When Daniel Klein was a young philosophy major at Harvard, trying to see what great minds had to say about the meaning of life and how to best live a good life, he began a notebook of "Pithies," which were quotes from the great philosophers, followed by notes about his feelings on those ideas. Forty years later, he came upon that notebook and began revising his thoughts about them, then adding new quotes and "noodling" about them as well. Thank the philosophers he did because it resulted in one of the most charming, thoughtful - and funny books - I've read in a long time: "Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It," the title taken from a passage by Reinhold Neibuhr that had been his final quote in the original notebook.
"Pithies" could well be the name of this book, too, because the pithy comments Klein makes around and about the many well-known and most-of-the-time profound philosophic pronouncements kept me laughing even as I plumbed the depths of these differing views on life's meaning.
Klein is no stranger to combining the philosophical with humor, and, in fact, for a while earned a living writing "pithies" for comedians. He also wrote two earlier best-selling books, "Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar" (with Thomas Cathcart) and "Travels with Epicurus."
The first entry in Klein's notebook (each philosophic "pithy" gets 2-3 pages) is from the Hedonist philosopher, Epicurus, whom Klein calls a very "careful hedonist" who cautions us to enjoy what we already have or we will end up "with endlessly unsatisfied desire." Or, as Klein puts it: "My brand-new Maserati sure is neat, but what I desperately need now is a tall blonde/gorgeous Romeo to sit in the passenger seat next to me." And on it goes - or on Klein goes.
I not only thoroughly enjoyed reading this book - for its insights as well as its humor - but I intend to keep it close by to re-enjoy and to remind me of its insights. Who knows, I might just start my own "Pithies on Klein's Pithies" notebook of my own.
- Reviewed by Susan Lang, Peregrine Book Company event coordinator