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Duration:03:11
Uploaded:2016-02-16
Last sync:2018-11-19 11:00
In which John discusses kindness, Hank's beloved dog Lemon, and Octavia Butler's brilliant novel The Parable of the Sower.


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Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday.

I'm at the beach and it's very pretty here, but my vacation has been completely consumed by this book - The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler - which is the best book I've read in, I don't know, in years.

Like, every now and again I'll read a book and literally feel like a spell has been cast upon me that allows me to escape the prison of my self. And for a little while I will not feel stuck inside my own consciousness, but instead I'll feel like I have magical access to worlds outside of me. And I find that feeling to be a tremendous consolation.

And then when the book ends I'm left with this weird wobby-sobby feeling, like I'm overwhelmed with the mysterium tremendum of having seen and having been seen. And I also feel this big sadness in my chest, maybe partly because I know I'll never get to read that book again for the first time. But also partly because I don't know how long it'll be until I come across a novel again that properly turns me inside out.

Now of course Hank the books that leave me floored aren't always gonna be the ones that leave you floored, but I do think you would love this particular book if you haven't read it already. The Parable of the Sower is a hard book to summarize: it's a coming of age story; it's also a dystopian novel about the collapse of the United States; it's about race and class and gender and wealth. It's also about how religions form, and even though it's more than twenty years old, Hank, it's terrifyingly contemporary. 

Right but anyway, throughout this very page-turny roaring adventure-y novel, the narrator writes short poems about her understanding of God, which she defines as change. I usually dislike that kind of novelistic device, but Butler is such a beautiful writer that it succeeds brilliantly. Like, consider this magnificent short poem, Hank:

"In order to rise from its own ashes,
A phoenix first must burn."

I wanna share just two more lines with you. First, like The Great Gatsby, The Parable of the Sower begins with a fictional epigraph, which concludes, "Without positive obsession, there is nothing at all." Hank, one of my favorite things about you is your positive obsession, a.k.a. your nerdiness. Like, you have this ability to be unironically enthusiastic and to find stuff that you can be strongly in favor of. And you aren't the kind of person that tears down without building up. Like, when we were in high school, I felt like in order to survive I had to create ironic distance between myself and the world. You know, like if you told me you liked a band, I'd be like, "Yeah, their old stuff was good but now they've sold out," or if you told me you liked an author, I would tell you what was wrong with their work, etc. But Hank, you've encouraged me to let go of that and throughout my entire adult life, you've really been a model for positive obsession - kind of even a guiding star at times - so thank you.

The second line is a simple one: as the narrator's line is falling apart, she writes, "Kindness eases change." Hank, I'm really sorry that Lemon is dying. I know that she's just a dog, but she's a great dog. And in the comments of your video on Friday I saw so many people whose kindness is easing this awful change. It made me think about Lemon's life - like, she was a racing greyhound, which often isn't the best dog life, but then when she retired she came into your life. And just as you've made Lemon's life better, she's made your life better.

We often imagine the world as a zero sum game, as a place where good news for someone is necessarily bad news for someone else. But I believe that kindness can change that arithmetic, and as evidence I would point to the love that Lemon's life has brought to you and to many. The internet can be a hard place to find kindness - maybe especially right now - but I believe it's worth fighting for, because I believe it makes the world bigger and that it eases the hard but inevitable changes that define life.

Nerdfighters, thank you for your kindness. Hank, I love you; I love Lemon. I'll see you on Friday.