Friday, 8 May 2020

Book Review: Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It

Book Review: Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It

Review by Casey Douglass

Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It

If I hear a tasty quote or a short sentence that strikes a chord with how I’m feeling about life, I’ll nod my head, think about writing it down and then never get around to it. Daniel Klein is someone that did actually take the next step in that process and actually put pen to paper. As a young man, Daniel labelled a notebook “Pithies” and decided to record any philosophical gem that spoke to him. Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It was born when decades later, Daniel rediscovered this old notebook, and decided to study it to see what fresh insights might be gained.

The title: Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It was born from a quote from American philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr, and as you might imagine, the book itself consists of plenty of chapters, each beginning with the quote that inspired that particular chapter. In the prologue, Daniel explains the conundrum of how to best order the Pithies. He didn’t want to just arbitrarily write them chronologically, or try to categorise the pigeonhole spanning themes within. He settled on presenting them in a more natural, whimsical way, letting one idea lead him to another. I enjoyed this approach, as I felt it gave the book a more conversational flow, taking in the natural deviations that a friendly philosophical discussion might contain.

The opening sections of the book start with the topic of hedonism and such figures as Epicurus and Aristippus, but soon makes way for the pessimistic Arthur Schopenhauer and the often quite bleak Existentialists such as Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. This is what I referenced above, how talking about hedonism and finding pleasure in life soon diverts to the suffering it contains and notions of pain and suicide. That’s not even getting to the notion of free-will, what is our true-self and the benefits of friendship and humour. This is a book dense with ideas and I’ve only very loosely described the first third of it so far.

Don’t let the denseness put you off however, as Daniel does a fine job of making things interesting. The quote that starts each chapter is like an acorn he puts in your hand, and the humble number of pages that follow in said chapter describe the branch of the “philosophy tree” it came from. Certain of these leaves were also taken from Daniel’s own life, whether relating to what was going on at the time he recorded the Pithy, or his own views now looking back at that time. We also get to hear about his dog Snookers in some of his examples, which is something I think more philosophical discourse should include.

The topics in Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It cover quite a variety of things, and Daniel does a good job of explaining his opinions on these issues. I didn’t find myself disagreeing more than a couple of times. The only thing I felt a shake of my head towards was in the chapter about friendship and relationships. Daniel seemed dismissive of the idea of setting certain boundaries in your relationship with someone; how it goes against intimacy and the like. I can see his point and he made his case with a reasonable example, but I would say that boundaries are an important element of self-care for certain people, especially if you happen to live life as a chronic “people pleaser”.

Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It is a lovely book that provides much food for thought. I’d already read a decent number of the philosophers inside, but I also picked up a few names that I’d like to find out more about. The main discovery for me in this respect is David Pearce, a British philosopher who thinks that we must do whatever is possible to make happiness universal. Incorporated into his ideas are the use of technology, such as nanotechnology and designer drugs and how they might be used to bring this about. As someone who struggles with uncomfortable emotions like fear and anxiety on quite a painful level, this notion of what a world without certain emotions would be like is an interesting thing to ponder. I’ve yet to actually read anything of Pearce’s directly but I firmly intend to.

So for £1.99, I bought a book that took me on a philosophical tour of some of the most enrapturing ideas for the author, with the added bonus of finding some new avenues to follow along the way. I’ve spent more on crisps! If you enjoy philosophy that is presented in a calm, thoughtful way, head on over to Amazon or the publisher’s website to find out more.

Book Title: Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It
Book Author: Daniel Klein
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
Released: 2015
ISBN: 9781780749327
Current Price: £8.19 (Paperback) / £1.99 (Kindle)