Hubs was called on duty about 3 this morning. It wasn’t really a wake up call for me. I had mine a half an hour earlier when the kitten carried a straw upstairs and delivered it to my face. I prefer the bedside delivery of straws to those fuzzy toys that could be easily confused with tarantula in a semi-awake state. For me, it was an easy transition to the hasty rush of packing, feeding and delivering the husband for his next trip. And after it was all over, it didn’t make much sense to go back to bed. By 4am the birds have already started their dibs-fest over the pizza joint’s leaveovers. I got the major chores out of the way by 7 and realized I was looking ahead to almost 15 hours of reading light. God bless the scorching summer sun. I did what most normal humans do with a healthy amount of time and an inconceivable variety of reading options do…I stared at the wall.
Staring leads to unbidden thoughts about difficult problems facing the world. Staring is something everyone should be doing every once in a while. But in order to get a really good stare going, there has to be enough conflicting thought bouncing around in your breadpan to make it worth your while. About the best way to do this is to read. Sometimes really good literary fiction will spark a stare. But provocative and thoughtful non-fiction is usually your best bet. It is also a good idea to read outside your comfort zone.
For example, lets say you are an atheist who loves Christopher Hitchens. You probably know Hitchens thought Kissinger was a giant poopy-butt. You might have a general idea who Kissinger is and maybe why his butt is so poopy, but don’t really know a lot of about Kissinger. This is probably a good sign you should read Kissinger. World Order is a good place to realize that, for all his flaws, the man knew his shit. He just got too much on his bum for some to knowingly shake hands with him. But even Hills Clinton recommends his stuff. So if you plan on voting for her, it might be worth checking out the dude that inspires her thoughts on foreign policy. At the very least, you’ll have an idea what modern realists are talking about even if they haven’t read Kissinger either.
The thing to remember is that no one thinker/writer/personality has to be 100% perfect in every aspect of their life to be considered worthy of speaking the truth once in a while. Churchill was kind of a dickhole about women’s rights in his time, but it doesn’t wipe out his entire legitimacy on every other thing he ever did. And you don’t have to agree with what you read either. But a good stare should at least have you thinking about why you think you are right or maybe stirring in a little shadow of a doubt. Doubt is what makes us reasonable creatures. Knowing the weakness of our own ideals doesn’t admit failure, it just doesn’t omit improvement.
Here is a quick test to determine if you might need a good stare:
If you can say, quickly and without a doubt, what political party you identify with, you are in desperate need of some good stare material.
Here are some of my favorite stare-worthy works:
Tribe by Sebastian Junger – I just finished this one and it is above and beyond stare-quality work. He tears apart the notion of American individualism and explores the idea of community purpose as the means to individual growth. He will likely joggle your boggle at some point showing that both Republicans and Democrats are right at the same time. If that doesn’t sprinkle your sparkle, I don’t know what will.
Candide by Voltaire – This is my go-to grey matter scrambler. Voltaire does to optimists what the Marquis de Sade did to characters with any sense of chastity.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin – Reading both really does feel like a timeline of American racism internalized and presented forward to the next generation. These books were part of my education on how mostly delusional we are in building our false dreams on a dishonest history.
The True Believer by Eric Hoffer – Recommended strongly for 2016 election. In lieu of analysis, direct quotes:
“The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.”
“If free enterprise becomes a proselytizing holy cause, it will be a sign that its workability and advantages have ceased to be self-evident.”
Also, tentatively recommended is a current read and anniversary present, The Rise and Fall of American Growth by Robert Gordon. It is shaping up to be a raisin box shaker. But its a bit of a door stop, so it will take me a while to say so conclusively.
There are so many good noodle disrupting books out there. All you have to do is ask your friends what book really screwed with their heads to find them.