A vision of utopia shared by East and West
375 pages, ★★★★★
This book entered my reading list via a DVD called Let Harmony Redeem (和谐拯救危机). The DVD is a dialogue between Buddhist monk Ven. Master Chin Kung and renowned Buddhist Dahui Chen. This approximately 12-hour dialogue has had massive influence in Asian countries and in overseas Asian communities by revitalising traditional Chinese culture.
The DVD was modelled on a book called Choose Life. Choose Life is a dialogue between Daisaku Ikeda and the renowned British historian, Arnold J. Toynbee. Their conversations cover all aspects of life and culture and are organised by theme. Like the DVD, Let Harmony Redeem, the authors reach a consensus on all the topics despite their very different cultural perspectives. The result is calming and utopian.
Topics in Choose Life range from subconscious thought process to the social role of literature; from our animal instincts to the ideal property market. Most interesting was the dialogue on the purpose of a school education. The authors agreed that the primary aim of education should be to teach children how to live, and practical benefit should be relegated to just a secondary aim. I agree completely.
Choose Life reminds me of The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang (reviewed here). These two books describe a meaningful life at large and small scales.
I recommend Choose Life particularly for non-Asians who want to explore East Asian culture in more depth (like me!) ★★★★★
Shallow Rants of a Witty Eccentric. Read 林语堂 Instead.
268 pages, ★★
I loved The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang; and Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut is it’s darker-yet-shallower (Western) sibling. These books belong together in the non-existent genre of Rambles & Rants: The Importance of Living is a rather pleasant (countryside) ramble, whereas Hocus Pocus is more of a rant.
The Editor’s Note warns us that Hocus Pocus is a collection of scribblings that the author had little intention of creating into a book. Parts of this book were even compiled from Vonnegut’s doodles on the backs of envelopes and business cards. Some of the thousands of scraps of paper that comprise the original book contain just one word each. This book is a mess, and it’s
post-modernist proud of it.
Hocus Pocus is darker and less balanced than The Importance of Living. I even found Vonnegut stressful to read: he writes Hocus Pocus with moderate pessimism, and his eccentricity too often comes across as sarcasm, draining the reader. For such a scatty book, he puts too much emphasis on the Vietnam War (consider that he could have mused about anything he wanted in this post-modernist, or, “freestyle” book, but instead dwelled on negativity—and in doing so, taught us nothing). I much loved reading Lin Yutang, on the other hand, who writes with optimism, logic and beautiful balance that makes his books a great pleasure to read. See my review here. I feel that all the strong points of The Importance of Living were attempted—and failed—in Hocus Pocus.
Admittedly, I’m not a fan of Vonnegut so I should probably give him more time. This is the first Vonnegut book that I’ve read. For the moment, I can only give this two stars. ★★