Saturday, November 12, 2011

Some Things Never Change

This year I finally bought an e-reader and I absolutely love it.  It's so much more convenient than lugging around multiple books, and it allows me to easily switch between them, which is important, because I often find myself moving from one book to another in order to keep my short attention span from derailing my reading. 

Since I am cheap, and also because I feel my education was lacking in a good solid foundation of classical literature, I have decided to focus my energies mainly upon reading all the classics I never consumed growing up.  I started with some web searches for top 100 lists of books, culled the ones that seemed especially well known or potentially interesting, sprinkled in some well known titles that hadn't made others' cut, and came up with my own list of 100 books to read.  Ok, it's actually about 105, but let's not be anal here.  The great thing about reading these books is that not only are they intellectually stimulating, and serve as a sort of window into the past, but they are totally free!

On the down side, they certainly don't tend to be page-turners like modern books.  While one can read through a well written modern novel in a few days (or possibly even in one sitting), getting through a book written in a completely antiquated style from a bygone era, often using words that have fallen out of the common vernacular, is not a fast process to say the least.  It's still enjoyable, however.  I would compare it to the difference between going to McDonalds and staying at home and creating a home cooked meal.  The one is faster, easier, and more convenient, but the other has its own reward that comes at a slower pace and with more effort, but which can't be compared with mass-produced food eaten in an environment surrounded by screaming kids.

On occasion a classic surprises me with a special treat.  While working my way through Thomas Hobbes' tome on society and government, "Leviathan", I actually found myself laughing out loud at the combination of realizing "wow, some things never change" and the author's unique way of expressing his exasperation.  In the passage, written in old style English of the time of course, he has this to say about elitists who not only think they are smarter than the common man, but who try to demonstrate their superiority by writing a lot of hard to comprehend nonsense that sounds highly educated but doesn't really say anything.  If you have ever taken college courses you have probably come across these folks, either as professors or in your reading assignments.  But Let me share a slice of Hobbes' actual words, where he gives an example from his own day and posts his commentary on it.  You can still hear his aggravation in this piece written over three and a half centuries ago:

"What is the meaning of these words: 'The first cause does not necessarily inflow any thing into the second, by force of the Essential subordination of the second causes, by which it may help it to work'?  They are the translation of the title of the sixth chapter of Suarez' first book, Of the Concourse, Motion, and Help of God.  When men write whole volumes of such stuff, are they not mad, or intend to make others so?"

Remember that line and you can use it the next time someone is trying to dazzle you with their intellectual superiority that translates into undecipherable gobbledy-gook.  "Are you out of your mind, or are you simply trying to drive me out of mine?"  Well said, Hobbes, well said.