EMMET MEARA

Distilling wisdom from literature — the easy way

Posted May 25, 2012, at 3:49 p.m.
Emmet Meara
Emmet Meara

You take your knowledge, like your pleasure, where you can find it, according to a Cobb Manor tenet. While cruising the Web this week, I came across Shortlist.com, a website which distills wisdom from various classical literature. I don’t know about you, but I simply don’t have the time to read all these books, although I would love to.

Now that they have saved me all that time from reading 50 books, I will pass that distilled wisdom on to you. You are welcome.

I consider myself an existential sort; even though I was never quite clear what that meant. It was cool, like Albert Camus. One should always have a quote or two from Camus floating around in their memory. In “The Fall,” Mr. Camus tells us the definition of charm.

“You know what charm is: a way of getting the answer yes without asking any clear question,” he said.

Deep.

Let’s move on to Charles Dickens. In “Great Expectations,” Charlie tells us, “We never should be ashamed of our tears.” I assume that does not cover the time I cried during “Days of Our Lives” when Marlene’s plane crashed at sea. She was back a month later, naturally.

Whenever possible, I tried to avoid reading Sylvia Plath, who was always a downer. In “The Bell Jar” she said, “If you expect nothing from someone, you are never disappointed.” How would you like to sit next to her at a Cleveland Indians doubleheader, or on a car trip to Buffalo? I would rather share those painful events with Ernest “Papa” Hemingway, who bears a striking resemblance to yours truly. In “The Old Man and The Sea” he advised that, “Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.” Now isn’t that a little better?

Both of them committed suicide. I don’t know what that means.

Paulo Coelho is no ball of fun either. In “By the River Piedra, I Sat Down and Wept,” (you know where this is going) he said, “Waiting is painful. Forgetting is painful. But not knowing which to do is the worst form of suffering.” Bummer. I like Jim Thompson’s attitude better. In “The Killer Inside Me” (you know where this is going) he said, “There are things that have to be forgotten if you want to go on living.” Especially if you have a killer inside you.

I must admit I never heard of Jonathan Franzen. But I like his attitude. In “Freedom,” our boy wrote, “You may be poor, but the one thing nobody can take away from you is your ability to (guess) up your life whatever way you want to.” For those of us 99 percenters that is a comforting sentiment. He would rate a chair on the Cobb Manor deck.

Don’t ever tell me a secret. I have a compulsion to tell all, usually at the very worst time and in the very worst place. In “The Blind Assassin,” Margaret Atwood advises, “The best way to keep a secret is to pretend there isn’t one.” Never heard of her either. I must buy more books.

I have never understood women, never will. W. Somerset Maugham gave it a shot in “The Moon and Sixpence” when he observed, “As lovers, the difference between men and women is that women can love all day long, but men only at times.” Take that to the bank. I love Nick Hornby. In “High Fidelity” he said, “It is no good pretending that any relationship has a future if your record collections disagree violently or if your favorite films would not even speak to each other if they met at a party.”

Let’s hear from Erica Jong. “Show me a woman who is not guilty and I will show you a man,” she wrote.

Had enough wisdom for one day? Let’s end with Truman Capote, a Cobb Manor favorite. For all those people searching for themselves, Tru said to just stay at home, “Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.”

You are welcome.

Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at emmetmeara@msn.com.

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