The Good Book: Proverbs, chapter 22: Books

Prepare for an incoming lack of irony…

1. Something is learned every time a book is opened.
Indeed. So far I have learned that A.C.Grayling is a crappy prose stylist.
2. A book may be as great a thing as a battle.
Or better, given how many fewer people die from books.
3. Books are ships that traverse the seas of time.
I like this one.
4. Books cannot always please, however good; minds are not always craving for food.
Not sure about this one – as usual, it seems too broad to me.
5. Books give no wisdom where there was not wisdom before.
Not convinced.
6. Rather a study full of books than a purse full of money.
I think my creditors would disagree on this one.
7. There is nothing so old as a new book.
What? If the two adjectives switched positions, I would agree, but this?
8. The best companions are good books.
Depending on what you want from a companion, that is.
9. The books that help most are those that prompt most thought.
In which case, this book is not particularly helpful…
10. The virtue of books is to be readable.
…and lacks virtue…
11. There is no frigate like a book to take us to lands far away.
Indeed not.
12. Wear the old coat and buy the new book.
Oh yeah.
13. The world may know me by my book, and my book by me.
Unless you really are boring, pedantic and lacking in irony, you better hope not.
14. Word by word the great books are written.
Yeah, but also the shite ones.
15. The reader’s fancy makes the fate of books.
Believe me, it’s going to.

You know what? He’s convinced me. There’s another 123 chapters of Proverbs, and I think it’s a safe assumption that none of them are any better than the 22 I’ve already looked at. In the interests of finishing the rest of the book before I die, I’m going to skip the rest of the Book of Proverbs, and move on to the Book of the Lawgiver.

The Good Book: Proverbs, chapter 21: Boldness

Boldness. Right. I can’t help thinking this is a subject Grayling mostly knows about theoretically.

1. The bold never lack a weapon.
Indeed.
2. Bold knaves thrive without a grain of sense, while the good starve for want of impudence.
True.
3. Boldness is an ill keeper of promises.
Sadly, also true.
4. Great boldness is seldom without some absurdity.
Indeed, but what’s so bad about absurdity?
5. It is a bold mouse that breeds in the cat’s ear.
And a very small one.
6. Boldness is a bulwark.
Yup.
7. Boldness leads to the highest or the lowest.
Indeed.

The Good Book: Proverbs, chapter 20: Blushing

And again, Grayling discusses things it strongly appears he knows nothing about:

1. Whoever blushes is not quite a brute.
Not quite, no. They can still be quite a bully, though.
2. People blush less for their crimes than their weaknesses.
Indeed.
3. Rather see a young man blush than turn pale.
Nice, but unnecessarily gender-specific
4. When the guilty blush it is a sign of mending.
Or maybe they’re just embarassed they got cauight.
5. Rather bring blood to the cheek than let it out of the body.
Agreed. Pride heals much faster than bodies.

The Good Book: Proverbs, chapter 19: Blindness

Lacking all irony, Grayling discusses blindness:

1. The sky is not less blue because the blind cannot see it.
True, but it’s hardly a nice thing to point out to them.
2. A pebble and a diamond are alike to the blind.
That depends on whether they want to cut glass or not.
3. Better be blind than see ill.
Truly? Seeing ill is curable.
4. Better half blind than both eyes out.
True
5. People are most blind in their own cause.
True
6. The blind eat many a fly.
Nice metaphor.
7. Blind men should judge no colours.
I think they know that
8. The eyes are blind when the mind is elsewhere.
True
9. Among the blind close your eyes.
Is this a “when in Rome…” thing? Because it seems dangerously unsafe.

The Good Book: Proverbs, chapter 18: Birth

Another bag of mixed wisdom. I think what annoys me most about this is the complete lack of any attempt to work out a consistent system of ethical or moral conduct in this book. There’s just a bunch of prescriptions for behaviour, without any context or explanation, and many a contradiction between them to be found.

1. No one can help being born.
Painfully obvious
2. We are not completely born until we are dead.
I suppose no one can help dying, either.
3. I wept when I was born, and every day shows why.
Depressing much? I assume Grayling is a fan of the Vale of Tears interpretation of the world
4. No one is born with an axe in hand.
And what a good thing for their mothers that is.
5. No one is born a partisan of this or that cause; all such are made.
The immediately preceding proverb said the same thing, only so much more evocatively.

The Good Book: Proverbs, chapter 17: Benefit

And now for your weekly dose of the bleeding obvious:

1. Benefits, like flowers, please when fresh.
Pretty, but basically banal.
2. Benefits turn to poison in bad minds.
Sinister, but basically banal.
3. The last benefit is the most remembered.
Painfully obvious.
4. When benefited, remember it; when benefiting, forget it.
Good advice.
5. Write injuries in dust, benefits in marble.
Also good advice.
6. Who confers a benefit loves more than the one benefited.
Pretty, not convinced that it’s true.
7. Benefits are acceptable only if they can be repaid.
Wait, what? Again, Grayling sacrifices accuracy for pithiness. Some benefits can only be repaid to one’s common humanity.
8. Benefits are traced on sand, injuries on brass.
The polar opposite of 5 above, but I get it – 5 is how it should be, 8 is how it is.
9. To accept a benefit is to sell one’s freedom.
But by that logica, the kindly dispensers of benefits who you just got done advising us to be are apparently sinister enslavers.
10. To benefit the worthy is to benefit all.
If only it was as easy to determine worthiness as it is to write platitudes.

The Good Book: Proverbs, chapter 16: Belief

Given the intent behind this book’s creation, it seems not unreasonable to expect that this particular chapter will be a little better than its predecessors. Let’s get stuck in.

1. Believe not all you see or half you hear.
Good advice, certainly.
2. He does not believe who does not live accordingly.
Indeed not. Presumably there’s a chapter about Hypocrisy somewere down the line.
3. Each person’s own belief is true.
…to them.
4. Who believes everything, misses; who believes nothing, misses.
Indeed, but Heinlein said it more clearly.
5. People believe what they wish were true.
True.
6. Quick believers need broad shoulders.
Um, yes, but what is the point?
7. A belief is not true because it is useful.
And again.
8. Who quick believes late repents.
All too often.
9. Who knows much believes less.
Ideally, yes.

Not much there, really. Grayling increasingly reminds me of the philosophers in “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” – those whose minds are “too highly trained”.

The Good Book: Proverbs, chapter 15: Beginnings

Is it just me, or would it perhaps have worked better if this chapter had been, you know, somewhere closer to the Beginning of the Book?

1. At first everything is difficult.
Some things, like reading this book, become even more difficult as they go on.
2. All glory comes from daring to begin.
Can’t argue that, although the quality of what one dares also matters.
3. Better never begin than never end.
Take your own advice, Grayling. Please, take your own advice, just once…
4. Who begins many things ends few.
Ouch. Yeah, okay.
5. The first step is as good as half over.
It’s not, but without that sort of advice, nothing gets started.
6. What begins with tow will not end as silk.
I don’t even know what that means.
7. Things are always at their best at the beginning.
No.
8. All beginnings are small.
True.

The Good Book: Proverbs, chapter 14: Beauty

The marvelous commonality of human experience: like all men, Grayling has encountered a ruthless beauty, and resented at least the ruthlessness, and possibly the beauty as well.

But then he’s confusingly mixed it with the more general concept of beauty, in its purely aesthetic sense. Still, it shouldn’t be too hard to separate the two meanings from context.

1. Everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it.
Aesthetic beauty.
2. All heiresses are beautiful.
A third type of beauty: one we might call an hallucination of avarice.
3. Beauty and folly are old companions.
Ruthless beauty (although to be sure, a beauty need not be conscious nor using their beauty in order to inspire folly).
4. Beauty and honesty seldom agree.
Ruthless also.
5. Beauty carries its dower in its face.
Pointless.
6. Beauty is its own excuse.
Aesthetic. I think.
7. Beauty is a natural superiority.
Aesthetic.
8. Beauty provokes thieves sooner than gold.
An hallucination of avarice again.
9. Where beauty is, there will be love.
And yet this would seem to be the opposite, unless love and folly are one.
10. Beauty is as good as ready money.
And now who’s hallucinating in avarice?
11. Beauty opens locked doors.
Ruthless. (In addition, it opens many an unlocked but bouncer-staffed door also.)
12. Most women would rather be beautiful than good.
Sexist, ruthless and indeterminate…
13. Beauty is the purgation of superfluities.
Aesthetic.
14. There is beauty enough where there is goodness enough.
A nice companion to 12, above. Not excusing the sexism of the above, though.
15. Rare is the union of beauty and modesty.
Oh, indeed…
16. Beauty is a short-lived reign.
You hope, Grayling. You hope.
17. Beauty is a fading flower.
Repetition.
18. When the candles are out all women are fair, with money in hand all men are handsome.
Again with the needless sexism. As if the wisdom of the ages finds no contribution from our own age…

The Good Book: Proverbs, chapter 13: Avarice

Now we’re getting to something meaty. One the Seven Deadly Sins, no less.

Place your bets now that Grayling manages to mess that up too.

1. The covetous do nothing well until they die.
Agreed.
2. Avarice and happiness do not share a home.
Agreed.
3. Avarice is a spur to industry.
And suddenly, it seems like we’re reading the Free Market Bible that the nuts at Conservapedia are doing.
4. It is not lack but abundance that breeds avarice.
True, but it’s also envy of other’s abundance.
5. They who covet are always poor.
Yes, but this does come across a little like sklavmoral. Take comfort ye poor, for in Heaven, etc, etc.
6. Poverty lacks much, avarice lacks everything.
And again.
7. Misers fear to use their gains.
Yup.
8. The miser is as bereft of what he has as of what he lacks.
And yet again.

The Good Book: Proverbs, chapter 12: Aspiration

Mercifully, a short one this time:

1. Who stays in the valley shall never surmount the hill.
True to the point of platitude.
2. What defines you is not what you do, but what you would do.
Oh, Mr. Grayling, you’d better hope so.
3. One is complete only if one desires to be more.
Paradoxical. I see the point, but I think Grayling should have aimed to be elegant rather than pithy in making it.

The Good Book: Proverbs, chapter 11: Artists

Back to more of A.C. Grayling’s pontifications on the nature of, well, everything, eventually. This week: artists.

1. A great artist can paint a great picture on a small canvas.
…No. Too easy.
2. An artist is a dreamer who dreams reality.
I like this one, but Stephen King said it better 25 years ago.
3. Every artist was first an amateur.
True, but this is hardly unique to artists. Even babies are born with a terrifying lack of experience in being babies…
4. The art of every artist is his autobiography.
Then for your sake, Mr. Grayling, let us hope you do not consider this book ‘art’.
5. Nothing can come from the artist that is not in the human being.
Two words: emergent properties.
6. Scratch an artist and you surprise a child.
Scratch an artist and they’ll scratch you right back.
7. Great artists are simplifiers.
Then you sir are no artist.

Only two more weeks until we’re out of the A’s! Isn’t that exciting?

The Good Book: Proverbs, chapter 10: Art

Oh, and now the Don wants to think of himself as an artist. You know, a remixer or something.

1. Art has an enemy called ignorance..
Unlike this book, which has an enemy called boredom.
2. Art is not a thing, but a way.
True, but platitudinous.
3. Art may err, but nature never.
Because, of course, beauty is not necessarily truth.
4. Art is its own expression.
True, but platitudinous.
5. Art strives for form, and hopes for beauty, or truth; or both.
True, but platitudinous.
6. Great art is eternity arrested for an instant.
True, but platitudinous.
7. All the arts are brothers.
True, but platitudinous. And sexist.
8. Each art is a light to the others.
See, this is much a better way of saying what the one before it said.
9. The perfection of art is to conceal art.
Okay, I like this one.
10. What takes effect by chance is not art.
Is it not? Is a lightning strike not beautiful?