What Am I Reading? II. An Unwitting Journey

An Unwitting Journey Through the Dark Night of the Soul

I stumbled into my dark night of the soul journey, so I thought, but I suspect my subconscious was directing my interests, and so the authors of the series of books I read at the time led me gently and actually enjoyably into this dank cave of night and out, reinvigorated, into the fresh lilies of morning via their own dark night experiences.

Years ago, I read Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz), the 16th century Spanish Carmelite priest and mystic. Then, a year or so ago, my daughter sent me Water for Elephants. These two books set me up for my reading to follow.

Water for Elephants made me think about what I stated in my previous “What Am I Reading?” entry – that you are born, grow up, get married, have children, lead a vibrant life, have grandchildren, become decrepit, watch everybody else lead their lives, and die.

This sounds perfunctory, as rendering human life meaningless. But I believe that while we are here, with thought we can perform deeds to elevate ourselves and help humanity. After I wrote this sentence, I searched online for Leo Tolstoy’s exact quote saying that if you help one other person, you are helping the world. I couldn’t find it; what I stumbled upon, however, was his short story “The Three Questions.” Here Tolstoy relates how the hermit sage shows the emperor that the right and immediate thing to do is to help the person in front of him. So, I find that my seemingly inadvertent journey led by the hand by each author through this series of books enabled me to accept this same conclusion, one I knew but had been stepping around.

Of course I reread Tolstoy – two novellas: “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” and “The Kreutzer Sonata.” In conjunction, I watched the movie The Last Station and then watched an episode in George Lucas’s superb The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles series, where young Indy visiting Russia, runs away from his parents and in so doing runs into Tolstoy running away from his family.

After those, I read Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone, John Updike’s In the Beauty of the Lilies, Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, James Joyce’sPortrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and followed the latter with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, and I watched the movie.

Then I took a little side trip to Provence reading Peter Mayle’s delightful Encore Provence where I enjoyed the locals’ tales and boule playing, toured an olive grove, ate baguettes warm out of the oven and washed it all down with bottles of fine wine, both red and white, to be specific.

Reading and thinking with mystics such as St. John of the Cross, Leo Tolstoy, and those Liz Gilbert encountered, I engaged in listening to the music of mystics – one such is the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. It blew me away when I found a “Scriabin plays Scriabin” recording on Amazon.com. This is a recording of a 1910 piano roll he made of some of his compositions. It’s like he’s right in the room with me playing these pieces. As it is, of course, when you’re reading the works of an author who passed on many years ago.

Two movies I have watched related to the Russians are: one – The Duel, based on Anton Chekhov’s novella and evocative of Tolstoy; and two – The Return, a recent and intriguing Russian work.

Currently I am reading, besides Orhan Pamuk’s The Naïve and the Sentimental Novelist, which I mentioned in my previous entry, Susan Jacoby’s Never Say Die: The Myths and Marketing of the New Old Age. I highly recommend this book to caregivers, young old-age people (over 60) and you who think you’ll never age. Trust me, it happens. My favorite t-shirt is the one I saw worn by a geezer in Florida: it read “How did I get this old?” Frankly, I remain mystified by this, my current state of affairs.

Somehow, Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure plays a bass line through all of these works. To me, all of Thomas Hardy’s novels do. I cannot explain the reason fully and lucidly, so I’ll leave it to you to fumble around with. And, then, there’s Thomas Wolfe – Look Homeward, Angel– …a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces…, and Wolfe’s succeeding novels.

Finally, my friend, the Tibetan Buddhist Rinpoche, mentioned how we must walk the razor’s edge – I have read the book and seen the movie, The Razor’s Edge.

This is all sort of self-serving, I guess, enumerating and thinking on stories I’ve read, movies I’ve watched and music I’ve listened to. But these works and train of thought have supported me through my caregiving for Emma.

Maybe you happen to be riding on the same train and might want to share your thoughts or works you have come upon which have helped you. I put these out here, therefore.

The Orient Express, this train is not; but one can only hope that some day—



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  13. sammozart says:

    Thanks, R. Must listen to the John Coltrane piece. I sense I might like it.


  14. Robert Price says:

    Excellent, excellent, excellent.

    You have been on a wonderful trip through your reading.

    As I read your piece John Coltrane’s “Pursuance” from ” A Love Supreme” rattled from my computer, probably to discordant for your taste but somehow suitable for me as I followed you on your literary journey. I was nearly there with you…

    Thank you,