my 2 cents

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

If I'm bad about keeping a flow of new music coming in, I'm almost as bad with books. This is actually quite shameful for me to admit, but it's true. I think at heart, I'm just a binger no matter which way it shakes out. With books, either I'm on a cycle of reading constantly or a cycle of writing. When I'm in a writing phase, I read very little. Et l'inverse.

But, none of that can cover-up the fact that I am a helluva picky reader. My mother consumes books like they were doritos-- she is what I call a voracious reader. She may not like a book, but once she has begun it, she will finish it. Though she has "no time for fiction" (announced to me as I finished my first set of short stories) and reads non-fiction exclusively, her interests are wide-ranging and she is probably one of the most well-read people I have ever known.

Me, I'm like the fussiest 15-month old baby in a high chair who is big enough to poke at my food and refuse it NO to scrambled eggs, NO to strained peas, NO to strawberry yoghurt . . .and then, finally, YES to steamed lima beans (so that is what I'm fed for the remainder of the week or until I start to refuse them and fixate instead on carrots julienned).

This is how I am with books. I will try anything, love to troll bookstores, and read The New Yorker weekly so I'm tuned in to what is rolling out on the shelves, but it is a rare thing when a book or author truly grabs me and I am always expecting to be GRABBED. If I am not GRABBED, SHAKEN by my collar and THROWN out on my head to lie on the grass and stare up at the stars, then I'll toss it aside. And I toss, alot.

So, last weekend, when my friend Jill handed me a hardcover of "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight" by Alexandra Fuller, I accepted it politely with the full knowledge that I would give it a shot, but chances were . . it would languish in a pile of other half-sampled books on my nightstand.

Wrong-O. Oh. So wrong. Stayed up late, night after night. Squirreled away with it savoring bite after bite. Going as slow as I possibly could to make it last. And, best feeling at the end of a book? Wanting MORE. Wanting it to go on.

Oh. So good. And there are parts that will stay with me forever. They have entered my bloodstream and will always course through me.

So-- not much of an opine is this, hmm? I guess I should comment on the story or the writing or something. But you know what? I just can't. It's too perfect and I don't want to disrupt it. The one question I did have all the way through would be WHY? Why would Tim and Nicola choose to raise a family in a place that challenged their very lives (and their children's lives) every day?

I once knew a woman in college who had spent 2 years in India and couldn't wait to go back after graduation. She was nordic blonde-- that shiny, silky blonde-- with large blue eyes (she was also a nymphomaniac, but that's another story). So, given all the pollution, the poverty, the absence of conveniences we take for granted every day I had to ask, why did she want to go back so much? And she told me, "cause over there, if you have white skin, it's like you are royalty and even if you're poor here, over there you are rich."

Maybe if she wasn't baked when I asked her that question she might not have revealed her ugly truth. But we were on the roof of the dorm sunning our pale bodies in the the Spring sunshine indulging in the California sensimillian of which she seemed to have an endless supply. And even though I had been partaking myself, her statement jarred me deeply, rudely and it gave me new insight to the motivations of colonists.

Anyway, that statement came back to me when I was reading this book. Why did they do it? Probably for lots of reasons, but part of me thinks it was cause in England they were lower middle class who would have to live in brick houses one next to the other, but in Africa they had servants, hundreds of acres of farmland and could look down on the Africans and their customs (cause all through the book the children are taught never to do as the Africans do-- as if it is a dirty, lower thing). So, my guess is it helped their self image to be land barons. Even if it was in a war zone, with fleas, worms, and the rest of it.

But if I sound judgemental, I'm not. I think all of us have to try and keep our souls alive in this world, and suburban living can suffocate the soul in the most insidious prison of conformity. And I celebrate the pursuit of freedom I read about in this book.

updated: July 11, 2004

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