Bookworm Faces (Nearly) Impossible Request

An impossible question was posed to me via Facebook: What are the top ten books that have made an impact on you?

You mean just ten books?  Mental scrambles. Head scratching. Seeks coffee.

For me, the impact of a book and/or author is rooted in the following:

1) Do I feel more connected to the world?

2) Is my world view broadened by this book?, and

3) Have I been intellectually challenged and invigorated?

 

I settled on this list:

  • Force of Circumstance, by Simone de Beauvoir
  • The Human Condition, by Hannah Arendt
  • The Apology, by Plato
  • The Story of My Experiments with Truth, by Mahatma Gandhi
  • The Myth of Sisyphus, by Albert Camus
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, by Mary Wollstonecraft
  • The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie (I am a mystery buff after all!)
  • The Doll, by Boleslaw Prus
  • East of Eden, by John Steinbeck

But, of course, I threw my hands up because there are so many more wonderful authors who should be included!  Here are my honorable mentions:

  • Soren Kierkegaard
  • Aristotle
  • Leo Tolstoy
  • Nelson Mandela
  • George Eliot
  • Jane Austen
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Roberston Davies
  • Zadie Smith

What books have made a great impact on you?

 


5 Zingers from Socrates

*Daily Prompt

In the spirit of preparing my syllabi for upcoming philosophy courses, I’ve decided to tip my hat to the Greek master of backhanded compliments: Socrates.

1. Socrates to the young lawyer Euthyphro:

“Dear friend, that is the reason why I desire to be your disciple. For I observe that no one, not even Meletus, appears to notice you; but his sharp eyes have found me out at once, and he has indicted me for piety. And therefore, I adjure you to tell me the nature of piety and impiety….I cannot do better than to assent to your superior wisdom.”

Translation: The more you nod your head yes to being called “wise,” the more foolish you look.  I see it.  Everyone sees it.  Will you see it?  I’m actually the teacher in this scenario.

 

2. After the prosecution has rested their case:

“How you have felt, O men of Athens, at hearing the speeches of my accusers, I cannot tell; but I know that their persuasive words almost made me forget who I was—such was the effect of them…”

Translation: My, what an active imagination you have, dear lawyers!  Your ability to weave a fiction is uncanny!  You clearly don’t have a case.

 

3. Regarding poets:

“I further observed that upon the strength of their poetry they believed themselves to be the wisest of men in other things in which they were not wise.”

Translation: Please stick to what you know.

 

4. Socratic Method is good for you:

“While I have strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy, exhorting any one whom I meet after my manner, and convincing him, saying: O my friend, why do you, who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all?”

Translation: You’re quite shallow for having come from such a magnificent city and tradition.

 

5. Final Request Before Dying:

“When my sons are grown up, I would ask you, O my friends, to punish them; and I would have you trouble them, as I have troubled you, if they seem to care about riches, or anything more than about virtue; or if they pretend to be something when they are really nothing—then reprove them, as I have reproved you, for not caring about that for which they ought to care, and thinking that they are something when really they are nothing. And if you do this, I and my sons will have received justice at your hands.”

Translation: Act justly by preventing my sons from becoming morons, like you. Cheers.

Quotes from Euthyphro and The Apology.

Quotes from Euthyphro and The Apology.


Unblocking

*Daily Prompt

Composes email to journal. Attaches file. Hits “send.”

A momentary sense of relief sets in upon the completion of a written work. This is usually followed with deep breaths and a generous serving of Pinot Noir. But then the next day arrives and an inkling of unease snakes into my thinking:

“Now what am I going to write? That was it! I am out of ideas! I’m done. Oh no! I’ve got nothing.”

A second serving of wine will not suffice; instead I go for an extra dirty martini.

For me, writer’s block has been nothing more than an appealing way to describe mental paralysis brought on by my own anxiety. When you stop to ruminate on the wondrous thing that is writing, it’s quite astonishing. Ideas that exist only in the mind and do not occupy space needle your physical self to move your fingers and usher those ideas into the physical world. On paper or on the computer, ideas that only the thinker was privy to, become object. Your mental activity suddenly emerges as something to be seen or heard. The beauty of this act of creation also spurs anxiety because in writing, one actively unveils the contents of the mind.

While writing and thinking are primarily solitary affairs there remains the crucial component of sharing this work. Inevitably, a reader (or readers) need to come into the picture. “What will they think of what I think?” Leading with that question cloaked in fear, I’ve learned, only launches a bout of writer’s block. Here are some steps I take to diffuse the anxiety:

  1. Stepping away for a while allows for the mind to re-boot. Sometimes I honestly don’t know what is more challenging, forcing myself to stop writing or forcing myself to write. I have found that when I overcome the guilt of not writing for a few days I tend to return to my laptop fresh and ready to start.
  2. I make it a point to visit interesting places.

    Yours truly at Huntington Library, Pasadena: Japanese Dry Landscape Garden.

    Yours truly at Huntington Library, Pasadena: Japanese Dry Landscape Garden.

  3. After taking time off, if I’m still at a loss for ideas I resolve to sit down and write whatever is in my head without editing. I’ve eloquently nicknamed this my “brain vomit sessions.” There will be pages and pages of non-sense before a gem of an idea presents itself. I’ve accepted it is okay to unleash paragraphs of ramblings because that is simply part of the writing process.

The best of the worst of my doozies from brain vomit sessions (I sincerely hope this makes you feel better about your own writing woes):

Reasons I Envy My Cat

Things Said At CrossFit That Would Be Awkward In Any Other Context

Chubby Introverted Atheist Growing Up In Catholic School: A Memoir

Mary Wollstoncraft Meets Ladies for Tea

Socrates Decides to Chat With The Oracle at Delphi Himself

  1. I read more and with a notebook handy to write down any interesting word or phrases. After compiling my list I work out sentences with them. Sometimes toying with a word rather than scrambling for a big idea unlocks the block.

    photo-29 copy 2

    Unfortunately this little beast often interferes!

  2. Most importantly, when anxiety encroaches on my writing time I stop and journal about why I write in the first place. Without fail, I end up at the same conclusion: I write to improve myself and to understand the world. The more honest I am with that sentiment, the less afraid I am of embarking on another writing project.

Some inspiration:

Sue Grafton: “Seriously: I write because it’s all I know how to do. Writing is my anchor and my purpose. My life is informed by writing whether the work is going well or I’m stuck in the hell of writer’s block, which I’m happy to report only occurs about once a day.”

Mary Karr: “Most great writers suffer and have no idea how good they are. Most bad writers are very confident. Be willing to be a child and be the Lilliputian in the world of Gulliver, the bat girl in Yankee Stadium. That’s a more fruitful way to be.”

Simone de Beauvoir: “I got the desire to write very young….The meaning of this project was to make the world my own, to show my life as freely recreated by me.”

Bryan Magee: “I have written several of my books because I wanted to master a subject: producing a book about it was the best, if not the only, way I could force myself to work really hard and systematically at it over a long period of time. I can sit and think for a while, but not for months on end—unless I write.”


Are You A Book Addict?

*This post is inspired by “12 Signs You’re Addicted to Reading” on 101 Books.

Here are 12 more indicators of book addiction:

  1. You have a book bucket list.  It never really gets shorter, only longer.
  2. There are books in every room of your home instead of televisions.
  3. There is no such thing as a partially used or unused Barnes and Noble gift card in your possession.  In fact, when gifted it is most likely spent within a week.
  4. You’ve tweeted a #shelfie.  You object to shelfie being underlined in red by the computer as a misspelling .

    #shelfie

    #shelfie

  5. If you read a book based on someone’s recommendation and love the book that person becomes an instant BFF.
  6. You facepalm when someone announces they liked Twilight.  Don’t blame yourself.  It’s practically an involuntary reflex.
  7. Scouting out bookstores on vacation is a must.
  8. Hunger poses an irritating interruption during a reading binge.  You’ve most likely grabbed food and brought it back to your reading space.  You shouldn’t be judged for bits of crumbs on your shirt and surrounding area.
  9. When people come to you for book suggestions you can match a book to their interest and personality.
  10. Your version of a gossip magazine is a biography.
  11. You feel compelled to tell everyone about the book you are reading and only notice about 20 minutes in that you’re giving a lecture and not engaged in a conversation.
  12. This is your purse.  Well, it’s mine.

    photo-29 copy

    My everywhere-I-go-bag.


Bella and Hermione Meet for Coffee

Bella sits at a booth, staring out the window and mindlessly tugging the strings of her drab hoodie, mesmerized by the overcast weather.

Hermione briskly enters the café, her full mop of hair bouncing as she beelines for the booth to meet Bella.

“Sorry I’m late,” she offers and plops down with an armload of books on the history of the British Empire, specialty spells, wizardry, and Latin.   She explains, “There was this fascinating lecture at Hogwarts by one of the top scholars on Chemistry and I just couldn’t pull myself away; it was riveting, actually, and I had so many questions, the answers of which might come in handy for when my friends and I thrust ourselves amidst danger thereby saving the world from evil.   How was your day?”

Bella slightly frowned, let out an arduous breath and said, “Oh, you know, I’m just so entirely obsessed with this one vampire who I hope will bite me someday and give my existence an ounce of meaning.”


When I Caused the Cringe

*Daily Prompt

There are two occasions when I speak French perfectly: 1) when I’m dreaming, and 2) after my third glass of wine.

During my graduate studies in the quaint town Leuven, Belgium, I lived in a small flat above a coffee shop. The owner was a lovely middle-aged Jordanian man who spoke Arabic, English, Dutch and French. He’d switch languages with enviable ease for his patrons who came in ordering in Flemish, French, or English.  Without hesitating, he tended to their requests in the language they spoke.  I watched in awe.

My landlord and I, of course, dialogued in English, but one day I asked if we could converse in French. He made us some strong espresso, took a seat, lit a cigarette, and then signaled for me to begin. After my first few words his face contorted in pain from the sounds of my speech. He looked like he heard a cacophony of nails down a chalkboard made by cats fighting in an alley. I decided to end our session and switch back to English for the rest of our friendship.

I was/am able to read French; however, taking the time to speak it always proved to be a challenge. Living in Belgium brought many opportunities to practice, but whenever I did venture a try people either responded in English or with a look as though they’d smelled something bad. A fart. They looked at me like they smelled a giant menacing blast of fart.

To earn a bit of money I taught English at a Belgian corporation in Brussels. (Because of the European Union and globalization in general, many businesses invest in their employees learning English.)   At the end of a class one of the students encouraged me to say something in French.

I hesitated.

I spoke.

He was quiet for a moment.

Did I stun him with my skills? I waited with hope.

Finally he said, “Whoa! You have a thick American accent!”

Merde!

My good friend from Romania and fellow philosophy student who had lived in Belgium longer than me said: “It took me a year of speaking Dutch before anyone would reply to me in something other than English. Keep practicing.”

Being the cause of a cringe due to an accent is something for which I am honestly grateful. The frustration of searching for the right word in a second language while in the throes of communicating taught me the importance of patience. There I was, a Ph.D. student in philosophy with the speaking capacity of a child in French, and people would sometimes view me as such.  Despite this I hold the experience dear.

Learning to communicate in another language is incredibly humbling. One must step outside of their comfort zone and be vulnerable. Mistakes are inevitable. Once the language begins to take root in the thinking process it is an amazing sensation. The world opens up. Objects seem different. Expression is different. Interaction is different. It’s like walking around in a parallel universe.

Returning to my home, southern California, I encounter people on a daily basis who are non-native English speakers.  Shifting into an alternate grammar structure, pronunciation, alphabet, and all the nuances of language is difficult; moreover, the endeavor deserves respect.  I’ve witnessed frustration and cringes on the faces of the native English speakers when they hear accents. “Speak English!”  Assumptions about intelligence come into play albeit unwarranted. I wish for the angry hearted to give communication in another language a go.

Because of my time trying to speak French I make a conscious effort to listen carefully as non-native English speakers reach into their repertoire of unfamiliar words for communication.  Now I cringe at the cringers!


Feminist? But but but!

 

Confused Individual: Come on. Feminist? You?

Me: Yep. Feminist. Me

CI: But you’re married. To a man!

Me: True.

CI: But you’re not (whispers) a lesbian?

Me: (whispers) Nope.

CI: But you don’t hate men?

Me: Nope.

CI: But you shave your legs.

Me: Yep.

CI: But you clean your home. Confess! I’ve seen you with a Swiffer.

Me: Yep. I have a thing against dust.

CI: But you respect your friends who have chosen to be stay at home moms.

Me: Yep. They’re awesome, loving, and wonderful women who work hard.

CI: But you don’t keep a copy of The Feminine Mystique by your bed to read and highlight every night.

Me: Nope. Actually, I’m partial to detective stories. There are other books on feminism, by the way. Mary Wollstonecraft, John Stuart Mill, Carol Gilligan…

CI: Huh?

Me: Never mind.

CI: But I know you sometimes watch FOX.

Me: Yep. I have a sense of humor.

CI: But you’re not angry all the time.

Me: Nope.

CI: But you wear make-up!

Me: Yep.

CI: But you wear uncomfortable shoes!

Me: Unfortunately.

CI: But you teach Aristotle, and he thought women were underdeveloped men.

Me: Yep. Even Aristotle made mistakes.

CI: But then how can you be a feminist? You obviously don’t share any of the characteristics of Feminists.

Me: Feminism is the advocacy of equality, of treating people as human beings first and foremost, and that one’s potential for flourishing ought not to be stifled by prejudice based on the body into which one was born.

CI: But, when you put it that way…um…well, that makes sense.

Me: Yep.

 

Your misconceptions displease me.

 


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