In the book of my memory, after the first pages, which are almost blank, there is a section headed
Incipit vita nova.
Beneath this heading I find the words which it is my intention to copy into this smaller book, or if not all, at least their meaning.

Dante,La Vita Nuova

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Moving Right Along

The real date of post: 3/31/09

I read the book during my morning commutes, and there are times where I dogeared the page because it so uncannily describes me or Gary (via Praise goggles) or me'n'Gary. Or more simply, in the words of Homer Simpson: "It's funny because it's true."

For instance, on page 5, he says, "...we had been destined for one another. We learnt that both of us had been born at around midnight in the same month of an even-numbered year. Both of us had played clarinet and had parts in school productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Both of us had two large freckles on the toe of the left foot and a cavity in the same rear molar. Both of us had a habit of sneezing in bright sunlight and of drawing ketchup out of its bottle with a knife." This struck me as hilarious because every romantic I know does this "romantic fatalism" game, where they start seeing all the coincidences in their relationship. Gary and I are too practical to do that seriously, but sometimes we can't help it either: We were both in Chicago at the same time before coming to Asia. Our Korea contract dates are one day apart: 8/24 and 8/25. Our birthdays are two days apart, 7/25 and 7/27, exactly ten years apart. AD NAUSEUM.

However, we do agree that we are ready to be done with this book'n'blog--in fact, I think Gary only read half of it and skimmed the rest; his response is conspicuously ambiguous when I ask him if he's finished it. It wasn't engaging enough; in a good novel, we expect movement, at least to the point where we'd want to read it even when it's lights-out (I just wanna finish this chapter!).

In all fairness, de Botton writes "essays" with all his points numbered (1. Love blah blah 2. Love blahbity blah 3. Love lalalala), which Gary, the walking Wikipedia, says is reminiscent of some philosopher of course I forget whom already. But then, I'm entertained by people like David Sedaris, who also does the whole collection of essays thing. (Don't be a snob. He's on NPR for a reason. Don't be a snob about that either.) It's because David Sedaris doesn't write about only one imaginary lover and all her (well, his) idiosyncracies and their less-than-exciting adventures, adding his ruminations about love, and then it's page 126 and nothing has happened yet. Plus, Sedaris is simply funnier. Jesus Shaves? Youth in Asia? Come on. Hilares.

The reason that I don't expect "movement" in Sedaris's books is that each essay is what it is. As witty as de Botton can be at times, he weaves a love story into the seams of philosophical meandering; a person like me, then, wants to skip through the chapters to see what happens with the narrator and his girlfriend, only to be disappointed at the lack of buildup in their characters by the time the climax of their story hits. [WARNING: SPOILER ALERT] For example, on page 156, the male character finally makes some pointed, confrontational comments:
"It's like there's a wall between us and you're refusing to acknowledge it's there."
"I don't see a wall."
"That's what I mean. You're refusing to admit there was ever anything other than this."
"Than what?"
OOOH. Now we're cookin'. I can feel the tension. I can see her trying to pretend she can prolong the inevitable break-up.

Then, for the next four pages, points 7-9, he philosophizes. I DO think his points are insightful. I see what he's saying about "romantic terrorism," that once someone starts losing the power of holding the other's interest, they start to wreak havoc in ways that "betray all the signs of childish rage, a rage at one's own impotence in the face of a more powerful adversary." I have been a romantic terrorist (ask my high school boyfriend, whom I was "with" for a year after we broke up) and I have dated romantic terrorists (guys have given me crazy speeches about MY fear of commitment or MY unrealistic standards when I tell them I don't want to date them anymore). However, by page 156 as opposed to page 5, I don't feel a connection with the two characters, I am tired of his poignant rants, and I just want to know if they make it or not.

I remember my friend Thad watching "Friends"- an episode from the Ross and Rachel saga - and he was engrossed. Beguiled. His girlfriend (my cousin) and I were watching him and smirking- Thad had always been the first to say he hated "Friends" but oh-ho! Titillated with the old R and R story. When he caught us, he said, "What. Everyone loves a love story."

It's true. Everyone loves a love story. But this book of essays doesn't have much of a love story, so that the contemplative examination of love seems rather frivolous and insubstantial. It was about two people who were attracted to each other's quirks (gap between front teeth, insatiable chocolate cravings, f-ugly luggage, love for museums) and were of the same race, SES, and age range so "falling in love" seemed easy. It makes me wonder what people's emotions are really based on. What is "falling in love" really, especially if they break up and feel like they never really knew each other anyway, or the memory of the relationship grows less important with the passing of time: "Like a century that is reduced to and symbolized by a certain pope or monarch or battle, my love affair refined itself to a few iconic moments..." (199). I mean, FOR GOD'S SAKE! All that emotion spent on someone or something that was really quite shallow, transient even! The narrator goes on for chapters after the breakup about all his complexes-- but it almost seems trifling that such a shallow relationship could provoke such intoxication with sorrow.

Or maybe that IS the point.

One last thing I liked. The narrator thinks of his fading emotions and says he feels guilty: "an infidelity to what I had at one time held so dear" (198), which I thought was so painfully true at least for a weirdo like me.

The book wasn't bad. It was a quick and easy read, perfect for morning and evening commutes. It was slightly embarrassing to hold a book that declares "ESSAYS IN LOVE" but whatever. I'm in Korea, the land of lovey dovey soap operas--Why can't they be together, even though she's a famous film star and he's only a lowly writer?! If we took random passages and extracted topics to discuss, there could be many lively discussions, but reading the book... as a book? I'm glad to be done with it and move on to more exciting reads.


  1. who's this gary guy the walking wikipedia?

    gosh at least you could have gone for a walking britannica or something in book form with a nice binding.

    [ps: i love how praise wrote her post so i'd have to respond.]

  2. I want to add, that as a woman who wants to be SEEN (this may have to do with the fact that we are going into Invisible Man next) by her lover, I am annoyed that the man does not really ever get to know her. He just thinks about love as a concept, as a pattern of behaviors and emotions, and how he fits into the equation of love.

    He's annoying. Plus, as much as he rambles about himself, I don't feel like I know him at all. Which then made me think, why should I trust what he has to say? I don't even know who he is.

    (I think it's charming of you to finish the book this morning... can't be outdone! :D)

  3. oh yes you nailed it. chloe lacks substance. see if you agree/disagree with how i put it in my post.

    killer. i love being on the same page. together.