You think about that already, at twenty-five, how many people have not made it to this point, and what’s more, how many people were never born at all; You think about that already, at twenty-five, how many people have not made it to this point, and what’s more, how many people were never born at all; how many single cells who, if only they had won the genetic lottery instead of you, may have written something more timeless than The Odyssey, discovered elusive cures for what ails humanity, or on the flip side, to be fair, destroyed more lives than Pol Pot. It is useless to speculate on these matters because time is unconcerned with what might have been, but still you think about it, and still you feel both undeserving and impossibly lucky. Then, unbeknownst and within moments of this profound appreciation, you feel both dreadful and completely alone, as if floating through space, which of course, strictly speaking, you are.
You’re on your couch, which often substitutes for your bed, reading Winter Journal by Paul Auster. As you are reading it, you think what fun it would be, if you believed in fun, to write about your experience with the book in the second person, as Paul Auster does, observing his former selves in fragments and blinks of memory. You think about how many hours of your life have been spent on this couch, reading. How many hours reading Paul Auster books? How many more hours to come? You think about being less than half the age of Paul Auster, and yet, perhaps just as preoccupied with the absolute finality of the grave. You wonder what life will be like, if you endure to age sixty-four, at home, in America, on Earth. You wonder what you may have to live through that Paul Auster will probably not.
Forced to recall the time you were T-boned at an intersection in the station wagon your father was driving at that potentially fatal moment on Halloween night of 2001; a replica of which you have now inherited from him, you read on with horror and sadness, an account that feels all too familiar. You can hear the windows all shattering at once because you have heard it. You can look over and see your father hyperventilating, unburdening himself all at once of the impact, after the protection he provided for you in the form of an arm slung across your torso whilst simultaneously avoiding spinning into oncoming traffic for a double, triple, quadruple whammy of apocalyptic crunching metal. You can exit the car, survey the surreal damage and honestly wonder along with the author how you are still breathing. You continue reading, succumbing to tears and bordering on applause upon finding out that everyone; his wife, their daughter, even the dog, came through without any serious injuries, as both you and your father had. And the strangest thing of all, which Paul Auster, relaying the fortune of a doctor who happened upon the scene, deemed a small miracle, which is tempting to borrow, if his work, and your outlook, were not dependent on chance; your brother’s girlfriend (now his wife) and one of her friends (whom you would, years later, escort down the aisle at their wedding) were meandering down the path by which you were recently almost killed; one of them, you can’t recall who, wearing an angel costume, the corny and clichéd nature of which only hits you at the very moment you write this, and gives you pause in including the detail at all. Your future sister-in-law sees the familiar car, totaled, and then sees you and your father standing near it and calls out your father's name. You now have a ride home from the wreckage and a story to tell. Then, in another instantaneous ecstatic-to-somber switch, you are bogged down by the thought of all those who were not as fortunate as you, your father, Paul Auster, his wife, his daughter, or their dog. You recall a flamboyant and admirable high school classmate who, days before his death in a car accident, complimented you on your anachronistic, overly large ‘90’s t-shirt which you also inherited from your father (complete with cool colored [green, blue, purple] squiggly stripes, imitating a life-line, and multi-outlined dots almost giving the illusion of fluctuating, or static, movement). A fellow college student whom you didn’t know is brought to mind; killed in a fiery crash, along with her boyfriend, the details of which you investigated obsessively for days thereafter; discovering the reason was a drunk driver, who survived. Then, as if clutching to be dragged along behind the previous memory, a news story of two young children killed in a crash in Minneapolis, as a result of someone who decided their time was more important than anyone else’s.
Your girlfriend at the time (gods know where she is now), in junior high; your very first, who, like Paul Auster in his early infatuations, you would bend over and do anything for, and who was prone, and accustomed, to incendiary spats, one example of which resulted in a threat that your demise would occur at the hands of The Bloods, after pinning one of their ostensible members to a table upon witnessing him violently shove your then-girlfriend, your then-eternal-soul-mate; the first instance in which you risked everything for what you thought was love, and how you would do the same now, if the situation presented itself, or indeed, if some immediate occurrence demanded such a swift spring to action; a reaction which could pale in comparison to what shits you may flip if something comparable were to occur in your life now, to those whom you now hold dear.
You could keep writing now, but you want to save some things for your own fragmentary, literary, auto-biographical efforts which, as with this influential and destined-to-be-pre-culminating work, could wind up being some-significant-amount-of-a-lifetime-in-the-making; and if only two people read it, they will be the only two to have ever read it; and then the sun will explode and it will not matter.
More examples of monotonous life experience Paul Auster discusses over the course of his lifetime (that is to say, confined to the contents within his book, and to the limited experience of your significantly shorter life thus far) would abound to which you could relate; injuries and scars, sexual encounters and heartache, death of loved ones and musings on mortality. You are not special or unique in this, but you come to feel that you are, paradoxically, as you learn how severely, and consolingly, you are not. You are confronted with a lifetime of things unlived by you, but that you have come to have a stake in emotionally, through mere chance of these events being recorded for you to come by; to piece together the puzzle of; to plunge the depths of; to solve, from a bird’s eye view, the labyrinth of connections by an astounding concatenation of circumstances.
Meeting Paul Auster was a hell of a thing. You remember because this happened so recently. You wondered what you might say to him. You think that he may be impressed by your ties to Northfield, Minnesota, the town in which you, in fact, would meet him; the hometown of his wife another fine writer, Siri Husvedt, whose sister your mother was close friends with in her youth. You could have set him up for that James Joyce joke you heard him mention in an interview, which involved a woman who asked to shake the hand of the man who wrote Ulysses, to which Joyce responded, in so many words, that she may want to reconsider if she knew where else that hand had been. Another option was to invoke the commencement Paul Auster had with Samuel Beckett when he was twenty-five, the same age as you are now, in a ploy to convey some semblance of serendipity. This seemed hokey, regardless of how inspired you were to hear it. One last refuge was to appeal to his former self which he as written about; to tell him that never, not once, have you felt vindicated, or normalized, for being a bed wetter, not only in your childhood, but as Paul Auster admitted—stringing you along in solidarity—well beyond the acceptable age for being one, a bed wetter. Ultimately, after seeing him in front of you, hearing him speak in person, and holding your copy of his book in his hands, you opt for dead, piercing silence. He breaks this silence with a humble, reticent, and resounding thank you. You would go on the next day to see him again and, overcoming some of your nerves, express to him how much the hell his work means to you; a lot. He seemed genuinely surprised, after having signed the book you are now discussing, to see you were in possession of a first edition copy of The Invention of Solitude, his first published work. He tells you it is probably worth a lot of money, and you coyly respond: as if I’m going to sell it. Even if you did, these experiences are priceless, as are, you come to realize, all experiences. Paul Auster is entering the winter of his life and you are exiting the winter of your youth; a piece of which he now knows, at least temporarily, includes him. ...more
It was all right. Heck, it was better than all right. It was adequately satisfactory.
I prefer to watch and listen to Tina Fey, so perhaps I would hav It was all right. Heck, it was better than all right. It was adequately satisfactory.
I prefer to watch and listen to Tina Fey, so perhaps I would have enjoyed an audiobook more, if read by the author. Nothing in this book was as funny as her angrily shouting "Ah, Nerds!", or imitating Eleanor Roosevelt before being abruptly cut-off, and subsequently awkwardly recoiling. I am a fairly recent 30 Rock fan (credit to Netflix), and I hate to say it, but watching television in this case may be time better spent.
Amusement was not entirely absent, but she couldn't reel me into her father's story in the way that the likes of Paul Auster or Christopher Hitchens could. I don't suppose I expected any such thing, because this is not a literary endeavor, nor was its genesis a result of any sort of intrinsic catharsis, reminiscence, or outpouring of affection, but a celebrity cash-in much like most comedic memoirs, and thus slightly cynical, and thus slightly disappointing considering how much I have come to respect Tina Fey as a script writer/actor/comedian.
It's probably better than most mass-produced books one can find at Walmart, but it's still a mass-produced book one can find at Walmart. ...more
Upon recommendation from a friend, I read this book by a rather unorthodox Christian Spiritualist by the name of Donald Miller. I couldn’t help but inUpon recommendation from a friend, I read this book by a rather unorthodox Christian Spiritualist by the name of Donald Miller. I couldn’t help but instantly relate to him, sharing my last name and all, although in very few other ways. I was vaguely aware of Miller, but had never read anything of his, previous to this book. The subtitle of the book is ‘Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality’. It seemed to be a hybrid of memoir and theological pep-talk. In the very first chapter he expressed some dissatisfaction with some teachings of the church. Examples of this include objection to referring to God as ‘Father’, because so many fathers abandon their children, and criticism for Sunday schools teaching blind memorization of Scripture and commandments instead of helping children relate to God in a meaningful way. I can superficially support this criticism, but what I don’t understand is how children should be taught to relate to God. The outcome could prove very disappointing if left to the children for experimentation. It could put a damper on the Christian foundation as we understand it (not that I would be opposed, but the priests, pastors and teachers may feel differently). Furthermore, I can’t help but imagine that if each child’s relationship with this version of God, or whatever ambiguous concept some theologians might encourage is instructed, then it cannot truly be said that they discovered that relationship on their own terms, on their own time, in their own way, etc. I appreciated his advocacy of more open ideas and understanding of spirituality, even within Christendom, but I am not (yet?) convinced that the authoritative guise of Christianity could be done away with, while still maintaining the core beliefs.
In the middle of chapter 3 (pg. 31), he confessed that earlier in his life, he was not able to give himself over to Christianity because “it was a religion for the intellectually naïve.” He goes on to say that his belief was something that developed in his subconscious, rather than coming to a conclusion by any deliberate means. This did not satisfy me either. I am obliged to take him at his words, but such a path is not something that I can relate to. I have heard similar, indeed almost identical proclamations from numerous amounts of other former non-believers turned religious. The ‘I didn’t choose God (Jesus), He chose me’ explanation is how I could sum that up. I am not so bold as to accuse anyone who says this of dishonesty. If they really think that, I don’t presume to tell them they are mistaken, albeit I may suggest it in as subtle a way as I can (which may not be nearly subtle enough). The main problem I take with this is the idea that God is choosing people to accept Him, to the exclusion of others. Should I be made to feel like a reject or spiritual failure if I don’t feel it in my heart that this God has placed Himself in it? Surely, there are people who long for it, beg for it, but simply can’t gain that ‘satisfaction’ that so many people claim to have felt. This is an argument that has come up in regular conversation in my life, and I have yet to hear a satisfying answer as to why God would pick people, some much easier than others, to truly accept Him without intellectual inquiry and expect the ones who haven’t to feel inept in these deep matters. I can’t say that Miller feels this way, but he didn’t go into much more depth on this matter, and if he would have, perhaps I wouldn’t feel the need to raise my objection here.
I hate to continue on with criticism now, but in my attempt to follow the book chronologically, I have to raise another point. On the first page of chapter 5 entitled ‘Faith: Penguin Sex’ (sounds promising) Miller was expressing how much he enjoyed sharing his faith with others, especially when one of his friends converts to Christianity. He described the experience of sharing faith as “euphoric… I see in their eyes the truth of the story.” What story that is, I am not precisely sure, but it compelled me to roll my eyes. I have to imagine it had something to do with the truth of God, Jesus, redemption, etc. Why Miller is content with giving this as legitimate testimony is beyond me. These sorts of quaint, mystical, (in my opinion half-assed) explanations are the primary things that bothered me in this book. They are recurring and offer no merit to someone reading the book (such as myself) that doesn’t already share a similar worldview. They became increasingly vexatious to read as the book went on.
There were occasional spots of satire that made his views on God seem much more hip and even playful. He mocked the practice of stoning people to death in the book of Exodus, placing himself as a character in the Bible, a former slave, freed by Moses. His character complained to Moses, or as he called him, ‘Mosey’ that he was better off as a slave back in Egypt. There was obviously a message that followed from it, about being spoiled and selfish and untrue to God (more vagueness) but it was relieving, I must say, that he presented this sense of humor that is all-too-commonly lacking among religionists.
I am going to graze over the part that suggested people that commit atrocities in the name of God, or who simply claim to be Christians were not ‘true’ followers of Jesus. I don’t even like wasting my time refuting this, because it deeply upsets me. Downplaying violent acts that were committed for explicitly religious reasons is something that I simply will not accept. Page 119 provides some support for why he feels this way, but I disagree, one-hundred-percent, unambiguously.
Luckily, I can now discuss a small section of convivial understanding that has nothing to do with the subject of the book. I include this merely to show I do not feel straight antipathy for the man, nor do I hope it would seem that way otherwise. He briefly talked about his selfishness again, but he didn’t evoke any supernatural remedy at this point. He stated that he wanted a girlfriend, but not every day. Perhaps a strange place to find common ground, but I feel the same way. I enjoy the thought of romantic companionship, but I don’t want her to impede my personal studies, my reading time, etc. I agree, there is selfishness, but it’s something that we owe ourselves; alone time, serene isolation that allows us to conjure some of the best ideas we may ever have. This isn’t to say selfishness is a virtue, I wouldn’t say that, nor was that what Miller implied. In fact, he goes on to talk about the necessity of human interaction. This isn’t directly related to that humorous example, of which Miller and I are of one mind, but he described Hell as a place where you are forever isolated. Being alone forever is what he would call Hell. I don’t disagree with him, granting a loose definition of 'Hell' (not even getting into the eternal aspect). This depressing concept of forced isolation for as long as you live (or beyond) doesn’t need anyone dictating it so. I agree that it is rather tragic to imagine. I get much joy from discussing with people, both that agree with me and disagree. Debate is something I thrive on (although I prefer smaller amounts of people at one time). I found this description of Hell to be adequate, if unnecessary to actually call ‘Hell’ as opposed to, say ‘an extremely undesirable way to live’.
He ended chapter 17 entitled ‘Worship: The Mystical Wonder’ with that very chapter title phrased into an actual sentence. “I don’t think there is any better worship than wonder.” This chapter is only a few pages long, and it seems to be that it could only be that way because he was light on convincing explanations when it comes to the ‘wonder of God’. It brought up the expected idea of something greater than us had to create us, and that it is beyond our understanding. He doesn’t say that we should stop wondering, in fact he fully advocates wonder, but it’s only wonder for God that makes sense to him. Another thing that perplexes me about this take on things is that if you know you will never understand, why try to understand why you can never understand. There’s a paradox present here. What I take from this is something like this: Eternity can’t last forever. Does a statement like that even warrant the vainly spent mind-capacity to come up with it? If God is eternal, and eternity is something we can never comprehend, then why should we try to understand God? Can an eternal being really have personal relationships with temporal creatures such as us? I am not claiming that it is ridiculous to ponder, but if you are told to be satisfied with not understanding, then is wonder even the right word to describe your thought process thereafter? Another issue I have with this is that Miller almost seemed to be saying that if you don’t believe in God, you have no reason to find wonder in anything. He may be saying that if you have a sense of wonder, you’re worshiping God whether you like it or not, but I wouldn’t find that any more auspicious than the previous possibility.
In conclusion, I didn’t find any specific reason, or feel any specific feeling that changed my mind on theological or Christian matters (not to my surprise). While I enjoyed portions of the book and approved of some criticisms he had of religion, he still just ended up sounding like another person who claims to know what God truly wants, how His mind works and so forth while putting on a facade of humility that he can't understand God. All in all, Miller’s experiences and stories and explanations and conclusions all boil down to things he claims cannot truly be explained, they must be felt, yet he explained them as best he could, I suppose. He could have said that he wrote a book about how pointless it was to write a book about what he was writing about, namely Christian spirituality. His experiences and struggles in many aspects of his life are easy to relate to. They are things that we all deal with; vices, heartbreak, doubt, hopelessness, but there are many different ways to deal with them. I am not saying that Miller claims that his views on Christian Spirituality are the only way to go about things, but he certainly doesn’t provide the possibility of getting through ordeals, or strengthening relationships, or loving one another, or helping those less fortunate without the invocation of God. He wrote this book because these experiences helped him get closer to God and he thinks that perhaps it will help us get closer to God as well. He invites us to join in his euphoric view of the world (thanks for the offer). He honestly wishes for that to be the case, saying so at the end. I could talk at rather great length about this book, which says to me it was worth reading, and considering and there were some interesting perspectives that I always appreciate coming to understand better. However, I did not set it down feeling a desire to pray, or join a congregation of any sort, or seek out a spiritual identity that he seemed to hope some of his readers would realize they are lacking.