Hermann Hesse’s Journey of the Heart

Narcissus, a young adult, lives a sheltered life in a monastery with other monks who value quiet contemplation. His faith and lifestyle travel a path relatively free of pain and suffering. And passion. He is tied to a sense of duty.

Narcissus welcomes Goldmund, a teen-ager, to the cloister and guides him to peer deep inside himself. Goldmund discovers his own artistic talents as well as his restless soul. He leaves Narcissus to live the life of a homeless, faithless man who endures great pain and suffering. Passion is his driving force.

Whose life was superior? Happier? More worthy?

After many years, Goldmund returns to Narcissus and from the messiness of Goldmund’s life, the monk finds his own clarity and realizes the depth of his love for his former student. His revelations will give readers pause.

Narcissus and Goldmund. German philosopher/author Hermann Hesse at his best.

What? Are Cats Goners?

A doctor tells a young postman that he has brain cancer and just days to live. As the postman considers what to do with the rest of his life, the devil appears, wearing an Hawaiian shirt and offering a deal: Give me permission to take something from the world and you get an extra day to live.

If Cats Disappeared from the World, a hand-sized book of 168 pages, takes the unnamed protagonist on a journey of discovery as he adds days to his life, but learns that some things are more important than life itself. Japanese author Genki Kawamura’s first novel sold more than a million copies in Japan and was adapted for film in 2016. Eric Selland wrote the English translation of the book.

The light, humorous story takes readers deep into the postman’s life while he contemplates relationships, mortality, and his cat, named Cabbage. Suspense builds as he sees the results of his deals with the devil.

No spoilers here; I won’t name the things the devil chooses to take from the world. I will say this: If Cats Disappeared from the World is the best book I have read in 2020.

Henry David Thoreau: A Life

Who was Henry David Thoreau?

He has been labeled a naturalist, farmer, author, lecturer, recluse, tax protestor, philosopher. Moody, introverted. Passionately antislavery. Longtime friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

In Henry David Thoreau: A Life, Laura Dassow Walls goes beyond the labels and reveals a sometimes insecure man who struggled to find out who he was. Walls takes readers on a journey through Thoreau’s journals and other writings. His walks, inner debates, friendships, and two years at Walden Pond come to life in a way that will enthrall and surprise even the most learned Thoreau scholar.

The 500 pages passed quickly and left me yearning to reread Thoreau’s most famous book, Walden. My new copy of the classic just arrived and as I began reading, I felt a fresh appreciation for one of the world’s great thinkers. I will let you know how it goes, but I am in no rush. I want to savor the moments that his words bring.

It is a Fact: We are Wrong About the World

Which of these statements best represents your view of the world today?

A. For most people, the quality of life is declining.

B. The quality of life is not changing much for most people.

C. The quality of life has vastly improved in modern times.

Swedish author Hans Rosling begins Factfulness: Ten Reasons Why We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think with a story from a circus, then tests readers’ views of the world with 13 multiple-choice questions. After you find out your (probably failing) score, he explains that chimpanzees probably would do better on his test than most humans by randomly choosing answers.

Every doomsayer should read this book. Every optimist should read this book. Maybe everyone should read this book; it will change your view of the world–past, present and future.

Rosling uses compelling statistical evidence in his battle against simple views of the world that are based on generalizations that we cling to because they fit our world vision. The facts are presented in vivid charts and graphs that are illustrated by compelling human stories from around the world.

He explains how our instincts affect our impressions about poverty, child mortality rates, life expectancy, deaths from natural disasters, climate change, child vaccination, and more.

If you are a TED talk fan, chances are that you are familiar with the international health professor. Sadly, pancreatic cancer claimed his life in 2017, the year before Factfulness was published. His son, Ola Rosling, and daughter-in-law Anna Rosling Rönnlund, who both worked with the author for years, completed the project.