timeless truths

In high school English class, we learnt about the idea of a “classic” novel, and discussed what made something a “classic”. One characteristic that might not have stood out for me back then, but certainly stands out for me now, is the notion of “timelessness” — that a novel becomes a classic because it is timeless in its themes, ideas and moral messages.

Part of me thinks that it was probably a bit pointless for the teachers to discuss timelessness with teenagers. I mean, we weren’t daft, but we were young, and as much as we probably believed we knew everything about the world, there was undoubtedly a lot that we didn’t know the half of. Besides, even back then, there was a quick succession of crazes and fads and fashions — there’s not much appreciation of “timelessness” when one day everyone’s watching this show, and playing this game, and then next month these things are barely a memory.

Even so, I’d like to think that I had some grasp of this idea of “timelessness”. In high school, I began reading a lot of “classics”, particularly Charles Dickens. It was also during high school that I discovered I really like Jane Austen’s writing. To my younger self, these books were classics because they were beautifully written, the stories and characters were exquisitely constructed, and they were simply captivating. Then there is all the usual stuff about love and friendship and family — the things that people throughout history have always valued.

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war and peace and everything

I finished reading War and Peace on Tuesday (that’s more or less an entire year spent reading it). I then spent Tuesday night and the greater part of Wednesday alternately wondering how I was going to blog about it, and procrastinating from thinking about how to blog about it.

I typed out some notes and ideas on Tuesday that I could use as a starting point, or perhaps form into some sort of outline. But the more I thought about it on Wednesday, the more I felt like there was no real point in writing anything about something for which so much has already been written.

Yet, at the same time, I felt like there was so much that I wanted to write about.

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a simple life

When I read Anna Karenina, the character that stood out the most to me, and that had the most impact, apart from Anna Karenina herself, was Konstantin Dmitrich Levin. I think all of the characters were constructed and explored really well, but Levin in particular was given a lot of depth.

One of the main things I remember about Levin, even several years after reading the novel, is how, despite being a well-off landowner, Levin yearned for a simple life of honest labour. There is one part of the book where he helps his muzhiks with the harvest, wielding a scythe alongside them in his fields. To him, it was satisfying work, but not only in the physical sense of “a good day’s work”, but also in a psychological or spiritual sense.

I’ve heard that Levin was the character that Tolstoy most identified with, or that was most closely modelled on his own thoughts and beliefs. In War and Peace the equivalent most Tolstoy-esque character is Pierre Bezukhov. It is not surprising then, that this yearning for a simple and honest life is also experienced by Pierre.

[Warning: spoilers ahead. Please note, also, that I haven’t quite finished War and Peace yet, so please don’t spoil the ending for me.]

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the end of an epic

Last week-end, I finished playing Mass Effect 3. It is the final instalment in a trilogy of video games, which I would attempt to summarise here except that I’m not sure where to start, and I’m sure there are better explanations already on the internet. In basic terms, it’s a game in which you play as a character named Shepard, who has to save the galaxy from various evils.

It is very much like a “choose your own adventure” book but in game form — at various points in the game, you have to make decisions that will affect what happens next or what happens further along in the game. Even when your Shepard talks to other characters, you choose between different dialogue options to shape your character as more friendly (paragon) or mean (renegade). I suppose this makes it very easy to become personally invested in the game, as it feels like a unique experience shaped by your own choices, which are likely made based on what you would do if you were in Shepard’s situation. 

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disgruntled workers

A thought occurred to me earlier in the week: You can not get rid of disgruntled workers.

This could be taken two ways. The first, perhaps more obvious, is that no matter what employees come and go from a workplace, you will always have disgruntled workers. That is, there will always be people who are unhappy with the work and/or the workplace. It almost seems part of human nature to be constantly discontent at something (well, for some people, anyway).

As a colleague of mine once said, everyone wants the money, but no one wants to do the work. (He was exaggerating and oversimplifying, of course.)

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the outsider

Last week I finished reading The Outsider by Albert Camus. It’s quite a short novel (technically a novella?) but it took me a while to finish because I was reading it only occasionally when taking a break from War and Peace, or when I needed to take a book with me somewhere, and obviously W&P is too big to lug around (and I never got around to getting an e-book version of it).

I don’t often go for short books like this one — possibly because when I was a kid and progressed to longer chapter books, I formed in my mind the notion of the “ideal” size of a book, and constantly wanted to flex my reading muscles by tackling longer and longer novels. Possibly also I’ve had some bad experiences with novellas that left me feeling like it was a bit pointless. Contrary to popular opinion, I didn’t enjoy Catcher in the Rye at all, and I only have a vague memory of reading other novellas because I guess they just weren’t all that memorable.

But I’ve had The Outsider recommended to me a few times before, so I had to give it a go. Having finished it, I completely understand why people think this is the kind of story that I would like — it’s very thought-provoking, and is written in a very unique way, unlike anything else I’d read before.

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