Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The fine print

Thank you so much, Alibris. Tonight I was able to locate and order two books I've been seeking for a couple of years. "I Had a Dog and a Cat" by Karel Capek, a book I read 15 years ago, was the hardest to locate. It's never been reprinted since 1947, and while I have a copy that's in good condition already, I wanted a reading copy. Capek, better known for writing "R.U.R." in 1920, and giving the term robot to the science fiction community, penned this lovely little story about the trials and joys of living with his dog and cat in 1940 that just makes me feel wonderful every time I read it. His use of the language, even when translated from the original Czech, is so tight that it nearly qualifies as poetry.

I was also able to pick up a copy of "Religion and the Rebel" by Colin Wilson. Wilson wrote the book that first woke me up in my twenties and made me start to think about my life and beliefs. That book, "The Outsider", says more about me than I'm usually comfortable having people know. "Religion and the Rebel" picks up where "The Outsider" left off, discussing in even more depth existentialism and the famous people who personified the "outsider" in society.

As I wrote in a review of "The Outsider" for Amazon in 2000, "For over 15 years this has been my favorite book. Wilson explicates a thesis - that much of great Western Literature is written by and concerns men who see and feel more deeply than their contemporaries. Perhaps one might regard them as more sensitive. At any rate, such men are alienated-hence outsiders. Such figures include: Hermann Hesse, Van Gogh, Hemmingway, Lawrence of Arabia, H.G. Wells, Albert Camus, Vaslav Nijinsky, Sartre, Tolstoy, and others.

This book can be used in many ways: as a primer to existential philosophy, an introduction to religious mysticism, or as an introduction to the work and thoughts some of the greatest artists and writers of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Understanding of this book is helped by familiarity with the works and artists Wilson discusses - but it's not necessary. Wilson's discussion of each work/artists is complete enough even without prior exposure. And, indeed, it would be hard to have exposure to all he includes. In a way that, too, is a plus. I used this book as a core curriculum for nearly everything I've studied. I read what Wilson had to say, and if I was interested, I'd then explore those artists myself."

Since existentialism is a philosophy and not a religion, many of those who read "The Outsider" thought that Wilson was selling out with "Religion and the Rebel" when they first saw the title. But what Wilson discusses is religion in the sense of a passion, a fascination with something beyond and grander than the individual. In that sense, you could describe my interest in the Internet as a religion, considering the role it plays in my life.

I've never owned a copy of this book, so I'm very pleased to have found a copy in good condition at a reasonable price so I can add it to my "special" bookcase. Those are the books I doubt I'll ever part with, and include the 3 volume set of H.L. Mencken"s "The American Language" and the science fiction novels of Stanislaw Lem, famous for "Solaris" (which has twice been made into terrible movies but was a brilliant book) but also the author of several amazing stories including my favorite "
Memoirs Found In a Bathtub", which reminds me of my time at NSA (to quote a review, "A paranoid story from the year 3149 in a world without paper. The protagonist is given a mission so secret that nobody has a clearance to tell it to him. Spies, counter-spies and counter-courter-spies stand in his way as he attempts to solve the mystery of his mission")

So once I get tired of reading about routers and wireless access points for work, I can take my pick of two better works to distract myself from computers for a while.
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