Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (free at Feedbooks) is a beautiful novel (originally written in German) about an Indian boy named Siddhartha, who seeks enlightenment. It follows him as he leaves his father, a Brahman, to join ascetics. He later meets Buddha, goes on to the city and learns the secrets of love-making with a courtesan who loves him, then leaves her only to find she gave birth to his son.
While I really don’t know too much about Buddhism, I loved the idea of the totality of your experiences being the true nirvana, rather than separate, distinct events. It was all written very beautifully:
And this is now a teaching you will laugh about: love, oh Govinda, seems to me to be the most important thing of all. To thoroughly understand the world, to explain it, to despise it, may be the thing great thinkers do. But I’m only interested in being able to love the world, not to despise it, not to hate it and me, to be able to look upon it and me and all beings with love and admiration and great respect.
I forgot to do a write-up about The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (free at Feedbooks)! It was a really fabulous read. It’s about an expedition to a virtually isolated plateau in South America which boasts species which never went extinct or evolved separately from the rest of the world. If you’ve seen the recent Pixar movie Up, a lot of it will sound familiar to you. Like in Up, the basic premise is that there’s this extremely famous scientist – Professor Challenger in Lost World – who brings back a completely unimaginable specimen from South America, but everyone calls him a fraud, driving him to go back at his own peril to prove himself. And of course, this scientist is just a bit (or a lot) mad and has this fantastic temper which makes this months-long journey even more difficult for everyone involved.
Professor Challenger said this and actually made me laugh out loud, so of course I’m going to share it with everyone:
From henceforth I take command of this expedition, and I must ask you to complete your preparations to-night, so that we may be able to make an early start in the morning. My time is of value, and the same thing may be said, no doubt, in a lesser degree of your own.
The Arabian Nights by Andrew Lang (free at Feedbooks) is a collection/re-telling of ancient Arabian stories. Perhaps most famous of the many stories is that of Aladdin, which let me tell you, is NOTHING like the Disney movie we all know and love. Of course it’s still lovely and culturally significant and everything, but do NOT expect some sweet story about a princess demanding her right to marry for love, or a cuddly fez-wearing monkey, or Robin Williams as genie.
I finally finished The Legends of King Arthur & His Knights by Sir James Knowles (free at ManyBooks). Now from what I’ve read it seems that Sir Thomas Malory’s Arthur legends are some of the earliest, being written in the 15th century, or otherwise simply the most famous, but I like Sir Knowles’ (mid to late 19th century) because it’s much easier to read and seems to flow better. Anyway, no matter who wrote it it’s still really incredibly violent and sexist! Although I’m not here to judge; I am completely willing to acknowledge that it was a different era and it was perfectly normal to have two knights fight to “prove” whether your wife was innocent, and to burn her to death if her knight loses… I especially liked how often the description of cleaving someone straight down the head to his torso came up during battle.
As always, I still loved the story of Tristan and Isolde best (spelled Tristram and Isoulde in this version). So sad!
Oh, and I know it’s immature but I couldn’t help but imagine the events unfolding as they did in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Sorry. Just can’t resist the Black Knight… I’ll bite your legs off!
The Prophet by Khalil Gibran (free at Feedbooks) is a beautiful, short piece consisting of 26 poems about various subjects. The prophet al-Mustafa is about to board a ship to return to his homeland after twelve years. But it seems he has had a great effect on the people of Orphalese, as they ask him for one last time to speak to them of life. It’s all very beautifully told:
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself. Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;For love is sufficient unto love. When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.” And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course. Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself. But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires: To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. To know the pain of too much tenderness. To be wounded by your own understanding of love; And to bleed willingly and joyfully. To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving; To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy; To return home at eventide with gratitude; And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.
You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill? Seek him always with hours to live.
You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts; And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime. And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered. For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly.
Of time you would make a stream upon whose bank you would sit and watch its flowing. Yet the timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness, And knows that yesterday is but to-day’s memory and to-morrow is to-day’s dream.
I finally got around to reading The Art of War by Sun Tzu (free at Feedbooks) even though a copy had been sitting in my bathroom for probably years now. Although now that I think about it, I’m not much of a bathroom-reader. But maybe I should be? Think of all those minutes wasted not reading…
Art of War did not disappoint. It’s amazing how a Chinese military treatise from the sixth century B.C. still sounds absolutely relevant and wise. And not only that, it’s applicable to so many aspects of life, particularly business or even just general life goal-setting.
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain.
I did find it interesting that an entire chapter (the last) was devoted to the use of spies. Today, as far as I know and with the exception of literature/films, espionage is for the most part looked down upon and/or illegal.
Finally finished reading The Food of the Gods and How It Came To Earth (free at Feedbooks). It’s one of H.G. Wells’ lesser known works about two scientists who develop a so-called “food of the gods” that makes living creatures gigantic! It starts out being quite cute with giant baby chicks, but it quickly contaminates other flora and fauna, including rats, vines, and eventually people.
Then the book quickly turned into obvious political commentary about the state trying to repress minorities and all that. I have to be honest, I’m not terribly interested in political theory and thought Wells kind of overdid it in Food of the Gods. Still an interesting premise though.