Non-boring books about being and essence

My initial response to Isaac's question to his mom about the above was the same as Fink's: Is there any such thing as a non-boring book about being and essence? Granted, there can be a certain excitement about such fundamental questions when one first encounters them as an undergraduate or precocious teenager (or exceptionally precocious seven-year-old). I remember getting something of a head rush from reading Descartes' Meditations for the first time. (Nerd alert! Nerd alert!) And the books that really dig deep into such questions can vary in their degree of headache-inducing sopoforificness. I find Being as Communion, for example, palatable, if not heart-racing. But for the most part, I believe that if you could distill the essence of books about essence and bottle it, you could make a fortune in the anti-insomnia pharmaceuticals business. Which perhaps is only to say that I'm not called to be a metaphysicist.

I have, however, been greatly enjoying lately (at the expense of progress on the books that it's my JOB to read), some books that are not technically about being and essence, but creatively and humorously raise questions about such things to the philosophically-minded. These books are the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde (love that double F), which I stumbled across in the Chapel Hill Public Library having exhausted their audiobook selection in the area of quantum physics.

Some months ago I had been surveying the stacks looking for something interesting to listen to, and found myself muttering under my breath about the scarcity of diversity in the world of fiction. I don't want a romance, don't want a crime thriller, don't want a ponderous family saga, don't want a space opera SF tale, what else is there? I've retreated to the children's section on several occasions in search of some genuine creativity -- my most recent find there being The Great Good Thing by Rod Townley, which bears a certain resemblance to the Thursday Next books in terms of defining premise.

When I picked up Lost in a Good Book, I thought I was getting nothing more than a standard mystery story with literary themes, the way Possession is a mystery/romance with literary themes. Instead, I found myself plunged immediately into a strangely familiar yet disconcertingly odd alternative universe. As the story unfolded, I was delighted to discover that this was an absolutely appropriate sensation for a reader to have when venturing into a story about a protagonist who quite literally jumps into the middle of the worlds created by books. The analyst in me notices all kinds of telling hints and suggestions about metaphysics, time, life and death, narrative, creation, and imagination; but mostly, I just enjoy a good story well-told. I suspect that I'm missing some of the literary jokes because I wasn't an English major, but I'm enjoying the ones I do get. (There are also religious jokes, like the church of the Global Standard Deity.) I'm just disappointed that I'm approaching the end of the series, and that my library doesn't have The Eyre Affair, book 1, in audio format. I might just have to break down and actually read it the old-fashioned way, with my eyes.

(I mentioned in a previous post that I don't read much fiction. I don't. But I do consume a fair amount of it in the form of audiobooks. I picked up this habit a couple years back when I lived with my brother and he offered up his CDs of the Harry Potter novels as a better way to combat my insomnia than calling up my doctor ex-boyfriend and demanding a prescription for sedatives. Of course, if you get too engaged in a story, it can combat the sleep-inducing effect. But I've found it effective because I need a distraction, background noise with a plot to keep my mind engaged enough to keep the demons at bay. I end up having to listen to the same tape multiple times to get to the end of it, but that's OK.)

4 comments:

CyberianTygre said...

I once declared in William Stacy Johnson's class on grace that Being as Communion was the best theology I'd ever read because of certain problems it solved for me. I've haven't returned to it anytime recently, and have forgotten much of it, so I don't know if I could make the same declaration today.

CyberianTygre said...

Just looked at ome of the Amazon links...Uncle Mycroft...a reference to Sherlock's smarter, older, (an lazier) brother?

Rachel said...

That's got to be one of the bizillion literary references I missed. Mycroft goes off and hides in the backstory of the Sherlock Holmes series to avoid being pressed into service by the evil Goliath corporation. Fforde has a way with naming.

Sarah said...

Children's books really are the best things going. Not so much the "children's" books that Make A Moral Point or Introduce You to an Important Issue. But the literature for children--Little House, Narnia, The Borrowers, E. B. White, Madeleine L'Engel, Rudyard Kipling ("How 'bout that, Best Beloved?")--oh, I could read these over and over.

And, hey, thanks for adding to my To Procrastinate With list--been looking for some good pleasure reads.

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