Sunday December 16, 2012

Daniel Klein's slim volume, "Travels with Epicurus," is less a travelogue of the Greek Island of Hydra than the story of a man's internal journey to come to terms with old age and how best to embrace it.

This nonfiction work chronicles Klein's return to Greece where he's spent several extended periods of time over the years. The stay Klein, who is in his 70s, most often refers to in the book was 50 years earlier and now he is back in order to "figure out the most satisfying way to live" this later stage of his life. He has come from Great Barrington to Greece with a suitcase full of books, mostly of the philosophical variety, in order to aid him in his quest.

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While Klein, a playwright who holds a philosophy degree from Harvard, refers to a number of great thinkers in this book, from Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) to Martin Heidegger (1899-1976) to Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), he spends a large part of the book on the ideas of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus.

As misunderstood by his contemporaries as he is today, Epicurus was not what the average person might consider an epicurean. Many people's conception of Epicureanism is probably more akin to the definition of a gourmand -- a person fond of good eating -- than what the old Greek advocated for, that being the enjoyment of simple pleasures and living for and in the moment.


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For those unfamiliar with Epicurus, Klein provides a concise summing up of his ideas as they relate to Klein's own needs as he struggles with old age.

Klein turns away from the path many of his older friends have chosen, something he calls the "forever young" route, from breast implants to testosterone patches, and decides rather to wade into old age in all its decayed glory.

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But don't think this is dense tome bogged down in the minutia of existentialism and other philosophical doctrines. Rather, Klein deftly, and swiftly, weaves these sometimes disparate and heavy subjects with beautiful descriptions of the Greek landscape and the people who inhabit it. And he even manages to throw Frank Sinatra and "Law & Order" into the mix.

If one is looking for a read with a lot of action, this isn't for you as it is a book of musings, memories and internal philosophical wanderings.

But, as a writer friend has told me (in a slightly different context): Books find you, you don't find them. I must say that I was very glad this beautiful little book found me.