Thursday, April 14, 2016

Reading Bruce Chatwin

It was bound to happen -- sooner or later, I would begin reading Bruce Chatwin's travel books.

I've long been interested by "In Patagonia," which I still haven't read, so when I stumbled on a book of Chatwin's letters at my local library in Atlanta, I decided it was time to begin my journey in Chatwin country.

And what a journey. He sounds like an incredible charming person who could also be incredibly difficult, incredibly enigmatic, incredibly pedantic, incredibly myopic about his work and what he needed to do it well.

So an overachiever, probably. An overachiever who seemed to travel constantly. He and his wife lived largely separate, and his letters alight from all corners of the Earth, from Patagonia (of course) to Italy to Australia, India, and on and on.

Notably, excerpted letters from other people contained in several footnotes alert us that he was a blabbermouth! Or at least, that's how some people viewed him.

What's more, an unexpected feature of the volume of letters is a running commentary by his wife, giving the behind-the-scenes on various situations, debacles, fantasies and love affairs (yes, love affairs) embroiling Bruce at any given moment.

I often think about the nature of genius in one specific way: does it require a self-devotion so steady that the person naturally repels most other people in his orbit?

The answer seems to be yes. But what of it? A book of letters written by a traveling man or essays about journeys constitute mini-vacations for me. As I read, I'm sitting each night on the futon I've covered with a Mexican blanket in my drafty home in relatively staid Atlanta but for a moment I'm walking along the Thames or interviewing a man in the Amazon or crossing a bridge in a bright African nation.

Not bad for a book I took out of the library on Ponce.

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