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Philosophy Made Simple Paperback – March 1, 2007

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; First Thus edition (March 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031601334X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316013345
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #980,920 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Riffing off his charming 1994 debut, The Sixteen Pleasures, Hellenga shifts perspective from father to daughter, detailing the former's postmarital adventures as he plans the latter's wedding. It's been seven years since the death of Rudy Harrington's beloved wife, Helen; his three daughters have flown the coop; and the time is ripe to sell his Chicago home of 30 years and buy an avocado grove in Texas. He's also been reading the college-level text Philosophy Made Simple by Siva Singh, his daughter Molly's fiancé's uncle, sparking a previously latent interest in life's big questions. Rudy attempts, at 60, to adjust to single life while singlehandedly planning an Indian wedding for Molly to Singh's nephew, TJ. His grove manager, Medardo, takes him on weekend trips to a Mexican gentleman's club; there, he meets Maria, an employee with a penchant for weakhearted middle-aged men. A denizen of a nearby trailer park is Norma Jean, a lovable elephant with a tremendous talent for painting. When Molly, TJ, Siva and Nandini (Siva's sister and TJ's mother) arrive, Nandini is as taken with Norma Jean, whose owner is suddenly MIA, as is Rudy. More twinkly humor, mild insight, clean prose and gentle homilies follow in this thinker's light gem. (Mar. 8)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Quieter than The Sixteen Pleasures, Philosophy Made Simple is almost—but not quite—as fine a novel. Although it touches on relationships between parents and children, farming, friendship, and life events, the overarching theme speaks to how philosophical beliefs play out in daily life. Hellenga juxtaposes the history of philosophy, from Plato to Kant, with Rudy's search for meaning. This approach, given the seriocomic tone of the novel, seemed artificial to a few critics, smart to some, and oversimplified to others. Despite this divide and a few awkward subplots, Philosophy Made Simple—a poignant fable, really—will charm readers.<BR>Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Robert Hellenga used to ask, "What is the meaning of life?" Now he asks, "What experiences make life meaningful?" He's settled for an adjective rather than a noun. High on his list: teaching a good class, finishing a novel, sex, getting married, having children, cooking dinner, playing the guitar. The usual. But perhaps the highest on his list is having his three daughters leave after Christmas-because it's so sad. It's nostalgia, he realizes that. It's what he tries to avoid when he writes about Christmas, as he does in all his books. But he understands that the only thing worse than having the girls leave would be having them stay.

According to Anais Nin "We write to taste life twice." But we also write to explore mysteries. Mystery is the reality; clarity-seeming clarity-is the illusion. Clarity means you've lost touch with the mystery, that you've succumbed to habit, which, in the words of Proust's Marcel, "conceals from us almost the whole universe." Mystery means that you're still awake.

Hellenga is the author of six novels: The Sixteen Pleasures," "The Fall of a Sparrow," "Blues Lessons," "Philosophy Made Simple," "The Italian Lover," and "Snakewoman of Little Egypt." "Snakewoman" was included in The Washington Post list of best books of 2010 and the Kirkus Reviews list of top 25 novels of 2010.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Rudy Harrington's offbeat approach to his post-midlife crisis makes for an engaging read.
Susan J. Erickson
I strongly recommend this book for anyone - especially boomers - who are also seeking answers to their questions, and then subsequently questioning their answers!
As Rudy begins to fall in love for a second time he must put to rest the fears that were bred in isolation, and begin to enjoy life again.
A Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Susan J. Erickson on April 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Rudy Harrington's offbeat approach to his post-midlife crisis makes for an engaging read. Rudy's wife has been dead for seven years, his three daughters are grown and he has worked for thirty-some years as a wholesale produce manager in Chicago. On a whim he buys an avocado grove in Texas, never mind that he knows zip about raising avocados, and sets about creating a new life guided by a slender book one of his daughters gives him called Philosophy Made Simple. Along the way, Rudy meets some surprising people, acquires an elephant named Norma Jean with a penchant for painting and hosts his daughter's Hindu wedding. I just wish I'd been invited to the ceremony.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Mostly Whiskey on June 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Philosophy Made Simple is a nice little read, very pleasant and a little poignant. The plot if amply described in other reviews, so I'll add just a few quick non-plot thoughts about this book.

First, it is very pleasant. No points are belabored, the prose is clean, simple and straightforward. As Mark Twain said about his own works (perhaps not accurately!) this book has not a single word more than it needs. It is refreshing to read a book that strives to communicate a weighty philosophical point of view that is so unassuming.

As to the philosophical point... I almost wish that the book gave me a little more help along the way. I felt that each chapter tried to make a philosophical point by demonstrating it in the story rather than beating you over the head with it, which I appreciated, but I frequently finished a chapter feeling like whatever it was I was supposed to come away with... I had missed.

Until the end. At the end, all of a sudden, kind of out of the blue, the philosophy is laid out in all its naked glory. The revelation is made and all the strands come together. It is an interesting philosophy, and the road to it is very pleasant to stroll along. I would have liked a few more signposts along the way!

But none of this is to complain. I liked the book a lot and while I wouldn't say it leads to major revelation it was fun to read, exceedingly pleasant, and in the end provided a point of view that I happen to embrace very much - which was nice!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Philosophy Made Simple is a strange and difficult book to categorize. Author Robert Hellenga fuses elements of multiculturalism, religion, Eastern mysticism, love of family - and an eccentric painting elephant - into a warm-hearted story of one man's journey of self-discovery. It's not easy having a midlife crisis - sixty-year-old retiree Rudy Harrington, knows this better than anyone. His wife died several years ago, and since then Rudy has been drifting.

Rudy still lives in the ramshackle family house, but his three daughters have long since moved on. Meg, the oldest, has a law degree, and two kids; the middle girl Molly teaches social dancing in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Margot, the youngest, is a book conservator who has gone to Italy on the spur of the moment. Rudy recognizes that at his age there aren't many chapters left. What has happened to his life? Where had it all gone?

Life has always had a way of sneaking up on Rudy and catching him by surprise, and he's the first to admit that over the years his relationship with his daughters has been somewhat troubled and taciturn. Now, however, Rudy is sure it is time to move on and to let go, "it's as though he were sprouting wings, big golden wings, wings intent to carry him out of the past into the future, wherever he needed to go."

Rudy makes a snap decision to sell the house - and accompanied by 15th edition of a student handbook called Philosophy Made Simple, written by her boyfriend's uncle, the philosopher Siva Singh - he moves to Texas, where he buys a dusty avocado grove on the edges of the Rio Grande. But the move from selling avocadoes at a Chicago produce market to actually growing them comes at a price; he gets a gets a terrible case of cold feet, swamped at the last minute by buyer's remorse.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on March 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Seven years have passed since Rudy Harrington's beloved spouse Helen died leaving him alone to raise their teenage daughters. However, now that each of his children has left, the sexagenarian decides to sell his Chicago empty nest home that he owned for three decades and buy an avocado grove in Texas.

At the same time he makes his life move, Rudy is reading Philosophy Made Simple by Siva Singh, the uncle of his daughter Molly's fiancé. The book makes Rudy ponder about life and death and beauty and truth even as he plans Molly's wedding to TJ. His grove manager and new friend Mecardo takes Rudy on pleasure trips to Mexico where he meets Maria, who gives him a different view on life at the same time his family and that of TJ begin the invasion of Texas for the bi-cultural wedding.

PHILOSOPHY MADE SIMPLE is actually a complex character driven tale as perspectives switch constantly so that the audience can keenly see how different cultures and people define truth, beauty, life and death. What is interesting is the multifaceted comparisons for instance Rudy vs. late-night radio evangelists that make the tale poignant. Readers who appreciate a deep look at concepts from varying points of view will want to join Rudy's search for meaning sort of mindful of Supertramps' The Logical Song.

Harriet Klausner
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