Quote of Inspiration

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Atilla and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Thoughts on Siddhartha

There are books in one's life that are, well, life-changing. They resonate and stay with us, and we think about them years and decades later, and we sometimes return to them. I wondered, recently, if the book that has had the greatest and most profound impact on me (which I read at the age of 20) would today have as strong an impact on me if I read it again. I did read it again, and I have to say that the impact was not so surprising (I was anticipating it after all), but it was no less profound, 15 years later. I read the book three months ago, and I still think of it every day. It is Maugham's The Razor's Edge.

So it is with Siddhartha. Again, my experience with Siddhartha is not so surprising as my reaction to other books, simply because I was prepared for it. It's stronger when you find a book and have no idea it will impact you in any deep way. But when you purposely choose a book that has impacted so many others, your own reaction to it is tinged in a way, shaped to some extent by your expectation of it.

It doesn't, however, make the impact any less strong.

I think I was supposed to read Siddhartha at this exact moment in my life, because the ultimate message I take from this book is particularly comforting to me at this time. That message, if I have to filter it down to one, is that life is a journey, that it's never done, that we are never there, and if there is one goal, it is perhaps to end our lives at peace with ourselves. Making peace with any and everyone else are only steps toward that end-goal.

Reading this book makes me less afraid - of people, of experiences, of pain. Even in the end, when Siddhartha had gained and lost, was so disgusted with himself he wanted to throw his life away, even in the end, when he had quieted his spirit and was at peace with so little, his road lay out ahead of him, bumps and all. And perhaps his greatest bump, his hardest moment, came in the end of his life instead of the beginning or the middle. It came when he least expected it and he found himself suffering again.

I read once that Buddha said something to the effect of: All life is suffering, and all suffering is life.

I find this quote comforting and have always repeated it to myself in times of hardship, because I think we all need to believe that hardship has purpose. I was raised a Christian, so I was taught that suffering is punishment and that if one wants suffering to end, one has to only be good enough.

I think this is kind of a crock of shit.

Maybe suffering is just living, it's just part of what it means to be human, and we can't be good enough to escape it, because without it we wouldn't be living any more than if we never experienced joy.

In the end, I think Siddhartha's suffering taught him the ultimate lesson - to have empathy for others. I think that when we have compassion and empathy for others, we have somehow found a way to have empathy and compassion for ourselves.

I would recommend this book to others, but somehow, I feel that after reading it, recommending a book to others would kind of be missing the point.

I have thought, however, of the books that have most greatly impacted me and my life. I have come up with a list of 5, a monumental task of narrowing and cutting-down. Here are my top five books:

1. The Razor's Edge
2. Atlas Shrugged
3. The Bell Jar
4. Man's Search for Meaning
5. Their Eyes Were Watching God

I'm curious to hear yours.......please.



  1. Amy, I must say I'm re-inspired when I read your blog and want to comment on every post. (But then, I don't happen to have time in the moment, so I don't...)

    I just read Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" which I had been putting off reading for years, due to associating it with a romance gone wrong. I liked it enough to seek out "Atlas Shrugged" and have yet to begin that one.

    My top five books? That's tough. I might have to make it the top ten:

    1. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
    2. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
    3. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
    4. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
    5. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    6. The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
    7. The Tao te Ching, by Lao Tzu (trans. by Stephen Mitchell)
    8. Journal of a Solitude, by May Sarton
    9. Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
    10. The Essential Rumi, by Coleman Barks

    Good grief, I could go on and on about the books I love. There are so many. But this is a good place to start. I think "Their Eyes" is the best love story I've ever read.


  2. Monica - I love your list. We have some overlapping. I should finish "The Old Man and the Sea" tonight. That is one of my figs. I want to read May Sarton. I have recently discovered her, and I'm compelled. Thanks for commenting. I was thinking yesterday that I want to read "Their Eyes..." again. I can't get over it. I read it over 10 years ago and think about it nearly everyday. Oh, and my mom has re-named "One Hundred Years of Solitude" with her own version: One Hundred Years of Reading. That probably isn't on her "list."
    Sigh....so many good books. Let me know what you think of "Atlas Shrugged."


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