Wednesday, January 10, 2007

directions to eden

during my recent absence from the 17 point scale, i finished two new books: night and east of eden. together, they're an odd pair. in the first book, elie wiesel, a nazi death camp survivor, writes a diary-like timeline of the horrors of auschwitz. and the second novel is something of an epic; john steinbeck follows two families and a small californian town from the reconstruction era to sometime during world war II.

the only similarity between the two books may be self-evident from their titles; night and east of eden each struggle with darkness and, more particularly, the manner in which humanity, now fallen, must wrestle with the dark, curious urges of our nature. in east of eden, steinbeck seems to anchor this battle in the context of community (and wiesel too, i suppose, but i'll save that for a longer essay). characters chafe at one another, letting loose the soul-seeds of discontent and pushing each other to the brink of bad decisions, yet community also represents the salve that can bring characters back into happy-smiley homeostasis. community is the fertilizer for good and ill.

as i read east of eden, i was struck by how little the characters took advantage of community. the characters weren't alone; they were surrounded by empathy and wisdom, and when advice is given in east of eden, it is quite good advice, the kind you can hunker down into and build a home, or make a decision at least. but invariably, the characters constructed their sense of self and the world in a one-man ivory tower. they rarely sought advice and watched their lives crumble, wondering "why, why....?"

perhaps the east-edeners were born into the wrong age; perhaps in this postmodern century we finally realize that each of us only holds a piece of the truth, but i doubt it. as the apostle paul says, we see through a glass darkly, and until the trumpets* sound and the gates of heaven come crashing open, we can expect more darkness. so until that glorious day, i suspect we'd be better off seeking the counsel of community.*

andrew david. "the lake somewhere in canada where bear sounds bothered us as we slept" somewhere in canada.

*errrr...sorry, i was listening to the war charge in bright eyes's "land locked blues" and was suddenly overcome by the brassy sounds of the end of the world. actually, now i've listend to that song six times in a row.
*here's where things get crazy and a bit off-topic. i've had several friends say that when women vent, they want an empathetic ear whereas men want to problem-solve and exchange advice. apparently this creates inter-gender communication problems. i'm not sure that i buy these theories, but assuming that this is a legitimate gender difference, i'd say that us guys have it right. you might ream me for leaving the toilet seat up, but i think steinbeck would agree, an open dialogue of advice is the way to go.*
*i don't really believe this, by the way. it's just food for thought. the point of this post,
after all, was to encourage us to be more open with our thoughts, feelings, and concerns, not our advice...or was it....?

book ratings update
15.east of eden.john steinbeck
13.night.elie wiesel


Matt Basinger said...

I'm not sure I want advice when I'm venting, sometimes yes (sometimes no)...but I am sure I ALWAYS want to GIVE advice when someone else is venting. And its all I can do to just be sympathetic and reflectively listen.


andrew said...

yeah, i think i kind of took an awkward spin there at the end of my post. i don't think that people should give more advice. but after reading east of eden, i do wonder if the world might be a better place if we were more willing to share our struggles with others.

perhaps the problem is that only a few people are capable of being wise, empathetic confidants, and once we're burned by advice from the ordinary, we learn to keep it bottled inside. i dunno.

did you get the mars volta album that i sent you?