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The Department of Redundancy Department


I have written this before.

At this stage of life there are remarkably few things that are genuinely new for me to do or say. Perhaps I can change that, but in the meantime this is something that wants repetition.

Those of you who know me on goodreads.com are keenly aware how little I read. My reading habits are sporadic at best and spastic on the best of days. (Perhaps I can change that, too.) But on the short and embarrassing list of books I’ve encountered, there is one that stands out: just one book that I have read many times over so many years that our relationsbhip can best be described as an affair.

On goodreads.com, there is another book—one that I have read only once and over a period of nearly three years; it took that long to slog through it—a well-known and oft-referenced volume that I felt obligated to finish for the very reason I invoke it here: to lay claim. On goodreads there are thousands of reviews for this second book, most of them brief and formulaic, cultish invocations that claim “…if you read this with an open heart, it will change your life.” And, while I can’t necessarily attest in this case to the openness of my heart, I will say with assurance that the sole change I have noted with regret is the amount of time I wasted to claim it as “read”—for me, a necessary rite of passage that I’m grateful to have behind me. If there are books that have fulfilled this singular role in your life, I’d be interested in knowing their titles. I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours. The foregoing paragraph is necessary simply to put this other book in perspective.

James P. Carse was a professor of religion at New York University, though probably emeritus by now. And the life-changing book he wrote more than twenty-five years ago is engagingly titled Finite and Infinite Games: a vision of life as play and possibility. It was that title which lept from the bookstore shelf—not Barnes & Noble, as you might imagine, but Wordsworth I think, a very small, locally-owned independent bookstore long gone from a space occupied now by over-priced dietary supplements that ought to interest me for the possible extension of my life with the very worthy goal of adding more books to my paltry shelf at goodreads.

I bought Finite and Infinite Games in 1986 or 1987, shortly after its publication, and I immediately sat down to realize the fulfillment of its engaging title. But there was something wrong—with me, not Carse—because my eyes washed over its pages with even less engagement than with the phone book (the white pages, rather than the far more revelatory yellow ones). No matter how often or at what time of day or night I tried, I was simply unable to make sense of it. Some years later—perhaps ten or twelve—I found it in a pile and decided to try again. That night, swept away by its tsunami of ideas, I could not put it aside. And that week I read it again. And that month at least twice more. And tonight, I have set it aside oh so briefly to write this paean; perhaps to encourage your own encounter with a short volume that has offered more insight than any other in my limited experience.

Thank you for reading this. Carry on with what you were doing.

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