Books.

Right then.. It’s summer (I’m told most people consider Memorial Day weekend the “official” start of summer; for me (and I’d guess most of us in academia) it’s the start of summer term, about a week after commencement) and that means it’s time to read. Several weeks ago I posted about the books I wanted to read this summer. Some of you may recall that I finished Ghost Map shortly after that post, and Leaving Atlanta quickly followed. So that means Eat Pray Love was next, so without further ado..

I don’t think I’ve intentionally been putting off writing about this one – I have legitimately been busy and traveling and then there was the small matter of my laptop deciding not to boot for a couple days – but I admit to still being a bit unsettled about it. The book is divided into 3 sections – Italy, India, and Indonesia – and is the author’s (Elizabeth Gilbert) narrative of her recovery and rediscovery of herself throughout her year of travels. Ms. Gilbert’s writing style is very engaging and the opening of the book was immediately gripping; I felt like she was writing from inside my head, which is a bit misleading – I’m not now nor have I ever been in the situation she describes, but I could viscerally identify with the emotion.

And I stayed more or less an emotional voyeur throughout Italy. In India, Richard from Texas jumped out of the pages, living and breathing. We all need a Richard from Texas. My lasting impression of India was that it went by so much faster than Italy. I never went back to actually figure out if there were fewer pages, or if it was just that because of the relative lack of “terrain” covered compared to Italy, it seemed so. But Indonesia.. Indonesia is where I started to emotionally disconnect with Ms. Gilbert. I still can’t quite identify which part of Indonesia caused me to pull away – and I don’t want to give too much away by listing the options for those who still want to read it – but there was definitely something distancing in Indonesia. And while I still enjoyed the book through to the end, it wasn’t a book that left me wanting more.

Which I think is okay, and it rather nicely illustrates the point of the book – a journey to identify yourself. In the end, Ms. Gilbert found herself, and even though I can identify with where she started, and even several of the steps and stages she went through on her journey, in the end she arrived at herself and she and I – and everyone else – are on different paths to different destinations.

And that dovetails quite nicely into Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi, which is about a journey of a different sort. Judy G. asked if I liked it; and I did. But not being Canadian means that I’m mostly unaware of the media lovefest surrounding Martel at the moment. Yes, the book was highly acclaimed in the US when it was first released, but that was some time ago and I think it’s one of those flash-in-the-pan books for the fickle American readership – it was all the buzz for a few months and now it’s available in most half-price book stores on clearance for a couple of bucks (which is, in fact, where I picked up my copy). Which is really neither here nor there, other than to explain that I probably tend toward contrarianism when it comes to the hot new author as well and typically end up working back around to that once-must-read a few years later and get to make my judgement about the story.

And, as I mentioned, I did like The Life of Pi. It was.. real enough without being too much of a stretch. As an allegory, it’s subtle enough to skip over if you want to just plow through the story for the sake of a decently told story. And even though they mess with your head a bit at the end, I still liked it even though I’m not sure I’m going to bother to probe, even for my own edification, the depths of the allegory. *shrug*

I’m now about half way through Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (who is also the author of The Virgin Suicides), which I picked up in the Denver airport because I forgot to pack The Life of Pi. It was a book recommended by one of our campus librarians and one I’d glanced at a few times in the past year or so, but never bothered to pick up to read the synopsis. It’s not about what I thought it would be, and I have to say that it’s not really about (at least so far) what I thought it was after hearing it described. Middlesex is purportedly about the life of a modern hermaphrodite; so far, though, it’s mostly about the family history of a modern hermaphrodite, starting with his Greek grandparents in their remote Turkish village and their flight from the burning of Smyrna to 1920’s Detroit. It’s an interesting story packed with a lot of issues in addition to the probable most obvious one – racial tension in both Turkey and Detroit; immigration; prohibition; guilt; religion – but written so that you don’t get beaten over the head with any of them. Unfortunately, because it touches on so much, it can be a bit much for bedtime reading at times, but I won’t hold that against it. *smile*

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