Did anyone notice that I spent about three months reading A Widow for One Year? I had multiple problems getting through it, mostly because I lost interest in just about everybody within the first 30 pages. But it's Irving, who's knocked my socks off with Garp and Owen Meany, so I stuck it out. And severely retarded my ambitious summer reading schedule.
After I finally finished it, a friend gave me her For-Your-Consideration copy of "The Door in the Floor," which was superbly cast but was paced just as glacially as the book. I left them both as a rubber-banded set in my lobby yesterday morning, and they were gone by the time we got back for naptime. My money's on the philosophy professor on the second floor; he has a habit of swiping anything that isn't nailed down and selling it for pot money.
My reading schedule has since ramped up a bit, and the last book I finished was "Stumbling on Happiness," which is not, as its title implies, a self-help book for the chronically depressed. (I had to explain this to a couple friends who raised eyebrows at the title.) Author Dan Gilbert instead talks about the care and feeding of our future selves, or how we make decisions that we think will make us happy. He opens the book by showing us how our memories are crap. We tend to misremember the past in a loose outline, and our minds tend to winnow out the worst bits. Which is why when I look back on the 1984 Peach Bowl, I'm able to look back fondly of how I got arrested for drunken and disorderly conduct and spent New Year's Eve in the hoosegow.
Toward the end the book, Gilbert mentions how we humans should be getting better at anticipating what will make us happy because of all of our shared wisdom and the increasingly powerful and prevalent ways we can share it. Yet we still seem to make the same mistakes, generation after generation, mainly because we misremember the lessons we've learned. There are also what he calls "super-replicators," inaccurate beliefs that tend to propagate themselves because they "facilitate the means for their own transmission." One of these super-replicators, he says, is having children.
According to several studies, parents find child-rearing, and the quotidian selfless drudgery therein, far more unpleasant than they thought. Yet when people are asked about what makes them happiest, most say "having children."
"While we believe we are raising children and earning paychecks to increase our happiness, we are actually doing these things for reasons that are beyond our ken. We are nodes in a social network that arises and falls by a logic all its own, which is why we continue to toil, continue to mate, and continue to be surprised when we do not experience all the joy we so gullibly anticipated."
So parents (and I know there are a lot of you out there), here's a topic to chew on during this penultimate summer weekend: What's your take on this? Has parenthood been all you hoped? Are you as happy about it as you thought you'd be? Or are you counting the minutes until school starts?
And why did you have kids in the first place? Do you think you truly wanted to be a parent? Or are we all just suckers who propagate the race simply because mystical forces tell us to?
I really enjoyed this book, and I'm keeping my copy. Much to Professor Pothead's likely chagrin.