How Reading Old Books Can Calm You


If you’re like me, you’re finding this particular election cycle to be as painful a portrayal of the fissures and breakages of our society as you can bear. You would like to escape somehow. An escape that is measured but decisive in its velocity. An escape that no one can send you to treatment for pursuing.

My suggestion is: find an old book that you think looks good and read it. How old? For an enhanced escape experience, go back at least eighty years and as far back as the Epic of Gilgamesh if you care to. The point is to time-travel to a realm of mind in which the syntax, tone and tacit societal assumptions are obviously not of our own era. Changes in language and narrative such as these muffle the present-time obsessions of your psyche and take you over the hills and far away, which is what you want, or at least I do.

Does it matter which old book you find or which genre it happens to be in? No and no. The time-switch is the key, while the subject or story under discussion is subject to your merest reading whims. That’s why I just reached for Appearance and Reality (third edition, 1899) by the British philosopher F. H. Bradley and—sure enough—instant relief:

“I will bring this chapter to an end. It would be easy, and yet profitless, to spin out its argument with ramifications and refinements. And for me to attempt to anticipate the reader’s objections would probably be useless. I have stated the case, and I must leave it. The conclusion to which I am brought is that a relational way of thought—any one that moves by the machinery of terms and relations—must give appearance, and not truth. It is a makeshift, a device, a mere practical compromise, most necessary but in the end most indefensible. We have to take reality as many, and to take it as one, and to avoid contradiction.”

Confused? Illumined? Lulled? You’re welcome.