Our little Baghdad by the Bay has long been accused of being an epicenter of all things immoral and hedonistic. Some have even prophesied that we will be punished a la Sodom and Gomorrah.
So it is only perhaps surprising that I haven’t seen “The Immoralist” before. It sounds like a “How-To” book for San Franciscans, right? I bet they hand this to everyone who moves here as soon as they get off the bus.
Although the author is French (equally infamous for their shameless pursuit of joie de vivre) and gay (and friend of Oscar Wilde), this is not a tourist’s guide to San Francisco. From all appearances the nobel prize-winning André Gide actually produced a serious piece of literature in 1902. The book is about the protagonist’s struggle, induced by a brush with tuberculosis, with a newly found awareness of, and distaste for, his hitherto whole-heartedly accepted sense of social propriety. A nice quote from the book posits that “[k]nowing how to free oneself is nothing; the difficult thing is knowing how to live with that freedom.”
Is that true? From a quick glance around, it seems like my fellow SFers are pretty good at living with that freedom. Or at least having a good time trying.
First thing’s first. It is so difficult to spy the titles of books on e-readers. Seriously you guys. How am I supposed to stalk you and your literary choices (and our collective bibliophilia) when your kindle doesn’t have a cover with the title in a nice large font that is easy to see from several rows away? What about ME?
The first of many
Anyway, while squinting painfully at a kindle/nook/whatever over someone’s shoulder the other day, all I could make out was “Robert Jordan” and “Wheel of Time” (although this was only after deciding that there was no way it was called “Wheel of Limes”). Once I did some research and realized that this the title of a series with about a dozen books in it, I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t seen which particular book the man was reading. But now I realize that it probably doesn’t matter, as it appears that I stumbled onto more than just one book. This is “a book” in the same way that the world of warcraft is “a video game.”
Full disclosure time. I went through a Fantasy phase in middle school. Well, I imagine we all did, but I’m talking about “Fantasy” as a genre of literature. I remember reading the Sword of Shanara and the other books that were in the trilogy. I loved books that came with a little map in the first few pages that you’d have to revisit time and time again as you followed the protagonist on his quest in a mystical world with forests teeming with ogres and fears of Elvin magic. It was just escapism plain and simple. I think there is something incredibly satisfying in stories where good and evil exist in their unalloyed forms and are often personified by individual characters. How easy it would all be if the world were so simple! (Sidebar: I think the Harry Potter series has done a great job of tapping into this yearning).
When I started doing my first few google searches for the Wheel of Time, my results revealed that it was not just a book, nor a series of books, but an online community. And this is no recent social fad: the first book was published twenty years ago. The final book is slated for publication next year. As World of Warcraft is known by its fans as WoW, so too is the Wheel of Time known by its faithful as WoT. The message board speaks of WoT themed weddings and there is a forum that discusses “…ale brewing, and Deathwatch Gardener battle tactics.”
How could that not be fun?
At some point in elementary school, I remember being taught that many surnames were derived from professions. Hello Mr. Harry Potter! I was young enough that when I learned this, I became jealous of someone with the last name of Coleman, because my surname doesn’t really resemble a profession so much as sound like the larval form of one musca domestica.
I have seen many of Barbara Kingsolver’s works on the trains and buses over the years, but it wasn’t until I saw The Lacuna, that I realized her name made me think of that elementary school lesson every time. Why? Because every time I saw it, I thought it was spelled “Kingslover,” and I wondered if her forebears had been part of the, uh, let’s say “court” of the English monarchy. But as “Kingsolver,” maybe they helped settle disputes when the path of ascension was in doubt.
So what have you learned from this post about Barbara Kingsolver or her novels? Nothing! What have you learned about me? That I am prone to suggestive dyslexia, haunted by my elementary school experience, and have a really weird last name. Oh, go read the book, I’m sure it’s fine.