As I talked with him, I enjoyed the gentle breeze through the open window. The high temperatures of 100 and 101 and the string of 90-plus days--all way above normal for this time of the year--have yielded to cooler temperatures and clouds in the sky.
After the phone call ended, I checked the mail. Yes, the books--the ones that I hope will make me wiser--are here. It won't be the books' fault, nor the authors' fault, if I continue to be the global village idiot ;)
I decided to go with the same order in which I had listed the books. The Death of Ivan Ilyich was the first one. Death has always fascinated me, as the readers of this blog know all too well. The fact that we will all die at some time is, I think, one of the truths that I came to understand early on when I was a young boy, especially after my grandmother died in the backseat of the car as we rushed her to the local hospital in the industrial township where I was raised. Thus death, as much as it interests me, does not worry me one bit; it is the pain and suffering that I hate, and life is full of pain and suffering.
As I noted in that earlier post, the deep reads are the atheistic ways in which I attempt to arrive at an understanding of a simple question: if we are all going to die, then what is the point in living? Why do we do what we do? Which also easily explains why I had for a while wanted to read this work of Tolstoy's; in a review essay a while ago, I came across a quote from The Death of Ivan Ilyich:
Is there any meaning in my life that wouldn't be destroyed by the death that inevitably awaits me?Life, as I understood it even back when I was a teenager, which is why I continue to march to my own drumbeats, is not anything like veni, vidi, vici. But, what the heck is the meaning in my life?
Of course I don't expect Tolstoy to give me a one sentence answer to that question. It is something for me to figure out. All Tolstoy, and Nabokov and Steinbeck too, can do this summer is to guide me with their thoughts, similar to how others did in the past. Hopefully, as I continue along this path, I will be able to answer that question as I lay dying.
Apparently, that is what Tolstoy also had in mind, writes Mary Beard in her introductory remarks:
If only Tolstoy's friends had remembered to ask him all those questions! I am sure the businessman will keep track of it and might even monetize those words of wisdom from my deathbed ;)
Thirty-eight pages have provided me with enough and more to think about. It is time to get to the real world issues of shopping and laundry and cleaning and everything else--after all, they, too, help me understand what my life is all about.