I was recommended this book and took it on as part of my own path to decipher the world following the death of my mother this past Autumn. While Strayed and I had different experiences in many ways, there is something ultimately resounding about reading another woman's story of loss and the struggle to recover from it.
Cheryl Strayed lost her mother and, following several traumatizing years, during which she was unsuccessful at adjusting to the loss, she set out on the Pacific Crest Trail. She hoped hiking from Tehachapi Pass in California to the Bridge of the Gods on the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington would provide some meaningful direction for her young, disrupted life.
Just the other day I realized that I have been helping facilitate Reading events with the illustrious Elliott Bay Book Company now for ten years. In that time, I have seen such a variety of authors and events that I could barely attempt to synthesize them all. Some authors charm the audience with genuine affection, others seem jaded by the tour circuit or their own success
(This passage is from an event I worked with David Sedaris in 2008. I was inspired to unearth it after completing the Blog entry above about recent events I worked with Sedaris and Colin Powell).
The author arrives almost directly from the airport and I take him to the table where he will sign books. It is nearly an hour before he will begin the reading but he prefers to connect with the audience in advance. One man remembers previous visits the author made to the bookstore when he circled the waiting crowd, shaking hands and talking to people, all of whom seemed awed and shocked by the generous attention they were given by the star of the show.
He is talking to people now as they come to his table with their books open. He first gets the person's name. Then he asks one or two stock questions, “Who did you come here with? How old are you? Do you have a job? Do you like owls?”
Undoubtedly even an oclophobe would tell the author, “Yes, owls are great.” The author is already sketching a specimen on the title page and saying, “You know, when we hear owls we hear hoo, hoo. But, what owls are really saying is…” And here the author draws a cartoon dialogue bubble beside the owl beak and writes as pens in, I like black people. “We just don't know how to understand owl,” he explains.
I don't know what it is about the book, and I have thought about it a lot lately, since so many people have asked, "what is it about that book?" What these dear friends mean is, "Four times? Seriously?"
I'm not kidding that the fourth time is the charm. The book is somehow funnier and also more profoundly tragic this time around. I was strongly drawn to the fatalism and attempts to mitigate the influence of the faceless forces that turn the wheel of the Pequod.
Most surprisingly this time was what an exceptionally sympathetic character Ahab had become. At times the whole story seems to be an internal drama or dream played within the mind of a bedridden old captain who has just returned from a bad fight with an aquatic mammal many times the man's own size. As in Chapter 133:The Chase--First Day, when the crew keeps on the periphery of the second round of the fight between the white whale and the white-haired captain, we recognize that Ahab is surrounded by "the direful zone, whose centre had now become the old man's head."
Ahab is, of course, still monomaniacal and pompous: "This lovely light, it lights not me; all loveliness is anguish to me...
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