On my way home from work yesterday, I ran into a turtle. Well, I didn’t hit him, I just passed him standing on the side of the road. I wouldn’t have noticed the turtle, would have thought he was perhaps a chunk of busted tire, had he not craned his head high, watchfully, scanning the cars roaring by him. Ah, that’s a turtle!
I was driving in the corporate park where I work. If I was on the highway, I would have let him take his chances – too inconvenient for me. But I knew this place, turning around would be easy, and there was parking nearby. I U-turned and drove back to help, thinking, though, that this was pretty childish of me. I don’t even pull over to help people with flat tires.
Picking up a turtle is harder that one would imagine. They run fast and on their claws, shell half an inch above the ground, like a reptilian hovercraft. He panicked when he saw me and made a dash for it. (more…)
I never thought of the Chicago suburbs as a place worthy of literature. Books, on the contrary, are something suburbanites use, like drugs, to escape the reality of their environment – a dull, slow, lonely locale, without the drama of a big city or even a small rural town. As Dave Eggers notes in his book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (hereafter referred to as AHWoSG), often under the veneer of a safe and calm neighborhood, the spirit of a suburbanite dies slowly.
I’ve had this book since high school, just sitting on my shelf. I began reading it when I was eighteen, but, coming off of English classes focusing on Faulkner, Camus, and Sartre, I was sick of authors who played fast and loose with the rules of language, especially to evoke depressing thoughts. I just graduated high school, was looking forward to college, and didn’t need these heavy stories. So I stopped reading after skimming the first few pages.
Six years later, I tried reading AHWoSG again, and finished it in the course of a week. I did not realize until this latest attempt to read AHWoSG that a good portion of the book takes place in Lake Forest, IL. In fact, the author grew up there. One of the most influential novels of the decade was written about one of the most boring places on earth.
I was inspired by this, this entering of the Chicago suburbs into literary history. There is some beauty here after all, if one has the eyes to see. (more…)
When I was younger, I used to love reading a good book so much that I never wanted it to end, never wanted to say goodbye to its characters. Now, in my relatively more mature years, I rarely get this feeling, though I still love to read good books. Reading the last page about Dean Moriarty, I felt little sadness.
Beat writer Jack Kerouac writes in the last pages of On the Road,
So Dean couldn’t ride uptown with us and the only thing I could do was sit in the back of the Cadillac and wave at him. The bookie at the wheel also wanted nothing to do with Dean. Dean, ragged in a motheaten overcoat he brought specially for the freezing temperatures of the East, walked off alone, and the last I saw of him he rounded the corner of Seventh Avenue, eyes on the street ahead, and bent to it again. Poor little Laura, my baby, to whom I’d told everything about Dean, began almost to cry.
“Oh, we shouldn’t let him go like this. What’ll we do?”
Old Dean’s gone, I thought, and out loud I said, “He’ll be all right.” And off we went to the sad and disinclined concert for which I had no stomach whatever and all the time I was thinking of Dean and how he got back on the train and rode over three thousand miles over that awful land and never knew why he had come anyway, except to see me.
Reading On the Road, I wondered whether the spirit of the character of Dean Moriarty had suffused itself into American culture – I saw it everywhere. The incessant traveler, lover of sights and people and smells, rubbing his belly for joy, sweating, American Odysseus without a home, Walt Whitman re-incarnate. Without Dean Moriarty, the journeys that author Jack Kerouac wrote about that he took with Dean would never have taken place. Dean was the leader. (more…)