One of reading’s delights is that one will discover a Great Book. Great Books are defined by the individual, not the mob, and each person’s Great Book List will vary by personal idiosyncrasy. I’m listing books as I find them, and will probably, at some point, add my All Time Favorites, books some of you have taken on, including Waterlog by Roger Deakin, Sea Room by Adam Nicolson, and Where Rivers Change Direction by Mark Spragg. Perhaps I’ll even explore here some books that set my way of thinking, and which may be awfully personally eccentric like Alfred Crosby’s Ecological Imperialism, William McNeill’s Plagues and People, or William Ruddiman’s Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum.
However, one of reading’s job hazards is that one finds a Personally Great Book, reads it with relish, and then it ends. I hate it when that happens.
My latest disappointed-it-ended book is actually two books and a “long-form” piece, all by Alexandra Fuller. Her first book, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, details her upbringing in then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe during the 1970’s Civil War with an absolutely crazed and wild mother driving her to school with an Uzi sticking out the jeep window; her second, Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness, is a prequel exploring her insanely bizarre mother’s upbringing in Colonial Kenya; and the long-form piece Falling, the story of her husband’s nearly fatal horse accident and their subsequent divorce (Alexandra’s not the horse’s).
I loved Alexandra’s writing, and the ways her stories overlapped mine: crazy mother, crazed upbringing; horses; the outdoors; being far from doctors, cities, and other people; a British family background (are all ex-pat British mothers crazy?); the importance of place. Parts of the books were jaw-dropping astonishing, and parts laugh-out-loud funny. I was so sad they ended—reading them was like inhabiting a world. Luckily, unlike Roger Deakin, Alexandra is still alive and we can hope she publishes more.
A few quotes:
“The land itself, of course, was careless of its name. It still is. You can call it what you like, fight all the wars you want in its name. Change its name altogether if you like. The land is still unblinking under the African sky. It will absorb white man’s blood and the blood of African men, it will absorb blood from slaughtered cattle and the blood from a woman’s birthing with equal thirst. It doesn’t care.” Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight
“This is the Tree of Forgetfulness. All the headmen here plant one of these trees in the village. They say ancestors stay inside it. If there is some sickness or if you are troubled by spirits, then you sit under the Tree of Forgetfulness and your ancestors will assist you with whatever is wrong.’” Cocktail Hour under the Tree of ForgetfulnessAnd I love, love, love a Katherine Mansfield quote she uses: “The mind I love must have wild places: a tangled orchard where damsons drop in heavy grass, an overgrown little wood, a chance of a snake or two, a pool that nobody has fathomed the depths of, and paths threaded with flowers planted by the mind.”
You can find Alexandra’s “long-form” composition, Falling, on Byliner at http://www.byliner.com.