"Each man's destiny is personal only inso as it may resemble what is already in his memory."
This quote is from Eduardo Mallea, and it begins The Shelt...more"Each man's destiny is personal only inso as it may resemble what is already in his memory."
This quote is from Eduardo Mallea, and it begins The Sheltering Sky with that strange act of framing that so many authors employ, using the words of others to summarize or introduce the feelings that they are about to try to invoke in their readers. Above this quote is another phrase: "Tea in the Sahara," a chapter title, now-familiar but difficult to place. This was taken by none other than the band The Police, to introduce their own work, a song of the same name that recreates a story from The Sheltering Sky. It's an interesting little web - and indicative, I think, of the kind of impact that this book seems to have on people, or at least on those who love it.
I did strange things because of this book. I bought leather-bound antique tomes written by T.E. Lawrence, and read them to a friend while wrapped in blankets and candlelight, hiding from a snowstorm, which we both pretended was sand and not ice. I became obsessed with the notions of breath and spirit that are espoused by the Touareg people of the Sahara desert. I planned films. I devoured the works of Isabelle Eberhardt, an early pioneer of female-gender-bending and exotic adventure. And finally, I bought a one-way ticket to Morocco to see Mr. Bowles, himself.
What happened after that is a long story, and a large part of my psychic history. Bowles died three days before I arrived, although Fate did land me at his wake, and I became friends with many of his, most notably the famous Moroccan novelist, Mohammed Choukri. I also ended up living in North Africa for about two years, and spending a good deal of time in the desert, undergoing indeed what Bowles translates as the baptism of solitude.
This is a long-winded way of saying that there is something special in this book, something that has the ability to get into you and never let you go. It makes you do things, it shakes you up and reminds you of emotions and fears that you had forgotten to give names to. And as the Mallea quote suggests, this book does nothing to you that you haven't already in some way done to yourself, or brings out nothing that wasn't already there, some other, wilder experience, some other collision with the real, and the you that you have forgotten or think you have lost.
For those who have watched or loved the film adaptation, I cannot speak to it as I've never been able to bring myself to see it. I am not a big fan of Bertolucci's work, although he does do some interesting things with silence. Bowles' comment on the film was something to the effect of, "How can you make a movie when all the action takes place inside people's heads?"(less)
Forget "On the Road" or "Dharma Bums" - this is still my favorite of Kerouac's works, and one of the few that continues to speak to me a decade and a...moreForget "On the Road" or "Dharma Bums" - this is still my favorite of Kerouac's works, and one of the few that continues to speak to me a decade and a half after my Beat phase.
Simply put, this is the story of broken romance, familiar in all the warm and cold spots, all the sad erotic moments and the dizzy uncertainty and the blank morning-after regret. There are images in this book that I have never been able to shake, even after years and miles and millions of words in-between: the way the shirt hung on the one lanky girl in the bar, the angelic quality of one of the characters, the bits of fluff caught in a woman's afro on a morning pillow.
Kerouac may not be a brilliant writer; Capote's criticism is now legendary: "It's not writing, it's typing." Nonetheless, there is a juvenile kind of sincerity to this book that always breaks my heart.(less)
I keep a copy of this around to use in the way some use tarot cards, or willow sticks or coins to throw the Yi Ching. I can open this book to any page...moreI keep a copy of this around to use in the way some use tarot cards, or willow sticks or coins to throw the Yi Ching. I can open this book to any page, in any mood, with a question or somtimes simply a hollow heart, and there will be the story I need. Each city, each description (whispered to Kublai Khan to tell him of the vastness of his empire, most of which he will neither ever see nor understand...) is like an answer unto itself, a little meditation on a possible life. Some are as long as three or four pages; most are not, covering only the page and a half that offers itself when the spine is cracked, stopping short on the right so you have a place for your thumb.
It never occurred to me to read it straight through, and so I never have. Perhaps it is different that way, although I somehow doubt it.
This is a gorgeous book, a mysterious book, a book full of so many images and ideas and little strange thoughts that it seems like too many truths for one brain to have crafted. It is a pocket jewel. It makes me want to be a better writer, a weirder human, a more beautiful thing. I am grateful that it has no illustrations, as the ones that your mind offers as companions will be far more haunting and correct.(less)
Another book that changed my life. Or, one that arrived just in time for me to want to change it myself.
I like to sensationalize this story a bit by g...moreAnother book that changed my life. Or, one that arrived just in time for me to want to change it myself.
I like to sensationalize this story a bit by giving it credit (in part) for my marriage to the most amazing and well-suited partner I ever could have dreamed of. In fact, I hadn't dreamed of it, not before this book, which was why, when I read it, I was in the wrong relationship.
Besides being a brain-twisting, breath-shattering, sexy, aching, dreamwalk of a novel, this book does a damn good job of showing what love can look like. It was so well-written, I actually believed Niffenegger when she said the things she did; I wanted a Henry and a Claire all-in-one, for my very own.
I was getting close to ready before I read the book. I knew it was coming, but wasn't sure what it looked like or how I was going to find the strength to get myself out of where I was. And then I read The Time Traveller's Wife, and I stayed up until 3 AM, sobbing, to finish it. The next day, I washed my face, smoothed my hair, and got myself out of my wrong situation.
Soon thereafter, I found my partner. And he read the book, too.
It's really that good. Don't let the bookclub fame turn you off.(less)