Here are some excerpts from books I’ve read over the past few years. If you like good books, you will like these. All of them are funny. Most have other virtues as well.
Even with my lifelong meditation on death. my existence had still seemed something permanent and stable on the planet Earth — something dependable, like igneous rock. Now that cancers were metastasizing to their heart’s content, atheism seemed like a pretty cruel thing to do to myself. I begged my brain to reconsider. I thought: Won’t I survive somewhere, in some form? Can I believe it? Please? Pretty please can I believe in the everlasting soul? In heaven or angels or paradise with sixteen beautiful virgins waiting for me? Pretty please can I believe that? Look, I don’t even need the sixteen beautiful virgins. There could be just one woman, old and ugly, and she doesn’t even have to be a virgin, she could be the town bike of the ever-after. In fact, there could be no women at all, and it doesn’t have to be paradise, it could be a wasteland — hell, it could even be hell, because while suffering the torments of a lake of fire, at least I’d be around to yell “Ouch!” Could I believe in that, please?
All the other afterlife scenarios are just not comforting. Reincarnation without continuation of this consciousness — I just don’t see the point in getting excited about it. And the least comforting eternity scenario of all time, one that is growing daily in popularity, one that people never stop telling me about, is that I will die but my energy will live on.
My energy, ladies and gentlemen.
Is my energy going to read books and see movies? Is my energy going to sink languidly into a hot bath or laugh until its sides ache? Let’s be clear: I die, my energy scatters and dissolves into Mother Earth. And I’m supposed to be thrilled by this idea? That’s as good to me as if you told me my brain and body die but my body odor lives on to stink up future generations. I mean, really. My energy.
But can’t I prolong my existence anywhere? My actual existence, not some positively charged shadow? No, I just can’t convince myself that the soul is anything other than the romantic name we have given to consciousness so we can believe it doesn’t tear or stain.
Solving the following riddle will reveal the awful secret behind the universe, assuming you do not go utterly mad in the attempt. If you already happen to know the awful secret behind the universe, feel free to skip ahead.
Let’s say you have an ax. Just a cheap one, from Home Depot. On one bitter winter day, you use said ax to behead a man. Don’t worry, the man was already dead. Or maybe you should worry, because you’re the one who shot him.He had been a big, twitchy guy with veiny skin stretched over swollen biceps, a tattoo of a swastika on his tongue. Teeth filed into razor-sharp fangs — you know the type. And you’re chopping off his head because, even with eight bullet holes in him, you’re pretty sure he’s about to spring back to his feet and eat the look of terror right off your face.
On the follow-through of the last swing, though, the handle of the ax snaps in a spray of splinters. You now have a broken ax. So, after a long night of looking for a place to dump the man and his head, you take a trip into town with your ax. You go to the hardware store, explaining away the dark reddish stains on the broken handle as barbecue sauce. You walk out with a brand-new handle for your ax.
The repaired ax sits undisturbed in your garage until the spring when, on one rainy morning, you find in your kitchen a creature that appears to be a foot-long slug with a bulging egg sac on its tail. Its jaws bite one of your forks in half with what seems like very little effort. You grab your trusty ax and chop the thing into several pieces. On the last blow, however, the ax strikes a metal leg of the overturned kitchen table and chips out a notch right in the middle of the blade.
Of course, a chipped head means yet another trip to the hardware store. They sell you a brand-new head for your ax. As soon as you get home, you meet the reanimated body of the guy you beheaded earlier. He’s also got a new head, stitched on with what looks like plastic weed-trimmer line, and it’s wearing that unique expression of “you’re the man who killed me last winter” resentment that one so rarely encounters in everyday life.
You brandish your ax. The guy takes a long look at the weapon with his squishy, rotting eyes and in a gargly voice he screams, “That’s the same ax that beheaded me!”
IS HE RIGHT?
“Lin, a man has to find a good woman, and when he finds her he has to win her love. Then he has to earn her respect. Then he has to cherish her trust. And then he has to, like, go on doing that for as long as they live. Until they both die. That’s what it’s all about. That’s the most important thing in the world.”
I had a mixed response, however, to the jumbo Slurpee cup I kept hidden under the bed and which now sat on the nightstand half-filled with urine, meaning I had been too intoxicated to make it to the guest bathroom a few feet away from the guest bed in the middle of the night but not so intoxicated that I was unable to direct the stream carefully into the cup and not onto the beige carpet, so it came down to: okay, peed into jumbo Slurpee cup and not on rug — plus or minus?
The following poem “The Spine Of The Snowman” is from the book “Actual Air” (paperback) by David Berman (frontman for the Silver Jews):
On the moon, an old caretaker in faded clothes is holed up in his pressurized cabin. The fireplace is crackling, casting sparks onto the instrument panel. His eyes are flickering over the earth,
looking for Illinois,
looking for his hometown, Gnarled Heritage,
until his sight is caught in its chimneys and frosted aerials.
He thinks back on the jeweler’s son who skated the pond behind his house, and the local supermarket with aisles that curved off like country roads.
Yesterday the robot had been asking him about snowmen.
He asked if they had minds.
No, the caretaker said, but he’d seen one
that had a raccoon burrowed up inside the head.
“Most had a carrot nose, some coal, buttons, and twigs for arms,
but others were more complex.
Once they started to melt, things would rise up
from inside the body. Maybe a gourd, which was an organ,
or a long knobbed stick, which was the spine of the snowman.”
The robot shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
“So, this is Kansas.”
It was the first thing O’Connell had said since we’d started driving this morning.
“We’re not in Missouri anymore,” I said. She didn’t get the reference.
I recommend all of these books!