I don’t enjoy the ride

From my day-to-day reality, I long to escape. I’ve been waiting for winter to end (I live down under) so I can load up the four-wheel drive and head into the country to light a fire, build a camp, and catch my dinner; boy’s own stuff. Yet in my reading, I struggle with such tales. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road was something I thought I’d love, but which never really took my imagination with it. I’m afraid we parted ways when we reached Denver. And of Hemingway’s writings, I was most captivated by his self-reflections in A Moveable Feast than anything else. Writerly journeys are perhaps not for me. I don’t think I enjoy the ride.

What I seem to love though are books that reach deep into the human condition. Characters, both man and boy whose fragility is their strength, who may not travel widely but venture into the depths of who they are.

A couple of months ago I picked up a copy of Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner. I’d shelved it because I’d a few others on my list to get through first. This morning I impulsively pulled it from the shelf to read something non-work related; to escape. Instantaneously I loved it. Two scenes in, the lead character hasn’t really gone anywhere, but already I know so much about what troubles him. I can’t say the same about Kerouac’s Sal.

So from my recent readings I’ve learned the genres I most want to read are that fictional exploration of who we are and how we have become, or the non-fictional memoirs of mid-life crises and the influences on our lives. That’s not to the exclusion of other genres. And I know I must break out and read more widely. Yet, to know what I love most and to stick with, is new to me. I’ve forever spent my days searching far and wide to find the things I might learn to love, only to be perpetually disappointed and exasperated. Now finally, through my reading and writing, I’m learning that I don’t need to travel to find what I’m looking for. To look deeply at who I am and what I’m about, I need not stray too far.

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29 comments

  1. I have been on a similar journey for two years. It is obvious to me it is a mid-life crisis. I have only learned recently that its not things or places that feed my soul. Still looking for that ‘something’ in me that adds a spark to my life. Good luck on your journey.

  2. Very well written blog, but I’ve got to disagree with regards to Kerouac’s novel. It’s fantastic.

    Keep up the good work.

  3. I can not write at all so even if I could look into who I am I am not as talented to put this into words. This is something you are lucky to have this kind of talent and awesome use of words!

  4. Yeh, I can say I have only been able to get thru A Moveable Feast..no other Ernest novel (its rich with gossip about Fitzgerald, Stein, and others.). Lately my reading interests have been bizarre..I jump from Ozzy’s autobio to Oscar Wilde’s plays to poetry by Billy Collins. I dont think I could ever get into fad books like Hunger Games or 50 Shades of Bull.

  5. I think your right about authors who go far and wide but don’t delve deep within their own psyche for greater meaning. On The Road is entertaining, but that’s about it for me as it often just sounds like a spoiled child prattling on and o and on…

  6. I have a recommendation. ‘Confessions of a Conjuror’ by Derren Brown. He recounts a magic routine he performed in a small Chinese restaurant before he made it big as an illusionist, but every gesture of an audience member, or facial tic, or snide comment reaches him and he devolves into a (rather one-sided) discussion about the nature of human behaviour.
    It’s particularly endearing when he writes about habits he made up as a child, like always skipping the top step in a flight of stairs, and the self-imposed punishments he devised for when he forgot.

    It’s wonderful when an author voices the exact sentiment you have, and you realise that you aren’t entirely unique in your strangeness.

  7. jaimestathis · · Reply

    Well put!

  8. I have been a ‘reader’ for as long as I can remember. I think I can count on two hands the number of books that I didn’t finish, even though I wasn’t enjoying them, because that’s not what ‘readers’ do. It was only as I got (somewhat) older and (hopefully) wiser that I realized life is too short to read books that don’t grab and demand your attention–for whatever reason. There are many reasons to read–to educate, to elevate, to escape. If you are reading a book that doesn’t capture you, in some way, regardless of whether it’s been canonized or reviewed to the hilt, then put it down and pick up something you love. Wishing you luck on your journey.

  9. Wonderful when a book really resonates without having to do much at all. When it becomes like a place we like to hang out in. I enjoyed Cormac McCarthy’s first two books in The Border Trilogy for this (still to read the third). Bonne continuation on your reading journey.

  10. “…And I know I must break out and read more widely”

    Life doesn’t last long enough to read everything (A pity!), so while I encourage exploring different subjects/genres, I also recommend putting down a book that just plain doesn’t interest you.

    Read what you like! Write what you like! Being a reader/writer is a lot more enjoyable that way :)

  11. To an extent, I think that reflective travel writing is written for the benefit of the author/traveller only – it is his or her journey of discovery and that is a personal thing.

    Having said that, I love the opportunity to remove myself from my daily grind in order to better review my circumstances and just to ‘understand and learn’ without the domestic distractions. I would so love to be ‘on the road again’.

  12. I’ve never thought about book selection and what it says about us before. Thanks for sharing! This is a very well-written post.

  13. kontrastowa · · Reply

    My live has been a constant travel between countries and continents and even though it is not all that awesome as it may seem to someone who doesn’t do that, I still can say that I love traveling. Reading is another thing I love. Naturally, I assumed I’d love On the Road too, but it didn’t work out for me either. And it seemed be the case for every travel-related book I thought I’d like. What I find appealing though are books written by actual travelers about their experiences (can’t recommend them to you though, since they’re in my mother tongue). If you’re looking for new experiences in the genre of deep personal exploration, I recommend my relatively new discovery – Etgar Kerret, he’s been translated to English. It’s always short stories, so you can just pick one and see whether you like it.

    Greetings from the state where On the Road starts :)

  14. Well said, “I’ve forever spent my days searching far and wide to find the things I might learn to love, only to be perpetually disappointed and exasperated.”

    Exactly how I feel.

  15. Be careful what you wish for – I got itchy at the end of a long Melbourne winter about 10 years ago and have been away from Australia for about ten years as a result! I’m still not quite sure what is I’ve been looking for, but it’s been a lot of fun.

  16. Try a hiking journey next time? Something a little grittier? Earthier. AWOL on the Appalachian Trail?

  17. Great post, congrats on FP!

  18. I left Kerouac before Denver ! I totally get what your saying. great post. Ceri

  19. I Iike your post as well as the books that you’ve read. Its really inspiring.

  20. Be careful in the wilds of the land down-under. I saw “Wolf Creek” and I am convinced that there are some serious weirdos over there. In all seriousness, your post has inspired me to return to writing about the internal battle I’ve been experiencing over the last six years. Part of me is afraid/ashamed to write it, part of me thinks no one would want to read it, and part of me believes that most of the world’s population are closeted voyeurs who like a peek inside the human soul.

  21. I like to read about travel, but even more, I like to travel.

  22. I can relate to what you describe here. I also long to escape my routine with a good book, but often get lost if the book only describes the outward journey of the characters. I never force myself to read a book if I don’t get into it after two or three chapters- there are so many books to read out there, no time to waste on something I don’t enjoy :-)

  23. cortezsharkman · · Reply

    I related to Kerouac for so long because I, like him, was always on a search. In SATORI IN PARIS he was looking for that “kick in the eye” (or enlightenment). Some people have to just keep looking for themselves. Which is probably why On the Road is slow for you. He was young, I read it for the first time when I was 18 and on the loose and got it totally, that there was nothing to get, really for I was so unformed. Now, at 52, yes, mid-life crises are much more exciting!
    Marisa
    http://www.steppingintothewater@wordpress.com

  24. Like yourself, I have a restless spirit and an urge to wander! I have also – through time – learned the answers are inside you, or in front of you. But I still have a unwavering passion for travel and exploration! :)

  25. thetalkinghangover · · Reply

    kerouac whines too much and who wants that in a travel companion? thanks for the interesting read.

  26. dayananbaptist · · Reply

    Great post!

  27. Thank you all for your encouraging comments so far. It is heartening to hear that I’m not alone.

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