Booking a night in with Goethe
The internet – and internet shopping – opens up a whole canvas of temptations. The usual vices are well-documented: sex, gambling, over-consumption at the click of a button. Basically, if you've got a wifi connection, the seven deadly sins can parade themselves in front of you as soon as you boot up your computer or charge up your smartphone.
If my resolve is weak, then shopping websites such as Amazon can be a dangerous place for me to frequent: a harem of gorgeous books whose lingering glances I can rarely refuse. Every so often I indulge in an orgy of literature, ordering a shelf-load of fiction, history or whatever else happens to have piqued my fancy.
Last week it was German philosophy. One trip to Amazon on a Wednesday evening and before I knew it I'd had a one-night stand with some of the great figures of Western thought. A few days later, my wife, who is used to such bookish extravagance, began to deal with the consequences, namely, fielding the various parcels as they came flying through the letter box. The Aesthetic Education of Man by Friedrich Schiller; Essays and Aphorisms by Arthur Schopenhauer; and a bit of light relief in the form of The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe.
Books have always formed the backdrop to my life. When I think of big events, I associate them with books. My wedding, funnily enough, I associate with War and Peace – not because our vows ran on to 1,200 pages or because married life has been like one long monstrous Napoleonic campaign, but because I was wading my way through it at the time, utterly immersed.
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While queuing up to board a plane to Boston, I was once pulled out by airport security, taken to a room and searched. Bizarrely, it happened twice in the space of about an hour. They asked me to open my hand luggage. Guiltily, I pulled out a weighty hardback history of the United States and two novels by Dostoyevsky. For a while they probably toyed with the idea of me being a Russian terrorist, before letting me join my two mates back at Gate 23.
After the second search, I was bold enough to enquire why I'd been plucked out. "Groups up to no good usually travel in threes and you looked the most dodgy," came their reply as they smirked at my bag-load of books.
Anyway, back to my friend Herr Schopenhauer, the early 19th century thinker. Inevitably, Tabitha – six – began asking questions about the new batch of books.
Thankfully, though, she didn't read them, as it turns out Schopenhauer's essay On Women contains some ideas that Dad's Diary simply cannot condone.
"One needs only to see the way she is built to realise that woman is not intended for great mental or for great physical labour," he declares. "Woman are suited to being the nurses and teachers of our earliest childhood precisely because they themselves are childish, silly and short-sighted, in a word big children, their whole lives long: a kind of intermediate stage between the child and the man."
It could be a lesson to teach my daughters, though: you find all sorts of weird stuff on the web.