November 12, 2013

An introduction to "All Who Wander," an essay series by Madeleine Maccar

Title, by Author

From the third-grade English teacher who told me that I read too much to the eye doctor who valiantly searched for subtle ways to tell me that blinking more often would help with my chronically dry eyes, there has always been someone in my life suggesting (or outright stating) that I might want to consider putting the books down for a while. Please don't misunderstand me: This isn't a ham-fisted attempt at humblebragging about awesome reading habits that were rooted in childhood. It's not like I was a budding genius tearing through high-minded literature in my youth, as countless young-adult series comprised the bulk of my recreational literary diet for what should probably be an embarrassingly long time. The well-intentioned but wholly repellant required reading of countless curricula did something awful to my love of reading for a spell, and I think that glutting myself on predictably plotted and standardly structured young-readers' fare was my way of railing against the headier offerings of the classroom, degenerate rebel that I was.

Eventually, thankfully, the passing of time and maturation of certain (but by no means all) tastes worked their magic: My insatiable book lust finally found its tempering soul mate in learning how not everything that's written is worth reading, bookworm compulsions be damned. As a child, reading was about indiscriminate escapism and little else. Every book was a portal to somewhere bigger and more interesting than the tiny space I occupied. The pull of fictional worlds has not at all abated during my life as a reader but it is now complemented by the myriad treats I know to be found within any well-written novel.

For me, bibliophilia inevitably led to bibliomania. Retail therapy revolves around shoes for some women, seasonal sales for others: Let me loose in a bookstore or a library sale and I am a positively ecstatic little beast. The downside is that I currently own more books than I can realistically expect to read in one lifetime, though I choose to look at it as the most optimistic expression of my fervent (and, let's be honest, probably misguided) hope that one day I will retire with a shred of sanity intact so I can curl up with book after book until my brain finally calls it quits and senility dissolves my world into something beautifully reminiscent of an Haruki Murakami novel.

But I also feel that a love of reading is simply a prelude to a love of writing. Writing fiction has never been where my talents lie: I am far more interested in slinging words and examining ideas than crafting stories of my own, which I mistakenly believed limited my options as a writer. Had Younger Me stopped to consider for a split second that there are people who earn their livings by writing about books, I would have probably run headfirst into such a pursuit and never given much thought to the journalism that won College Me over like it was a poetry-writing, shaggy-haired, flannel-wearing boy whose Chuck Taylors were just as lovingly destroyed as mine. It wasn't until my on-again/off-again activity on GoodReads had reemerged yet again as a full-on addiction that I realized how much I enjoyed reviewing books and that maybe this hobby of gushing for page after page about whatever book most recently dazzled me had the potential to become something more.

So when I joined CCLaP and realized that part of my duties here include conjuring an idea for a year-long essay series written in monthly installments, I was positively stymied for a cohesive theme; I did know, however, that I wanted to embrace such a project as an excuse to tackle the translated texts waiting to be freed from their alphabetical homes on shelves crammed tighter than dicey tenements. Had I not begun the year with the entirely too hopeful belief that I could start and finish Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time before greeting another New Year's hangover, paying no mind to how quickly things can change and how time does have a way of running away, I may not have stopped to seriously consider that time and cultures may separate us from our predecessors but human nature remains largely unchanged across the years. Granted, Proust's selectively autobiographical tome that spans seven volumes and roughly 4,000 pages follows the sensitive soul's turbulent transition from the innocence and safety of youth to its introduction to and navigation of adult society in search of one's place in the world, offering built-in potential for large-scale character development that is rife for comparing and contrasting the person a child is meant to become and the child that will always live somewhere inside.

An idea for an essay theme finally materialized as most of my best ideas do: the happy accident of drunkenness and desperation. I gathered the books I've been most wanting to read--among them: Albert Camus's The Fall; Laszlo Krasznahorkai's The Melancholy of Resistance; Tommaso Pincio's Love-Shaped Story; Mikhail Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog; Italo Calvino's Difficult Loves; absolutely anything by Knut Hamsun and Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the aforementioned Murakami, who was among the first to teach me the joys of international literature--and stumbled through their pages in the hopes that I could will a unifying element into showing itself. It didn't take long to see that any one of these books--like almost any book, really--traverses the path of a hero, the character whose travels along a novel's arc spit him out somewhere completely different than where I first found him, as he makes his way toward becoming a presumably better version of himself.

So for the next year, I'll be piecing together my essay series, "All Who Wander," while making my own way through a dozen books that showcase the different routes different characters take once they accept the call to uproot themselves from their origin points, the challenges and temptations they face, and the variations on a theme that give each odyssey of discovery its own unique flavor and meaning. I don't want to make too many assertions before I've even taken my first step, as the beauty of the voyage lies in its unexpected breakthroughs, but I can most assuredly say that I can't wait to find out where my literary peregrinations lead.

Filed by Madeleine Maccar at 6:28 AM, November 12, 2013. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Madeleine Maccar | Reviews |