On International Philosophy Day, here are some books with philosophy hidden in them

by Richa Singh on November 21, 2013

philosophy in novels

Categories, or rather water tight compartments of any kind have always confused me. Where does one boundary begin and where does the other end is something that eludes me.

This particular emotion is extended to my book reading sessions too.

Very recently, I found that 21st November is also the International Philosophy Day. Being a bibliophile my mind quickly started to index all the philosophy books I have read. And the Paulo Coelhos or Nietzsche of the world started to flood in. But peaking beyond these names were some unusual suspects.

Philosophy in books that were never meant for that category!

Misfits. The most unassuming titles have some of the deepest philosophies one can ever lay one’s eyes on.

For starters I am a big Harry Potter fan. I have been reading and re-reading these books for what seems like ages now. They flow in my blood quite literally. And whenever somebody asks me what is it that I love the most about them I am rather quick to reply, “Philosophy”. Of course the reaction on the other side is far from comprehension.

But he understood at last what Dumbledore had been trying to tell him. It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew — and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents — that there was all the difference in the world.

For years I have sailed through worst and worst of situations by only recalling this quote. Isn’t really that the only difference between people? How deep that is.

I was sitting and thinking more then. What else or who else could fit into this bracket?

And yes, not far from me was sitting the book Sense of an Ending. It is a narrative and that too only of hundred and fifty pages, it speaks of things you and I never thing about. I took almost an hour and a half on a train journey to finish it but another two days and bit of google to completely comprehend it. It will shock you because (without giving any spoilers) it is a mockery of an intellectual or rather a ‘philosopher’.

How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but—mainly—to ourselves.

I had gooseflesh reading it. This quote haunts me in moments of deep forgery. Yes – forgery. There are so many times I am narrating an incident of my past and I suddenly realise I have already changed it to suit my sensibilities. We lie to ourselves,  modifying the life story to suit our own ambitions our own viewpoints about ourselves.

And so this thought of finding philosophy in unassuming books caught my fancy more, I walked up to my bookshelf. I scanned a few rows to catch another work of such ‘paradoxical’ genre-defying nature in there.

Of course……. Rushdie. How can anyone forget him? For all future references he is and will always be my favorite author. In his book Midnight’s Children his idea of connecting children born at the stroke of midnight through telepathy is a device that not only reveals a lot of historical events but also basic life philosophies.

Even his scandal tainted book, Satanic Verses as per him was actually the philosophical side of being an immigrant in a foreign land, using the writing style of mystical realism.

What kind of idea are you? Are you the kind that compromises, does deals, accommodates itself to society, aims to find a niche, to survive; or are you the cussed, bloody-minded, ramrod-backed type of damnfool notion that would rather break than sway with the breeze? – The kind that will almost certainly, ninety-nine times out of hundred, be smashed to bits; but, the hundredth time, will change the world.

Yes, this quote is taken from his book Satanic Verses. Read it and then think about it from the perspective of life. Is it not true? Read the first line again, how beautiful it sounds, What kind of idea are you? Have you ever thought of yourself nothing but an idea? An idea which evolves, is dismissed, debated upon and in the end implemented half heartedly.  I often ask the first question to my friends only to realise most of them have already stopped at the word idea. It is another revelation to them, another kind of an ‘idea’ to see themselves as one.

And taking cue from the last thought, what kind of an idea are you , is that not taken forward to books too? When you pick up a read off the thriller’s shelf does it occur to you that this book started with an idea. And perhaps that idea was never meant for a thriller to begin with! Then why this racism? Yes of course what else is it? Dividing them on the basis of genre is book crime!

Because remember, Sense of an Ending is called a psychological thriller and Midnight’s Children a mystical realism fiction novel. And Satanic Verses a blasphemy for Islam. No mention of philosophy whatsoever.

Books have for long been written for something and used for another.

And I personally find such surprises very heartwarming. Genres are alright to categorise books in a bookstore. But when it comes to actual reading there is no harm to celebrate all forms of books on International Philosophy day!

But if I were to ask you as to what books come to your mind when I mention the word philosophy, which ones would you suggest?

Written by Richa Singh

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Vikas Agarwal November 21, 2013 at 4:34 AM

After reading your article i want to go back and read these books again… great insight …

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richasingh November 22, 2013 at 3:21 AM

Thanks Vikas, do read them again and perhaps with this new insight this time 🙂

Richa

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kalyan November 21, 2013 at 5:47 AM

Hello Richa , I have read HP once ,but never seen/read it like you,thank you for the wonderful insights. this is one of the most wonderful articles I have ever read . thank you for rekindling the passion and reminding that books are the best friends.

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richasingh November 22, 2013 at 3:21 AM

Wow! If you say I am the reason your passion for reading is rekindled then trust me I have achieved much more than what was intended from my writing. I truly hope that this does not die down. And if it does in rarest of rare case then let me know will write another article 😀 😀

Thanks for such lovely words!

Richa

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Amit Bansal November 21, 2013 at 6:18 AM

Quite an interesting concept, I never quite thought like this about books 🙂

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richasingh November 22, 2013 at 3:19 AM

Thanks Amit if you didn’t before and now do then my mission is accomplished 🙂

Richa

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A Fragmentary Girl November 21, 2013 at 6:20 AM

Hey Richa, I agree completely. To read a book without thinking about the philosophy it endorses or the lesson it wants to send out is not reading a book at all. Books must make you brood and breathe them and somehow change your life. With Harry Potter, I live the Harry Potter life and I truly believe it can be a deep philosophical experience to read it! “It is our choices that truly determine who we are, far more than our abilities”.

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richasingh November 22, 2013 at 3:19 AM

harry potter is full of such philosophies and many of them have left some very deep impressions in our heart. Imagine the world without a Rowling and nothing seems right suddenly. Well thanks a lot for appreciating the thought behind the article 🙂

Richa

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Shobhann Shukla November 21, 2013 at 8:50 AM

I will start my comment with the sentence ” Yes of course what else is it? Dividing them on the basis of genre is book crime!”. If a specific word comes to your mind and you start thinking of a book (reading or writing) then it is really difficult. As far as philosophy is concerned this word has been used with a large number of interpretations those interpretations entirly depend on intellect and wisdom of an individual.

Apart from that Genre of a book is decided by the thought which prevails throughout the storyline.
But again same funda comes into picture that is individual’s interpretation.
Nice discussion would like to see more thoughts on this.

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richasingh November 22, 2013 at 3:17 AM

Thanks a lot Shobhann for some really enlightening views from you. I know it all comes down to the perspective of an individual. As they rightly say, beauty lies in the yes of the beholder. This is extended to all our spheres. And well now that you say it I will definitely strive to write more on this subject….

Richa

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Annoynymous November 21, 2013 at 10:43 AM

And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but—mainly—to ourselves.
I can’t even begin to think how you got hold of that in the first place?
Lemme guess, you have read these books & maybe they are on your book shelf, but to be bringing it at the right time.. Really? Does it like have a photogenic memory on you?! 🙂

But you’r right, philosophy is here, there and everywhere.
I had an opportunity to meet a nice young lady once at lunch; amongst other things that we talked, it came as a surprise to me when she said (all of a sudden) , “Truth has no party and so it keeps dwelling around.” And i went back and realised how deep that was. 🙂
Nice read.

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richasingh November 22, 2013 at 3:15 AM

What a beautiful thought! “truth has no party and so it keeps dwelling around” Must be a great way to see things if only we all could imbibe it… and yes philosophy is everywhere even in newspaper articles!

Richa

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shiva kapoor November 21, 2013 at 4:38 PM

Indeed! I cant agree more on the book crime ..I have always believed that a book is what the reader sees .. I remember by first book black beauty..ofcourse it was just a child fiction book …but the reader in me got much more from it than what met the eye …it taught me that in the journey of life you will win some and lose some but at the end of it what will be worthwhile is not what you have at the end or where you reach ..but the “journey” itself. I think now I need to read sense of ending like NOW!!!

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richasingh November 22, 2013 at 3:14 AM

Black beauty is usually some of the few book which induct us into reading. I remember reading my own copy which was borrowed at that time. And the sense of loss depicted in that book still provides me some food for thought in darker times. Books and journey are also quite similar 😀

Richa

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Rekha November 21, 2013 at 4:44 PM

Some of them I have already read and treasure. A few are yet to get into my list. As you mentioned, a book has to be read in order to understand the underlying philosophy. If it is not done, the whole purpose of reading and the writer’s effort are defeated completely.

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richasingh November 22, 2013 at 3:12 AM

Yes Rekha and then to say that most of us have only read a portion of the world’s books. Imagine the immense amount of philosophy we have missed out on!

Richa

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Sheethal susan November 21, 2013 at 5:29 PM

Awesome selection of books and quotes. I believe, in every book there will be something or the other for us to take. Either a quote or an emotion or just the happiness of reading. And that’s the philosophy its offering. Loved this article of yours Richa. 🙂

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richasingh November 22, 2013 at 3:11 AM

yes and often if nothing else then just the sense to not pick up any future books of this author 😛 *on a funny note*. I am glad you liked it Sheethal 🙂

Richa

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Susan November 21, 2013 at 5:35 PM

I’m not into Harry Potter</i) but yes, books which are not categorised as 'Philosophy books,' have many truths to offer which are gleaned from the many episodes that the characters confront. And many times moments of wisdom lies in these passages which reflect existential struggles, angst and confrontation. Learning always happens everywhere. And, last but not the least, conversations lead to many philosophies.

As of now, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Paulo Coelho, Amitav Ghosh come to my mind. Well, but all the books I've read have added something to me. How can I forget JRR Tolkien and his TLOTR trilogy!

Joy always,
Susan

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Susan November 21, 2013 at 5:36 PM

Where is the rest of my comment?

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Susan Deborah November 21, 2013 at 5:41 PM

I typed a long comment but only a part of it is here. So, let me try to recollect what I had typed.
Every book contributes in its own way to our personality and inspite of me not having read HP, I can relate to what you are saying.

The writers who come immediately to my mind are Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Paulo Coelho, Amitav Ghosh and JRR. Tolkien.

And books require a part of ourselves otherwise the experience is incomplete. Like in a relationship, we lose and gain part of ourselves while embarking on a book.

I could relate with this post so very much.

Joy always,
Susan

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richasingh November 22, 2013 at 3:11 AM

Marques! Oh no I forgot to mention him. Again Love in time of cholera is one of my regular re-read and also recommendation. So is color purple which again should have found space in this article, just realised. Thanks Susan for reminding me of these all of a sudden 🙂 And glad you enjoyed the article.

Richa

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Alana Mautone November 21, 2013 at 5:37 PM

A lot of my reading now is young adult fiction. This genre deals with teenagers coming of age, many times in the most difficult of circumstances, and the lessons they learn in growing up. I can think of a number of young adult novels that can fit into a Philosophy category.

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richasingh November 22, 2013 at 3:09 AM

True true. And their philosophies often contribute in a very big way to their growing up. I believe Alana you have mentioned a very important set of books with hidden philosophy.

Richa

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kalpana solsi November 21, 2013 at 6:24 PM

loved the ‘Midnight’s children even though its pace is slow. an not a much of Harry Potter fan but approved of what Dumbledore said about walking to the arena of death.and I hate to classify books into genres.

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richasingh November 22, 2013 at 3:08 AM

Midnight children’s is not only slow but also complicated in many places. But once you get the hang of rushdie’s writing, there is no looking back!

Richa

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Aditi Kaushiva November 21, 2013 at 7:04 PM

I’ll have to re-read my Harry Potter’s now! 🙂 And as for the book ‘Sense of an Ending’ absolutely loved it! I read it coincidentally on a train to Lucknow and sadly misplaced it. I ordered it again coz I had to own a book like that….Paulo Coelho is a fav and recently I have started reading short stories by Rabindranath Tagore…his name I guess is taken in the same breath as philosophy!

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richasingh November 22, 2013 at 3:08 AM

It is a strange coincidence that you too read your sense of an ending on a train journey. Rabindranath Tagore’s short stories should be an interesting read. Will pick it up soon!

Richa

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Vidya Sury November 22, 2013 at 6:07 AM

Great insights, Richa. And beautiful post!

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richasingh November 22, 2013 at 6:51 AM

Thanks a lot Vidya 🙂 glad you liked it 🙂

Richa

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Seeta November 25, 2013 at 3:32 PM

Totally agree about The sense of an ending..what an amazing book, I ended up googling for the analysis as well.. Till date I wonder if I have interpreted it right 🙂

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richasingh November 26, 2013 at 5:36 AM

Same here. I kept on thinking if there was a way possible for it to be incorrect, I mean what I had finally concluded. It is a must read for all 🙂

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Anita November 28, 2013 at 1:03 PM

Nice deep thinking, Richa 🙂

I love Richard Bach. His Philosophy matches mine 🙂

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richasingh January 9, 2014 at 5:11 AM

Thanks Anita 🙂 such is life. We find meaning in books and music 🙂

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Vaisakh Venugopal December 9, 2013 at 8:48 AM

I’ve liked the HP series for the subtle philosophical messages weaved in between the fantastic story lines. The excerpts you have provided are perfect, Richa. Makes me want to read those books now! 🙂

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richasingh January 9, 2014 at 5:11 AM

Yes Vaisakh, for most readers HP formed an integral part of life because of that. Do read the other recos and let me know how you find them 🙂

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Anshul Chaurasia December 9, 2013 at 11:57 AM

really nice thought process richa. I specially loved the line “Books have for long been written for something and used for another.”

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richasingh January 9, 2014 at 5:10 AM

Thanks Anshul 🙂 I am happy you enjoyed the writing, my purpose is solved 🙂

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