Excerpt from Philosophy Made Simple by Robert Hellenga, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Philosophy Made Simple

by Robert Hellenga

Philosophy Made Simple
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2006, 288 pages
    Mar 2007, 304 pages

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He went down to the basement and pulled out an old one-by-twelve board that had been lying on the floor behind the furnace ever since he'd taken down the bunk beds in Meg's old room-the board had been used to keep Meg from falling out of the top bunk-and cut off a two-foot length with a new saw. The saw - a present from the Texas Avocado Growers Association - was Japanese and cut on the upward pull rather than on the downward thrust, which confused him a little but didn't stop him.

He didn't bother to sand down the edges; he just opened a can of the paint he'd been meaning to use on the storm windows and painted:


in big black letters. Underneath FOR SALE he painted:


When he was done he brought down an electric fan from the attic and turned it on and pointed it at the sign to make the paint dry quicker, and then he went upstairs and sat down in Helen's study, as he sometimes did when he was upset or lonely. It was a small room but it held a lot of books, on shelves he'd built himself. The curves at the top of each bay were modeled on the curves of a famous bridge in Italy. Helen had given him a photo and he'd made a jig to cut the curves. The door on the east opened into the hallway, the one on the west into their bedroom. On the north wall three mullioned windows with leaded glass opened onto the roof of the porte cochere. Helen and the girls had liked to sunbathe on the roof in the summer.

Helen had been raised by an aunt and uncle. The old post-office desk, with a sloping surface and a shelf at the back, had been her uncle's. It was big and solid. Rudy had had to take the jambs off the door to get it into the room. It was where she'd graded her papers and written her articles. She'd taught art history at Edgar Lee Masters, a small liberal arts college on the near North Side, not far from her aunt and uncle's two-story brick bungalow. Her specialty had been medieval and Renaissance art, but she'd liked modern art too, and the bay on the right of the desk was filled with books about modern artists. From where he was sitting Rudy could see that the artists' names on the spines were in alphabetical order: Bacon, Beckman, Braque, Chagall, Dali, de Kooning . . . Helen was always rearranging her books-alphabetical order, chronological order, by nationality, by period - just as she was always rearranging her life.

Rudy looked out the north window at the vacant lot next door. The house had been bought by a crazycontractor who'd knocked out so many of the supporting walls that the city condemned it and finally bulldozed the whole house and filled the basement with rubble. The contractor offered to give Rudy the lot, and he'd thought about it. He could have built a garage and put in a garden, but there were too many liens against the property and no way to untangle them.

Rudy sat down at the desk and picked up a large paperback, printed on cheap paper, that Molly had sent him from Ann Arbor. It was the fifteenth edition of a student handbook called Philosophy Made Simple and had been written by her boyfriend's uncle, the philosopher Siva Singh. From the copy on the back Rudy learned that Siva Singh had studied at Oxford and then at Yale, that his scholarly reputation rested on his magisterial Schopenhauer and the Upanishads, and that no one was better qualified to guide the reader on "a never-ending quest to explore the profound mysteries of human existence."

The wine was wearing off, and Rudy was depressed, hungry too, not for more turkey, but for . . . He wasn't sure what to call it: knowledge, wisdom, certainty? Some sense of what it all meant? To explore the profound mysteries of human existence? He was tired, and lonely, and the house was empty. He always felt like this after the girls left. It was a kind of seasickness. He needed some Dramamine. But you have to take Dramamine before you start to get seasick. He went downstairs to see what the dogs were up to - Brownie, a German shepherd, and Saskia, part Lab, part retriever. Not much. They were getting old, arthritic, but they could still make it up the stairs at night to sleep at the foot of his bed. He liked to hear them breathing, liked their familiar smells.

Copyright © 2006 by Robert Hellenga

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