Reading Journal

What I'm reading

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Rasselas by Samuel Johnson

Rasselas is a story about a long search for happiness, kind of like an 18th century Eat, Pray, Love. I actually haven't read that one, but I'm guessing it leads the reader to a much different conclusion.

Samuel Johnson's take is that momentary happiness is the best we can hope for. Even the best case, in which we achieve all our hopes and aren't struck down by disease or accident, will lead only to satiety and lassitude. At that point, we'll then set our minds on some new goal or experience that we can work toward.

I do think that happiness tends to come from the side, sort of life's peripheral vision. It's not something you can aim for and then expect like a paycheck. In that sense, I agree with him.

Whether you agree with him or not, his thoughts are well worth reading.

Human life is everywhere a state in which much is to be endured and little to be enjoyed.

“For the hope of happiness,” said he, “is so strongly impressed that the longest experience is not able to efface it.  Of the present state, whatever it be, we feel and are forced to confess the misery; yet when the same state is again at a distance, imagination paints it as desirable." 

There are goods so opposed that we cannot seize both, but by too much prudence may pass between them at too great a distance to reach either.  This is often the fate of long consideration; he does nothing who endeavours to do more than is allowed to humanity. 

Keep this thought always prevalent, that you are only one atom of the mass of humanity, and have neither such virtue nor vice as that you should be singled out for supernatural favours or afflictions. 
At the end of the story, the wisest people give up purposefully looking for happiness.

Imlac and the astronomer were contented to be driven along the stream of life without directing their course to any particular port.

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

Some people say this is their favorite novel. I decided to try it because it's set during the Russian Revolution, and I'd heard the CIA was even involved with getting it published during the Cold War.

My favorite parts of the book were his descriptions of nature and his mockery of early Communism.

Lara walked along the tracks following a path worn by pilgrims and then turned into the fields. Here she stopped and, closing her eyes, took a deep breath of the flower-scented air of the broad expanse around her. It was dearer to her than her kin, better than a lover, wiser than a book. For a moment she rediscovered the purpose of her life. She was here on earth to grasp the meaning of its wild enchantment and to call each thing by its right name, or, if this were not within her power, to give birth out of love for life to successors who would do it in her place.

A couple passages making fun of the revolution:

This was the time to prepare for the cold weather, to store up food and wood. But in those days of the triumph of materialism, matter had become a disembodied idea, and the problems of alimentation and fuel supply took the place of food and firewood.

I'll admit that you are Russia's liberators, the shining lights, that without you it would be lost, sunk in misery and ignorance, and I still don't give a damn for any of you, I don't like you and you can all go to the devil.

My least favorite part was, sadly, Dr. Zhivago himself. I couldn't forgive him for leaving his wife and child to have an affair with Lara, however torrid it might be. Since I disliked him, that soured me on the book as a whole.