So here’s how it works. My mom racked up points on her borders rewards card, so they give her $20 to spend at borders. They closed down the borders in Paducah so she sent me the coupon. Therefore I’ve spent the last two days before work at borders – hunting.
On Friday, I happened upon a collection of stories by Николай Гогол (Gogol). Three years ago I forced my brother and my friend Amanda to drive to Salt Lake with me to see a movie, an adaptation of a recent best seller called, “The Namesake”. In the movie the main character is named Gogol after the Russian author, the father had been given a copy of Gogol’s works and for some reason it became significant to him, hence…the namesake. At one point the father tells his son, “[In a way we all came out of Gogol’s overcoat.]” I’ve wanted since then to read that short story so that I could better understand the allusion. So I read it on Friday, and I didn’t get it. I just read an analysis of the story and possibly the overcoat is a symbol for human compassion and mercy, something we all need but frequently deny our fellow men. I like the theme, I feel like the story missed the mark for me. Maybe because the book was written for a specific audience, maybe it would be more meaningful if I lived in Russia at the time the book was written.
Then I went back on Saturday and got stuck reading a book by one of my favorite memoirists David Sedaris. I quit reading his work when it started to get a little…crude. But he’s just recently put out a new book, so I read a chapter. It was a chapter about buying gifts for his boyfriend. It was funny because he tapped into an element of human experience that transcends the orientation of a relationship, how to buy the perfect gift. My favorite line, he referred to buying a gift like, “a book about how to lose 12 pounds by just being yourself” Anyway, I read the chapter and I laughed and I put the book back on the shelf. Then came this overwhelming sense of disappointment. THIS is what people worship. Intellect, Wit, Sophistication, Modernity, Inconclusive observation. I couldn’t enjoy it for two minutes before this “new” part of me chimed in, “He’s just a man. Probably a man with an overinflated ego. He is so self consumed, to him, his experience is definititive and paramount.” I say new because, before in my life, where I now respond so cynically I would have been charmed.
Anyone can write a book. Just because someone wrote it doesn’t make it true nor does it make it good. To Kill a Mockingbird is a great story about the need for human compassion and mercy, I think I prefer it to the overcoat because in Mockingbird, compassion and mercy are ultimately given and expressed (i.e. semi-happy ending) where-in, the overcoat compassion and mercy are denied, (i.e. unhappy ending-but not poignantly or disturbingly unhappy it’s emotionally ineffective))
You don’t have to respond but I wonder, what in your opinion is the best book that addresses this theme: the need for human (not just divine) compassion and understanding? Minus, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Overcoat, and Charles Dickens. Also how am I supposed to have compassion and understanding enough to enjoy the talent of a megalomaniac?