Thursday, August 31, 2006

Why China is Communist

From chapter 77 of Lao Tsu:

The Tao of heaven is to take from those who have too much and give to those who do not have enough.
Man's way is different.
He takes from those who do not have enough to give to those who already have too much.
What man has more thanenough and gives it to the world?
Only the man of the Tao.

Robin Hood was a Taoist!

I formally don't get it. I read the words, and some make sense and some don't, but I don't think I have any kind of impression of what the Way actually is. When I head over to Confucius, I think I'm going to read an analysis, instead of just a translation.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Lao Tsu Was a Crazy Person

What is up, I ask you, with the Tao Te Ching? Have you ever read this stuff? I understand the generic idea of Taoism, which is going with the flow, not resisting the nature of things. Like Pooh. But as you delve into it with the guy who invented it, you realize that maybe he was a little bit on crack.

First, look at the little introductory blurb. This explains that Lao Tsu was the imperial archivist in the time of Confucius (they were contemporaries, but Lao Tsu was older). He was a teacher all his life. The book, though, was written because "as he was riding off into the desert to die--sick at heart at the ways of men--he was persuaded bya gatekeeper in northwestern China to write down his teaching for posterity."

Now, I don't know how he was planning to die in the wilderness--wild boar, maybe, or just good old fashioned exposure--but that makes this book pretty much a suicide note. Which kind of explains some of this stuff. Like "Everyone else is busy,/ But I alone am aimless and depressed," in chapter 20. Or, more universal, "Give up learning, and put an end to your troubles."

Really, the whole book is full of stuff that makes sense as philosophy but is lousy advice. Like, "Is there a difference between yes and no?" Um, yeah. I can see the argument that saying yes to one thing is saying no to another, and it's good philosophy. But as advice for living in the real world, where you're trying to get things done, it's kind of tricky. Do I have leprosy? There's a difference between yes and no, my friend. A big one.

I also think he has a weird relationship with the word "wisdom." This could be a translation thing, I'm not sure. In chapter 19 he says "Give up sainthood, renounce wisdom,/ And it will be a hundred times better for everyone." Here, wisdom seems to mean learning, the idea being that the accumulation of knowledge gives the illusion of wisdom, which gets in the way of attaining an understanding of the holistic nature of the Tao. But then in chapter 22, we learn that "wise men embrace the one/And set an example to all," followed by a long list of good, Taoist things that wise men do. So is wisdom the opposite of good Tao, or the key to it? Hm?

I'm only in chapter 30 right now (there are 80, I think), so there's a way to go. Only just now, though, in chapter 30, has he dealt with the fact that most of life consists of bending the world to your needs. If everyone was a Taoist, nothing would get done. It seemed for the first 29 chapters that the Taoists survive because they're fed by the people who, instead of taking the world as it comes, plough up the field and plant something to eat there. But here in chapter 30, we are repeatedly instructed to "achieve results." We must not "glory in them," "boast," or "be proud," but we should definitely "achieve results,/ because this is the natural way."

I don't know, maybe it's starting to come together. Maybe Lao Tsu, Nut, will do for me & Taoism what C.S. Lewis, apologist, couldn't do for me & Jesus.

Speaking of Jesus, I'm so glad this guy is handling the Bible for me, so I don't have to read it. At least these 80 chapters are each one page long.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Driving Home

I'm working hard at a lot of books right now. The Vagabond, by Colette, for book club. It's not a hard read, actually--it's very good, though I wouldn't have picked it up. It's slim, and poses a lot of interesting questions, though I don't know that it answers them very well. What's the difference between love and lust? How does a truly broken heart affect later love? What does "lasting love" look like, and what is the price of tying yourself to one person? Would being rich and having no responsibility really make you happy? As someone who's getting married soon, a lot of these questions touch quite close to home (maybe not the last one). And the book gives you a lot of room to think about them, without really answering them, which makes for very interesting thinking, but also makes me somewhat dissatisfied with the author. And then you get to filter it through the fact that it was written about 50 years ago--are the answers to these questions different now?

Envy, by Kathryn Harrison. Ugh. This is such a study in psychoanalysis. This is an author reading about analysis (not just "therapy," but analysis--constant, overbearing overanalysis). This book is the friend who won't break up with her boyfriend but really kind of hates him and can't figure out why he's such a jerk and yet is surprised every time he does something jerky. Almost nothing even happens for the first 200 of the total 300 pages. The main character is an analyst. His son died a couple of years ago. He and his twin brother are estranged. He may have fathered a child when he was in college. He's recently become overwhelmed by his sexual fantasies. And for 200 pages he thinks about sex, and his brother, and then thinks about why he's thinking about them and tries to figure out why his wife is so low key, and talks to his analyst. And he's clearly pretty wrong about his brother, and his wife is supposed to be cool and annoyed with his hyperanalysis, but I'm just frustrated with both of them that they can't have a conversation that involves one person saying "I'm upset" and then trying to fix the problem. It's just a hot mess, this book. And I have a great deal of respect for the woman who wrote Poison. Read that book. Please don't read this one; my only reward for finishing it will be sparing you the trouble.

Also finished listening to The Code of the Woosters: Jeeves to the Rescue today, which involved ever so many delightful romantic misunderstandings, and also blackmail and a policeman's helmet. There's no point in talking about a Jeeves & Wooster book. Unless Bertie Wooster is actually speaking, there's no point in the thing at all.

I'm starting to focus on what to bring on the honeymoon. No library books--I don't want to risk losing them. Also, this is a great opportunity for a PLR. So: The Remains of the Day, which I've been saving for this occasion. A Wizard of Earthsea, which why haven't I read this book yet? March, because I bought it, didn't I? Into Thin Air, because I'm never going to sit down to it, otherwise.

This almost covers the range of lengths and tones I need to have with me. Maybe something else. What kind of reading do you bring on your honeymoon? It seems to trivial to bring light beachy fare, but I like to think I'm going to be concentrating on You Know Who more than on my books, so no tomes. What does that leave us? Picture books? It's a really complicated question.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


So we had to go to the doctor last night, and as a little recompense for the hour-long wait, we decided to stop off at the Malden Public Library. It was even Mike's idea, God bless'im.

Here's the thing; quite a few books on my list are only available at Malden. Nowhere else in the BPL system can you get a copy of Look a Lion in the Eye, by the author of The Nun's Story. I think it's the only copy available of Tammy Out of Time, which is the basis of the movie Tammy and the Bachelor, which , if you've never seen Leslie Neilsen of Naked Gun fame as a romantic leading man, you should watch this movie. Where else would I find The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables fame?

Of course, I could order these things through the system. But it's also just a nice building, with the peaceful, open space of a nice library. It's busy but quiet, but not too quiet. They use the Dewey decimal system, for crying out loud. I love it. So we stopped by, so Mike could pick up his book (about fish that are partially evolved to live on land), and I could scour the place for some of my own books.

So, we walked away with the books I mentioned above. Plus the translation I wanted of the Tao Te Ching. Which is MESSED UP. Get this: "When the great Tao is forgotten, kindness and morality arise. When wisdom and intelligence are born, the great pretense begins." What does that mean? Anyone?

I now have an even dozen library books out. Two of them are Mike's. One I already finished. That's still....a lot of books. Yay!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Okay, if I had started reading that book I mentioned in the last entry, I would seriously have notice that wow, this is nothing at all like a book that would be written by a novelist of any sort. Aside from being without style or grace, its grammar is quite damaged.

But my favorite recent piece of evidence is from the novel by the "real" Kathryn Harrison that I picked up today. As follows:

From the inside cover copy of Kathy Harrison's Another Place at the Table: A story of shattered childhoods redeemed by love: "Teaching a Head Start program for at-risk four-year-olds, Kathy Harrison became increasingly concerned about one student, Angie, who had been abandoned by a mother who would never be able to care for her. "Could we take her in?" Harrison and her husband asked themselves--a question that quickly changed to "How could we not?" After Angie came Madeline, and Gabrielle, and Tyrone, and all with horrifying pasts and needs as small and as large as a hot bath, clean sheets, and unconditional love."

From the inside cover copy of Kathryn Harrison's Envy: "Will has a good sex life--with the woman he married. So why then is he increasingly plagued by violent erotic fantasies..."

I don't really think I need to go on.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


Well, I've been tricked, and I can't quite figure out how it happed, but I suspect it was my own dopiness that tricked me.

So I was looking at books by Kathryn Harrison, who wrote Poison and The Binding Chair. She has a new (or newish) novel called, I believe, Envy, which looks kind of creepy but which I've decided to read. Partly because I was drunk when I saw it at the bookstore and once it's on my mental list it's hard to get off, and partly because of The Kiss, her memoir, which looked really creepy and was, but not in the off-putting way I was expecting.

So anyway, in looking up Envy on the library website, I came across another book by Kathryn Harrison, about being a foster parent. It looked very sweet and interesting--it's called Another Place at the Table. I thought it was interesting that someone with such a damaged past was a foster parent, and I wanted to read more about it--I know something about her life from her memoir, and something about her, if only from her novels, and I thought it would be an interesting story. So I checked it out.

I just pulled it out to look at. I noticed that the name on the cover was Kathy Harrison, and I thought that was interesting; her novels and somewhat disturbing memoir cite her as Kathryn, but this heartwarming story, perhaps inteded for a more touchy-feely audience, has her name listed differently. Huh. And then I read the acknowledgements, which include the line "My mother, Jean Scott, always knew I could." Um....I read about your mother. I think the word I'd use for her is "narcissistic." Is this some sort of healing thing, that you're thanking her for making you a good mother?

I finally figured out that it's a different Kathryn Harrison when I realized that she lives in Western Massachusetts--the novelist, I know, lives in a big city, I think New York. I feel like a really impressive detective to have figured it out, though!

I also just finished How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff. A great, fast book, about war in modern England. I didn't love the ending, but most of it kept me reading, and I finished it in a day.