Alexander the Exceptional

It’s been a while since I posted about my reading because of my son’s birth and all the complexities that come with a newborn. However, there is no need to panic because I am still keeping up with my daily page goals. My current project is Tackle the Library – Aristotle – the completion date is scheduled for June 12th. Aristotle is the peanut butter to the jelly of Plato – both philosophers form the bedrock of Western thought. To better understand Aristotle, it is essential to decipher his teachings within the context of ancient culture. One way of understanding that context was through my most recent book – Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman. Alexander the Great was the student of Aristotle for three years, and during that time he learned about medicine, philosophy, morals, religion, logic, and art; a breadth of study that led him to be one of the greatest kings of all time.

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Alexander was born in 356 BC to the then Macedonian ruler, King Philip. Macedonia was a northern state of the Greek peninsula and was looked down upon by the more cultured city of Athens. King Philip expanded his territory through an advanced fighting force and paved the way for his son’s conquests. Alexander took over the throne at age 20 after his father was assassinated by a jealous male lover. The young king quickly consolidated his control of Greece and went eastward to conquer the hated Persians. Over the next ten years, Alexander traveled 11,000 miles and established the largest empire up until that point in history; at only 30 years old, he ruled the entire world from Egypt to India.

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All good things must come to an end – at 32, Alexander mysteriously died; some say it was poison while others say it was from natural illness. The death of Alexander led to the eventual decline of the Macedonian empire. Aristotle was eventually pushed out of Athenian society because of his former history with the great king. I marvel at the life of Alexander the Great because he was mature beyond his years. At 25, my average day entailed Facebook and TV. At 25, Alexander’s average day entailed riding a horse into battle and leading thousands of men to victory. I believe Aristotle played a vital role in the great king’s success; throughout Alexander’s campaign, he was concerned with the central tenets of Aristotle’s teachings: political justice, virtue, ethical leadership, and philosophical contemplation. Alexander’s success led to the founding of Alexandria in Egypt – the city became the epicenter of culture and intellectualism in the ancient world.

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For me, the story of Alexander and Aristotle points to one fundamental fact: Mentors and teachers make a big difference in a person’s life, no matter the age. I’m sure we can all think of that favorite teacher from long ago; my favorite teacher fostered a love of writing. What we must ask ourselves is whether we are a mentor in someone’s life right now? Are we passing the baton on to the next generation? Are we equipping our friends and family to live the best lives possible? How are we fostering the future Alexander the Great or even the next Alexander the Exceptional? Like the lighthouse of Alexandria and the great philosopher Aristotle, be a beacon of wisdom for the world.

 

Baby Mathematics

*Pictures Below*

Teddy is officially one month old! I would like to say that this month flew by because of sheer joy…but the truth is far more complicated. My son is a normal baby and hence requires a lot of attention, food, and diaper changes. Added to this “normal” baby workload is the fact that Teddy needs supplemental formula. During the first three weeks, we had to bird-feed him through a special syringe because we were told bottle feeding would confuse his tiny brain – apparently, the nipple on a bottle is different than my wife’s nipple. After several exhausting nights, we gave up on the arduous procedure of the syringe and went against the better judgment of the breastfeeding police. We gave him a bottle and it took him about 1 second to figure it out. The bottle along with breastfeeding helped Teddy gain 3 pounds within two weeks and helped us get some well-needed rest. I once took a class in “Animal Behavior” while getting my Biology degree – I think more than anything else, that class has gotten me through the past month. My son, for all intents and purposes, is like a little puppy right now. He doesn’t have any rational thought or reasoning – my  Chihuahua has a leg up on him at this point in time. It sounds harsh to say, but it is the truth – all babies start at the bottom of the IQ animal totem pole.

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There are three significant things babies want throughout the day: food, comfort, and security. The first two needs are pretty easy to figure out as a parent – feed the baby every couple of hours and change the diaper. The last need is what requires some knowledge of animal behavior. Teddy is very good at crying and grunting so that he will be held and feel secure. Unfortunately for Teddy, we both need sleep. When we lay him in the crib he grunts almost constantly, and after a month, I have deciphered the meaning of those grunts. A single grunt within a 10-minute timespan means he is dreaming of breasts. A double grunt within a 5-minute timespan means he is farting, pooping, or dreaming of a field of breasts. A triple grunt within a 2-minute timespan means he is about to wake up and cry for my wife’s breasts. Hence, instead of rushing to comfort him at every grunt, I now have a fickle system of baby mathematics.

For matters other than grunting, we took Teddy in for professional pictures, and I am proud to post them below. The photo shoot was exhausting, and I commend the photographer for her patience – Teddy feigned sleep like a cocaine addict on the first of the month. He is scheduled for more pictures at 3, 6, 9, and 12 months…please keep us in your prayers.

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A Hard Look in the Mirror

Everything is going great in the Oldham household. Christina and I are getting into a better sleep cycle after a lot of trial and error – we discovered that Teddy only enjoys resting on top of luxurious pillows. It feels weird being a dad but I am slowly figuring out my role; every morning I rock Teddy and listen to audiobooks – probably the best way to put a person to sleep. I thought that my reading goals would be threatened with a new baby, but I am getting back to my normal pace. My most recent book was What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars by Jim Paul and Brendan Moynihan. This is a different book for me, but it was recommended by one of my favorite philosophers as one of the few non-charlatanic finance books. Essentially, those who are wealthy become wealthy through some combination of luck and skill. Some work harder than others while some get luckier than others. In all scenarios, there is a degree of egotism that impacts risk-taking. For example, take a trader who is having the year of his life. His trades never go wrong and he begins to feel more confident with his “patented strategies.” These strategies lead him to the deal of the century and he puts all his resources into one basket. Unsurprisingly, when the deal goes south, the trader convinces himself that he is right and everyone else is wrong – the final result is ruin and humility.

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I want to extrapolate this scenario to all walks of life. Have you ever continued in a bad situation because of blind rationalization? Have you ever disregarded sound advice? Have you ever been too stubborn to admit defeat? I can say yes to all three. We are very good at subjectivism. Subjectivism is a flawed philosophy that argues that the “good life” is whatever an individual perceives as “good.” Put in another way, if I believe the best life is one of hoarding cat poop, then that is the best life, and no one can tell me otherwise. Subjectivism makes it very difficult for us to see that we are in a bad situation and we need to redirect. How can we fight this mental entrapment? I believe the quickest way to redirection is through prayer and advice. Seek out wisdom and you will find wisdom – if the advice is hard to hear then you are in the right spot; true loved ones will not enable you and they will help you see alternative perspectives. Don’t surround yourself by “Yes Men” – agreeance is only reasonable to a certain extent. The most successful people in the world are successful because of their luck, their hard work, and their ability to take criticism. There are much worse things to lose than a million dollars – a subjective life can lead to abusive relationships, anxiety, and a sense of isolation. Pray to God for truth, call that friend up who tells it how it is, and give yourself a long look in the mirror.

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Without Further Adieu…My Son!

Last week, January 5th at 2:40 in the morning, Theodore Wallace Reynaldo Oldham came into the world. He weighed 6 pounds 6 ounces and measured 20 inches in length. These stats pale in comparison to the circumference of his head – 13 inches. Christina had to push that dome through her pelvis!!! Let’s go back in time before this herculean feat to fully grasp the immensity of her labor. The date was January 4th, and my wife was very pregnant; a state of pregnancy that requires not only a pregnancy pillow but also regular back massages, pep talks, and trips to the bathroom. There is a joke that fits Christina’s state of mind at this point…

How many days are there in a month?

Each month has an average of 30-31 days, except the last month of pregnancy, which has 5,489,234.

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In short, she was ready for Teddy to come out. Her readiness escalated on January 3rd when we went to her OB appointment and found out that she was already 5 cm dilated. Later that day, we went to the hospital because we thought her water broke. She wasn’t having intense contractions, but we wanted to be cautious – after three hours and Christina’s only complaint being chapped lips – we were sent home. The next day, January 4th, Christina was off work and tried everything possible to induce labor. The morning entailed three hours of bouncing on a yoga ball. The afternoon entailed a nice walk outdoors. The evening entailed a spicy burrito at our favorite Mexican restaurant. There was no progression, and by the time I went to sleep at 10 PM, there were no signs of labor. Now I want to be honest and give you guys the real story – the story that gets censured in polite conversation. When I went to sleep, I prayed to God that if He thought it best, we would have sex to induce labor. You may be wondering why I would pray this odd prayer. Without going into to much detail, our sex life at this point was far from honeymoon status. I was scared to death of poking Teddy in the head, and Christina felt the opposite of attractive.

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Hence the prayer and the unlikelihood of us having intercourse the night of January 4th. Yet something strange happened. I woke up at midnight because I was restless and decided to hit the bathroom. Before going back to sleep, I noticed Christina was still up watching TV. Our eyes met, and something clicked in our loins – the dirty commenced like we were fresh fawns in a field. Immediately afterward, and I mean immediately afterward, Christina went into full blown labor! She had contractions that bent her body in half, and she felt a strong urge to push. I told her to push on the toilet, and we waited to see if the contractions would abate – they got stronger, and her water conveniently broke. By that point it was 12:45 AM and we rushed to the hospital. At 1:00 AM I dropped her off at the Emergency Department, and a tech wheeled her to the labor and delivery floor – when I say wheeled I mean he ran like hell through the hospital. I parked the car, and by the time I got to the room it was 1:15 am. The nurse checked her cervix, and she was 8 centimeters dilated. Contractions were getting worse, and because her dilation was so advanced, there was no time for pain medications. At 1:30 AM, Christina was notified that she would have to go through a natural labor. When I told her to embrace the pain, she looked at me like our marriage was on the line. The contractions continued to worsen, and she got on her knees to relieve the pain. By 2:15 AM the doctor was in a position to catch the baby – his head kept prairie dogging. Chistina looked exhausted, and her face had broken blood vessels from all the pushing. By 2:35 AM she was about to give up – another contraction was out of the question. I tried to coach her. I tried to relieve her pain. I tried to videotape.

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The final contraction came, and with all her might Christina pushed out the behemoth 13-inch head. Teddy slid into the world crying and needing a hair cut. Both Christina and Teddy came out healthy; Christina had to be stitched up but she is healing nicely, and now she has a war story to tell. Teddy lost 20% of his body weight after two days but is now back to his birth weight after 24 hours of constant feeding. I am so proud of my wife and new family. My son is beautiful, and I am thankful to God for answering all of my prayers :). I am tired, and I apologize for the delayed post – my writing feels a little choppy but bear with me – we’ll have many more refined Teddy posts in the future.

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It’s Finally Here

I must admit that I titled this post vaguely to get more views. Teddy is not here yet, but Christina is having contractions – as of last Thursday, she was 2 centimeters dilated. Today I am excited to announce the publication of Tackle the Library – Indian Independence. This is my third book in the series and by far the best one yet. The description is below…

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August 15th, 1947 marked the first day of independence for one-fifth of the world’s population. Independence from Britain in India and Pakistan directly impacted the lives of 400 million people – but that freedom morphed into migration, murder, and mayhem. This historic event is presented for the first time from beginning to end. Starting in ancient India and ending in our current times – Indian Independence is given its due breadth and required context that is often missing in previous works. Topics include:

• India before the British
• The British expansion into India
• The 1857 Rebellion
• Gandhi, Jinnah, Nehru, and Mountbatten
• British Racialism
• The Rise of Hindu Nationalism
• The Cause of the Hindu-Muslim Divide
• The Impact of Partition
• Maps Illustrating the Changing Face of India over Three Centuries

The Tackle the Library series (previous topics include Plato and The French Revolution) takes the top five books on a subject and turns them into a cohesive story that is not only interesting to read but highly informative. These are concise artisanal books served in small batches and written by yours truly – not a third party ghostwriter. No other book explains so much while remaining something you can read in a single weekend. So stop staring at that dusty shelf of textbooks in the library and crack open a book that will feed your curiosity.

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I am offering a free download to all my readers today and tomorrow (you can click on any of the hyperlinks to reach the site). Please check it out and leave a review. I also wanted to thank all my readers for supporting me throughout 2018. Posts will resume on a weekly basis in 2019, and I will be publishing my first ever novel in March – American Chestnut. The fourth installment of Tackle the Library is already underway, and by June you will get to read about Aristotle. Let’s raise a glass to the new year and my future son. Thank you again for reading and joining me on this journey of wisdom.

Pregnancy Update – The Final Countdown

Christina is now 9 months pregnant! Our house is filled with baby stuff, and I don’t know what to do with half of it. We have a panoply of beds for Teddy to sleep in: a crib in the main room, a portable crib in the living room, a baby rocker, a baby crawler, a play mat, and a bathtub sleeper. I’m jealous of my son’s sleep options and I wish I would have taken more advantage of my infancy. It is a cruel joke that we don’t remember the best years of our life; the years when all we had to do was eat, sleep, and poop. The last main obstacle before he comes is figuring out the cloth diapers. I am both a philosopher and a cheapskate. My budget requires reusable diapers and hence a firm relationship with poop. People give me a lot of advice in respects to cloth diapers.

  • “They’re great! I used those with my 10 babies. My sister wives love them also.”
  • “Do you not care about your son? You know I just saw on the news that studies found more poop residue in cloth diapers compared to disposable diapers!”
  • “Don’t listen to the naysayers. You’ll get used to spraying crap into the toilet.”

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Besides the obvious complexities of discarding the waste, cloth diapers have the added disadvantage of a thousand buttons. To factor in all baby sizes – from teacup chihuahua to Mississippi Bufford – the clothe diaper provides you with Transformer level adaptability. There is a row of buttons that looks like a dominatrix, and there is an endless number of insertable pads. Added to these problems is the fact that Teddy is a boy. I know from personal experience that the penis lives by its own rules. A second brain that is hard to control for a grown man is essentially a Cracken-like monster for a newborn baby. There is no doubt that Teddy’s one-eyed bandit will take advantage of my clothe diaper fumbling.

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Besides my pee anxiety, there is the anxiety of the snuggie. Human babies have the most high maintenance sleep requirements in the animal kingdom. Take a newly born crocodile. As soon as that crocodile leaves the egg, it slithers into the water and sleeps in the mud. Take a newly born ferret. As soon as that ferret comes out of its mother, it sleeps in some nasty pine needle foliage. Take my son Teddy. As soon as he is born, he requires a specialized snuggie which makes him look like a polygon from a high-school geometry textbook. The human baby cannot survive outside this modern covering, and if a blanket is put into the crib, Child Protective Services will be called. Along with the Snuggie comes the fear of overheating the baby. He must be wrapped up like a snug burrito but at the same time be cooler than a bowl of gazpacho. A cruel joke for sure and I believe a ploy by the pharmaceutical companies to increase sales of Xanax.

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Finally, I must update you on my beautiful wife. Christina glows like the sunshine, and her belly looks like a basketball. I’ve never before looked at a pregnant woman and thought – “Wow she still looks like she could go to work.” Christina tries to moan and groan, but I think she could probably carry that baby for another 9 months – the Jerome Bettis of pregnancy. Her hormones have been erratic the last week – when I told her that she was like Brett Farve, she got agitated. The final countdown is upon us, and I am genuinely ecstatic to be a father. I can’t wait to dodge little Teddy’s pee and master the cloth diaper instruction manual. I can’t wait to hold my son and place him in my wife’s arms. I can’t wait to teach Teddy about life and help him discover wisdom. Keep us in your prayers; Lord willing, the next pregnancy update will come with pictures of my son. Here’s to the final countdown!

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So, am I allowed to eat anything anymore?

This week, I wrote a guest post for my college roommate – Chris O’Brien. His blog is called Medium Rare, and I highly recommend you check it out. Chris writes in a humorous-philosophical tone – we are both wannabe stand-up comics. Below is the link to the post I wrote…

So, am I allowed to eat anything anymore?

Stay tuned for the release of Tackle the Library – Indian Independence next week!

Gandhi makes a perfect stocking stuffer. 

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Turkey and Tackling the Library

In less than one month I will be publishing Tackle the Library – Indian Independence. This is the third addition to the series, and it will have a new format; the chapters are slightly longer, there are maps (courtesy of my beautiful wife), and there are exciting discussion questions. It has taken me 6 months of reading and writing to publish this installment, and I really hope that you will check it out on Amazon. Indian Independence is a fascinating time in history, and it truly shaped our modern day world – my new book will both inform and entertain. I was surprised this week when a fellow blogger posted about Tackle the Library. His blog is called Vogliodio, and he writes about wisdom, books, and culture. His content is well written and refreshing – his perspectives on philosophy inspire me to continue my own journey of pursuing knowledge. Below I posted the hyperlink to the article and a short excerpt of what he wrote.

Vogliodio – Tackle the Library

“Of the two books I read, one was on a topic I do not know well (the French Revolution) and the other on a topic I have read and studied up on (Plato). This allowed me to judge how successfully the one works as an introduction and how accurately the other one reflects what I know about the subject. In both cases, the works met the mark…”

“More than these two books, I am intrigued by the notion of tackling the library itself and I hope to try it when I am situated more closely to an American local library. Does this method of learning appeal to you? For what topic will you attempt to tackle the library?”

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Again thank you for your continued support of Sapere Aude and please check out Vogliodio. I will be posting excerpts from Tackle the Library – Indian Independence in December. Have a Happy Thanksgiving and make sure you leave no carb untouched. This year I am thankful for my readers, my family, my health, and my soon to be born son – Teddy.  

 

John D. Rockefeller – Sinner or Saint?

A way to a man’s heart is through sex, food, and Ron Chernow books. The last one is probably particular to me, but thankfully my wife knows me very well; for Christmas last year she bought me Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr by – you guessed who – Ron Chernow. I first became interested in Rockefeller after watching the History Channel series The Men Who Built America which profiles the dominant imperialists of the Gilded Age. The History Channel usually churns out complete garbage, but this show was actually informative and entertaining – compared to the ubiquitous alien conspiracy theory shows. Rockefeller is one of the most complicated men I have ever read about and hence Chernow’s biography of him took up a mammoth 700 pages.

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Rockefeller, unlike Vanderbilt or JP Morgan, was not your typical Rober Baron who accumulated money for the sake of hedonism. Wealth and success to Rockefeller represented God’s blessings – blessings which could not be squandered. He lived a simple life relative to his fortune which in today’s money was worth 400 billion dollars. Oil was the foundation of that fortune and for decades his company, Standard Oil, dominated the global refining business. With vast wealth comes enormous controversy – Rockefeller was a ruthless businessman who negotiated unfair trade deals with the railroads – squeezing out small refiners in the process. These shady business practices were during a time when industry was mostly unregulated in America. Ida Tarbell, the famous Muckraker journalist, vilified Rockefeller – subsequently rallying public opinion and the US government to break up Standard Oil’s monopoly. Ironically, the break up of Standard Oil made Rockefeller even wealthier – he continued to own large shares of his stepchildren’s companies still known today: Exxon, Mobil, Amoco, Chevron, Sun, Conoco.

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Rockefeller stepped away from the oil business in his late 50’s and enjoyed a long retirement of philanthropy. Thanks to several Rockefeller foundations, the fields of education, medicine, and research were expanded. It can be argued that the United States world-renowned college system is a direct result of Rockefeller – he set the standard for medical research and founded the prestigious University of Chicago. Before Rockefeller, the state of medicine in the US was that of snake oil salesman – after Rockefeller medicine evolved into a rigorous scientific discipline. Some would question whether we should support philanthropy from “dirty” oil money? I would argue that Rockefeller made business decisions like a strict father; they were harsh but many times fair, as the oil business was in large part saved by Rockefeller’s big thinking principles. During the financial crises of the late 19th century, many small refiners went bust all while Standard Oil maintained record low prices for the consumer. Capitalism is tough and Rockefeller was one of the toughest. When we critique his decisions, we must look at things contextually. Rockefeller was not without blame, but I don’t think that his legacy is one of a sinner. I think his legacy is complicated and the fairest assessment should come from his opponents…

“The press, once hostile to him, formed his biggest cheering section. ‘It is doubful whether any private individual has ever spent a great fortune more wisely than Mr. Rockefeller,’ Pulitzer’s World editorialized in 1923, while the Hearst press, not to be outdone, states, ‘The Rockefellers have given away more money and to better advantage than anybody else in the world’s history since the ark stranded on Ararat.'”

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I believe that Rockefeller is no saint when compared to the world as a whole…but maybe a saint when compared to the wealthiest individuals in the history of the world. Excessive wealth usually corrupts and leaves no positive legacy. Rockefeller following his religious views used each penny wisely. Those pennies may have been tainted, but in the end, they were shined up for a noble purpose; a purpose which Rockefeller pursued until his death at 97 years old. So what’s your verdict? Was Rockefeller a sinner or a saint?

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Literature vs. Netflix

I am still trudging along with my goal of reading all 1,300 Penguin Classics. The past couple days I have been discouraged with the journey, and I started to question as to why I was taking on the behemoth. Why should I read the classics when there are so many great modern books? Why should I waste my time with fiction when there is so much nonfiction? Why should I read at all when there is Netflix? These questions are bombarding me because of my current book – Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Les Misérables is the longest classic ever written at over 500,000 words – this blog post is only 500 words. I am actually listening to it via a 7 part audiobook with Christina – I couldn’t pronounce all the French words and having a narrator prevents us from skimming. The length of Les Mis got me discouraged and made me question whether I wanted to accomplish my classics goal.

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Something strange happened this week that totally changed my outlook. One of my favorite modern philosophers is Nassim Nicholas Taleb – I am currently reading his book Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder. This book is about skeptical empiricism and the idea that what we “don’t know” is more important then what we “do know.” I wasn’t expecting anything related to the classics in Taleb’s book – but through the oddest coincidence – there was a whole chapter on the importance of classical literature. Taleb talked about a mathematical principle that predicts the lifespan of something based on its current age. For books, this means that the age of a book directly predicts how long it will be around into the future. A two-thousand-year-old book like The Iliad will most likely be around two thousand years from now compared to a book like Fifty Shades of Grey. Added to this is the idea of cultural selection. The world has seen billions of books – the ones that are still in print are the ones who transcend the average. This transcendence is due to the relationship between literature and the indescribable human experience. Taleb describes the concept below.

 … Fiction is a certain packaging of the truth, or higher truths. Indeed I find that there is more truth in Proust, albeit it is officially fictional, than in the babbling analyses of the New York Times that give us the illusions of understanding what’s going on. Newspapers have officially the right facts, but their interpretations are imaginary – and their choice of facts are arbitrary. They lie with right facts; a novelist says the truth with wrong facts…to me fiction is not about ideas. It is above ideas. I make a divide between the holy, the sacred, the mysterious, the unexplainable, the implicit, the aesthetic, the moral, and the ethical on one hand, and the empirical, the functional, the explainable, the logical, the true, and the proven on the other. In short, the Holy and the Empirical. Literature belongs to the holy. You can do fiction, nonfiction, a mixture, who cares. Literature is above the distinction. It is sacred.

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Reading this during my literature low point was an eerie experience, to say the least. So why should we read the classics over other books or TV shows?

  1. Time has put the classics through the ringer and readers keep coming back to them because of their profound personal impact. 
  2. They speak to the unspeakable. Something that facts or science will never be able to explain.
  3. They were written during a time before internet and incessant interruption. Ancient wisdom is not tainted by Facebook or an Echo Chamber. 

So I am back on track with my goal. Sorry for the weak moment and I hope this post will motivate you to try out a classic. I can honestly tell you that Les Misérables is difficult, but it is exponentially better than any HBO series or cookie-cutter Netflix show. I think in the end a balance is always optimal – read some literature each day and watch a little Netflix – peanut butter and jelly.