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Do any of our actions make any difference to anything? What makes us happy? What makes us laugh? What about the power of memory?
This week’s quotations look at all these issues. The scandalous Alan Clark, whose remarkable and disturbing diaries I have reviewed, clearly thought that sexual activity was keeping him young. Evelyn Waugh, in his elegiac Brideshead Revisited, blows us away with his reminiscences. P G Wodehouse, on whom I blog frequently, is the one of the best comic writers on earth. Lawrence Durrell, meanwhile, is sceptical that any of our lives achieve anything. I disagree!
Personally, I am a strong believer that our lives can make a difference
Why am I still, in the main, so zestful?
I know, but I don’t like to say
In case the gods take it away.
Alan Clark, The Diaries (more…)
What are your all-time favourite songs?
If you are over 25, did you first hear those songs recently or – as I suspect – did you hear them in your teen years or early ’20s?
I am intrigued that the usual lists of things that make people happy, such as family, friends, work, wealth, health, freedom, personal values, and beautiful environments, do not include music or the arts (bold italics are links to other posts on this site).
To hear music is a profound human need; the impact on your wellbeing can be sublime.
So I was fascinated when writing my recent blog How to stay sane: never take yourself too seriously, featuring the wit and wisdom of Deep Purple, to explore my old collection of singles. What were the first I ever acquired?
To be honest, I am not certain. My singles were once mixed up with the larger collection of my elder brother (who I believe I remember bringing home “She Loves You” by the Beatles in 1963); and have been culled over the years, including by my giving some to my daughter for her new-fangled vinyl record player.
Leaving aside these quibbles, the oldest singles now in my collection, in reverse order of antiquity, are:
6. Paranoid, by Black Sabbath (1970) (more…)
The lights go down.
Heavy metal chords ring out.
It is clear that Deep Purple have lost none of their ability to rock.
I’ve seen the loudest band of all time (Guinness Book of Records) twice: in Kyiv in 2011 and in Vienna in 2017. I was fortunate enough to share a beer with Roger Glover and other band members after both shows. (more…)
How seriously should we take ourselves?
One of the keys to happiness is not to take yourself too seriously. You can take life seriously, and your family, and your work. You can, and should, take pride in yourself and your achievements.
But the minute you start thinking that you are a rather amazing person, and better than other people, you are in danger of taking yourself too seriously and should stop it at once.
“Thank you, Jeeves” is an absolute corker
I was reminded of this wisdom by one of this week’s three quotations, which are below. (more…)
At the roof bar of the top hotel in Istanbul, I don’t notice a thing.
Below us, the Bosphorus sparkles in the setting sun. I slurp my cocktail and feel a powerful sense of well-being.
When we sit down for dinner, however, I see at once.
‘You’re both drinking vodka,’ I say. ‘Why is that?’
My dinner companions, both top cardiac surgeons, glance at one another.
At the “Spectre” premiere in Istanbul
‘This is because pure spirits are the healthiest way to ingest alcohol,’ one says. ‘Of course, not drinking alcohol may also have health benefits, although some studies indicate the opposite if consumed in moderation. But if, like us, you enjoy a drink from time to time, without excess sugar and calories, pure spirits are the best.’
‘Wow.’ I sip my glass of red wine and wonder if I should have a re-think. (more…)
‘I only finished the first volume,’ my friend says. ‘It was so badly written. And boring.’
‘I disagree,’ I say. ‘I think the writing is brilliant. It hits every target for a best-seller. I read all three volumes. But I ended up hating it.’
What to make of 50 Shades of Grey? Last time I looked, it had sold 150 million copies in 52 languages and spawned a hit movie series. The book has 85,000 reviews on Amazon.com with an average of 4*, and a further 21,500 on Amazon.co.uk – also averaging 4*. A lot of people love it. Why?
The following review contains spoilers. Links in bold italics are to other blog posts on this site.
Each volume of “50 Shades” is substantial
Here are 5 things I found brilliant about the 50 Shades trilogy:
(i) everything is big. In her book “How to write a blockbuster“, Sarah Harrison says a bestseller must have glamour in the sense of absolute, undeniable, gobsmacking allure… with all the maidenly restraint of Joan Collins on speed. It’s got to be BIG, she says. Everything about 50 Shades is big – Christian Grey is not just rich, he’s mega-rich. He isn’t just talented; he is a concert-quality pianist and outstanding skier and linguist who excels at martial arts. He’s not only a good person: he wants to help poor people around the world. He’s not just handsome – every woman he passes is entranced by his charisma. As Ana sums him up:
A writer compares turnips and sex. Is he wise, or daft? Can we use his wisdom – if any – to make ourselves happier?
I have written often about happiness on this blog. You can find a summary in my piece The one with the links to happiness.
W Somerset Maugham considers happiness and the meaning of life in his essay The Summing Up, written in 1938. Perhaps writers – and others – can learn from him. Try not to be put off by the old-fashioned way in which he often refers to “men” when he means “people”
W Somerset Maugham is most famous for his short stories
In The Summing Up, Maugham asks whether writing itself is enough for a happy life…
From time to time I have asked myself whether I should have been a better writer if I had devoted my whole life to literature.
… and concludes:
Somewhat early, but at what age I cannot remember, I made up my mind that, having but one life, I should like to get the most I could out of it. It did not seem to me enough merely to write. (more…)