Reading Notes #15

Discerning subtle patterns

“Humans are good, she knew, at discerning subtle patterns that are really there, but equally so at imagining them when they are altogether absent.”

—from Contact

So last week I said I was going to watch Contact, The Movie after finishing Contact, The Book.

It hath been done.

The movie changed some big plot points, left a lot out, and eliminated or condensed/combined some major characters but that’s kind of what you have to do when you’re smushing a 432-page book into a couple of hours of movie.

Interesting, when you realize that the book actually originated as a script — then got turned into a novel — and then back into a script. And the book was still better than the movie.

“Don’t you ever feel . . . lost in your universe? How do you know what to do, how to behave, if there’s no God? Just obey the law or get arrested?”

“You’re not worried about being lost, Palmer. You’re worried about not being central, not the reason the universe was created.”

The movie gets points for a beautiful, expansive feel, for maintaining the tone/core message of the book, and for Matthew McConaughey-hey-hey-alrightalrightalright.

I also want to point out that Ann Druyan co-wrote both Contact and the original Cosmos television series with Sagan. From now on maybe I’ll refer to Sagan as “Druyan’s husband,” just to balance things out. Imagine how many times she’s been referred to as Sagan’s widow.

Speaking of non-fiction (that’s what we’re doing now), Patrick says (and I agree):

“There are far too many non-fiction books that make their case in the introduction or first chapter, then spend the next 300 pages belaboring a point concisely and completely made in the first 25.”

Joe and I were just discussing how you can read the TOC of almost any business book and you’re good to go. The meat of it is in the headings; the rest is filler. It’s helpful to approach non-fiction reading with the idea that it’s okay to pull out the bits that matter and ignore the bits that don’t. Follow the recommendation of the guy who wrote a book about how to read books and ask: “Does this book deserve careful reading?”

Many, many, many times the answer is No.

“Perhaps it is all illusion, this life. All you have of the life you have lived are the memories you carry. You edit these memories and make them fit some scheme. …It is only when you accept your humanness and vulnerability that you can see the past clearly and gain strength.”

—from Emotional Resilience

The last third of Emotional Resilience turned into lots of repetition and examples belaboring the points already made. I skimmed it, and now I’m done. Worth reading, for me, even if some of the reading is skimming.

Perhaps it was lots of repetition through the whole book, but it took me till the last third to connect the dots, to start discerning the patterns.

That’s a tendency in life, as well: to wait until the last 3rd or 10th or 80th section of life to connect the dots, to discern the patterns. At that point, maybe it’s too late to change them, too late to do anything but become aware and accept what is.

This is okay, too.

Don’t be afraid.

Freed to be what it was, rather than what you needed it to be, the past is a beacon illuminating the fleeting moment of the present.”

Looking back too soon can keep you from looking forward.

And sometimes the patterns aren’t patterns but inventions, layers of logic we arrange carefully to cover a chaos too random and bright and scary to live with.

Or maybe the chaos itself is a pattern too great for us to comprehend.

“Much of what goes wrong in your life is supposed to go wrong. There are no mistakes.”