Posted by: fullandbye | January 17, 2010

books etc.

The project I have been working on since coming to Jamaica opens to the public a week from Tuesday. I am so excited, but also frantically busy. It is a good feeling.

On a specimen collection dive on friday (coral mostly, but also some invertebrates) I saw a sea turtle. The turtle was maybe 20′ deep and was hiding under a ledge in the reef. It was maybe 1 meter in diameter and I later was able to identify it as a green turtle. So gorgeous. Nature’s penchant for color and pattern is best displayed in tropical ecosystems. Simply amazing. Peace Corps life can be trying at times, but moments like that make up for every frustration.

Book thoughts.

I just recently reread A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and I enjoyed it much more this time. I first read that book when in between my second and third years of college, and I really did not get it. But the book is really a book about the compromises to youth that Dave Eggers made on account of finding himself suddenly a parent. The context is so much clearer now. Strangely, the book is about Eggers’ life between the ages of 21 and 27 and these ages are likewise the ages of my first and second readings. Now that I have experienced life post-college and now that 25 does not seem ancient (at 21 I could hardly imagine being 25) the experiences recounted in the book are so much more relatable. What is interesting is that they are not relatable because they are similar to my experiences, but because now I can see what Dave Eggers felt cheated out of. I was so focused on finishing college when I first read the book, that the thought of being post-college with a sibling sidekick just did not seem that weird. Now I can look back and say with full confidence that the past five years that I have treasured so much for the independence and self-definition they afforded me would be gone were I to find myself in Eggers’ situation.

Currently rereading Tropic of Cancer. So good. This book I read only four years ago or so, but on this reading I appreciate it differently as well. I think that living abroad is part of this difference in perspective. One of the strange things about living overseas is that I am frequently surprised by who my friends are. It is easy to bond with other expats but sometimes I wonder to myself “would I really be friends with these people in any other situation?”. I think Miller frequently asked himself the same thing living in Paris. Incidentally, this question is also at the heart of the film “The Breakfast Club”. Not sure where I am going with this line of reasoning.

But what I am really enjoying about this reading of Tropic of Cancer is the historicality of the book. I take it for granted that Henry Miller was more prone to discussing matters of the flesh than most of his (or our) contemporaries. But what makes the book so delightful is to revel in the incongrouity between it and pretty much all other english language (or photographic) representations of life between the two world wars. Not counting pics of the depression era destitute, people looked so damn classy in 1932! And the Hays Production Code further adds to the sanitized view I have of this era. So Miller’s work is this wonderful little time capsule that assures me that despite their clothes, and despite the cinematic representation of their time, my grandparents and their contemporaries were every bit as debaucherous as I can imagine.


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