The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang
Mark Cyzyk finds out how to be a loafing scamp.
A beloved literature professor gave me a nice hardbound 1937 edition of this book during my undergraduate days in the spring of 1985. I read it that summer. The following spring I found myself studying in China, traveling around the north, climbing the Taoist holy mountains Hua Shan and Tai Shan, visiting the tomb and family mansions of Confucius, and thinking quite a bit about this book. Here, in essay form, were simple lessons for living. Here was a genteel, mandarin manner of approaching the world – one that surely was swept away in the violent storms of the Cultural Revolution twenty years earlier? And yet, amid the vandalized Buddhist temples, the crumbling hutongs of back Beijing alleyways, and the concrete midrise apartment complexes in whose shadow they cowered – amid prominent Party proclamations that citizens must strive for more production and efficiency, amid the surge for modernization and industrialization – amid all of this, I captured glimpses of what came before.