In addition to the books pictured above, and listed below, I also took Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Melville’s Moby Dick, neither of which I managed to flay. Books should be flayed. Peel back the covers and tuck into the meat of the work, especially if it’s a whaling book of good proportions. Six books is just about right for a vacation, so I took six, but on this trip I was sidetracked by two unintended titles. This is normal. Note to self: only take four books next time because, inevitably, you’ll end up buying a book or two, or snaking one from the nearest lending library (with the encouragement of our hostess who was in the process of paring down her book collection). I’ve been meaning to re-read Moby Dick, so that will remain out and about for near-future indulging. As I Lay Dying is headed straight back into my vacation pile and I’ll take a stab at that on a future trip, perhaps Curacao v2019.
Books are a backbreaker when traveling, but I’d rather carry a stack – six out and eight back – along with a couple hundred pages of notepaper and enough pens to ensure I don’t run dry, than carry an electronic device for reading and writing. I like ink, even if the TSA and their ilk don’t. I’ve had my books searched coming out of Providenciales in Turks & Caicos. So few people read actual books, that they have become suspect. The T&C security theater folks had me hold the books by the spine and fan through them, perhaps expecting all the bearer bonds I must have been smuggling to fall onto the inspection table. They were salivating, and little good it did them. No doubt, I live in the wrong century. I was jealous to read Gerry Durrell’s account of moving to the island of Corfu, particularly the bit where his literary brother toted along two trunks full of books. His other brother brought a revolver and ammunition. From England. Departing for Nevis, I was stopped by the TSA because one of my pens was considered “tactical” – had to FedEx that one home to myself before we’d even left Harrisburg.
Wrong F…ing Century. Lest you think I’m thinly masking a vulgarity with elision as my fig leaf, I assure you that ‘F…ing’ here is short for fluthering, which I admit sounds like an unusual sex act, but it’s not. Fluthering came to mind because it simultaneously draws into focus two island notions that are apropos: jellyfish and the excess consumption of adult beverages. [The Urban Dictionary may soon conflate these two notions into one very unfortunate sex act. Look away!] Surviving our century is replete with its unique stings and it often feels like we travelers, we happy few, are the sane being herded through international barriers by power-mad drunks, who only occasionally, and most likely accidentally, do good service. Dogberry and his inept cohort of night watchmen, asses all, and don’t you forget it! History echoes, and Shakespeare was yodeling across the chasm of time with his theatrical send up of security. Fluther is Irish slang for drunk, which can happen on Nevis if you get stung by Sunshine’s Killer Bee (more on that elsewhere; our hostess warned us against the Killer Bee and, as it turns out, Sea/Mester prohibits their adult students from partaking of this concoction while docked at Nevis). Also, a fluther is, alongside a smack, the term of venery for massed jellyfish, stinging or not, and is itself certainly derived from “flutter” which more or less describes the gentle, undulating, pulse of a jellyfish’s circular wing when its body is in motion through the ocean (think flying saucers & Area 51 here if you’re not conceiving the jellyfish’s medusa form as a wing). So there you have it: F…ing. Use it any time you intend fluthering, but want to fluster your relish of readers. I live in the wrong f…ing century.
Eventually I have to present the promised list, so here it is, in as-read order:
- Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. This is a hardcover edition featuring Harold Bloom’s worthwhile introduction. Don’t go all Dead Poet’s Society on this book and tear out Harold Bloom – he’s a critic worth reading. McCarthy moreso. I’ve waded through Blood several times and successive readings are increasingly worthwhile. Of the six, this is the best book in terms of possessing strong doses of words worth reading, and durability which will be measured in centuries. Worth, worth, worth…*(see the asterisked subsequent words near the bottom, only if you want to see me vent my spleen even more).
- Rivers of Time by June Goodfield. An island discovery, this title stood out while looking over the books offered by the gift shop inside Nevis’s Botanical Gardens. It has been, or shortly will be, turned into a movie. History and historical fiction within a single set of covers, about a woman whose tombstone, and thus her story, has survived several centuries since her days on Nevis. Reading this book influenced our hiking destination. Both were enjoyable!
- My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. This was the fun read for the trip. My kids would hack LOL into some device. Never. I’ll tell you that I snickered, rolled, guffawed, and nearly choked twice. S kept looking at me strangely. Penguin calls this book a “Nature Classic.” It’s that and so much more. Just read it. From Nevis we ordered a copy for The Mackenzie. I’ll be tracking down more of Mr. Durrell’s books. Thank goodness he’s written a stack of them. By the way, kudos to S who ferreted this title out from the many in Kay’s Seahorse Cottage and said, “this looks interesting.” It was. It is.
- The Way of Zen by Alan Watts. This is the second of Alan’s books that I’ve read, fascinating and more scholarly than the last, Out of Your Mind, which was actually a transcription of several lectures (convivial talks, not lectures in a stern or strictly academic sense). The Way is more approachable than many other ‘popular/academic’ introductions to the subject and does a fine job of tracing the rise of Zen from the interaction of Buddhist notions with precursor systems of Chinese thought, specifically Taoism and Confucianism, hence the play on the Tao in his book’s title. S is avowedly NOT a Buddhist, though for some reason my father gave her the statuette of a frog meditating, lotus-like, which I set on top of a work about Shakespeare as a decoration on one of the smaller Danner bookcases in our house. I’m not either, but I’m probably closer…more of an Emersonian Universalist Unitarian whose mind has been twisted one way by Whiteheadian Process metaphysics (the other Whitehead who influenced my thoughts) and another way by reading from, and about, a host of religions through and past grad school. The correct image here is saltwater taffy, midway through being stretched – tempting, but unfinished.
- Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene. Graham is one of those authors whose books I can reliably enjoy. Favorites include The End of the Affair and The Quiet American. I’ve been meaning to read this one ever since I started referring, in front of S and then others, to ‘our man in Curacao.’ She knows I mean Don. She probably didn’t know I was playing with a book title until this trip. You’ll meet Don later, or elsewhere, inside Goat Waters. He’s very much the accomplished Senor Vermole (Mr. Wormold), but American, not British. An international man of mystery, and a man of action. Heck, we might be breaking his cover. Nota Bene: when in doubt, always spill your whiskey for the Dachshund.
- The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner. Faulkner earns last place here, only because I haven’t finished up TS&TF yet. Macbeth, from which, everyone knows, Faulkner cribbed his title, I’ve been through a few times, but The Sound is new to me. To say it’s a confusion is an understatement. I think Pynchon is more accessible in most instances. Still, this must be Faulkner’s success and his great show of empathy, to introduce us into the mind of an idiot, to engage us, and to cause us to read forward as we hunt for a resolution that surely must never come to Benjy. I wonder if this book was the precursor, the ah-ha kernel, that blossomed into an entirely different being in the film Being John Malkovich. Now pass the sarsaparilla – Whooey!
Thus ends the Nevis 2018 booklist. Short & sweet.
PS – I’m still steamed about having to pay $23.78 to salvage my potentially violent pen. That blueshirt at the screening checkpoint, S noted, having observed the entire halt and search unfold before her raised eyebrow (what, pray tell, was her husband smuggling this time?), would have appreciated it if I had taken up his suggestion that I forfeit the pen, which was one of my stated options. If there wasn’t an acquisitive gleam in his eye, or if we were more rushed, I might have let him confiscate it. As it was, I trudged out of the security line, over to the drop box, and I used the pen in question to fill out the FedEx paperwork on the selfsame pen’s own writ of excommunication. Then I got back in line. The madness of the situation was emphasized by what was allowed to pass through the scanner, and the white, latex, glove inspection (goop it up and sing with me, “moooon river…”): six Uni-ball Vision Elite pens, and a few pencils, all squeezed through without comment. Anyone – anyone! – with not so much as a lick of martial arts training could use a Uni-ball to pop, if not flay, an eyeball or an eardrum. They are sharp little devils, and excellent pens if you don’t like to travel with fountain pens. Heck, while in Nevis, I attempted to re-cap a Uni-ball while talking (which, granted, is akin to chewing gum and walking) and I plunged the metal tip of that pen into my hand and drew more blood than the average mosquito. Uni-balls will be banned next, or at least talked about behind their backs, like J.D. Salinger. Trust me, no latex inspection gloves needed, I only resemble J.D. in one significant regard: we both attended Valley Forge Military Academy during our impressionable youth. Cripes. There’s a story or two for another time.
*Worth, worth, worth in words, words, words…there’s an essay in here somewhere about, trite but true, the treasures available to anyone who learns to read, the freedoms – conceptual and manifest – available to readers; freedom’s obverse, the key indicator of an incipient or actual dictatorship, is censorship of ideas and communication which can be seen across time and cultures from the KJV “Slave Bibles” of the West Indies, to the big-tech assisted censorship of communist regimes, and to the self-censorship, the redaction of thought, imposed by politically correct, ostensibly green, culture in the nominally liberated nations. It has been said before: determine who you may not criticize and you have identified your master. It should go without stating, once you’ve located your master you know who, or what, to resist. Start by reading a book, then one more. Eventually you’ll need a pen.