued by the now-free middle-class. The latter freedom seems unable to provide the contentment we thought it would bring – whether due to our inherent competitiveness, or to the grass-is-greener syndrome, or to human selfishness. Whatever the reasons, the Berglunds invite us to examine them.

Gorgeous prose  

Also, one cannot deny the novel’s gorgeous prose, a breath-taking display of the novelist’s art. Patty is one of the more knotty aspects of this sprawling examination of individual, familial and social issues. Both men in her life talk of her attractive qualities but in her interactions with them, we only see a woman who is becoming increasingly depressed and unhinged.

Franzen took nine years to write Freedom. But unlike multimillion-dollar films in which you can’t figure where the money went, here you absolutely know how and where the nine years were spent; it’s visible in every line. Like me, you may not like the people being written about, but they are written up in prose so meticulously crafted, it’s to be lingered over.

While Freedom has its flaws, the very fact that we wind up thinking so intricately about the people and issues in it is a testament to its quality. It’s not a book you would want to speed-read because much of its appeal lies in the detailed writing; the medium is — a substantial part of — the message.