“The only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder”

Title: Sophie’s World

Author: Jostein Gaarder

Genres: fiction, philosophy, fantasy, mystery…

Pages: 513 (with an index!)

Age Group: Anyone who has the patience, determination, and an mind open to learning and wondering at the beautiful complexity and simplicity of the world. Someone who likes to ask questions and debate about questions that may seem pointless on the surface of things.

Days to read it: 7

Suggested Reading Atmosphere: I had no trouble reading it on the bus, on the subway, on the couch, in the garden. Normally I feel bad if I don’t remember absolutely everything that I just read, but for some reason (perhaps the immensity of the subjects we covered), I didn’t feel guilty for just ploughing on. But, it does required some concentration! I actually tended to get annoyed when, just as I was beginning to understand something, someone’s loud voice would barge into my thoughts.

Where did I hear about it? A cousin, who I haven’t spoken to in a while, gave it to me as a gift.

Synopsis: Sophie goes about her life, going to school, feeding her pets, doing her homework, cooking her meals… until one day, she receives some strange mail. Is someone playing a prank on her? But the questions on the cards soon set Sophie thinking. Larger and larger packages start arriving in the mailbox, in the garden, courtesy of a friendly dog. Who is the mysterious person who keeps sending her things? (There are some parts that are unbelieveble about this story, like how Sophie didn’t feel much qualm about meeting some strange old man…) The packages insist on teaching her about philosophy. Soon, Sophie can’t put the packages down – and her mind spins from all the ideas and questions that she begins to think about. There’s more to the story, however. Someone keeps sending birthday postcards to a girl name Hilde, under the care of Sophie. But, Sophie has no idea who this Hilde is. This is where the strange mystery begins… a mystery that requires philosophical thinking and turns out to be a clever surprise in the book!

Impressions:

Whoa. After  just finishing Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder.. I’m …I’m ….speechless.

I’ve had this book for, let’s see, nine years and, every year or so, I’ll give it a try. And, every year, I haven’t been able to get past Chapter 1. I still remember when I got this book as a gift from one of my older cousins. I remember being excited to open the package, thinking, “Yes! Finally someone who know that I like books!” My brother managed to open his first, which turned out to be C.S. Lewis’  The Chronicles of Narnia. So, I thought, “Yes! He somehow knows that my bro and I like fantasy!” But… then I opened the package and the book just looked so dry. And, being the immature little girl that I was (so very unlike Sophie and Hilde), I set it aside and thought that my cousin must hate me if he thought I would enjoy this!!

This year, by chance, I picked up the book again. It was number 5 on my randomizer list for Caribousmom’s Random Reading Challenge.

I decided it was about time I put my foot down about this book. I mean, I pulled it up again, didn’t I? This time, fair and square – through a totally random process. I decided right then and there it’s either I read it all, or I give it away, because it was starting to get ridiculous how, by some twisted sense of fate and timing, I was never able to get past Chapter 1! So I put my helmet on and barrelled through the introductory segment of the book. Slowly, as I read it, I really, truly began to love it! And I really, truly regret that I hadn’t had the stamina to read it before because this novel sheds so much insight on the huge spans of philosophical thinking that I could definitely have drawn on for future papers.

And what a beautiful trip through history it is! I admit, there’s just no way I can remember everything I read in this compedium of various thinkers and trends of thought that have arisen through time. At some point, I really wanted to pull out a piece of paper and start writing names and jot down notes –voluntarily. I’m already planning on reading it again…

Sophie’s story, aside from being a scan through different Ages of Thought, very cleverly intertwines a mysterious intrigue that was part of the reason I managed to read through huge chunks of the book without coming up for air, massively saturated in knowledge as it was. The intrigue relates to what Sophie is learning about herself and the world, and what a certain girl, Hilde, is learning through Sophie’s discussions with her philosopher mentor, Alberto Knox. All these strange occurences happen, including random postcards that end up sticking, rolling, flying Sophie’s way, sending greetings to a birthday girl that Sophie has never met. I don’t want to say anymore about this aspect of the book – but rest assured, it’s a real treat to read! It just keeps on getting cleverer as you read on…

There are so many figures in history that I want to investigate further, now. Reading this book has made me realize how very small a part of the literary world I have experienced – there’s so much out there! It’s overwhelming! But the book doesn’t make you feel ashamed that you don’t know these people, rather, you learn along with Sophie, little tidbits about them. Like for example, this lovely excerpt from Coleridge:

“What if you slept? And what if, in your sleep, you dreamed? And what if, in your dream, you went to heaven and there plucked a strange and beautiful flower? And what if, when you awoke, you had the flower in your hand? Ah, what then?”

I don’t know who Coleridge is, heard of him but don’t know much about him, but that was a very pretty, surreal idea. There are so many other great quotes in this book, I’ve tons of tabs stuck to the pages, that my mother was wondering if I was going to write an essay about this book. No doubt about it, this novel really opened my mind to different concepts and ideas – all the ideas! –  that people throught history played with, in a way that wasn’t too daunting.

I’m by no means a student of philosophy. I’ve never taken philosophy. But I do like to debate and think about absurd and crazy “what if?” questions. My friends and family get exasperated by it sometimes. So, I really agree with the part of the book that emphasizes the need to continue to ask questions about everything, no matter how simple it may appear on the surface. There are a lot of tiny and complicated nuances that can end up forming the reason behind an answer to a seemingly simple question – nuances that are a result of thousands of years of thought, that we sort of take for granted in our time.

“A white rabbit is pulled out of a top hat. Because it is an extremely large rabbit, the trick takes many billions of years. All mortals are born at the very tip of the rabbit’s fine hairs, where they are in a position to wonder at the impossibility of the trick. But as they grow older they work themselves ever deeper into the fur. And there they stay…”

I’m glad I read Sophie’s World. I don’t want to be another deadened person, traipsing through life, trapped in the rabbit’s fur, as Alberto Knox warned against. This book has reminded me to keep a patient and open mind towards all questions and ideas, and has made me want to re-evaluate myself, as a thinking individual and all that had to happen in order for me to think and be the kind of person that I am.

Don’t get stuck in the first few chapters of this book! Read on! There is real treasure inside this book – ideas and thoughts of gold! Jostein Gaarder writes with humor and irony too. It’s so lovely altogether! The last chapter, “The Big Bang” – I really enjoed it. It was so beautifully written, and really captured the wonder of what the universe could be. LOTS of food for thought. TONS. A long owed thank you to that cousin of mine, who gave this book to me as a gift…Thank you very much!

Worst part of the story: The beginning is slow, and makes it hard for a tentative reader to keep on going. Um, some parts, like I said, were unbelieveable. Sophie is really too smart! But, maybe I’m jealous of her quick mind. Or maybe it’s a cultural thing. Or maybe it’s on purpose! Did I ever think of that? Hmm? Also, just other little things that seemed underdeveloped… like all the parents in the story, who are really 2D. It’s a little hard to get to know Sophie sometimes, because really, she’s just the “disciple”, listening, asking ocasional prompting questions, and Alberto does all the talking. Another thing that results from having to translate it, is that some parts are a little awkward to read.

Best part of the story: All the STUFF you learn. All that STUFF!! And its really such an enchanting story, that really grows on you. It becomes more and more endearing. As you read, you feel more and more like you’re in Sophie’s shoes, learning about things from a mysterious philosopher.

Excerpt:

Dear Hilde, If the human brain was simple enough for us to understand, we would still be so stupid that we couldn’t understand it. Love, Dad.

Random fact I learned: Did you know Aristotle invented the “Animal, vegetable, mineral” game? I love that game…

Rating: 4.5/5 white mercedes

Links:

Did you know there was a movie based on this book?

Other reviews:

Traci’s Blog

Book Nook Club

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9 thoughts on ““The only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder”

  1. You’re making me want to read it again! I should read more Gardner, period. I remember adoring his book Vita Brevis a long time ago…I wonder if I still would.

    PS: I highly recommend Coleridge’s “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”…such an awesome poem 😀

  2. ohmigosh i thought you would be a huge coleridge fan!

    you must read him straight away…and romantic poets in general if you havent already: Particularly,
    *’The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ collection by William Blake;
    *The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock’ and ‘The Wasteland’ (quartet) by T.S. Eliot.
    *Anything by W.B. Yeats

    …I pretty much felt I hadn’t lived before I discovered The Romantic Age poetry in first year uni – it just cracked my heart open and I hope it does the same to yours.

    I definitely agree with Nymeth, the symbolism and the albotross and all that crazy philosophical stuff in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner is to die for…

    I would also recommend one of my favourite poems of all time, unfinished – would you believe it! I think Coleridge died while writing it: its called ‘Christabel’ and its so gorgeous its like lesbian vampirish but i want to name my daughter Christabel because of it! One of my favourite parts is:

    ” There she sees a damsel bright,
    Dressed in a silken robe of white,
    That shadowy in the moonlight shone :
    The neck that made that white robe wan,
    Her stately neck, and arms were bare ;
    Her blue-veined feet unsandal’d were ;
    And wildly glittered here and there
    The gems entangled in her hair.”

    Oh gosh. *tear*

  3. Nymeth – Vita Brevis sounds interesting! Reading Sophie’s World was a crazy experience for me because I don’t have that much knowledge of philosophy or many of these historical thinkers. I keep wanting to flip back to certain ideas and think about them more, which is why I think this book is so great! I think I will be stuyding Coleridge this fall so I’m very excited! I like his style, and since you said it’s an awesome poem, I’ve now got to google “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and check it out!
    Aimee – When I was reading the “Romanticism” part of the book, I thought I would definitely love this age. The only poets from this time that I’ve had experience with is Blake and Wordsworth – I do love them both! I learned a bit about this age in other courses, but not in depth. I’m doing an English Lit Minor right now, and I’m glad I picked a course based on the poets of the Romantic Age as one of my courses this fall!! By the way, that passage was so lovely to read! I must investigate this man further…

  4. Okay, now I want to re-read Sophie’s World, too! You’ve gotten some great recommendations from Nymeth and Aimee (I love Blake, Eliot, and especially Yeats also), to which I would only add Keats. Try “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” and any of his odes. Thanks again for visiting my blog today. I like yours, too!

  5. Hi Sharry! Thanks for dropping by. 🙂 It’s nice to hear you loved Sophie’s World. I read this (the exact same copy pictured above) years ago in college and while it wasn’t the sort of writing I usually lean towards, I loved that it was just an interesting trip throughout the history of philosophy. There couldn’t have been a better introduction to philosophy than this book. Like Nymeth, methinks I need a reread. 🙂

  6. ds – Thanks for your suggestions! I’ve definitely got to take a look at these romantic poets!
    claire – I totally agree with you! I normally wouldn’t have read this book but I certainly don’t regret my reading experiences!

  7. Unrelated, feel free to delete:

    If you are interested in being added to the R.I.P. IV email list, to be informed of contests and events, please drop me a line at poegeek (at) gmail (dot) com.

  8. I love the story behind your reading this book – isn’t it funny how timing can be so crucial to our experience of a book? I have seen this one around for ages, and read some great reviews. I’ll have to give it a try!

  9. darla d – It’s true! Funny thing, indeed. I know my reading tastes have become far wider as a result of the book blogging community. Everyone’s so encouraging about trying out books that you may not necessarily have approached on your own. Sophie’s World was one of those.

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