Monthly Archives: November 2013

A Trip Down Memory Lane with Books

The philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote that forgetting is not solely about forgetting an object but about forgetting yourself in relation to the object, time, and place.  For example, if you cannot remember where you put your keys, you also cannot remember yourself in the context of the last time you held your keys.

The inverse of this, namely calling upon a memory via an object, works similarly.  On a coffee date with a friend, I casually mentioned that my books serve as a sort of photo album.  When my eyes scan them memories crop up as to why I bought the book in conjunction with where I was in my life. They even remind me of who was in my life at the time.

Now, there are a lot of books about my home, so my friend took my claim as an exaggeration.  Not at all, I assured her.

As a little test she picked fifteen books at random, without me looking, to see how much memory the books could prompt.  Curious about the validity of my own claim, I took up the challenge:

1. Phenomenlogy of Spirit by Hegel.  Canada, working on my MA, around 2000.  My undergraduate work comprised only of philosophers in the analytic tradition, and I found myself in a terrible struggle to understand Hegel.  The class on Hegel was quite small, we sat around a large horseshoe table with the professor at the front of the room. I hesitated to contribute to discussion, which proved to be taxing since there were only about a dozen of us in the class. I learned to treasure Tim Horton’s coffee.

2. What is Literature? by Sartre.  Belgium, working on my dissertation, around 2003.  I fell in love with existentialism and its connection to literature.  This book was used for my dissertation.

3. I Married a Communist by Philip Roth.  I’m not entirely sure where I bought this, but I recall why.  I had read The Human Stain by Roth and was in awe of it.  Anticipating another great read I picked this up because the title was provocative.  But, I remember not enjoying it and thinking that The Human Stain was a far superior read.

4. On Beauty by Zadie Smith.  I was in the mood to take a break from philosophy in graduate studies, and this book popped up on several reading lists.  I enjoyed it and have recommended it to several friends.

5. The Best of Roald Dahl.  San Diego, undergraduate years, about 1998.  I purchased this after visiting an old high school friend at her university. She lit up when talking about Dahl and highly recommended his short stories.  photo-29

The first in the collection I read was “The Way Up To Heaven.”  I recall thinking that I’d just read a bit before bed, but once I started I couldn’t put it down. Dahl’s twisted sense of irony is marvelous and should probably come with a warning label: “Not for bed time,” or “For wanna-be insomniacs.”   I now have him as required reading for my Intro to Philosophy class.

6. Gone by Mo Hayder.  This is a recent read.  Pasadena, some time this year.  I was in the mood for a mystery and I thought I was going on the recommendation of a friend, but she had actually suggested Gone Girl.  It was a fortunate mistake because I later picked up Gone Girl and felt so-so about it; whereas, Gone captured my attention and was a more satisfying read.  I purchased it while on an evening stroll in Old Town Pasadena.

7. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas.  I read this while in the final throws of my Ph.D.  This book is in my top ten favorites.  It poses an incredible contrast from the existentialists’ work in so far as it brings about a neat ending.  Justice exists!  All is right in the world.  I ended up mentioning this contrast in the concluding chapter of my dissertation.

8. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. The first time I heard of this book was in Belgium when a friend/classmate of mine (fellow bookworm and now super philosopher) mentioned that he hated it.  We were walking briskly in the cold and he railed against all the fluff about the genius of this work.  Approximately three years later, another friend mentioned that she was reading it.  She couldn’t put it down.  I had to see for myself what all the fuss was about.  It started off a little slow for me, but then I came to like it.  However, his second book Freedom, I think, is much better.

9. Middlemarch by George Eliot.  Guelph, Ontario.  About 2001.  I had read The Mill on The Floss and I wanted to delve into another book by Eliot.  While visiting a friend in Guelph, he introduced me to a delightful little book store called The Book Shelf, and that is where I spotted this gem.  The Book Shelf was part store, cafe, restaurant, and indie movie theatre, and the town’s claim to fame is that it was the first place in North America to begin a recycling program.

What initially drew me to Eliot was the fact that she used a pen name for publication.  photo-29 copyWhat would it be like to be a talented author and believe that gender would hinder the possibility of being read?

10. Anthem by Ayn Rand.  Orange County, high school freshman year english.  This book made such an impression on me that I’m still toying with Rand’s ideas.

11. All Men Are Mortal by de Beauvoir.  Belgium, about 2003, summertime.  I read this while on break from my studies at one of my favorite spots to work in Leuven, The Metropole.  I spent so much time there that my friends would sometimes go to The Metropole to find me instead of ringing me at my flat.  Once I finished the novel, I decided to completely alter the direction of my work to existentialism.

12. Albert Camus Lyrical and Critical Essays. I remember seeing this in a book store while I was home visiting during a holiday.  I thought I’d read everything by Camus and I was shocked that something had escaped my attention.  Orange County, about 2005.

13. The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler.  I don’t know.  This shouldn’t be on my shelf.  I bought it because I had (well, still do) an obsession with Jane Austen.  I know for certain that this book didn’t resonate with me.  On one long flight this was listed as a movie and I watched only a bit.  Apparently, I couldn’t bear that version either.  Lesson: not all Jane Austen fans are alike.

14. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.  When I picked this off the shelf, a store clerk assured me it would be a good read.  I bought this around the time it became big in the states.  My guess is, Orange County, Borders Book Store, about 2009.  My girlfriend told me her father-in-law read it on a flight and apparently there was an extraordinary amount of turbulence, but he was so engrossed in the book he didn’t even notice the shaking.  She said, “That’s the power of Stieg Larsson.”

15. La Cantatrice Chauvre by Ionesco.  My good friend in graduate school, Vlad, is fluent in four languages and proficient in another two. Encouraging me to enhance my French, Vlad selected this for me to read.  Belgium, about 2004.

On a recent trip forming new memories, San Francisco

On a recent trip forming new memories, San Francisco

My Week Long Social Media Fast

Inspired by Scott D. Southard’s blog post “Twitter- Free: My 24 hours Without Twitter,” I decided embark on a similar challenge.  After reading his post I noted the time, 9:24 am, and then I initiated my own social media fast.  My intention was to abstain for 24 hours, but upon sharing this news with my Monday evening class one student challenged me to turn the fast into a week long venture.  I confess that I almost said no.  Could I really stay away for that long?

I had already been disconnected for 8 hours and the itch to click on Twitter and the like taunted my curiosity.  On the other hand, I do enjoy a challenge.  Most important, I learned to stop sharing things with my students.

I am pleased to report the challenge is complete.  For one week I did not check up on my usual go-to Social Media pages: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and WordPress.  Here are some of my observations:

1. Within moments of agreeing to said challenge I wanted to update Twitter to let them know of my challenge.  But, alas, I could not.  Thus, I instantly became aware of how the urge to “share” infringed on my daily life.

2. I wanted to cheat.  It astonished me to no end that I needed to summon my will power to not look at these sites.  After all, the majority of my life has not involved being on Social Media.  In fact, I only started tweeting a little over a year ago, and my Instagram account is practically new. Normally will power is reserved for surviving a CrossFit session, re-working drafts on philosophy papers, and having one glass of wine instead of the bottle.

3. My stack of grading is nearly done, I finished reading The Old Man and the Sea, and my home is spotless.  This means, of course, that scrolling through my news feeds encroaches on my time far more than I had assumed.  (Side note: I cannot believe it took me over two decades to face my dread of reading Hemingway.  I loved the little book and I will definitely be picking up more by him.)

4. I really could live without Facebook.  I check it often; however, it does not add anything to my day.  Why do I continue to look at something of so little value to my life?  Being away from Facebook, in contrast to my other go-to’s, felt liberating.  I suspect it is because my Facebook “friends” have known me since childhood, and I feel somewhat confined by my profile.  With Twitter and WordPress I experience far more freedom.  That is, followers on the latter sites are generated primarily due to common interests which, for me, makes them more valuable.

5. Social Media has evolved into a time filler for me.  I opted to people watch and lose myself in thinking as opposed to pulling out my phone.  In the beginning it felt strange.  The challenge forced me to stop paying attention to others’ lives and to reorient my focus to the present.

6. I honestly missed Twitter and WordPress.  Perhaps because I am more introverted, these sites allow me a new way of interaction that is compatible with being a bit of a recluse.  I’m not sure it is such a bad thing.  Much has been made of our lack of connecting with people and the demise of social skills.  While I will concede that people are spending more time on their phones than talking with others, I have found a sincere joy in using Twitter and WordPress as a sort of outlet for being social.  The exchange of ideas and discovering interesting reads and blog posts does give me a positive boost to my day.

7. A part of me wondered if I was missing out on…well…I don’t know.  I felt out of the loop and slightly anxious about it.  Full disclosure: I worried that people might think I was mad at them for not leaving any “likes” or “favorites” on their posts.  I realize this is silly, but such things did cross my mind.

8. On Sunday I reminded myself that it was the final day of my fast and delighted in knowing that I could once again clickity-click my way into the web of social media.  What had I missed?

9. When the time hit 9:24 this morning, I was too engrossed in a book to put it down and check up on the world.  The end arrived and I didn’t turn to my phone.  When I finally started to scroll and click away, I was  rather unimpressed.  The moment I waited for ended up being anti-climactic.

Now I am pondering other “Fast” possibilities.  For this week I will be fasting from television.  Let’s see how it goes.

Dear friends, do you think you could go a week without your favorite social media sites?  If you fancy a try, please leave comments.

I Harbor a Book Grudge

Books on my shelf, desk, and nightstand fall into three general categories:

1. Read

2. Partially read.

3. About to be read.

One book in particular sits outside the bounds of these categories and haunts me.  I do my best to not look at it directly lest I be hit with a pang of guilt.  If it could talk I suspect it would say: “J’accuse!” accompanied with a rigorous finger wag.

Fall 1991. It was a time before the interwebs, reality television, gluten-free labels, and Miley Cyrus.  I loved all things Madonna, the show 90210, and my bangs loaded with enough hairspray to cut glass.  My younger bookworm self devoured the VC Andrews series, Silence of the Lambs, Anthem, Treasure Island, and Wuthering Heights.

But, when assigned Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea for Freshman English, I shunned the book.  No specific memories surface regarding how I managed to simply not read it and show up for class (this is pre-wikipedia for you youngsters out there); however, the sentiment of disdain for a story about an old man fishing remains absolutely clear.

Over the years, my justification for evading this book has gone something like this:

Why require a young girl to read Hemingway?  Sheesh! 

Is Pride and Prejudice assigned to fourteen year old boys?

You see, I’ve been placing blame on my Freshman reading list rather than simply sitting down with the darn book and giving it a try.  Although, to justify my justification, there is something to be said for inappropriate timing.  Oops!  There I go again weaseling out of responsibility for not reading.

A part of me feels sheepish about this vexing hole in my history of bookwormishness. How can I continue to recoil from this short novel on my shelf?  Nothing I believed to be true at the age of fourteen is still true for me now.  Yet, I harbor a grudge against Hemingway as though I were my younger-1991-self.  It’s time to face my unsubstantiated grudge.

Thus, this week, my friends, I vow to correct that gap and finally put an end to my trepidation.  Be gone, Guilt!

My book grudge.

My book grudge.

I will give Hemingway a chance…

“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”

Okay…hold on..I think I’ll pour a glass of wine first.

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