01 November 2007

Two Books I Finished Last Night

Gefährliche Geliebte. Last night, I read the last page of Gefährliche Geliebt, the German translation of Haruki Murakami's 7th novel, in English titled South of the Border, West of the Sun, and closed the book with satisfaction. I like it so much that I have read it before, and I don't doubt I'll read it again. However, I don't see any reason to summarize it here. If you're looking for a compelling read, go and get this book. It's sad, at times almost unbearably so, but it will almost surely make you feel better about your own life.

Stumbling on Happiness The other book I finished last night is Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness. It's kind of the non-fiction version of the Murakami's thesis: a point by point rebuttal of the idea that happiness is attainable. Gilbert has assembled an astonishingly well-referenced theory about why it's so hard for people to plan themselves into a future they are satisfied with. He talks about the odd behaviors people consistently have, that always seem like a good idea at the time, but ultimately lead to dissatisfaction. Some of these are very interesting, such as the inability people apparently have, to correctly gauge their own reactions to events, and some intriguing examples of the long term effects of the notoriously inaccurate human memory.

This isn't a self-help book; it's not about How To Be Happy. This is simply an analysis of why it sometimes seems so freaking hard to be happy, no matter how much time you spend on it. The conclusion I have come to is that this undermining behavior is probably for the best. Dissatisfaction keeps us going, it gives us something to do after the thing we're doing now. And, besides that, actually being happy seems to be more a matter of actually noticing when that's going on, than it is about planning or execution of plans.

I do recommend this book if you're the kind of person who has wondered what the hell everyone's problem is, and why it's SO hard to just be content. This isn't necessarily the whole story, but it certainly is an interesting and fairly well-written part of it. My only complaint is that there were more than a few moments where I read a sentence or two, and thought, "My god, you ARE a smarmy bastard, aren't you?" I have nothing against smarmy bastards, of course, but when I'm reading a book, I'd rather be engaged with the book than the author, if you see what I mean.

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