Where the Frigate Berths (Weekly Geek - 2009-26)

This week's Weekly Geeks asks you to tell us about your globe trotting via books. Are you a global reader? How many countries have you "visited" in your reading? What are your favorite places or cultures to read about? Can you recommend particularly good books about certain regions, countries or continents? How do you find out about books from other countries? What countries would you like to read that you haven't yet?

There is no frigate like a book
  To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
  Of prancing poetry.

This traverse may the poorest take
  Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
  That bears a human soul!
--Emily Dickinson

I can't really write much of a response to this question. I don't read a lot of international books - I know people who do. I deeply respect (kind of envy) people who do. But I can't manage. Instead, then, of telling you about my paltry literary passport stamps, I'll tell you why they're so paltry.

It's not that I don't love the world, I do. I grew up travelling - my father was in the Army. But, when I think of childhood, I don't remember travelling - I remember moving. Most people think of travelling as an adventure, something you do, a search for an experience to bring back home. Moving isn't like that. A new country, a new state, a new city, these weren't searches for experience, they were searches for a home. I joke with people, when they ask me where I'm from, and say I was a wandering gypsy without root or homeland, but as with most jokes I tell repeatedly, there is a kernel of truth and a kernel of falsehood.

This makes it sound like I'm sorry we moved all the time - I'm not. Everywhere we moved, I was looking for something. Because I never found it (I've still yet to find it), nowhere felt like a home. I was never ostracized, never, not anywhere I lived. People have always been wonderful, welcoming, ready to envelop me into their world. But, I've always found just that: people, belonging, a place. And I liked the people, I liked the places, I just didn't like what I was when I was there.

The thing about a home is that it becomes a piece of me. I guess, for most people, this is just life, sort of like your siblings become a piece of you, or your experiences with childhood pets. I had the blessing/curse, with each place we lived, of having the option of allowing the home to be a home, and every time I would settle in and find a me, I'd go look for a better one somewhere else.

But, like everyone else in the world, I reached a day where I wanted a home. I did not have one, so I began to fabricate one. That sounds innocent - it wasn't. I wrote a whole essay on it recently, actually, if I ever clean it up, I'll post it, I guess. Home was a place inside my head, though, and that was easier than learning what a real home was. My home-making muscles sort of atrophied. Now, every place, no matter where, is sort of terrifyingly foreign. I don't know how to live in a real city, or a real country, only in a brain-country, one where life has characters instead of people, settings instead of places.

And that is where books come in. Books are as close to home as I ever feel. This isn't to say I don't love people around me - I do. I probably have a bad habit of latching and clinging, in fact, for the very reason that I don't have a sense of place. A character without a story is a horrible thought, after all. I love my wife and my children, not only in the normal glorious way that one gets to love one's wife and children, but also in the way one might love beneficient fairies, who come and care for and love you in an eternity that you are not grand enough to fully comprehend, which makes it all the more wonderful. It's the sort of love that thrives and aches and impels.

But, I'm not very good at it, at the normal, beautiful, gentle love of everyday, at the workaday process of being a good soul. The books are my secret home, and my continuous taskmaster, in the process of becoming human.

So that's just it - a great book, great writing, is great because it reminds a reader of who they are. If you aren't really completely anyone, though, then catharsis can be a dizzying, self-destructive process - it feels good until you realize that it doesn't. I've done it before, leapt wildly from one part of a soul to another, and I don't make for a nice person when I do. So I've learned to read in slow waves, more the way that I travelled as a child. I come to a place (At the moment, I'm reading "The Golden Bough", "Fairies in Tradition and Folklore", and just finished "Fingersmith", which may not seem related, but really actually are, in my little self), and I settle into it, I live in it, I make little bits of me in it, until I find I need something that I have to find somewhere else, and then I travel onward. I'm sort of a gypsy cart reader. As a result, there's places I've travelled more heavily, covering the same roads over and over (19th century writers, for instance), and places I've never been to, that I probably ought to go, but have never found a road to (I've only read one book, ever from Africa. IT was for school).

Sorry, this is a little scattered. It's something I've been thinking about a lot lately, anyway, because I have the same pattern in fantastical literature, and a post by Nymeth at Things Mean a Lot got me thinking about why some of the fantasy and science fiction books I read as a child mean so much to me (I still cry when I think about Galadriel, and I don't think I've ever tried to write a novel that didn't have a character that I later realize is in some way based on Alia from Dune). I commented on her post, asking why she thought Fantasy was so important to people, especially now. She gave some excellent answers. I sometimes wonder if another one is that the world has a lot of people like who me to some degree. Western life has no real sense of community, usually, anymore. The feeling of homeness is slowly disappearing for so many people. A place that is outside of normal reality gives, at least me, a place to keep things that are beautiful, but that I can't keep in front of my eyes all the time.


Jodie said...

I really enjoyed that post. It must have been really hard to move so much and to have to try to both keep yourself together and redefine yourself every time you changed location.

Care said...

I really enjoyed this post! Moving and heartfelt.

Jason Gignac said...

Jodie, Carie - thanks. :)

Rikki said...

What a wonderful post, Jason. Now I understand your blog name much better.

Jason Gignac said...

That's very clever, I didn't think of that Ms Rikki. Originally, the blog title is a rephrasing of Emily Dickinson:
Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!
Might I but moor
To-night in thee!
(Last stanza of 'Wild Nights!')
The poem is usually supposed to be a love poem (an erotic one) sung to a person. However, it reads to me more like a love for all the unsafe and beautiful things in the world. Which, I think, is a beautiful way to live. But it does tie back into the theme of this post, you're right, because that was the whole appeal to me - when I have settled into one place to long (literally or metaphorically), I have the same urge to be 'done with the compass, done with the chart', and cast off to moor in the sea. Thanks for your close reading :).

Rikki said...

Jason, I'm not very familiar with E. Dickinson's poetry. In fact I only know one poem and I came across that one by accident as well. I must have a look for "Wild Nights", it sounds like I should read it. Thanks for the explanation how your blog name came about. I liked it already before, now I like it even more.

Jason Gignac said...

If I get one person to read Emily Dickinson, my day is a good one :). You can read the one I was talking about at http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/wild.html

Rikki said...

Thanks so much for linking me up. Jason, you can't possibly know how well this poem fits my situation at this very moment. Absolutely wonderful. I need to read more of her. I think you converted me today. Thanks again.

Jason Gignac said...

The same thing happens to me all the time with Emily Dickinson, I'm glad I could be the mule carrying it, anyway - it is a beautiful poem :).