Tag: irony

The Irony of Four Thousand Weeks

Sometimes I don’t recognize the problem that is right in front of me. Take, for instance, the book I am currently reading, and nearly finished with, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. I started this book just after finishing The Big Roads by Earl Swift. Sometimes I finish a book in the middle of the day and immediately start the next one, but this was one of those times when I finished the book later in the day, and didn’t start Four Thousand Weeks until the following morning. I set out on my 6 am walk, and began listening to the audiobook edition.

Four Thousand Weeks is a book I needed to read. It has a lot to say about how we perceive time, how we perceive busyness, and the many, many traps that lie between the two. For instance, the more books I read, the more books I feel I need to read (butterfly effect of reading, folks). Knocking one book of my list adds three or four more to that list. It’s no different with tasks. The quicker you get through your to-do list, the more you find you have to add to it until you realize that you’ll never have an empty list and I’ll never read all of the books ever written.

So there I am on the bike path at 6:10 am listening to Four Thousand Weeks. For the last several years, I’ve tried to read at least 100 books each year. Audiobooks help greatly in this regard because I can multitask and I’ve gradually worked my way up to listening to most books at 1.8x. That’s the speed at which I’d listened to The Big Roads, and it was the speed I was listening to Four Thousand Weeks as I walked up the one steep hill on the bike path. At the top of the hill, I paused to jot down a note, and a few steps later, I paused again, and then again. And it was there, jotting down the third note that the irony of the situation dawned on me: here I was, multitasking, getting in my morning exercise while tearing my way through another book at 1.8x speed–a book that happened to be about how on average we live four thousand weeks, and maybe we should rethink the pace of our lives and all we are trying to accomplish in that time.

I slowed the speed of the audiobook down to 1.5x.

Often when I read nonfiction, I’ll have either a paper or e-book edition along with the audiobook so that I can more readily highlight passages or jot notes in the margins. Indeed, I have the e-book for Four Thousand Weeks in addition to the audiobook, and later that morning, using notes I’d jotted on my walk, I went back and highlighted passages. But circumstances were such that I mostly listened to the audiobook without following along in the e-book. And as I hit the last chapter, I realized that this book was too important, had too much good things to say, things I needed to hear, to rush through it.

So I am doing something I have done only once before1 since starting my list of books that I’ve read since 1996: I am re-reading Four Thousand Week immediately after I finish it. This second reading will be without the audiobook. It will be me sitting with the e-book, thinking carefully about what I am reading, and being more thoughtful about it. When I have finished it a second time, you can be sure I’ll share my thoughts with you. There are things that I have sensed in Four Thousand Weeks that warrant this closer reading.

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  1. I loved Bruce Springsteen’s memoir Born to Run so much that I started it over as soon as I finished it the first time.

Isn’t it ironic?

Todd and I have, for years, debated as to whether the things mentioned in Alanis Morissette’s song, “Ironic” are, in fact, ironic. I say not, they are not. He says yes they are. Over the years, he has built up a steady stream of coworkers who take up his side of the argument. (In my more cynical moments, I wonder if they do this just to make me think I am wrong.)

The debate ended long ago at an impasse and it hasn’t been mentioned in a year or more. And then last night, I watched an episode of Lois and Clark and instantly felt vindicated. The episode in question is from the fourth season: “Bob and Carol and Lois and Clark”. At the beginning of the episode, Lois and Clark are having dinner with new friends, and at the dinner, the following dialog takes place:

CLARK: Man, if you really listen to it, it's just kind of a weird song.

BOB: I know, I know, we like it but--

CAROL: I'm sorry but a fly in your Chardonnay is not ironic.

LOIS: Making $30 million on a song called "Ironic" that isn't even about 

ALL: That's ironic.

This is what I had been arguing all along! I even drummed up definitions from OED and other places to show what irony means. No one would buy it!

At the end of the same episode, there is piece of dialog:

MR. GANDEL: Have you heard this song about the fly in some girl's 
Chardonnay?  Now unless the rewrote the dictionary, I see nothing ironic
about that.  However, a recluse who finally decides to come out of 
hiding on the very day he's almost killed...

LOIS: That's ironic.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, on top of citing OED, I am now citing Lois & Clark as the ultimate proof that the song “Ironic” is not ironic! I take this as full vindication of my position, which has been consistent through all of these years.

I was watching this in bed when I was going to sleep last night, and I got all excited and couldn’t wait to get into work this morning to tell Todd all about it and bask in my righteousness. Ironically, Todd is not in the office today because he and his wife had a baby this weekend. I have to wait 2 weeks before he’s back in the office.