Unlike my usual exploratory holidays, this last week was spent unashamedly enjoying being outdoors in the sun: tennis, swimming, archery, badminton, even some football and lots of reading. After a long English winter, to sit by a pool and read for hours on end was a luxury.
It was an heterogenous selection of paperbacks that accompanied me to Cyprus:
- David Foster Wallace – This is Water
- Adam Thirlwell – Politics
- Tom McCarthy – Remainder
- Penelope Fitzgerald – The Blue Flower
- John Williams – Stoner
Each of the novels merits a brief blog post of its own.
The first book on the list, DFW’s This is Water subtitled Some Thoughts Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life, is the text of a commencement address given to the 2005 graduating class of DFW’s alma mater. For motives unknown the publishers Little, Brown have presented the book one sentence per page as a series of aphorisms. The format is annoying but the text is worth reading; DFW unpacks “the old cliché about the mind ‘being an excellent servant but a terrible master.'” As he explains, “This, like many clichés, so lame and banal on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth.”
And I submit that this is the real, no-shit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out.