Weekly Musings 100

Welcome to this edition of Weekly Musings, where each week I share some thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days.

This time 'round, I'm going back to a subject that I've written about in the past: reading. This week's musing was inspired by something I read. How circular ...

With that out of the way, let's get to this week's musing.

On the Effects That Books Have On Us

Did you know that singer Iggy Pop wrote an article for a scholarly journal? Until recently, neither did I. The year: 1995. The journal: Classics Ireland. The title of that article: “Caesar Lives”.

Pop's article was a three-page examination of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon. While the article didn't offer any deep insights into Gibbon's masterwork, it did offer a few insights into how the book affected Iggy Pop both as a person and as an artist.

That's what the right book can do to us. To any of us. Whether a printed or electronic tome, there's something out there in the form of a book that can shake us. That can shape us. That can move us beyond our cramped boxes of our experience and our thinking. That can take us to new places, intellectually and spiritually, no matter where we are in our lives. And it can happen with the books that you least expect.

From my late teens to my late 20s, I found that I couldn't live without three books: Gravity's Rainbow, Walden, Or Life in the Woods, and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. A motley collection of writing, to be sure. And I always seemed to wind up with multiple copies of those books. Each of those books, though, provided me with hours of entertainment and provoked more than a few thoughts.

Pynchon's novel showed me that an author could take the fantastical, the actual, the fictional, and the downright weird and press them together to craft an engaging story. Thoreau's treatise made me realize how a simple life could be fulfilling and think deeply about minimalism, long before the concept was hijacked by one-upping hipsters. Carroll's story, ostensibly for children, showed me the absurdities of systems — political, educational, class, and others.

As I grew older, I changed. In the intervening years, few books came close to having the kind of impact that those three books had on me. Close, but not quite.

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