On Reading and Books and Lost Potential and Ambien

I am planning to donate some books for a book sale fundraiser. I figured I would have plenty of books that I could get rid of. It turns out that I do. It also turns out that I can’t.

I have not actually read most of the books in my possession. I know there is little chance that I ever will read most of these books. Yet, I cling to this idea that someday I will feel compelled to read what I should’ve read years ago. I am talking about classic works of literature that I was supposed to have read in high school, but…did not. And then there are a bunch of books from college literature and psychology classes. It’s not that I didn’t read anything from them, but I know I fell woefully short in finishing whatever was required.

It would be one thing if I simply had no interest in the material. But I wanted to and still want to read these anthologies of short stories and poetry, these timeless books, these explorations of the human psyche…good stuff that still wish were absorbed into my neural connections. I’m too embarrassed to even name specific titles; they are not so important. More, it’s the idea of lost potential that I cannot move past. I try to imagine another parallel universe in which I was able to finish things, where I actually realized the aptitude I had years ago.

Over the years, I’d imagine that someday I might be laid up in bed, and I’d have nothing to do but read these old books. Well, I’ve been on dialysis for a year and a half. I was just out of work and mostly at home for a month. I’ve done a little reading, but I’d peg the percentage of free, waking hours that I’ve spent reading in the past month at about 0.5%.

There’s a couple of issues going on here. There’s the mental block that prevents me from becoming engaged in reading. Then there’s the need to hold on to these old books from my adolescence and early adulthood.

In my terribly unsuccessful attempts to meet someone via a dating website, my favorite profiles are typically of the women who like to read and read interesting stuff. They list their reading interests, presumably because they’d like a partner who either shares these interests or at least can appreciate them. Here is a glaring example of a way I could improve myself if I, presumably, wanted to, to make myself more appealing, and I just don’t do it. (There are about a dozen areas that cause me equal frustration, all with varying degrees of difficulty; getting into reading SEEMS like a fairly easy endeavor).

Why can I not be content to be home and spend an evening reading? Why must I obsessively click through a dozen Chrome tabs in search of some elusive epiphany? Furthermore, why must I do this well past midnight, when I know that my health demands that I get plenty of sleep? Heading to bed at 10 with a book and organically falling asleep seems like a good plan. I don’t follow that plan, though. Eventually, in my mental pacing, I pop an Ambien so I ensure that I will get to sleep before 12:30 or 1. This usually ensures I will sleep soundly for 6½ or 7 hours, but it also ensures I will have a horrible time waking up the next morning. I will start the day in a panic, trying to go through the routine of getting out of the house and on to work is as little time as possible.

On a tangent, the Ambien is what allows me to write this entry, however disjointed and directionless it might be. I rarely feel like I can lose my inhibitions about writing unless of under the influence of this sleep aid, which seems to lift an obstacle.

I’m quickly running out of juice. So, what books will I wind up donating? I won’t name those either, because their titles would upset die-had fans of the televisions shows that inspired them. Yes, I can part with pop-culture books that were made as compendiums to some other primary body of entertainment. I probably got them at a used bookstore because I thought they were cute, but I probably never read them and don’t see any loss to my intellect if I get rid of them now. But there aren’t too many of these. I am never going to attempt to reread Faust. And yet I still have the paperback. Maybe I’ll find the “Single and 30ish” Meetup group that specializes in re-reading 19th century morality plays.

I haven’t mentioned the big, old textbooks I still have. I have a 1200-page biology textbook from 1995. Why? Do I break it out to try to understand the behavior of the birds in the backyard? No. I tell myself, “I should know everything in that book”.

Take away all the books for which I did not read most of the pages, and my bookshelf is sparse, indeed.

Like many facts about myself, that I do not read very much is not ok. I’ll spare a list of 93 other things about myself that are not ok. This all points to a far more serious issue, that of my overall view of myself. I know full well that I will not attract the people into my life that I seek to attract as long as I am unable to change how I view myself. Or at least that’s what M says that Dr. G says, or something like that.

You cannot change what you attract in this world without changing how you see yourself.

I believe this is true, and thus, I feel an avalanche of pessimism burying me most days.

Living Room 2011.02.18
Living room (2011.02.18)
I don’t really know what this photo has to do with my writing, other than there being a bookcase in the background. This photo was meant for another post, where I’d talk about housecleaning, and the impossible battle to make my place comfortable. This is a “clean” Toastie living room, and yet what I see is years of wasted potential, past and future…

On Reading (brief)

image

I go to a bookstore, and I want to read EVERYTHING, but I wind up reading nothing. I’ve been afflicted by this condition for half of my life. It blows my mind how much I don’t know, but, also how much I have the power to know but avoid.

Best Novel of 2010

Well, I haven’t read it quite yet, but I’m sure it’s awesome, because it was written by acclaimed novelist and my internet friend Kristy Kiernan.

I am so honored that Kristy has included me in the Acknowledgement section of her book Between Friends.

Toastie blogger, kidney patient, and animal lover David S…

Some quotes from the book jacket:

Will leave readers of Jodi Picoult and Anita Shreve clamoring for more from this talented author.”
– Tasha Alexander, author of Tears of Pearl

Simply mesmerizing…expertly captures the unbreakable bond between sisters.”
– BookPage

Support Kristy and Toastie by picking up a copy here!

Thinking of buying an Amazon Kindle?

I have nothing to say about it…well, just that if you want to buy one, you should buy your Kindle through

THIS LINK


because Amazon really wants to sell Kindles, so they’re giving nice commissions to their associates, and well, frankly, if I just sell one1 Kindle, I can basically quit my job.

Newsweek has an article about the Kindle. While I have no doubt that text is very legible, and it’s a neat gadget, and I don’t quite get why you want a $400 gadget that is primarily meant just to read books with. Somehow, I imagine future Kindles will do more.

1 Ok, one thousand.

More on the end of faith

Ok, I’ll do this. I’ll write publicly about my thoughts on faith and belief. Life is short. I wasn’t reluctant to write more on this topic because of fear of offending. I was afraid that my remarks could hurt me down the road in a way I don’t expect. One day, if not already, it will be possible, I believe, to plug a screenname like davesleepswcats into a website and have advanced algorithms determine the owner’s actual identity. I mean, regardless of what types of precautions one takes to hide one’s identity, one need only drop a few accidental clues for a determined individual or algorithm to uncover it. Furthermore, one’s real name could be plugged in to reveal all of the various profiles he’s created over the years. I don’t think we’re at this point yet, I believe we’ll get there. So what I fear is trying to apply for a job a decade from now and not getting the job because an employer uncovers my old blog and sees that I have no respect for his religious beliefs.

But life is short. Paranoia keeps us from living our lives as we yearn to far too often. I’ll take this risk.

So I read The End of Faith by Sam Harris, and while I have never felt particularly insecure in being agnostic, I now feel it’s important to talk about why I’m agnostic. I think it’s important for me to speak of my contempt for religion. Agnostics are quiet, I think. At least I don’t know of much of a public agnostic movement in this country. I don’t think we ought to be quiet. It might be impossible, but religion as we know it will need to be radically transformed, if not eliminated, if the human race is to have much of a future. Faith has contributed to much of the horrific violence that has plagued humans for thousands of years. I’m not going to go through examples. This is just a fact. People argue that genocides like the Holocaust were not spearheaded by religious men. True, perhaps, but…Harris has a really good rebuttal for this, but I don’t remember it…. I’m not writing an editorial for the paper; I’m just blogging, and I’m the first to admit when my arguments are flawed or incomplete. Harris has an afterword in the edition I read in which he responds to all of the common criticisms he received. I was satisfied with his responses. Religion can be a powerful force for good, for bringing people together and helping others, but religion certainly isn’t necessary for benevolence and generosity to prosper.

No one truly knows what happens to you after you die, but that billions of people think they know is a source of so much that is wrong in the world. We demand evidence when sending someone to prison, committing troops to war (arguably), accepting a medical diagnosis, or believing a weather forecast. We don’t just learn that 2+2=4. We are taught concepts about the physical world that allow to understand why 2+2=4, and then we later accept as fact that 94834+84829=179663, and it’s not because we counted out 179663 M&Ms. But religious beliefs are accepted as fact without this evidence. They require one to believe that all that needs to be known about the world is contained in a book that the Creator authored. There is no evidence that an almighty deity wrote a book. It’s just believed because generations have passed this hearsay on for generations. Yes, but that’s what faith is, belief without evidence; billions of people alive today profess to faith-based knowledge. Yes, but over the last several thousand years, scientific evidence has debunked beliefs that were held by millions for thousands of years. We no longer give credence to the belief in the gods of the Greeks or the Romans or the Egyptians. We don’t believe you can save a soul from Satan by burning a body alive at the stake. We don’t believe that diseases are caused by demons, because we now know about bacteria and germs and viruses. But a vast amount of our scientific knowledge has only been discovered in the past couple of centuries. Isn’t reasonable to suspect that Christianity will ultimately go the way of the worship of Zeus? How is a person alive in 2006 better able to know that acceptance of Jesus is the path to salvation compared to a person alive in 2006 B.C., who prayed to a god to bring rain to grow the crops? In 2006 A.D., there are still people praying to a god for rain. Are they biologically inferior to Christians? Probably not. But they still believe that evil spirits are making the villagers sick; how silly! Why? Because we know scientifically that the bacteria in their drinking water is making them sick. But we ourselves didn’t know this 500 years ago. So why do we still see a book that’s been through thousands of different interpretations, edits, and revisions as the Truth?

That’s just a stream-of-consciousness bit of writing. There are far more articulate passages to be read than what I have written. If you’re skilled at debate, you’ll probably win if you disagree with me, or even if you feel like playing devil’s advocate. I’m not a good debater. I’m still quite ignorant about religions and what defines agnostics and atheists. Even though he probably agreed with most of my points, some ass in the agnostic LJ community I’m in enjoys tearing apart my semantic choices. I really don’t enjoy philosophy, but perhaps I need to study it some to be capable of elevating my level of discourse. I don’t know.

So I feel strongly about this stuff now. I used to regret that I didn’t have faith in my life. I’d see all of the benefits of faith–comfort in the face of adversity, community, a framework for moral and ethical conduct–and I’d want all of those things. I still do want all of those things, but I don’t think faith is necessary. For individuals, I appreciate it what it means in their lives. But for society, as a whole, I think faith is quite dangerous and responsible for far more injury than happiness.

The End of Faith

I’ve finished The End of Faith by Sam Harris, but I don’t know if I should publicly comment on my thoughts about it. I have plenty of thoughts, but this probably isn’t the best place for those. If anyone thinks they ought to read it based on what they know already, then I very highly recommend it.

librarything.com

Cool site for tracking books you’ve read or are in your library

I know some of you actually do read a lot. I don’t, but I’ve been trying. If you want to “friend” me or associate with me however they let you associate on this site (haven’t looked much into it yet), my username is davesleepswithcats

I still need to write about The World Is Flat, which I finished a couple of weeks ago. Currently reading The End of Faith by Sam Harris, which I would only recommend to those who consider themselves to be agnostic or atheist; otherwise you might be justified in being offended by much of its contents (from the little I’ve read so far).

Brick

Ben Folds Five’s “Brick” is about a couple dealing with abortion. Everyone knows that, right? I mean, the song came out nine years ago. I did not, not until yesterday. I was flipping through a book at Barnes & Noble called I Hate Myself and Want To Die, which muses on the most depressing songs ever (well, “bashes them” would be a more appropriate description).