good books that make you worry about the inexorable passage of time

(Those are them, above.)

Here’s a quote from Janna Kavenna’s Inglorious:

[Rosa’s] father said, “How are you? What have you been doing this morning?”

She had the menu in her hand. She understood his point. Because it was only in doing that you could prove your commitment to being. Being, alone, was insufficient. Being was a state of idle passivity–anyone could “be.” To “do” was the thing. We do, therefore we are. And onwards, she thought, turning to her father.

One of the quotes on the book jacket says, “[Rosa’s] story manages to be funny while heartbreakingly authentic in its depiction of that very stuck place one sinks into after multiple disasters.” (Her mother has recently died, she’s left her job, her long-term boyfriend has broken up with her, etc.) But I actually think that the most painful/powerful part of the book is that Kavenna makes you forget that Rosa has suffered any disasters at all; her crazy dislocation comes to seem like the inevitable result of just plain thinking too much about life. I know that I couldn’t think of a way for Rosa to emerge from her downward spiral.

Meanwhile, from David Shields’ the thing about life is that one day you’ll be dead, we have:

Your IQ is highest between ages 18 and 25. Once your brain peaks in size–at age 25–it starts shrinking, losing weight, and filling with fluid.

Wait, there’s more:

Creativity peaks in the 30s, then declines rapidly; most creative achievements occur when people are in their 30s… Your strength and coordination peak at 19. Your body is the most flexible until age 20; after that, joint function steadily declines.

And this is only from the adulthood chapter. Just wait until you get to “Old Age and Death.”

Which is worse, Shields’ neurotic listing of depressing facts, or Kavenna’s protagonist’s stuck-in-her-head musings? Which is worse, knowing that your body will decay and you will die, or being unable to find any meaning or enjoyment in life as you live it?

Oh god. See? This is horrible. Anyway, I recommend these two books to you if you want to muck around in your head a bit.

Finally, I remember sitting in my high school English class when we read this poem, Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm. Of course, thinking back on it a few years later, all I remembered were the piles of dung and the final line. But here it is. May it bring you back to high school and forward to the end all in one go.

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota

by James Wright

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

So. What other books should be added to this list?


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