Beowabbit (beowabbit) wrote,


So a while back I said I wanted to post about what I was reading. That includes two related books. One of them is my father’s modestly titled book Luxury: The Concept in Western Thought, Eden to Smollett. That was my father’s first book, an expansion of his PhD dissertation. His basic thesis is that during the eighteenth century the idea of luxury underwent a major shift to turn into the modern idea (which makes it basically a sin of the wealthy and powerful). Prior to that time, according to my father, the idea of luxury retained its classical meaning of wanting (or having) above your station. That meant, of course, that it was as much or not more a sin of the poor, who had so much above them that they could aspire to.

He looks at this idea through the lens of Tobias Smollett’s last novel, Humphry Clinker, which he sees as in some ways the last gasp of the older, traditional conception of luxury, and so I’m reading that simultaneously (on my new Nokia 770, which has a great screen for reading ebooks) I love reading books (fiction or nonfiction) that come out of a very different time from my own, and always have. It’s a liberating experience to realize that a couple hundred years ago (or a couple thousand miles away) the basic assumptions people took for granted about their universe (especially their social universe) were very different from the basic assumptions that the people around you take for granted. I think that’s part of why as a child I was always asking myself why the human world around me worked the way it did. (That was my mother’s attitude, too, and I’m sure I picked at least as much of it up from her as from books. But having concrete examples that showed that the way my culture did things wasn’t the only way to do them was pretty powerful.)

Anyway, my father’s book is interesting (if not exactly a gripping page-turner), and it’s an interesting and pleasant (if odd) experience to hear the voice in my head of a man who’s been dead for almost ten years while I read his words. (I heard him give a fair amount of lectures on similar topics, so it’s easy for me to imagine.) It kind of makes me want to write things that will be read after I’m gone. Some people’s meaningful lives are hundreds of years longer than others’, and that kind of immortality, while rare, is relatively cheap. On the other hand, I also feel that I’ll live on for a long time in my influence on the people in my life and their communities; it doesn’t necessarily have to be ink on paper. I just like the kind of communing with authors long dead (or recently dead, or even still living) that I do as a reader, and it would tickle me to think that I might be a part of that experience for other people.

(I’m also reading Stop Walking on Eggshells, a book on borderline personality disorder (BPD) that a friend of mine who used to be a therapist mentioned. It's pretty good, although not well-written, and since almost everybody has some borderline-like traits in relatiosnips, it’s one of those books that strikes me as worth reading just for the perspective on healthy relationships that you can get from reading about unhealthy ones. I wouldn’t be reading three books at once, but this one is from the library and I have to get it back soon.)
Tags: books, family, history, important, me, my personal history

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