“All at once, I couldn’t figure out why I was methodically tossing a spherical object through a toroidal object. It seemed like the stupidest thing I could possibly be doing.”
This quote appears in Chapter 2, when Augustus explains his philosophical epiphany to Hazel, and it’s tied to the novel’s motif of existentialism. The action Augustus describes is shooting free throws. By abstracting it as he does, he strips away all the social context, such as the fact that getting the ball through the hoop is the main objective of an extremely popular sport in Indiana, and that being good at it is seen as valuable. Without that context, the act seems somewhat ridiculous, and so Augustus is in a sense stripping basketball of its value. It’s significant that the night on which Augustus shot these free throws was his last before having his leg amputated. Augustus was an Indiana high school basketball star, meaning basketball was a substantial part of his life, but his amputation meant he wouldn’t be able to play competitively any longer. Undoubtedly it was a serious emotional blow, and the quote can be read as his description of how he reassessed what was important in his life since he wouldn’t be able to play basketball anymore. In that light the point is less about basketball and more about how Augustus was trying to find a sense of meaning and purpose. These questions were some of the main preoccupations of existentialism—Augustus, in fact, describes the free throws as “existentially fraught” shortly after the quote—and this kind of thinking and questioning carries throughout the book as Augustus and Hazel try to determine what has real meaning in their lives given that they’re both likely to die soon.