Book Review: Travels with Epicurus

By Rick Bryant

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Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klein. Photo / Supplied
Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klein. Photo / Supplied

Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klein (Text Publishing $37)

Although he has a philosophy degree from Harvard, Daniel Klein worked for many years as a joke-writer, and was able to holiday and travel extensively with what he earned. And he has written or co-written more than 20 books, including the bestseller, Plato And A Platypus Walk Into A Bar.

But I won't be reading them. And I have to wonder if the television executives who paid for his jokes thought they got value for money. Not so much as a nano-tickle of mirth disturbed my tranquility as Klein, against a pleasantly drawn backdrop of Greek island life, surveyed the current cult of perhaps unnaturally prolonged youthful late middle age. I say "perhaps" because we don't know yet if it's "unnatural" or, well, evolutionary.

I did find myself wondering if he and his long-term writing partner had enjoyed a deeply satisfying chuckle as they schemed to deploy a few million copies of this low-key practical joke on to the bookshelves of the, wait for it, forever young.

And put there by the forever young wives. Ho ho ho. What a wheeze.

Klein is not a full-time smart aleck, but he doesn't have to be. I only did six papers of philosophy myself, but I do know that to call Nietzsche a "nutty nihilist" is a cheap crack, just plain wrong.

He does not misrepresent all of the many philosophers he refers to. Fair enough, as this is a self-declared travel book that gets discursive about the way middle-aged people should think about themselves and their exercise and the old old age that is closing in on the fittest of 60-something-year-olds.

Some people will enjoy it, like a lazy stroll on a quiet, overfed morning. But I felt as if it were aimed directly at me, my preoccupations, foibles, experiences, and that it meant to say "wake your ideas up a bit, Mister." Only ... I was already awake. Of course, I have thought about the folly of forever young, while paradoxically pursuing it, if absent-mindedly, as long as possible, because for better or worse it seems less defeatist than some other options.

And like most people my age, I have already confronted the evils of old, old age unnaturally prolonged by the living-death nursing home model many have adopted, not knowing what else to do.

There will always be some layabout rascal hawking artfully packaged faux-profonde "thoughts" to the would-be thoughtful. But if you've been thinking already, the bleeding obvious is ... obvious, even if it is festooned with the quips of Heidegger and Kierkegaard.

Actually, its best moment is a jest from jolly old Schopenhauer, who actually was a sparkling wit when he wasn't being the gloomiest of an uncheerful crew. If you really want to know about Epicurus, this isn't the book. For a short but good look - surprise! - see Wikipedia.

Rick Bryant is an Auckland reviewer.

- NZ Herald

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