I picked up two books while in Sagada, Philippines, one rainy afternoon at my homestay. I was reading This is How: Surviving What You Think You Can’t for the second time of my trip and the homestay had a decent collection of books that had been left by past travellers. After rifling through the stacks of books I grabbed The Life of Pi, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Cloud Atlas and managed to cram all three books into my pack without yet giving up the space of my coveted Augusten Burroughs which I’d scribbled so many notes and reflections in.
Both Fiction and Science Fiction are usually not my thing, but for the last few weeks on long bus rides, planes, trains, and during the drizzling rain, I found two of these books to be incredibly magical and comforting and the perfect companions. I started with The Life of Pi because I knew a small bit about the book, that it was a well received movie, and after skimming through the first few pages the small Indian boy, animals, and clashes of culture were alluring to someone (me) while exploring all of the new climates, sounds, sights, tastes and smells of my journey through Asia. Within a chapter or two I was hooked, and along for the story through Pi’s adventures with his religions and wonderment of the gods, his journeys and struggle for life and his veracity and compassion when faced with adversity; all the time totally relating to his resentment for Richard Parker walking out of his life after all they’d faced together without a proper goodbye. The book just stuck and I read it from cover to cover in less than 3 days. Yann Martel did an excellent job of making you believe in this story, at times thinking it was almost to perfectly magical to be real, and at others being completely captivated by the attention to details and Pi’s accounts of his days at sea. I waited until the very last page and sentence to finally Google Pi Patel and find out if this was in fact a true story. I was in Kota Kinabalu at the time surrounded by Oceans and Marine Life and as I spent my days snorkeling on the islands and splashing in the waves, I found myself looking more at my surroundings in the moment, and comparing my experiences with the rock of the boat or the taste of the sea to that of Pi’s account. I was not ready for the last pages of the book, and when they came, I was left with my own unfinished thoughts about life, those you embrace at the end of the day, and seizing every moment and giving it your all.
Ironically, little more than 24 hours later I would meet a different, non-fictional, living and breathing Life of Pi, this one with a different story to tell, but none the less captivating and full of an excitement and passion for life. In a tiny little country, in a homestay, during Ramadan in Brunei, I met a man with his own story to tell called the Life of Pye. Not that he cared much whatsoever when I oozed my enthusiasm for the coincidence of my book reading in relation to his name, but we swapped contact information as we were both headed to Miri, Sarawak around the same time frame, he let me ramble on for a while about what to do in Miri and my subtle attempts at coercing someone to rent a car and go to Niah National Park in the following days, and then after bailing on the plan once, and then last minute new plans we managed to take a disgustingly smelly, dirty, bat and insect infested cave in the middle of the Borneo Jungle and make it into a really incredibly fun and memorable day.
Before I get to the second book that I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn I will say that I attempted to read Cloud Atlas which has so many “best book” awards, nominations and accolades. It just wasn’t my thing, and I tried, terribly hard to read enough into it to maybe get hooked. It didn’t help that the book was well loved and falling apart at the seam, and one afternoon on an Island in Kota Kinabalu as I found myself without my notebook, having been left at home, and a mind spinning with thoughts and ideas (I will get my million dollar idea one day, you just wait and see)… I may or may not have used some of the pages of Cloud Atlas as scratch paper. Ok, so I definitely did that, because it wasn’t going to be able to be read again by anyone else, and I figured that even though it wasn’t my sort of book, those pages were still inspiring to thousands of others who’d read the words, and perhaps one day, the scribbles I’d written down on those pages would be inspiring to someone else as well. I’m currently dragging around about 30 pages of Cloud Atlas with random notes written on them like “Selfie Stick Rapture, End of Days, China”… “God had a sense of humor after all”, “the day had come, slowly but surely with each time zone at dusk realizing with pandamonium that something was terribly terribly wrong”… written around and over the entry page of The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish… so maybe the Chinese Zombie Selfie Stick apocalypse will not be the story that breaks me into the world as a famous author, ha, and I’m not really sure where I was intending to go with that, but it makes me incredibly happy to have this written down amongst my notes and jots from my trip. David Mitchell, sorry in advance if you ever somehow read this, of course unless one day I do happen to become an author, in which case thank you, and sorry, not sorry.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was another really excellent read that I would never have picked up on my own and read has it not been for Asia. I’d never heard of the book by Betty Smith, but it is one that was well loved and read with incredible publishing success in 1943 and over 50 years later has been credited as one of the best selling American novels of the century. I was determined to finish reading it in Asia and not lug another book or belonging into Australia, and I did just that, at the final final moment on my flight into Perth. It was again me just being sentimental I’m sure, but the perfect timing, as I sat in Melaka a little world Heritage town in Malaysia, surrounded by Antiques and Coffee Shops and old buildings to be reading about Brooklyn in the early 1900s. Francie Nolan takes you on a journey through her home, neighborhood, and childish thoughts as she grows from youth to adolescence in a poor family in Brooklyn. The attention to detail and the intricately entwined lives of her family, school mates and neighborhood I found to be really enjoyable, and made me think a lot about my Great Grandmother GG who grew up in Buffalo, New York during this same time period, and while I was too young when she passed away to every get to talk to her about her life, I have fond memories or visiting her home in Buffalo when I was 10 years old, and being so impressed by her immaculately dressed old house that was furnished with antiques and her prized possessions, that I was able to grasp a bit of what life might have been like for her and her family growing up as new immigrants to the country in New York at that time. If you haven’t read this book, I’d put it up there with Catcher in the Rye, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and other classic and iconic stories told from an adolescent perspective.
The last few years I was always preoccupied with other activities and work to make time for reading, something that I do really enjoy as down time, and I’m absolutely loving a summer of being able to read a few books and take some time to just relax!
Book up next: David Sedaris’ new Theft by Finding!