Having discovered Google Books and Open Library where out of copyright books are free for download, I seldom buy a new book these days. But Charles Krauthammer’s Things That Matter caught my attention. I downloaded the ebook version from Books-a-Milllion since I gave up on Amazon because I’ve never had an order there be fulfilled without complications. Though downloading a PDF file and reading it on my computer or my tablet is easy, the ebooks and Kindle versions seem to be far more complicated. Once I successfully got Dr. Krauthammer’s book downloaded, after several false starts, I discovered I had to activate the ebook reader Alkildo, which I have never used before but was sitting patiently on my tablet waiting for its chance because that is where I happened to find the book sitting on the electronic bookshelf. Now I have one more login and password to remember. This irks me more than a little. I wish I had ordered the hardcover version, as this is a book worthy of a permanent place on an old-fashioned bookshelf.
Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. Now that I am finished, it still speaks to me, my mind sorting through all the things it inspired me to contemplate further. Some the essays caused me to recoil, others are forcing me to examine gaps in my own thinking, and still others were surprising in that it is not always easy to predict what a great thinker may be thinking.
The TV news-show pundits these days make a significant amount of money from the books they hawk on their own shows. Everyone who is in the news who has something to say and speaks to a loyal audience has a book to sell, too. It seems that one of the ways to get TV face time on a news show is to have written a book. Having written a book is no indication that anyone actually has anything worthwhile to say.
I am very fond of my step-father who orders every book that is offered on Fox News. He reads them, or claims to, then brings them to me. While I think Glenn Beck actually has something to say, I have read a couple of his books that were thus furnished. None of them are worthy of a spot on my bookshelf, yet they occupy space there only because it is difficult to throw a book away. I regret that I don’t have Things That Matter in a format where it can occupy physical space on one of my many bookshelves and I can permanently retire some books that don’t matter.
Much of the material that is in modern news books is so dated as to be irrelevant in just a few months and completely useless to a new reader in just a few years. To have compiled a book that consists of political news columns over the last thirty years and have it be still relevant is a remarkable achievement. Congratulations, Dr. Krauthammer.
There are a few other essay books from political writers based on current news columns that still I find relevant even though the political operatives have changed more than once. William Saffire’s Take My Word For It and P.J. O’Rourke’s Parliament of Whores are the two that come to mind. The former taught me of the twisted language that politicians can use; the latter still taught me that our government is no worse now that it used to be. Both are still relevant: a remarkable achievement for books based on then-current politics long after the currency has lost much of its value.
Things That Matter will be added to the list. It will lose none of its currency. Following Dr. Krauthammer from his beginnings as a liberal to his ultimate destination as a conservative is fascinating. He is not the first one to make such a journey. Me? I was born a conservative. If there is a gene for it my DNA will prominently display it. I tried as best I could to become a liberal in my college days since that seemed to be what was expected of me, but I failed miserably. It was a terrible time for me because I was young and wanted to please everyone. This is not possible. After I discovered Ayn Rand, I developed enough spine to understand that my thoughts would no longer please many people. I had a mind of my own and I would henceforth use it. Of course, being a young sponge, I absorbed more Ayn Rand than I could legitimately hold on to, and dripping Ayn Rand all over the place was too much for many. It eventually became too much for me as well, though what the sponge absorbed and held still remains. I am thankful to Ayn for the spine. Like Dr. Krauthammer, I too was young once.
I enjoyed reading of his fondness for baseball. I enjoyed what little he presented to us of having to deal with a major disability. I really enjoy the lesson that he persistently achieved in spite of his disability. Lesser men would have quit. To abandon a safe medical practice for the unsure world of the writer is remarkable, but one cannot put a value on having something relevant to say and the ability to say it well. People will always be interested in that and many will trade their money for the wisdom of the thinker.
The good thinkers never tell us what we should think. They simply tell us what they think. And the recorded thoughts of thinking men are valuable to us all, even when their thinking challenges us. Even if we don’t agree they force us to develop better arguments or ultimately to abandon our own untenable position. I am thankful for that.
In these days of lost civility in political discourse, when the entire political spectrum vocally mourns that loss while continuing in its own incivility, we have a soft voice of reason. One can hold an opinion that they do not change in the course of debate and not be unreasonable or uncivil. This is a lesson that needs to be learned by many: just because I don’t agree does not make me uncivil, it just means that I don’t agree. Why should that bother anyone? The illusion that politics is any more uncivil that it has been in former times is as much an illusion as my incivility simply because I am of a different mind.
I particularly took note on Dr. Krauthammer’s declared war on the comma. I use far too many. Maybe when he reads this he’ll edit it for me and send copy back with every comma he thinks is superfluous removed. I tried purposefully to leave out as many commas as my heart would allow. He will likely think there are still too many.
I also noted his thankfulness for good editors who improved his writing. I did not know they existed. As a writer, I am still young. Dr. Krautmammer was young once too. As we move beyond youngness we discover that life has taught us many things. At least I hope we do. The only wasted life is the one that was lived without learning anything. I have learned a lot; I still am. There is lots yet to learn.
Give us more of those who provoke us to thoughtfulness: those who challenge us by poking holes in those things we misname theories that are merely unsupported hypotheses. And give us more of those who will instantly spot a timidly inserted colon where we normally would have put a comma. Maybe they will like that better.
I doubt it. I suppose I should just use commas like I always do and let the chips fall where they may. I still want to please. That part of my youngness is still with me, though much less so.
We were all young once.