I kept hearing about or seeing Water for Elephants so that I came to the conclusion that it must be worth checking out. Overall it was an interesting book with a decent story, but not something I would classify as great. As a quick read I would certainly recommend it, but do not expect to be blown away.
The main set of thoughts that kept running through my head while reading it were associated with the parts of the book set when that main character is an old man. The book basically alternates between an old man talking about life in a nursing home, his children, and his mortality, and the past when he was in his 20s and had run away to work on at a circus. Many of the major plot points were obvious and the writing was formulaic. However, an old man pondering his death just so happened to coincide with some themes I have been thinking about recently and so was particularly interesting to me.
There are really two possibilites at death: something of your current consciousness continues to exist or it does not. If you believe the former, then life can be an okay ride where you just do whatever you think you are supposed to, but you never really have to fully comprehend this life as everything you have and therefore maximize it. If you believe the latter, and come to terms with it, life takes on a different hue. You really have to live it. This is all you have, you are racing towards oblivion and thus the joys you feel now are ever so more sweet. This book does not really delve into this issues, but when you read about the thoughts of a ninety-three year old man in a nursing home and his struggles with memory and everyday life, you start to project yourself forward into that state and wonder what it would be like. Obviously that does not have to be how you let yourself end up, but you start to think about as you get on in life and are moving towards the end, the darkness encroaching on you, are you still racing for more good times in the light? Then you start rolling time backwards and you want to feel like you are not wasting any time today because why wait until you get close to feel like you are running out. We were born with time as our main scarce resource. You have to really fully appreciate that, however you also cannot try to live like you are going to die tomorrow. You need to live like you are going to live forever and yet enjoy every second of it. It is not easy and I think that is why a lot of people seek simple solutions to the problem. Religion, chemicals, work, family, the goals of others, etc. Not that any of those things are inherently bad, but when used as an escape from the question of ultimate meaning, they lose their real power.
Well before this gets too long and ranty, Water for Elephants is worth picking up if you have a bit of spare reading time. There is certainly a love story involved, a bit of intereting circus anecdotes, but mostly an interplay between the now and the past within one mind that is compelling.