Copyright © 2009 by Raymond M.
Raymond M. Smullyan
A prefatory ramble might be defined as a cross between a ramble and a preface. Be that as it may, I live surrounded by heaps and heaps of interesting books—some shelved, some on tables, some on chairs, some on floors—that I have picked up at used book stores—most of them quite inexpensively. Indeed, I picked up a copy of Kant ’s Critique of Pure Reason for 5 cents. When I proudly told this to a logician friend of mine, he replied: “I’m afraid you grossly overpaid!”
I am reminded of Mark Twain ’s definition of a good library: “A good library needn’t have any books. All that is required is that it has no books by Jane Austen .”
This, in turn, reminds me of Ambrose Bierce ’s definition of the word incompossible: “Unable to exist if something else exists. Two things are incompossible when the world of being has scope enough for one of them, but not enough for both—as Walt Whitman ’s poetry and God’s mercy to man.”
Now, my library may fail to satisfy Mark Twain ’s definition, but it contains oodles of gems—many that are little known—that will surely interest those of you who like the sort of things I like. Well, of course; that’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? (I am reminded of the anecdote of Abraham Lincoln , who, when requested to write an endorsement for a book, wrote: “Those who like this kind of book will find it just the kind of book they like.”)
What I should have said is that the gems I have found will probably appeal to those who like the sort of things that I have previously written. Like Lin Yutang, I have found some of my sources in the most unlikely places.
Lin Yutang is a most delightful and sensible author—he is really one of my favorites. I strongly recommend all of his books. One may well start with The Importance of Living (The John Day Company, 1937).
In his preface he describes his book as a personal testimony, and makes no pretense of being objective. He says that he would have liked to have called it “A Lyrical Philosophy,” but was afraid that doing so might lead the reader to expect too much.
Actually, “A Lyrical Philosophy” would really be quite an appropriate title—his philosophy is indeed a lyrical one, beautifully so!
Lin also considered the possibility of writing his book in the form of a dialogue in the manner of Plato, but in view of the fact that the dialogue form has gone out of vogue, he was afraid that if he did so, people wouldn’t read him, and after all, an author wants to be read!
I also love the dialogue form, and am quite upset that it is no longer in vogue. But still I am glad that Lin did not choose that form, because it might have lost some of that lovely rambling quality, but perhaps not, since Lin’s idea of a good dialogue is one that is leisurely and extends several pages at a stretch with many detours, and comes back to the original point by a short cut at a completely unexpected turn, which he likens to a man “returning home over a hedge, to the surprise of his walking companions.”
That’s a lovely idea! I think I will follow that plan, but perhaps without intending to do so. I also love detours!
Like yours truly, Lin loved to buy cheap editions of old authors, many of whose names are obscure, and would baffle many a Chinese professor. Indeed if they knew his sources, they would be astounded and regard him as a Philistine, but Lin prefers “finding a small jewel in an ash can than seeing a large one in a jeweler's window.”
I love what Lin has to say about Chinese philosophers: He describes them as dreaming with one eye open and viewing life with love and sweet irony. They also mix cynicism with a kindly tolerance and are seldom disillusioned or disappointed, since they never have extravagant hopes.
I hope I have given you a good feeling for what Lin’s book is like. Those who have not read it, have I sold you? If not, then I don't think you will like my book either. If so, then I think you will like my book as well.
Coming back to my book, after the above ramble (which is typical of what you should expect), many of my friends have told me that I have a special knack for finding surprisingly interesting passages, even in authors they have previously disliked. For example, one intelligent musician who told me she hated Thoreau and Whitman was absolutely entranced with selections I read her, and begged me to find some more! I have had similar experiences with Emerso n, Samuel Johnson and many others (including Eastern writers). Also, people who told me that they never had any taste for poetry have loved translations of Chinese poetry that I read to them.
And so my plan is to take a tour through my library, record my favorite selections and any thoughts set off by them. Thus, this book will be a combination of anthology, essays, scraps of thought, reminiscences, maybe some autobiography , perhaps some letters—anything will be fair game. I shall not be at all systematic, but hopefully there will be some method in my madness. I shall be like the poet Thomas Gray , of whom Hazlitt said: “He had nothing to do but to read and think, and to tell his friends what he read and thought. His life was a luxurious, thoughtful dream.”
And so, I shall tell you what I read and think—at least those things that I believe will interest you.
It gives me particular pleasure to see my favorite selections all in one neat package. Moreover, I wish to express my deepest thanks and appreciation to Greg and Susanne Gore, my publishers and editors, for their tireless and most conscientious efforts in making the book what it is. Never before have I had a more wonderful relationship with any publisher or editor.
course, I am writing this book as much for myself as for my readers. I
cannot spread myself too thin, and so I can get to only a fraction of my
library. But I am hoping to write one or more sequels in the future.
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Copyright 2009 by Praxis