The Basic Laws of Stupidity, Platitudes and the Meaning of Life

Two Cheers for Small Books

Longtime readers of my blog, or who know me at all, are familiar with my book addiction. I seem incapable of not surrounding myself with piles of books; new books, used books, library books, Kindle books, etc. I could spend an unknowable amount of time just reading the physical books in my home library never mind the hundreds of books I have on Kindle (and various other book apps on my iPad). And yet the piles grow…

Two Cheers for Small Books

But reading many of the large and serious tomes I have on the shelf takes hard work and concentration; and frankly my interests and tastes can be quite fickle and I jump from subject to subject, theme to theme, genre to genre.

Which is perhaps why I have long enjoyed picking up small books. There is something about the compact packaging, the allure of a quick read, or thinking about accomplishing something in one sitting, that really appeals to me.

I recently read a handful or such books and thought I would share with you some reactions from these small books.

The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

Let’s start with the good. On display at the library, The Basic Laws of human Stupidity caught my attention not just because it was a quick read but because it tapped into my feelings about the world at the moment.

And I have to say it delivered on its promise.

An absolutely brilliant outline of the danger stupidity imposes on the world. It is both satire and yet unvarnished truth. A gem of a book that will make you smile even as you are reminded just how many stupid people there are in the world.

Since the book is so short, 81 pages with charts, I won’t offer much description beyond that. But to whet your whistle, here is the first of five basic laws:

Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.

Even for someone who has spent time on Twitter, this turns out to be true.

A wonderful shot of dark humor and sanity in a world gone mad.

I highly recommend this small book. Great for the Father’s Day!

Directions: Platitudes or Good Advice?

There is a fine line between platitudes and wisdom or useful advice. You don’t have to be a student of modern publishing to understand that far more self-help type books lean heavily to the former rather than the later.

Directions: Really Good Advice for Getting from Here to There by Hallie Bateman, another library impulse grab, illustrates how this fact often lies in the eye of the beholder (or reader). When my daughter flipped through the illustrated pages she immediately declared it useless platitudes.

And in some ways this is just a collection of platitudes and aphorisms artistically presented. If you approach it that way, you will likely find it kind of silly.

But as I told my daughter, there are often deep truths in platitudes; and no matter how simple, sometimes you need to hear those truths. For that reason, I appreciated this book. It is the type of book that you can dip into when you could use a little advice or direction.

For example:

Empathize with caution, practice compassion with abandon.

A short sentence, but one worth thinking about and putting into practice.

Some pages contain just plain good life advice:

Go to the bathroom AS SOON as you wonder if you have time to go.

So, so true. Something I have learned from painful experience.

Is this a life changing type of book? Probably not, but it might offer a gentle reminder or a mental nudge to get your thinking back on track or recenter your mindset.

Or maybe it will just prompt you to smile which is no small thing these days.

The Meaning of Life or Simplistic Aphorisms Dressed Up As A Fable?

The bookstore in the nearby village has a cart of books on sale for a dollar. Because of the book addiction noted above, I can’t walk by without checking out the selection (I tell myself this helps support local bookstores in a small way).

I recently picked up The Cafe on the Edge of the World by John P. Strelecky and decided to read it immediately.

It bills itself as a story about the meaning of life and boast “Over 4 million copies sold” but after reading it, my reaction was more “interesting, I guess” than “Wow, life changing” or anger (see some Goodreads reviews for this anger) at a book this simplistic being, or at least claiming, the mantle of Five Time Bestseller of the Year.

Again, given the shortness of the book (131 pages), I won’t offer much details. But the focus is on three questions:

Why are you here?

Do you fear death?

Are you fulfilled.

The first thing to note is that if you don’t suspend your disbelief and just accept the fable/fiction as a vehicle for philosophical musing you will want to throw the book across the room. It is simplistic and didactic.

But if you can put that aside, these three questions are worth thinking about. It may be simplistic to say that we too easily get caught up in chasing things, working ever longer hours to buy stuff we don’t really need or have time to use, hoping some day to retire and live our “real life.” But it is nevertheless all too true. I have a hard time being to critical of a book that tries to wake people up to this fact.

“Find what you enjoy and gives you meaning and spend more time doing that,” is in fact good advice.

The problem with a book like this is that it is also quite obvious that this is far easier said than done. Put aside the not insignificant number of people who are really just trying to put food on the table and a roof over their head. Even upper middle class people will find that spending more time doing what gives you purpose and meaning is very hard work and far from obvious. Rarely, are their easy answers. If you have been on a certain path for decades, changing is hard. And we don’t get the chance to get lost and then spend time in a cafe working this out while eating delicious food with helpful staff.

I think what you can take away from a book like this is 1) to ask the questions and 2) start small.

I have in fact being doing this very thing in my life. I have been disengaging from social media, watching a lot less sports on TV, trying to think about my career path in a more holistic and long-term way, thinking more about lasting relationships, etc.

Is it in many ways a rather lame, fictionalized, new age-y self-help-book? Sure. But is also an opportunity to ask important questions about your life. And if it forces you to do that, it is probably worth the short time it takes to read. Your mileage may vary…

Juneteenth

With the federal government declaring June 19, or Juneteenth, a national holiday, I was giving an unexpected day off yesterday. I used it to spend time with my family. We visited bookstores, libraries and taprooms (which nicely highlight my hobbies and interests).

And speaking of short books, I picked up On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed and started reading it last night. I think it will be an interesting way to explore this new holiday and the issues that it brings with it. Will report back when I am done.

Are you celebrating Juneteenth? Is it celebrated in your part of the world?

Let me know. (And I would love any feedback you have on this just began newsletter)

Kevin