Thursday, August 5, 2010

The reading list

One of the tricks to a happy life, I often tell my students, is to find a way to make what you really want to do into your job.  By that I don't mean finding a career doing the thing you would do even if nobody paid you for it, but putting yourself in a position where the valuable experiences you might be too lazy or too scared to choose voluntarily are what you get assigned.

Joining a book club has that effect for a lot of people.  Faced with a choice between a slightly more difficult or serious book and the sweeter, more palatable entertainments on offer, a lot of us wouldn't read the book. But if we commit ourselves to other people to read it, we're often grateful for the push, getting an experience we wouldn't have had the discipline to choose for ourselves when there are more immediately pleasurable options for our leisure time.

I've been grateful for the A.V. Club's Wrapped Up in Books feature, which has enabled me to put several books under my belt that I now love but probably never wouldn't have gotten around to without the assignment.  The latest was David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, a formidably thick tome whose premise is about nested stories and intertextuality.  Sounds like a chore, no matter how many positive reviews you read.  But it was often stunning and frequently moving, and I didn't just admire the virtuosity -- I was delighted by it.  There have been a couple of selections for WUiB I haven't cared for, but by and large I have been so glad to be pushed into these experiences.

What assignments have enabled you to live the life you really want, but that you might not have chosen voluntarily?

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