The Selfish Gene

In the beginning was simplicity.

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The Selfish Gene made me feel funny feelings about being alive. It’s nice to think of yourself as a vehicle for a million-year old replicator gene to drive around in and I find the theory that we’ve arisen from such humble beginnings to such unthinkable complexity to be weirdly self-affirming.

We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators..

George Saunders once wrote that stories are black boxes where the reader enters in one state of mind and exits in another, and that rings true to me for The Selfish Gene. I didn’t think I would finish reading it, let alone learn so much out of it and enjoy that feeling that you’ve become a slightly different version of yourself after the fact. It’s very cool.

Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are all born selfish.

This is all because of Richard Dawkins, of course. What a marvellous story-teller – he is wonderfully attuned to the voice and shape of his theories, and those of others which he built his gene-centric theory from. He writes with such cadence and uses accessible metaphors to teach laymen what we need to know, what we want to know and he makes each chapter truly a world in itself. I loved this book and can’t wait to read more non-fiction books that are as good as this.

p.s.

I’ve had this in my Drafts for about two years. I read this book in 2013.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

What an experience this book has been. The few pages packed a punch.

I was on a Holocaust literature phase (after The Book Thief) and was looking for book recommendations that was “non-fiction but not pedantic.” I was thinking of reading something that would explain Anti-Semitism because it’s inconceivable to me how Jews seem to be hated so much that their existence has been reduced to mere prisoner numbers. I did not learn any of those in this book but I do not regret picking up this gem.

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Man’s Search for Meaning is a memoir by Victor Frankl in the point of view of being both a victim of concentration camps and as a psychologist. He describes, in profound yet accessible terms, his psychological interpretation of man’s spiritual survival in seemingly unsurvivable circumstances. It’s a first-hand account of the hardships and apparent hopelessness of life as a prisoner where bodies that cannot be utilized head straight to gas chambers, and those who can still be used are exploited with the least care and concern until death, for many, and liberation, for the lucky few.

He also talks about logotherapy – a new school of thought that treats man’s existential vaccuum by spinning the view of the world from one with no hope into one that has meaning. He asserts that even if we come to unexpected conditions we have no control over, we still have a choice. What we become, within the limits of the environment which we are thrust upon, we have made out of ourselves. We can still say “yes” to life in spite of tragedies – pain, guilt, and death. Life can still be meaningful under any conditions and that the “Man who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

So yes, that was it. Man’s Search for Meaning is not the book I wanted to read, but I’m glad I took a chance with it. Life is funny like that. It’s like the T.A.R.D.I.S. – it doesn’t always take me where I w
ant to go, but it always took me where I needed to be.

How Reading Changed My Life

ImageI breezed through this beautiful love letter to books and reading today. It’s a wonderful chronicle of Anna Quindlen’s childhood of reading and how wonderful it made her feel all her life.

I first stumbled across this while looking for inspiration for The Book Experience. I found some pretty memorable quotes about the power of words and the strength a reader finds in reading and the sense of special connection with characters that come alive in books.

She mentions some of my own childhood favorites – A Wrinkle in Time, most prominently, and how, even amidst happiness in family and apparent satisfaction she found in her childhood home, she’d rather spend her days isolated in a room with a book in hand. It reminded me so much of my younger self, and made me feel less odd for wanting to read books rather than go outside and play.

I cannot speak for non-readers (as I have been a reader all my life) but this is a wonderful little gem for bibliophiles – this tiny book praises the potency of reading and assures us solitary book lovers that we may be islands but we are made less lonely by words.

Anna Quindlen talks about how reading has always been her home, her sustenance, her great invincible companion, and I realized that it was mine too.

Favorite quotes below:

I did not read from a sense of superiority or advancement, or even learning. I read because I loved it more than any other activity on earth.

I am surrounded by words that tell me who I am, why I feel what I feel. Or maybe they just help me while away the hours as the rain pounds down on the porch roof, taking me away from the gloom and on to somewhere sunny, somewhere else.

Part of the great wonder of reading is that is has the ability to make human beings feel more connected to one another…

Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.