Book review of The Bedside Book of the Art of Living
How could anyone resist this little book with such an intriguing and comforting title? This is one of those gems that I looked forward to reading each day, and it was responsible for much sleep deprivation, since I couldn’t stop reading the narratives until I found out what would happen at the end.
This is a collection of inspirational articles that originally appeared in Reader’s Digest magazine, and were compiled and published as a book in 1959. Most of these are short vignettes or biographies about ordinary people who—through their tenacity, hard work, creative solutions, compassion—became extraordinary. I can’t resist hearing about people’s lives, and I find hearing others’ stories to be the gentlest way possible to change my own character for the better. How fortunate that books like this still circulate fifty years later!
The authors of the articles include Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Dorothy Kilgallen (remember the TV show “What’s My Line?”), Helen Keller, Norman Vincent Peale, Pearl S. Buck and five articles by Fulton Oursler. They are filled with a variety of people, places, hardships, misery, joys, sadness and transformation. Some of the lifestyles and perspectives are so different from today, and so refreshingly simple and helpful.
The titles show the broad range of topics: “I Owe My Career to Losing a Leg”, “The Child who Never Grew”, “A Formula for Presence of Mind”, “Rebirth of an American Farm”, “Forget It!”, “What the Sioux Taught Me”, “Billie Miskie’s Last Fight”.
Here are some notes from my favorites:
From “Your Second Job”: “No matter how busy one is, any human being can assert his personality by seizing every opportunity for spiritual activity. How? By his second job, by means of personal action, on however small a scale, for the good of his fellow men. He will not have to look very far for opportunities.” The author, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, relates two examples, the first about an elderly man traveling by train to an unfamiliar city to visit his dying son; the second about a WW I cab driver declared too old for military service but wanting to serve somehow. Through the compassion of a stranger, and through ingenuity and will, both men were successful.
Helen Keller, blind from birth, tells what she would do if she was granted three days to see. Five articles are taken from the regular Reader’s Digest magazine column, “The Most Unforgettable Character I’ve Met”, and tell of men and women who are unusually determined, courageous and generous.
One long narrative, “When Are You Going to Turn Respectable?”, relates the experience of a man who had studied for several years at Harvard University. But he ran out of money and had to get a job in a hurry, so in order to eat, he left behind his white collar lifestyle and took a job as a sweeper in a steel company. By the end of the article he is explaining why he recommends that sort of work, as dirty and dangerous as it is, and says, “I’m more respectable now than I ever was.”
You can find The Bedside Book of the Art of Living at online booksellers.
Although I have little room on my bookshelves, and usually get rid of the books I’ve read to make room for more, I am squeezing this one back onto the shelf. It’s a keeper, and a reference book I can return to as an antidote to change any kind of gloomy attitude to one of gratitude.