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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Lists, Cafes, Synergies

The NY Times "100 Notable Books Of The Year" is a list that reminds me how time zips by. This year I didn't read a single novel of the fifty from that list. There are two - "The Nix" (Nathan Hill) and "Nutshell" (Ian McEwan) -  that will be moved up on my own list now that the Times has endorsed them. Both had been previously recommended to me by my reading posse; that's some group, right?

At least I got to two the Times featured on the non-fiction side. "When Breath Becomes Air" by Paul Kalanithi was the subject of my August 9 post. Not a happy book but clearly a notable one. And most recently, I was enchanted by the company "At The Existentialist Cafe" (Sarah Bakewell). I picked up Bakewell's latest book based on loving "How To Live", her 2010 biography of Michel Montaigne.

"Ideas are interesting, but people are vastly more so." That sentence seems to shape Bakewell's writing approach. Just as in the Montaigne book, "...Café" is an educational but lively romp with people at the center. In this book, she showcases the thinkers who informed and then shaped what became known as existentialism. And in a wild coincidence, at the same time I happened to be reading Bakewell's account of Martin Heidegger, Jean Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus, I had reached the point in a Great Courses series on philosophy where I was listening to lectures on the same three giants! Did this visual/auditory synergy make Heidegger's dense writing more comprehensible to me? If only. 

Still, the eye to ear repetition of parallel information can only be good for my brain. Bakewell saves her highest praise for Simone DeBeauvoir, Sartre's lifelong intellectual companion. I was tempted to add DeBeauvoir's magnum opus "The Second Sex" to my reading list after finishing "...Café" until that damn NY Times list came out.


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