Two Books

I am not a big reader, but these two books were able to capture my interest long enough for me to devour them in a little under a month — a record time for someone with a short attention span and social media addiction held at a bay. I recommend both, for very different reasons.

Ready Player One (Ernest Cline, 2011) will be known by many as the Spielberg movie that came out earlier this year. In truth, the movie varies drastically from the novel and I wasn’t into it. The story, however, of a dystopian future with a MMO that everyone basically lives in, littered with every 80s pop culture reference you can think of, reads like a choose-your-own-adventure novel but with more panache. Cline’s detail of video game mechanics was super intriguing as he paints a world in which the protagonist’s allegiance to a high score is tempered only by his own self-worth, and of course, a love interest. That arc is predictable, but there’s enough neediness and puzzles to solve that I loved it. If you miss Zork, Dungeons and Dragons, and Ferris Bueller, this is your read.

The Course of Love (Alain de Botton, 2016); another novel, but barely. De Botton inserts his commentary on almost every page, continuing his quest to dismantle our belief that Romanticism as an ideology is true. The story follows Rabih Kahn and his (eventual wife) Kristen McClelland and is set in Scotland, where the couple go through just about every phase of a relationship one can have. De Botton uses each plateau to discuss how this part of their life is shaped by experiences from childhood, and along the way the promotes his usual worldview of: therapy is a wonderful thing, love is a “skill” and relationships are about education as much as romance (we have to “work” at them), fantasies of others are totally normal and healthy, having children irrevocably changes things, and perhaps De Botton’s most contentious and stark claim, that when seeking love, we are really looking for a suffering which is familiar:

“We chase after more exciting others, not in the belief that life with them will be more harmonious, but out of an unconscious sense that it will be reassuringly familiar in its patterns of frustration.”

The book is peppered with quotes which have filled my notebook that are both reassuring and at the same time a little disenchanting when it comes to the idea of being with someone. Regardless, I feel like this book is extremely useful for anyone currently in a relationship, about to enter one, or leaving. In short, all y’all.

[on giving up on perfection]

“Pronouncing a lover ‘perfect’ can only be a sign that we have failed to understand them. We can claim to have begun to know someone only when they have substantially disappointed us.”

[on sex & fantasy]

“The particulars of what arouses us may sound odd and illogical, but — seen from up close — they carry echoes of qualities we long for in other, purportedly saner areas of existence: understanding, sympathy, trust, unity, generosity, and kindness. Beneath many erotic triggers lie symbolic solutions to some of our greatest fears, and poignant allusions to our yearnings for friendship and understanding.”

[on recalibrating to deal with each other]

“It is a wonderful thing to live in a world where so many people are nice to children. It would be even better if we lived in one where we were a little nicer to the childlike sides of one another.”