The Sickness unto Death by Soren Kierkegaard

“…the very notion of a self is vague,”

The measure of one’s truth is in what drives a person to despair. How does one live? What faculty of thought or tendency of a “self” drives a person to happiness? Is it by virtue of the lack of sorrow? And what faculty of thought or tendency of a “self” drives a person to sorrow? Is it by virtue of the lack of happiness?

Soren Kierkegaard spoke about the idea of despair as being an eternal phenomenon as the “self” is an eternal force of nature. So the loss of despair is the loss of one’s “self” in which there can occur an annihilation of one’s relation to not only the outside world but to the “self” itself. The Sickness Unto Death is his profound, intellectual, and ceaseless conversation about self-actualization. His writing is easy no task to bear but if you are patient and amicable enough, the book is better than any self-help book you’ve ever read.

For Kierkegaard, this sickness of despair is not as conventional as physical sickness that may or may not drive one to death. Despair is rather an omnipresent, an underlying manifestation of the consciousness. It doesn’t alienate us from perception rather it elevates the intensity of the experience to the point of uninhibited self-expression, or what Kierkegaard calls “faith.”

One despairs in being oneself. One despairs in wanting to be oneself. One despairs in not wanting to be oneself. This tug of war between a self’s authentic and inauthentic despair is the formula of human existence.  The biggest danger, however, is “that of losing oneself, one can pass off in the world as quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. is bound to be noticed.”

Read all my highlighted passages from the book here.


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The Plague by Albert Camus

Begetting such symbolic human helplessness against the unbendable forces of nature… perhaps seen through an evolutionary standpoint makes The Plague an unfortunately arresting book. It’s symbolic in that it’s about the bubonic plague taking place in the 1940s, spread across the city of Oran. The plague could be Albert Camus’s allegorical interpretation of war and/or his absurd and atheistic interpretation of good and evil. One can view this book through many lenses.

The story is grotesque and uncompromising. It doesn’t dramatize death. The protagonist carries out his role as a doctor in the midst of this epidemic as an abstraction. An abstraction that trumps happiness and heroism. For pity, grief, and anger do not offer any strength against such a hardening blow. What’s left is cultivating logical habits that do not leave a person cold and empty.

This abstraction applies to most everyday things of life. We yearn to succeed at something not because it’s the ideal way to live. But in order to avoid failing at it. We’re constantly in fear of not knowing that it forcibly and impulsively compels us to know. Transitioning this thought to the question of good and evil where life is not evil nor is it good. Rather it’s the living of it that affects our judgment on the stand.

The book raises many such questions. Why human behavior is “more or less ignorant” rather than a “vice or virtue?” How appalling it is to understand love not by attaining it but withholding from it. And finally, a question that makes one aware of the enormity of our infinitesimal existence, “But what does it mean, the plague? It’s life, after all.”

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Wind/Pinball: Two Novels by Haruki Murakami

His first debut short novels, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973, are the first strings that tie Murakami’s fantasy together. The stories are rich, captivating, and vivid. They transcend layers upon layers into the characteristic vitality and loneliness that Murakami never fails to bring page after page. The lives of the people permeate everything. I couldn’t understand how else the language and longing of the protagonist are brought to be understood by so many.

The novels are centered upon ordinary realities whose very essence and soul are rare and unforgettable. I enjoyed revisiting the pleasant and nostalgic sensitivity of Murakami. Where his deepest and conscious thought is so effortless to make sense of. The book demands little in return. Consider it a light read… a moving work of literature. Meditative and tranquil; containing the sum total of one’s lonely, quiet, and vigilant voyage.

If what you seek is wisdom and meditation that’s lurking beneath the surface, you’ll find it in this story. All it does is give you a taste of that flawless and enigmatic purity that Murakami achieves in his later works. If you’re attentive enough, these short stories reveal the beauty of such seasoning of life.

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How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton

Reading Proust and meditating on his literature and wisdom are unique but strange experiences. His descent and inquiry into igniting every compassionate nerve in one’s body are exceptional. And Alain de Botton accomplishes the rare task of compiling Marcel Proust’s most significant and learned possessions.

The book comprises of life’s most sought but unrequited questions. Perhaps it’s not about people that we need to learn about. Nor is it about acquiring more words under the guise of knowledge and wisdom. Rather, it’s understanding the varied dimensions to loving and being.

Presence, which goes above and beyond sensory perception is often unwelcome in the realm of friendships and loves.

Proust takes you a step further into the logic of such a philosophy. And when other philosophy books seem perplexing and perhaps too embracive, Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life makes the same sentiment more alluring than just a glance. It’s intense, simple, and within the realm of one’s emotional, intellectual, and platonic possibilities.

There is a lesson in each question. Two of them that, in homage, I offer to time’s quickening spirit is ‘How to Suffer Successfully’ and ‘How to Read for Yourself’. Read this book as a reminder or merely a kind of repose which offers mind and creative courage. Alain de Botton delivers an unforgettable and imaginative evaluation of what Proust so eloquently discovered in his books.


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The Dichotomy of a Culture

In Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.

“…the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories, you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again.

That is their mystery and their magic.”

This was an excerpt from one of my favorite reads…. A book that is the measure of loving and the subtraction of it. It carries the weight of a heavy soul… kept in a jar… tightly sealed… full of anguish, regrets, misplaced memories, and shattered kinship. You see glimpses of it through cracks in the surface left behind by the piercing eyes of one’s political, cultural, and historical predispositions.

The book is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

The book reads like a melancholic and secretive diary. A diary that you never bring out into the world; keeping it safely tucked away under a mattress or behind a mountain of personal belongings. A diary that is cradled too close to the heart, brutally and yet fervently expressive; the honesty of which even frightens you. It’s the flesh of the wound that runs the deepest and that bleeds on those blank pieces of paper; but in the end, it is bandaged by only you. This is it. The enormity of Arundhati Roy’s compass pointing us in so many glued-together directions. Having read this book three times, tucked between periods of days, weeks, months of staying away from a book that I, who am inclined to always pick up a new book because there’s always so much to read, go back to it every time for some sentimental and perceptive consolation. 

The thing about reading tragedy is that it becomes your own. Or that you claim that it is your own. How else would you feel it? The triumphs of loneliness, isolation, despair, and anger run deep into the well of your emotional tendencies. The characters are waiting for you to peel back their layers, upon a surface that makes up a story’s setting. The inadequacy of such a task is ironically what brings you closer to Arundhati Roy’s fiction. You read the words, maybe in whisper-quiet echoes. But you feel it pulsating in every muscle and their hollow spaces as if those very echoes mimic the speed and the color and the density of blood.

The book is set in Kerala, ingrained in its language; the dichotomy of a culture, of lives that were born too soon (or that shouldn’t have been born at all). The narration is restless with religious and political descriptions. Arundhati Roy has a unique way of defining these descriptions through her characters. The role of a mother, of a child, of a brother, a cousin, a lover, it’s in their history that one remembers the history of Kerala. If you’ve read the back cover of the book; the description hits the nail on the head. Amid the ruined, the forgotten, the misplaced – you won’t find a book this expansive in its depth and yet the characters live lives that feel quite the opposite.

It goes on for 340 pages; enough to contain decades and decades of survival. As a reader, you will diligently surrender to the writing style and tone of the book. It’s fast in its narration and yet you feel like it holds back time. Dropping an anchor in anyone who evaluates a book not only by its unpredictable structure but by its understanding of emotions – and their lyrical reminiscence.