The Fullness of Life by Edith Wharton & Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda

In her short story, “The Fullness of Life,” Edith Wharton wrote about a woman who dies. In heaven, she is met by the Spirit of Life, who rewards her with the chance to live for eternity with her soulmate, something she did not get to experience during her time on Earth.

Seems like an easy decision, right? But here’s the catch: the woman still feels a dutiful attachment to her former husband, who has yet to die. In a classic bit of Whartian tragedy, he’s always considered her his soulmate, and will surely want to spend eternity with her once he, too, passes on.

Thus, her dilemma: does she selfishly take the Spirit’s offer and spend eternity with her true soulmate, or does she stay loyal to the man she married?

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The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

In Bo Burnham’s Make Happy, he describes social media as “the market’s answer to a generation that demanded to perform.” So the market said, here, perform everything all the time for no reason. “It’s prison,” he says. In Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence the market is New York’s high society in the 1870s, and it’s fitting that the novel opens to a performance at an opera house because this is a story about people performing, and watching others perform, constantly.

The prison is society’s strict adherence to (arguably outdated) decorum: protocol, customs, etiquette, formalities, whatever you want to call them. This prison governs who people can marry, where and how they spend their time, what they wear, how they think, and whether or not their dreams are worth anything at all. These rules are strangling people, programming them, and as a result they live in a world where appearances are everything.

If they refuse to perform up to the claustrophobic norms of the day, they risk expulsion. No money from the patriarchy, no connections from the matriarchy, no respect whatsoever. Performance, then, becomes religion.

“Does no one want to know the truth here, Mr. Archer? The real loneliness is living among all these kind people who only ask one to pretend!”

Every time I read a classic I inevitably ask myself the same question: “Has this book finished saying what it has to say?” If it’s become out of touch then it isn’t a classic, because classics endure; they reinvent themselves. We continue to find value in classics well past their point of origin.

The Age of Innocence is a nearly 100-year-old book about a society of fake, self-centred, and anxious people in 19th century New York and all I can think about after reading it is Facebook. If that’s not the definition of a classic in 2018 I don’t know what is.

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5 Authors Who Changed My Life

These aren’t necessarily my favorite authors (although several are) or the authors I read the most (although several are), but they’re authors who have had a profound impact on my life.

The Author I Have to Defend

Christopher Moore. Moore is an author many refuse to take seriously, which I get, to some extent. There’s no denying that he wrote the line “Blessed are the dumbfucks” in a book about Jesus. Yet, at the same time, he’s a soulful writer with an alarming humanity: “There’s a fine edge to new grief, it severs nerves, disconnects reality–there’s mercy in a sharp blade. Only with time, as the edge wears, does the real ache begin.” Don’t let titles like “Island of the Sequined Love Nun” or “Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove” scare you away. He’s been compared to Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams, for crying out loud. There are writers who make you laugh, and there are writers who make you think. Moore is one of the rare few who does both.

The Author Who Matured Me as a Reader

John Milton. In my first year at Saint Mary’s University I took a fantastic Literary Traditions course from the wonderful, inspiring David Heckerl. (It’s amazing what a good professor can do for you.) In our first semester we tackled Paradise Lost and it, quite literally, changed my life. I was set to be a kinesiology student when I enrolled at St. Mary’s, but at the last moment I switched my major to English (to the confusion of many). I never once regretted that decision, in large part to Paradise Lost. Once I read Milton there was no turning back. Most professors will tell you who to read. Heckerl, through Milton, taught me how to read.

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