And so another year has passed before another Good reads post. I’m more than a little embarrassed that this didn’t happen sooner. Looking back I feel like one of the reasons I failed to read and write more was because I only thought about it vaguely, I thought about it constantly, but vaguely. I read somewhere before that one of the first steps of achieving a goal is to be very specific about it. So for this year, I’m setting a goal to read one book per month. Specific but realistic at the same time I think. I would have liked to read one book per week or something like that but I also know that’s not very realistic given what my schedule will be like in the summer.
I think I read 5 or 6 books this past year but instead of trying to write about each of them (because the first 3 or 4 I had read almost half a year ago), I thought I’d just share some thoughts on my two most recent reads.
Wild: I had heard of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir while I still worked at my previous job (which almost seems like another lifetime ago now) but at the time I didn’t know too much about it other than it being a memoir from a long-distance hike through the pacific coast from California to Oregon. I’m not really a non-fiction reader because I feel that most of them aren’t done in a storytelling manner so this wasn’t on my list. It wasn’t until a few months ago when I was researching for some quotes that I came across the book again on goodreads.com. I was reading some of the quotes from another one of Cheryl’s books, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar and was so intrigued by her then that I wanted to read Wild right away. I started this before the holidays and just finished it today. The book chronicles her journey of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Oregon in the span of three months, alone. And what a journey it was. It was a journey in the physical form, but also in the emotional and spiritual form. She embarked on this journey a few years after losing her mother to cancer and a year after divorcing from her husband whom she still deeply loved. It was a deeply moving and inspiring read for me. In the beginning of her journey, the author was battered by the elements, weighed down (both in reality by her monstrous backpack, and metaphorically) but emerged scarred, humbled, yet triumphant and redeemed; having made peace with her demons so to speak: grief, loss, forgiveness. The account of her mother’s sudden and brief battle with cancer, and then her death in the early parts of the book rocked me with a kind of anguish that almost felt real.
Some of the most memorable things for me include when she realized that all the things she needed to survive could be carried on her back, and that she could bear the unbearable (her enormous backpack being the physical metaphor). And as she was out there in the wild, most of the times, all by herself, she learned a simple yet profound fact: how often she had to do the things she wanted to do the least. There weren’t other physical or material distractions to hide behind; no escape, and no denial; and that she often had two choices: to go back in the direction she had come from, or move forward.
Anyway, without giving away too much of the book, here’s one of my favourite passages, about what it feels like to be in the wild:
“It only had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.”
Love in the Time of Cholera: This book was highly recommended by a dear friend of mine. When I first started it, I was very intrigued because the author had started the story in what appeared to be the middle. I certainly wanted to continue and get to the bottom of it. When it comes to fiction, I tend to prefer plot driven or character driven stories. This didn’t read like a plot driven story but there were plenty of characters. However, soon I felt like I only knew very little about the characters and they just weren’t developing fast enough for me. I carried on reading though. There was something about the way Mr. Marquez writes (this was the first book by him I’d read) that just flows so beautifully. It reminds me of the voice of melodic narrators in films (as strange as that might sound). He was like the narrator of the movie (500) Days of Summer. So instead of reading the book in a couple of weeks, it took me months to finish it. Though it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just meant that I could put it down and pick it back up again like I hadn’t missed a beat. In the end, it was definitely well worth the time. Having finished it, I felt like I had not read, but rather listened to a story, the way stories were passed down in the beginning of time. It’s about a love story that went through the years, about the choices that one makes without understanding them, what it means to build a marriage and the exploration of love in all its complexity and contradictions. It was also a wonderful portrait of a bygone era and really evokes a sense of feeling for the places in the book.