While in Winnipeg for the holidays, I made the usual stop(s) at McNally-Robinson's bookstore. I can't help but notice my book-browsing is subtly changing as I advance in years. For at least three decades, my pattern of interest ran on a rail: start with comic books, move to science fiction, then fiction, then branch out from there. As I flail through the closing days of my fifth decade, I don't give those shelves more than a cursory glance.
I now find myself drawn to the less-savoury side of the bookstore. Science. Religion. Even Self-Help.
I think my curiosity in those earlier fields has been mostly satisfied. There continue to be items of interest in comics — now more than ever, really. But if it's not available in a digital format, I'll borrow it from the library. And if it's not there, forget it. My house isn't large enough to accommodate comic books.
As for the sci-fi bookshelf, that's something of a perverse curiosity these days, isn't it? Our best and brightest spec-fic writers are gazing with greater intensity at the rear-view mirror than they are at any “forward” projection. I certainly don't begrudge them this — I'm in the same boat. If there's any persistent cause for embarrassment in my 10 years of blogging, it's noting just how far behind the trailing edge my observations on technological innovation reside.*
And fiction, well . . . I've fallen so far behind on catching up with The Greats that my interest in the young and innovative is sputtering on fumes. If I ever finish 2666 I'll maybe pick up Murukami. Or maybe I'll finally tackle War & Peace instead.
Anyway, the store devoted a small table to a new translation of The Tibetan Book Of The Dead, which caught my eye and stirred my curiosity. It's been about 20 years since I last tried reading it — maybe a new translation would help me finish the job this time. Also, I figure I'm closer to my particular End Point than I've ever been (assuming my intuition of time is correct), so my interest in the topic is certainly more acute.
I leafed through it. The visions and exhortations remained as inscrutable to me as they were in the older translation. Then I thought, Why would I entertain another culture's Wisdom Tradition when I have my own cultural Wisdom Tradition?
Which is what, exactly?
Mennonites have been a “thing” for nearly half-a-millennium, but good luck trying to articulate a consistent body of wisdom to usher you out of this mortal coil. My superficial observation of the Mennonite life-cycle might be expressed as: you work until you can't; you attend to the needs and health of your family, then your community; you worship on Sunday morning, and participate in a Bible study on a weeknight; when your health fails, your pastor will help you and your family in prayer, and meditations on the Psalms; someone will probably be beside you when you breath your last.
Well . . . a superficial summary deserves a superficial retort. Ms. Peggy Lee:
A (slightly) less superficial retort might be, It may not look like much, but it works.
Still, I'm haunted by a bemused kvetch I overheard from a Catholic priest: “My most affluent parishioners are inevitably the ones who call me from their deathbeds, requesting a 36-hour crash course in the work they should have been devoting their lives to.”
*I see here that I was underwhelmed by the introduction of the Xbox 360. Now that I finally understand its appeal, Microsoft has gone and replaced it with a platform that utterly baffles me. Who in their right mind wants a camera in their living room? In five years or so I'll probably change my tune — just in time to be baffled by the Xbox One's replacement.