Reading notes #14

This book is by a horrible no-good very bad atheist person

“Any faith that admires truth, that strives to know God, must be brave enough to accommodate the universe.”

—Carl Sagan

So I grew up with the idea that Carl Sagan was a horrible no-good very bad atheist person, hell-bent on destroying religion and the Bible and morality and probably, like, the basic family structure and cherry pie, just for good measure.

I could do without cherry pie, I guess. It’s the worst of the fruit pies. Fight me.

FOR THIS REASON (childhood) I have never ever read any or watched any of Carl Sagan’s work. Until now.

I was reading Contact in a bar a couple of weeks ago and somebody made a point to stop me, mask over face, to say how much they loved the book and that they reread it every couple of years.

“Perhaps the depth of love can be calibrated by the number of different selves that are actively involved in a given relationship.”

(At this point, someone says: Who reads a book in a bar? and I say: I do.)

Now I guess I’ll watch the movie and see how it measures up. (When is the movie ever better than the book? OH WAIT: The Martian. Movie: 👍 Book: 🖕)

In other books: almost halfway through Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and I have to agree with Brandon, who says that she does characters poorly. She does. Or she does them too well: they are too much of whatever it is she wants them to be. They are only that one thing, to an extreme. They are not characters but person-shaped characterizations, symbols of ideals embodied to carry the plot along in a way that aligns with her philosophy… which makes this little Roark quote quite the ironic gem:

“I don't wish to be the symbol of anything. I'm only myself.”

I don’t hate the book but I’m also not into it the way I was into Contact because look, characters are where it’s at, for me. Actually it was reading The Fountainhead and talking about it with Brandon and then talking about scifi writing failures with Drew which made me realize what I dislike about so much scifi/fantasy: the character-writing failure.

Fantasy writers get so into world-building and ohmygod complex lineages and maps and subplots that characters are secondary.

Scifi writers get so into technical theory and scientific implications and big philosophical problems and gadgets and alien biology and alien horror and alien sex that characters are secondary.

Obviously I have some feelings about this.

Give me some character-driven scifi/fantasy and I’m all in.

Build a really amazing world and plop some half-assed characters in there? I’m out.

In non-fiction news, I am reading a handful of books s l o w l y. Here’s one: Emotional Resilience by David Viscott. On the shelf beside it: Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman) and Emotional Freedom (Judith Orloff). ARE WE SENSING A THEME?

It was 2021 and it was the season of emotions.

Have I learned anything? I don’t know. Maybe. Viscott has gut-punched me a few hundred times already.

Here, I’ll share some of the punches:

“She is always amazed to discover that other people can actually take care of themselves. When she does she only wishes she had let go sooner.”

“Giving without respecting yourself, however, is not giving, but a subtle form of manipulation.”

“…you can lower your defensive wall by deciding to be open, to accept yourself and your shortcomings, and to tell as much of the truth as you know. At its heart continuing to grow requires that you face life’s hurts directly and take responsibility for being in the place that allowed you to be injured.”

“Hiding your true feelings is the source of most of your loneliness and suffering. When you hide your feelings, you become lonely for the part of yourself you’ve excluded from your life.”

“There is no greater destroyer of self-belief than holding hurt inside and polluting your self-image with negative messages of guilt.”

And this zinger:

“Most of your problems come from not wanting to see things as they are.”

Yeah. Some harsh truth-telling in there, but lots of hope, too:

“The world makes perfect sense exactly the way it is. When the truth can be told, everything can be understood. …The more truthful you are in accepting what happens to you and the more responsibility you take for it, the less your defenses will intrude. Living in the truth is always the easiest solution.”

I’m hungry now. Pie sounds good, for some reason.

🔗 I wrote about telling the truth and letting go of outcomes and how to write a great post for your workplace blog. Are these topics related? Is that a rhetorical question?

It’s all gonna be okay (maybe? maybe not? honestly, I don’t know) but: look up with Joy Oladokun and enjoy these nihilist summaries of children’s books in haiku. Only the internet.