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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Losing and finding yourself in a good book.

I finished The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime on the bus on the way home today. The protagonist and narrator of the story is an autistic teenager. The prose is hypnotically written so that you find yourself falling through the looking glass into his world of counting cars by their color, reciting prime numbers, rocking and moaning and trying to shut out the overwhelming sensory stimulus bombarding you from every direction you look. I was kinda glad nobody else was home yet when I walked in the door. It gave me a chance to decompress from work and convince myself that I really wasn't mildly autistic.

It's not the first time I've found myself so caught up in a book that I felt I was taking on characteristics of characters. I remember in junior high reading Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlen and feeling freaked out for a while. Even wrote a book report on it. Probably got the book removed from the library of my conservative Church of Christ affiliated private school. There's some fairly blasphemous stuff in the book (especially if you're easily offended), not to mention a healthy dose of sexuality. I remember one weird sequence where a character dies then remanifests and makes a soup out of part of his own body for his mourning friends to eat. Can't remember much more, but then, it's been over 20 years since I read the book.

Murakami transforms me as well. Reading his prose with it's simple structure and rhythm feels like meditation. Your breathing slows, your body and mind are depressed -- in the sense of taking a depressant, not in the sense of suffering from a deep sorrow. But there is a soothing form of melancholy to his writing. It reminds me of winter days in college when I went down to the riverfront park in Memphis and stood on the edge of the bluff staring out over the whitecapped currents of the broad Mississippi, feeling a cold wet wind blowing hard in my face. I went there to leave things behind. Things I wanted to forget. Things about myself I wanted to exorcise. I can't say that it worked. Not sure that there ever was anything I tried to cast out of my heart and soul that drowned in the muddy Mississippi. Demons are damn good swimmers. But I was successful in setting up an Ebenezer of formative angst. Ebenezer in the Biblical sense - a stone memorial set up by the children of Israel in locations where God did something miraculous in the life of the tribe. Interesting concept: find some great honking chunk of rock and stand it up where it doesn't belong so you inspire future generations to ask "what in the hell is that there for?" And then you tell them. Oral tradition. A precursor to blogging?

I guess we all want to tell our stories and at least pretend that somebody out there might read them. Somebody out there might be transformed, moved, altered by the words we express. We hope language really is a virus. We share our thoughts, hoping to infect another with our literary disease and pass ourselves on. You'd think having children would satiate this desire to recreate ourselves, but maybe it makes the desire more earnest.

Our mind recognizes traces of our physical self passed on to another and that causes it to long to find itself reflected somewhere, in an audience, a reader, a disciple. Or in the least, a comment to a post. ;)


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