Great Books of China

A list of books from China and I think every reader should strive to read and know what this 3000 year old civilization can offer for minds and bodies. It starts from “Oracle Bones” (1600 – 1046 BCE)  to Dao de Jing by Lao Tzu to Plum in Golden Vase to Travels of Lao Can and on, but I’ve restricted it until early 20th century. Time elapsed provides majesty and grandeur to a work of literature which contemporary works can’t garner and hence celebrated as classic. Again a book also need to deserve one and that’s why not all make it. This list comes from ‘The Great Books of China – From Ancient Times to Present’ by Frances Wood. I want to prepare one for India too. Both nations of great civilization since time immemorial.

Booklist

Book Author PUBLISHED or Author’s Year
Book of Songs
She jing
Unknown 1000–600 BCE
Book of Changes
Yi jing
Unknown 1st millenium BCE
Classic of the Way and of Virtue
Dao de jing
Lao Tzu 6 to 4 century BCE
Zhuangzi Zhuangzi 4 century BCE
Analects
Lun yu
Confucius 6 to 3 century BCE
Mencius Mengzi 4 century BCE
Master Sun’s Art of War
Sunzi bingfa
Sun Wu 544 – 496 BCE
Almanac
Tongshu
Unknown
Proper Ritual
Yi li
Unknown 206 BCE – 9 CE
The Grand Scribe’s Records
Shi ji
Sima Qian 150 – 86 BCE
Nineteen Old Poems
Gu shi shiju shou
Unknown 25 – 220 CE
Records of Buddhist Kingdoms
Foguo ji
Fa Xian 337 – 422 CE
Lotus Sutra
Sad dharma pundarika Sutra
Unknown 3 to 5 century
Diamond Sutra
Vajra cchedika prajna paramita Sutra
Unknown 5 century
Poems Li Bai, Du Fu, Li Shangyin, Li Qingzhao 8 – 9 century
The Story of Yingying
Yingying zhuan
Yuan Zhen 779 – 831
Master Dong’s Western Chamber Romance
Xi xiang ji
Wang Shifu 1189 – 1208
The Orphans of Zhao
Zhao shi guer
Attributed to Ji Juanxiang 13 century
Three Character Classic
Sanzi jing
Attributed to Wang Yinglin 1223 – 1296
Twenty-Four Exemplars of Filial Piety
Ershi xiao
Attributed to Guo Jujing 1279 – 1368
The Water Margin
Shuibu zhuan
Attributed to Shi Naian or Luo Guanzhong 1396-1371 or
1330-1400
The Story of Three Kingdoms
Sanguo zhi
Attributed to Luo Guanzhong 1330 – 1400
The Story of Lute
Pip ji
Gao Ming 1305-1370
The Classic of Lu Ban
Lu Ban jing
Unknown 15 century
Journey to West
Xiyou ji
Attributed to Wu Cheng’En 1500 – 1582
Plum in Golden Vase
Jing ping mei
Unknown 1582 – 96
The carnal Prayer Mat
Rou puttuan
Attributed to Li Yu 1657 or 1610 – 1680
Travels of Xu Xiake
Xu Xiyake youji
Xu Xiake 1587 – 1641
Tracks of a Wild Goose in the Snow
Hong xuan yinyuan tuji
Lin Qing 1847 – 50
The Craft of Gardens
Yuan ye
Ji Cheng 1582 – 1643
Exploitation of the Works of Nature
Tiangong kaiwu
Song Ying Xing 1637
Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting
Jieziyuan huazhuan
Unknown, Preface bu Li Yu 1610 – 1680
The Peach Blossom Fan
Taohua shan
Kong Shangren 1699
Unofficial History of the Grove of Literati
Rulin waishi
Wu Jingzi 1750
Three Hundred Tang Poems
Tang shi sanbai shou
Sun Zhu 1763
Strange Stories from the Liao Studio
Lioazhai zhiyi
Pu Song Ling 1766
Dream of the Red Chamber
Hongloumeng
Cao Xue Qin 1715 – 1763
Six Records of a Floating Life
Fusheng liu ji
Shen Fu 1763 – after 1807
The Travels of Lao Can
Lao Can Yu ji
Liu E 1903
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Wolfgang von Goethe

I had the opportunity to be with Goethe through his creative and turbulent times from the translation by David Dollenmayer of Rudiger Safranski’s Goethe: Life as Work of Art. A great read about the literary genius of Germany and to know how he was inspired and lived life to its fullest. From his anointed beginnings with rich imaginative story telling in his childhood, his mother’s unconditional love till her end, his flair of artistic and creative genius which we were inborn and spontaneous portraits the life of a great poet, scientist, administrator and story-teller.

His maiden flight to fame happened by capitalizing his depression which he warded off by intensively writing the famous novel – Wilhelm Meister. It became as best seller of his yester years.  Being  a drop out of Leipzig and unconsummated love affair with Gretchen didn’t deter the young Goethe and he moved on to Strasbourg where he made it for his Lawyer degree and returned to Frankfurt but to pursue his literary passion. by chance of providence moved to Weimar at the invitation of young duchy Carl August to be his companion, court poet and administrator. He wrote numerous poems, novella, elegies, essays and a scientific treatise on colors of light – which describes color’s affect on eyes and how it perceives it – a more physiological investigation rather a scientific postulation. His big inspiration and breaking of Weimar boredom and inner clash got sorted when he rushed to Italy on artistic sight seeing trip on a long leave from his official duties. A man of prodigious literary output culminated in the celebrated classic Faust – an epic battle between good and evil. One should not miss his autobiography – Poetry and Truth and writings on Italian Journeys. Goethe had an active court, family and literary life during which following interacted – Anna Amelia (Carl August’s Mother), Katharina Elisabeth (his mother), Christiane Vulupius (his wife), August (his son), Otillie (his daughter in law), Schiller, Schopenhauer, Hegel, Charlotte von Stein (his distant lover and mail-mate), Zelter (final year friend), etc.

A few excerpts that I think others may like from Goethe’s life from the above book:

On Goethe’s aesthetic expression:
Goethe opposes the principle of imitation of nature with the principle of creative expression. But since the principle of imitation applies not just to concrete natural objects but also to the traditional forms of representation that one should emulate as well, the critique of imitation has a double significance: art needs to be liberated both from conventional forms and from dull realism. With his Götz as well as his nature and love poetry, Goethe was attempting exactly that. Whoever ties art to the imitation of nature assumes the goodness and beauty of nature, Goethe claims, and quotes Sulzer, who says of nature that it touches us “through pleasant impressions.” Goethe answers, Are not raging storms, floods, rains of fire, subterranean infernos, and death in all the elements just as true testimonies to its eternal life as glorious sun- rises over ripening vineyards and perfumed orange groves? Goethe denies that beauty in nature only needs to be imitated, and in the fervor of his polemical dismissal adopts the extreme counter- position: beauty must be forcibly wrested from a cruel nature. Far from following the example of nature, art must resist it. He advances an entirely novel thought: art is precisely the counterforce, it arises from the individual’s struggle to maintain himself against the destructive force of the whole. From this vantage point, he ventures a daring look at the culture of the future. Humanity, he writes, is in the act of closing itself off in a cultural palace behind walls of glass. A century later, Dostoevsky would define modernism in exactly the same way.* The young Goethe anticipates him en passant and also suggests Dostoevsky’s conclusion that the glass palace, the artificial world that has been wrested from nature, becomes a site of complacency. The powerful assertion of self against nature morphs into luxurious relaxation. Decadence threatens. Man, Goethe writes, gradually becomes softer and softer. How was such decadence to be avoided? The reviewer can answer even that. Since art and culture owe their existence to the resistance to nature, one should ally oneself with this resistive power and not simply take it for granted. One should pay attention to the difficulties artists have to overcome and the power that allows them to do so. That is how the creative impulse is fortified—nature pays it tribute. Yet the artistic power of anti-nature that is here invoked is, in the final analysis, itself nature, and the young Goethe knows that too. What else could it be? There is a kind of natural impulse to oppose what seems complete and finished in nature. Or, according to the traditional formulation, “natura naturans,” creative nature, opposes natura naturata,” incarnate nature. In another review, Goethe defines this power of natural anti-nature as genius. It is our firm belief that genius does not imitate nature, but rather itself creates, like nature. His early aesthetic is concentrated in this sentence. There is one more review that deserves to be quoted at length. Goethe wrote it after he had already moved to Wetzlar. He used a review of a trivial, conventional love story to describe a pair of lovers who would truly deserve to be depicted:

O Genius of our Fatherland, let a young man flourish soon who, full of youthful strength and high spirits, would be first the best companion for his circle . to whom the of friends, choose the best games, sing the happiest little songs . best dancer would joyfully give her hand … let him find a girl worthy of him! When more sacred feelings lead him from the bustle of society into solitude, let him discover a girl on his pilgrimage whose soul is all goodness and whose form all gracefulness, who has had the good fortune to develop in a quiet family circle of active, domestic love. Who is the favorite, friend, and support of her mother and the second mother of her home, whose always affectionate soul irresistibly wins every heart for her, from whom poets and wise men would willingly learn and take delight in her native virtue, prosperity, and grace.—And if she feels in hours of solitary peace that with all the love she broadcasts she is still missing something, a heart that is as young and warm as she and would yearn with her for more distant, more hidden joys. Firmly yoked to his invigorating company, she would strive toward all the golden prospects, eternal togetherness, lasting union, eternally entwining love. Let the two of them find each other. At the first approach they will sense, darkly and powerfully, what an epitome of bliss each is taking hold of in the other. They will never leave each other…. Truth will be in his songs and living beauty, not colorful soap-bubble ideals like those floating about in hundreds of German songs.

But do such girls exist? Can there be such youths? The reviewer has good reason to think that such a girl and boy really do exist, for he himself is the boy and the girl is Lotte Buff, and what happens between them takes place half in Wetzlar and half in a dream.

His poetic erotica – Roman Elegies:
He was able to connect his lovemaking with his memories of romance in Rome. Having read Catullus, Tibullus, and Propertius, he realized that he could ennoble the subject by deploying forms and motifs from Roman antiquity. Throughout 1789 his friends received bulletins about erotics or entertainments in the style of the ancients. He continued to work on them until the spring of 1790. On April 3 he wrote to Herder, I believe my elegies are finished; there is almost no trace of this vein in me anymore. And no wonder, since at the time he was in Venice, far from Christiane. The “Roman Elegies” were finished, but Goethe had no intention yet of publishing them. Herder advised against it, as did the duke, who was certainly no prude. He feared there would be talk, and it would be better to avoid trouble. Such things were only for the cognoscenti, not the general public. The “Roman Elegies” were not published until four years later, at the urging of Schiller, who was looking for something engaging for his cultural journal Die Horen. Goethe sent a version that deleted two of the elegies, and they were finally published in 1796. The elegies tell the story of a little love affair with a beautiful widow. They begin with Goethe ironically making fun of his own assiduous appetite for cultural enrichment: Tell me, oh stones, and speak to me, lofty palazzos! / Streets too, utter a word! Genius, not yet astir? /.. . / Certainly you are a world, oh Rome, but unless there be love, / Then were the world not a world, Rome then would not be Rome. Not until his Roman lover joins him in bed does Rome come alive. First, however, her vigilant mother must be propitiated with generous gifts: Mother and daughter enjoy their guest from the northern lands / And the barbarian rules Romans, body and soul. The third elegy is devoted to the theme of the unexpected. It is beautiful when things go quickly—not the lovemaking itself, but the preliminaries: Do not, Beloved, regret that you surrendered so quickly. / Know that I think nothing low, think nothing mean of you. Christiane is discernible behind the portrait of the beloved, especially in the description of her hair: Once she appeared to me, a nut-brown maiden. Her hair / Fell, a cascade rich and dark over her brow and down. / Shorter locks made ringlets round her delicate neck. / Waves of unbraided hair fell from crown to shoulders. And then the famous fifth elegy. Goethe’s contemporaries were surely asking themselves if the subject of the poem was a fictitious Roman lover or the very real Christiane. The question remains unanswered. 

All the night long, however, it’s Amor who keeps me busy.
       If I only learn half, lam doubly amused and
Do I not learn, after all, by tracing the lovely breasts’
      Forms, by running my hand down the beautiful hips?
Only then do I grasp the marble aright, I think and compare,
      See with a feeling eye, feel with a seeing hand.
If my beloved steals a few hours from my day, she
      Gives me hours of the night—compensation enough!
Kissing is not our sole occupation. We talk and reason,
      And if she falls asleep, I lie awake with my thoughts.
Many’s the time I’ve lain in her arms and made poems,
       Counting hexameter’s feet, fingers quietly tapping them
Out on her sleeping back.

Answering Schopenhauer:
Flowing from the pen of the young philosopher: “I know with absolute certainty that I have provided the first true theory of color, the first in the entire history of science. Recall that Goethe thought the Theory of Color was the work with which he had gained superiority over many others, that made him feel like a Napoleon of the intellectual empire. And now an unknown philosopher still in his twenties claims to be the one who first elevates this work to the level of a theory and also—the height of impertinence!— claims that to do so was a minor matter. Goethe had been working on the Theory of Color for half his life and this young philosopher had the gall to write, “Except for a few weeks, I too always treated it as a minor matter, and carry around in my head theories entirely different from that of color.” Goethe’s reply is remarkable in its amiable equanimity and sovereign irony. Alluding to Schopenhauer’s philosophical subjectivism, he writes, Whoever is himself inclined to construct the world out of the subject will not dismiss the observation that the subject, in its appearance, is always only an individual, and therefore needs a certain amount of truth and error to maintain its singularity. There is nothing, however, that divides humans more than the fact that the portions of those two ingredients are mixed according to various proportions. Schopenhauer was unwilling to accept that, with this sentence, Goethe’s judgment of the entire matter had been pronounced and nothing more was to be said. But what did Schopenhauer expect? Did he think Goethe would write him and say, Yes, you have elevated my scattered observations into a genuine theory. It is astonishing, young man, the way you’ve managed to crown my life’s work in just a few weeks. I shall hasten to make your work—which for the first time allows the full sun to shine upon my work—available to the public? Perhaps Schopenhauer really did hope for some such reply. At least’ he hoped that his treatise on colors would receive the blessing Of hi ersatz father. Goethe did not accept the proffered role. But he respect this pupil even though he was too eager to appear as the teacher.

Challenges of Love: Elective Affinities:
How free is love? How much natural compulsion does it involve? These are the challenging questions the novel sets out to answer. Goethe explained his title in the advertisement released by the publisher: It seems that the author’s continued exploration of physical nature caused him to choose this strange title. He would like it noted that in natural history one often makes use of ethical similes in order to bring closer something far removed from the circle of human knowledge; and so, in this story of a moral crisis, he was pleased to restore a chemical simile to its spiritual origin. What does it mean in this case when a chemical simile is restored to its spiritual origin? The chemical elements that form new bonds have no choice in the matter. And yet it looks as if they do. When humans form new bonds, they choose to do so. But does it only look that way in their case too? That would then be the origin of the simile. Both times—in the chemistry of the elements and in the chemistry of human interactions—there is necessity and what at most appears to be freedom, freedom as a simile, not as reality. The novel’s figures themselves discuss this problem. Charlotte protests against absorbing the human world into the natural realm. But after all, man is so many levels above those elements, and if in this case he was somewhat generous with the lovely words “choice” and “elective affinities,” he would do well to look inside himself and reflect on the value of such expressions on this occasion. For Charlotte, to reflect on their value means to reserve the expression “choice” for the human sphere and remove it from the realm of nature. But that is not what Goethe thinks. He says in a letter that he wants to show how traces of murky, passionate necessity are constantly infiltrating the realm of cheerful freedom and rationality and can be completely extinguished only by a higher hand, and in this life perhaps not at all. The novel is set up as an experiment to examine the relative power of freedom and necessity in erotic interaction. It begins with a mature couple, bound together by a gentle love and living a with- drawn and protected life in their manor house and garden, free of all obligations and in a situation that allows—but also constrains—them to find satisfaction in themselves and each other. The story begins at the moment that this previously idyllic, closed world is opened up.

How should a mother be and slip quietly:
Goethe did not immediately inform his mother of his marriage to Christiane or of the birth of his son. She first heard about both events from others. And yet she bore her son no grudges, and when she called Christiane his “bedmate,” she by no means meant it disparagingly. She regularly sent large packages of presents to her grandson and adhered to a principle she once described to Charlotte von Stein: “I like people very much … never get preachy with anyone —always try to find their good side—leave their bad side to Him who created man and knows best how to file down their sharp corners.” She took an active interest in Goethe’s literary works, read and commented on them, and proudly gave them as presents to her Frankfurt friends. She also kept him up to date on the Frankfurters’ opinions of their celebrity son, and since she was out in society and often attended the theater, there was much to tell. In one of her last letters, she calls the first volumes of the Cotta edition of the complete works “heartwarming” and praises in particular the ballads “The Bride of Corinth” and “The God and the Bayadere.” She always liked his erotic works best and was not one to take exception to the “Roman Elegies.” In her last letter, shortly before she died, she put in a good word for August: they shouldn’t “plague” him with demands to write letters to her. Young people had other things on their minds, so please, no “thumbscrews” for her sake! Goethe had the exact circumstances of her death described to him. Katharina Elisabeth had proved to be as plucky and witty at the end as she had been all her life. The coffin maker had appeared at her bedside to take measurements, and she expressed her regret that had already been arranged and he had made the trip for nothing. She slipped away quietly soon thereafter.

Final thoughts – are they repeatable in every epoch?
The unassailable conviction formulated in a letter to Zelter:

Young people are much too easily excited and then swept away in the maelstrom of the times; wealth and speed are what the world admires and every- one strives for; railroads, express letters, steamships, and every possible facility of communication—that’s what matters to the educated world: to outdo and out- learn one another and thereby remain stuck in mediocrity.

As so often in the late letters, this is followed by defiant self-assertion: Let us cling as much as possible to the attitudes with which we grew up; perhaps with a few remaining others, we shall be the last of an epoch that will not soon return. 

If you’re not a genius, perhaps this is how you should be?
Karl Friedrich Zelter, recipient of this famous and oft-quoted letter and, as we have seen, Goethe’s best friend after Schiller’s death, was a marvel of vitality. He had learned bricklaying from the ground up and led one of the most successful construction companies in Berlin. He was the head of a large family, well-to-do and influential in the city, robust and decisive in his person, and possessed of native Berlin wit and common sense. Intelligent, straightforward to the point of earthiness, a good judge of men, and not easily intimidated, he could also be tender and sensitive. He liked difficult mathematical problems and appreciated emotional subtlety in works of art. He also loved music, which, as was his habit, he learned from the ground up, studying composition with the court composer Karl Friedrich Christian Fasch, Frederick the Great’s music teacher. In the summer, he set off on foot at three in the morning for his lesson with Fasch in Potsdam, so that he could be back at his construction site in Berlin by noon. By the 1790s Zelter was known for his lieder and choral compositions, and it is not surprising that spiteful tongues (the Schlegels for instance) made jokes about the bricklaying composer. But envious jibes from starveling intellectuals slid off Zelter’s broad back. In 1791, he played a Substantial role in founding the Singakademie in Berlin; it soon became the leading bourgeois music organization in Germany and a model for the numerous song circles and men’s choruses then springing up. Zelter did much to help make nineteenth-century Germany a nation of singers. He was ten years younger than Goethe and at first admired the poet from afar. He set several of Goethe’s poems to music, and the poet praised the results: if my poems have given rise to your melodies, then I can certainly say that your melodies have awakened me to many a song. Zelter’s admiration grew into respectful cordiality, and the two became very close, Goethe desiring the intimacy as much as Zelter. They soon corresponded with increasing trust, sharing the joys and sorrows of their daily lives, and in the last twenty years of his life, there was no one in whom Goethe confided so unreservedly. Any trace of patronizing disappeared entirely, and frequently it was Zelter who acted as Goethe’s adviser and helper. Zelter’s varied experience had enriched him; he retained an innate curiosity, had a ready enthusiasm, and was always eager to learn. He was no genius, but did everything with solid workmanship—as the head of his household, as a builder, composer, organizer of musical events, and for a time as a member of city government. Zelter was a man after Goethe’s own heart: multitalented, always active, yet calm and collected. While correspondence with other friends often slowed or stopped altogether, the exchange of letters with Zelter only grew more frequent, and Goethe could not get enough of it.

Idleness to Subtle yet Profound Thougths

Yoshida Kenko or Kaneyoshi was a Japanese monk of 12th century (1283 – 1352 AD) to seek seclusion and isolation from city life to pen this classic poems under ‘Essays in Idleness’ which is a celebrated classic in Japanese Literature, along with The Pillow Book and Hojoki. This reminds me of the musings by an equally creative French philosopher Michel de Montaigne who wrote on similar genre. Writing without a topic in mind and not methodically but write about random topics that entertain, inform, cajole, interest the author (posthumously the readers) during his lifetime which may capture practices, customs, incidents, popularities and teachings of their time. There’s always timeless advices to heed and benefit from reading this genre.

Excerpts from translation to prose which excited and piqued me and which may be beneficial to those want to get a gist and glimpse of this sage’s writings. The full book is available @ http://djm.cc/library/The_Miscellany_of_a_Japanese_Priest_Gusa_Porter.pdf. I find the Penguin Classics – Kenko and Chome – Essays in Idleness and Hojoki, Translated by Meredith McKinney – a better translation than the online one.

On Love
Nothing so distracts the human heart as sexual desire. How foolish men’s hearts are! Aroma, for instance, is a mere transient thing, yet a whiff of delightful incense from a woman’s robes will always excite a man, though he knows perfectly well that it is just a passing effect of robe-smoking. The wizard priest of Kume is said to have lost his supernatural powers when he spied the white legs of a woman as she squatted washing clothes. I can quite believe it — after all, the beautiful, plump, glowing flesh of a woman’s arm or leg is quite a different matter from some artificial allurement.

On Women
Beautiful hair on a woman will draw a man’s gaze but we can judge what manner of person she is and the nature of her sensibility even by simply hearing her speak from behind a screen. A mere unintended glimpse of a woman can distract a man’s heart; and if a woman sleeps fitfully, and is prepared to endure impossible difficulties heedless of her own well-being, it is all because her mind is on love. Yes indeed, the ways of love lies deep in us. Many are the allurements of our senses, yet we can distance ourselves from them all. But among them this one alone seems without exception to plague us all, young and old, wise and foolish. So it is that we have those tales of how a woman’s hair can snare and hold even an elephant, or how the rutting stag of autumn will always be drawn by the sound of a flute made from the wood of a woman’s shoe. We must discipline ourselves to be constantly prudent and vigilant lest we fall into this trap.

On Reading
It is a most wonderful comfort to sit alone beneath a lamp, book spread before you, and commune with someone from the past whom you have never met. As to books — those moving volumes of Wenxuan, the Wenji of Bai Juyi, the words of Laozi and Zhuangzi. There are many moving works from our own land, too, by scholars of former times.

On Boundless Ambition
What prevented the lay priest Chikurin In,838 who was a Sa-daijin, from being promoted to the rank of Prime Minister ? He simply said, ‘ It is not a prize that I wish for; I intend to stop at my present rank and entered the church. But DöIn, who was also a Sa-daijin, was so impressed with this, that he too gave up all desire of becoming Premier. They say that the dragon who has reached the heavens fears (a fall). The moon when full begins to wane ; where there has been increase there is bound to be decrease ; and in every case he who has reached the very front soon gets a set-back.

On Deceit
No human heart is quite guileless; there is some deceit In al But why should there not be the occasional person who is honest and upright? One may not be without guile oneself, but it is human nature to envy others who are wise and good. Really stupid people who come across the rare wise man, however, will hate him. ‘He turns up his nose at small gains because in his heart he hopes for bigger ones,’ they sneer. ‘It’s all a hypocritical pose, intended to impress and make a name for himself.’ Such a man scoffs so contemptuously because the other’s nature differs from his own, but this only reveals what he him- self is like — a born fool, who has no hope of transcending his own nature. Even the pretense of turning down a chance Of some small gain would be beyond him; likewise the merest imitation of wisdom. If you run about the streets pretending to be a madman, then a madman is what you are. If in pretense of being wicked you kill a man, wicked is what you are. A horse that pretends to fleetness must be counted among the fleet; a man who models himself on the saintly Emperor Shuni will indeed be among his number. Even a deceitful imitation of wisdom will place you among the wise.

On the Difficulty of an Easy Task
A man famed for his tree-climbing skills once directed another to climb a tall tree and cut branches. While the fellow was precariously balanced aloft, the tree-climber watched without a word, but when he was descending and had reached the height of the eaves the expert called co him, ‘Careful how you go! Take care coming down. ‘Why do you say that? He’s so far down now that he could leap to the ground from there,’ I said. ‘Just so,’ replied the tree-climber. ‘While he’s up there among the treacherous branches I need not say a word his fear is It’s in the easy places that mistakes will always occur’ Lowly commoner though he was, his words echoed the warnings of the sages. Apparently one of the laws of also states that if you relax after achieving a difficult kick, this is the moment when the ball will always fall to the ground.

The Accomplishments of a Gentleman
One’s education must first of all be directed to a thorough knowledge of the classics and an understanding of the teachings of the sages. Next, you should learn to write with a fine hand, even if you don’t make a specialty of it, as an aid to learning. After this, you should study the medicinal arts. Without these, you cannot look after your own health, help others or perform your filial obligations. Next, you must devote some time to archery and horse riding, skills which are listed among the Six Arts. A knowledge of the classics, the martial arts and medicine is absolutely essential, and no one who studies these can be accused of a useless life. Next is food, ‘man’s very heaven’, as the saying goes. The knowledge of how to concoct fine flavors must be deemed a fine virtue in a man. And next is fine handiwork, which is useful in all manner of ways. Aside from these, it is a matter of shame for a gentleman to cultivate too many accomplishments. Skill in the art of poetry and music is the acknowledged path of the truly refined sensibility, esteemed by ruler and subjects alike, but in our present age they have clearly grown increasingly unrealistic as a means of governing the country — just as gold, for all its glory, cannot compete with all the practical uses of iron.

The Necessities of Life
Any one wastes time in worthless pursuits must be called a fool or Obligation compels us to do many things for the sake of lord and nation, and we have little enough time left ourselves. Think of it like this: we have an inescapable need, first. to acquire food. second, clothes, and third, a place to live. These and these alone are the three great necessities of human life. To live without hunger or cold, sheltered from the elements and at peace — this is happiness. Yet we are all prey to sickness, and once ill the wretchedness of it is hard to bear, so we should add medical treatment to our list. Thus, we have four things without which a man is poor, while a man who lacks none of these is rich. It is sheer self- indulgence to pursue anything beyond these four. With these four in moderation, no one could be said to lack anything in life.

Against Leaving Property After Death
A sensible man will not die leaving valuables behind. A collection of vulgar objects looks bad, while good ones will suggest a futile attachment to worldly things. And it is even more unfortunate to leave behind a vast accumulation. There will be ugly fights over it after your death, with everyone determined to get things for himself. If you plan to leave something to a particular person, you should pass it on while you are still alive. Some things are necessary for day-to-day living, but one should have nothing else.

On Ominous Incident
When the now-deceased Tokudaiji Mlinister of the Right; r was Superintendent of Police, he was one day holding court at his central gate?’ when the ox of one of the officers, Akikane, broke loose, got into the court room, scrambled up on to the Superintendent’s seating platform and there settled down to chew its cud. “lhs was deemed a disturbingly untoward event, and everyone present declared that the beast should be taken off for Yin-Yang divination to determine the meaning.  However, when the Superintendent’s father the Minister heard of this, he declared, ‘An ox has no understanding. It has its four legs which can take it anywhere. There is no reason to impound a skinny beast that happens to have brought some lowly official here.’ He had the ox returned to its master, and changed the matting where the ox had lain. There were no ill consequences from the event. It is sometimes said that if you see something sinister and choose to treat it as normal, you will thereby avert whatever it portended.

On Married Life
The one thing a man should not have is a wife. One is impressed to hear that a certain man always lives alone, while someone who is reported to have married into this or that family, or to have taken a wife and be living together, will find himself quite looked down on. ‘He must have married that nondescript girl because he thought she was something special,’ people will say scornfully, or if she is a good woman they will think, ‘He’ll be so besotted that he treats her like his own personal Buddha. The impression is even more dreary when she runs the house well. It is depressing to watch her bear children and fuss over them, and things don’t end with his death, for then you have the shameful sight of her growing old and decrepit as a nun. No matter who the woman may be, you would grow to hate her if you lived with her and saw her day in day out, and the woman must become dissatisfied too. But if you lived separately and sometimes visited her, your feelings for each other would surely remain unchanged through the years. It keeps the relationship fresh to just drop in from time to time on impulse and spend the night.

Books that fascinated writers

Popular ‘By the Book’ feature in The New York Times enthralls readers and creates much of the anticipation to see which writers will be the subject of the feature and yearn to read them possibly to invest  their money where it lends the purest pleasure and satisfaction for reading the best. An anthology of opinions about literature and their life by authors – is all in this book titled ‘By the Book – Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review’.
The main idea is to know what others, writers themselves read to inspire and change our perspectives and kindle that exalted chat rather the forgotten watercooler chat and ultimately be informed of what possibly we can read that might interest us.  Give a chance for serendipity through this inquisitive conversation,

I’ve given a selected list of authors and the books that fascinated them, perhaps a journal to revert for good reading suggestions:

Reading List

WRITER/OTHERS Book COMMENT
David Sedaris Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
– Barbara Demick
a real eye opener
Lena Dunham The Private Diaries of Catherine Deneuve
elegant and superb
Drew Gilpin Faust Thinking: Fast and Slow
-Daniel Kahneman
Being Wrong
– Kathryn Schulz
my night stand book now
Advocates doubt as skill and praises error as foundation of wisdom
Elizabeth Gilbert Wolf Hall
– Hilary Mantel
dazzles and not sure how she put this magnificent one
Richard Ford A writer at War
– Vasily Grossman
Riveting and immensely humane
Ira Glass The Big Short
– Michael Lewis
scene after scene about mortgage crisis with a great climax
Junot Diaz Behind the Beautiful Forever’s
– Katherine Boo
4 years reporting on Mumbai slum garbage collectors
Michael Chabon A journey to the End of the Millennium
– A.B. Yehoshua
best book on Judaism
Jeffry Eugenides The Love of Good Woman
– Alice Munro
story telling and characterization overwhelm their attention
JK Rowling Team of Rivals
– Doris Kearns Goodwin
truly great book and put it down with glazed eyes
P.J. O’Rourke Jane Eyre
– Charlotte Bronte
The secret of happy marriage is to have a burning house fall on you
Lee Child The Lost
– Daniel Mendelsohn
a book of the decade – awful breathtaking tragic suspense
Francine Prose One Hundred Years of Solitude
– Gabriel Garcia Marquez
convinced me to drop put of Harvard
Jared Diamond The Measure of a Nation
– Friedman
compares five individual and national security: health, safety, education, democracy and equality
Sheryl Sandberg Discover Your Strengths
– Marcus Buckingham & Donald O. Clifton
Conscious Business:How to build value through Values
– Fred Kaufman
Best business books – developing talent at Facebook
Caroline Kennedy The Cistercian World: Monastic Writings of the 12th Century
self-help book recommended by author
Anna Quindlen Middlemarch
– Eliot
A perfection
Hilary Mantel Religion and Decline of Magic
– Keith Thomas
Complete works of Shakespeare
a monumental book with a living treasure in each page
Jeannette Walls Peter the Great
– Robert Massie
kicked off my obsession of Russian history
Dan Brown The Firm a great thriller must also contain at its core a thought-provoking ethical debate or moral dilemma
Curtis Sittenfeld Far from the Tree
how as a society we define disability and react to differences – tap reservoirs of patience unknown to us
Jonathan Lethem Wisdom of Insecurity
– Alan Watt
The help I need now
Richard Dawkins A.C. Grayling, Jared Diamond, Matt Ridley, Lawrence Krauss, Martin Rees, Jerry Coyne, John Brockman

Advice to Young Scientist and Avoid Boring People
– Peter Medawar & James Watson

all share honest commitment to real world truth
Malcom Gladwell Janet Malcom & Michael Lewis even while sketching a scenery, you know something wonderful and thrilling is about to happen
bringing social science and business principles is easy, doing that and telling a compelling story is next to impossible
Amy Tan Jing Ping Mei (The Plum in the Golden Vase) The unexpurgated edition is instructional – it’s a book of manners for the debauched
Michael Connelly The Giving Tree
– Shel Silverstein
everybody should read before they die

What would you recommend President Obama to read?

Author Book COMMENT
David Sedaris Is there No place on Earth for Me?
-Susan Sheehan
about a young schizophrenic
Lena Dunham The Guide to getting it On something to offer for everyone
Neil Gaiman American Gods down to earth
Elizabeth Gilbert My Life
– Bill Clinton
Study guide on how win next term
Colin Powell The Best and the Brightest
– David Halberstam
People – it’s all about people and not plans that fail
Sylvia Nasar Grand Pursuit  
JK Rowling Justice
– Michael Sandel
This is for Cameroon
Dan Savage End This Depression Now
– Paul Krugman
one book he should read now
James Patterson Two Cheers for Democracy
– E.M. Forster
Bossy Pants
– Tina Fey
help him surround people who think they know everything about everything
Andrew Solomon Random Family
–Adrian Nicole
masterpiece of relentless close-up journalism – on trajectory of poverty and its corrosive compulsions