Monday, July 31, 2006

Wherever You Go, There You Are

My friend and I went and applied for our visas for Russia last week. Just a small step, and it's still nearly three months away, but it becomes more real daily.

In the spirit of travel...

#24 - "Zorba the Greek" by Nikos Kazantzakis
#25 - "The Atlas" by William T. Vollmann

That's right, a two-fer ... Monday.

"...I have always been consumed with one desire: to touch and see as much as possible of the earth and the sea before I die."
-"Zorba the Greek"

"...he was simply looking for something. He wanted to see the world, that was all. He wanted to know and love the entire atlas."
-"The Atlas"

Two books about seeing it all, from radically different parts of the spectrum. When he gave me "Zorba the Greek" for my birthday, my friend told me "this'll make you want to pack up and get out of the country tomorrow." He was right; ZtG is a celebration of enjoying life. The bookish narrator is taught about passion and joy by Zorba; I identify pretty well with one, and it isn't Zorba. While I don't really buy into the whole theme of "cast away your books and live like a simple man," it is a pleasure to read.

"The Atlas" is anything but a celebration of passion and joy. Vollmann's been everywhere, and this is a collection of small vignettes -- some fact, some fiction, some somewhere in between. He's fascinated by the sadder sides of life, and his stories are populated by junkies, drunks and whores, all searching desperately for some sort of hope.

The quality is uneven, and it's not cheerful reading, but Vollmann's often brilliant and there's some amazing stuff in here. The highlights include the centerpiece titular tale, in which a cross-Canada train trip blends dreamily with scenes from visits to cities around the world; "Under the Grass" -- a haunting group of stories, inspired by the death of Vollmann's sister as a child; and "That's Nice," a tale that follows an attack in Bosnia that left two of the author's friends dead. It's brutal, a punch to the face. "The Atlas" is harsh and tragic throughout, but compelling. I'll need to read something pretty damn cheerful next, though.

25 books, in seven months. I'm a month behind the pace I initially set for myself. A day late and a dollar short.


Brushback said...

"Wherever You Go, There You Are"

That's from "Buckaroo Banzai" (Peter Weller), right?

gsdgsd13 said...

Bingo. It's also the title of some self-helpish type book, but BB is where I remember it from...