How One Book Can Change Your Life

We want to share with you all, our book-loving family, a letter from one of the most passionate booksellers this store has ever known, Steve Corrigan. We hope it means as much to you as it does to us.

Steve

When my brother handed me a copy of The Stranger, he told me it was a book I should read.  He was not in the habit of selecting books for me, so I realized the importance he placed on this one.

I was nineteen at the time, a sophomore in college.  The last thing I needed was another book to read.  I had enough textbook assignments to keep me busy for weeks.  Besides that, reading ranked low on my list of priorities.  I had never read anything which was not required of me in the classroom.

My brother was no different than me. So what was he up to?  What could The Stranger have to tell me?

So, after the obligatory insults–“What’s this you’re giving me?  A book?  Are you feeling alright?  Do you have a fever?  Getting delirious in your old age?  — I opened the cover to see what was inside.

I did not put the book down until I had completed it.  Its pace gripped me.  Its power stunned me.  I sat cross-legged on the edge of the bed, as if shell-shocked, immobile, after closing the cover for several seconds.  I had never read anything like it.

It was a relief I felt.  Yes, relief.  I was not alone.  Someone else was driven by similar thoughts which drove me.  I felt more sane that night than ever before.  One could think such things and not be mad.

There in that strange tale of a man who commits a reasonless murder under an indifferent sun and is convicted, not for his crime, but because he did not cry at his mother’s funeral and because he had no belief in God.  I heard a familiar voice, a voice of the stranger within myself, that spoke of my mind’s same preoccupations.  It was not the stranger’s thoughts I identified with, but the writer’s.

Camus became my spiritual father.  I sought him out in other books, reading first his novels and his short stories, then his plays and what essays I could understand.  I studied his photographs on the back covers, pouring over his notebook, sober-faced, cigarette in hand, eyes set on some Faustian haunt.  It was this photograph which first taught me that from his writing was unquestionably serious business.  Was it not the writer’s duty to keep civilization from destroying itself.

From Camus I went to Sartre, Hesse, Kafka.  I was neglecting my studies for a different education, what to me was a more pertinent education.  I can not say I understood much of what I read.  In retrospect I would say I misunderstood more than I did not, but the trend was set.  It was from that day to the present that a self education was my intention.  One book led to another until I had little time for anything else.  I might take wing with one author after another, the loftiest praise I could manage for whomsoever I might be reading at the time, but I always came back to Camus, if only to re-read a passage here and there.

It was years later that my sister found the book.  She had been helping to remodel a waterbed store in which she worked, and the book was lying amidst all the debris on a back shelf.  The Modern Library edition of The Stranger, due at the Memphis Highland Street Library in October, 1966.  It was then the spring of 1980.  Fourteen years lost.  Fourteen years abandoned to a dusty shelf.

My sister knew my fondness for the book and was quick to let me know of her find. She, too, read the book and passed it onto several friends.  When it was returned to her, rather hastily I might add, her friends were unimpressed, she decided to keep it rather than return it to the library.  She not only liked the text, but the size of the book as well as the feel of it in her hands.  It would make a handsome addition to her paperback collection.

From there it traveled where she traveled, from Memphis to Springfield, from Springfield to New Orleans.  All the while it occupied the same space on her shelf, unread.  No better off now than its fourteen year hiatus, except that it’s dust was periodically removed.

One night as I was writing her a letter I mentioned the book and asked her to bring it back to Memphis with her the next time she came.  I said something to the effect that her doing so would please Camus.  I sealed the letter and mailed it.

The next morning I scoffed at myself for what I had done.  “You don’t know Camus”, I told myself.  “How do you know what would or would not please him?”  But my words were in transit to New Orleans.

My sister’s letters back to me over the months said nothing of the matter, so it was forgotten.  Or, at least, it seemed to have been.

This past Christmas while visiting New Orleans my sister handed me a wrapped package.  Inside was the lost copy of The Stranger.  I was to take it back to Memphis with me.  My sister thought it would be amusing for me to hand the book to the librarian so as to witness the reaction.  And was not a prize given each year for that book returned which was longest overdue?

But I wanted neither praise nor prizes. And what reaction the librarian would have I could more vividly imagine than witness.  I simply wanted this book, which had meant so much to me, to be given the chance to reach another mind.  There is something depressing to me about seeing a book resting on a dusty shelf.  It should always be in transit toward another mind.

So, I dropped the book after library hours into the curbside bin for the librarian to find the next morning.  It pleased me to know that, ridiculous as it sounds, uafter eighteen years The Stranger had finally made it back home.

It was something I felt I owed to Camus.  More, it was something I felt I owed to the next reader who would pick up the book, open the cover, and look inside.  Perhaps, he or she, would begin that fantastic journey of the mind I am still traveling, would know as well, the relief I felt at hearing that familiar voice.

Au revoir, L’Etranger
Until we meet again.

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Down with “guilty pleasures”! Hooray for guilty pleasures!

I’m on a crusade. “Crusade” might be over-selling it. Let’s just say it falls somewhere on the spectrum between “pet peeve” and “life’s calling”.

I don’t like guilty pleasures. Actually, I don’t like the idea of “guilty pleasures.” Precisely, I don’t like labeling things as “a guilty pleasure.”

At the store, I frequently have customers preemptively dismiss their soon-to-be purchase with a half-shrug, an apologetic grin and the explanation that their book selection is a “guilty pleasure.”  OK?

This interaction speaks to possible two dynamics. One:  the person genuinely feels guilty about reading whatever his or her “guilty pleasure” is. If you enjoy it—if it brings you pleasure—(required caveat: and it’s not breaking laws or hurting others) why feel guilty?

Do you feel like you should be reading the classics or something else? I’d certainly recommend trying new things in literature and non-fiction. Variety and possibility are the calling cards of books—there’s no limit to what you can learn about and how many fictional worlds on which you can vacation your brain.  There’s no race and no one is keeping score. Read what you’re in the mood for. You can get to the other stuff later.

The second possible dynamic in the need to proclaim something as a “guilty pleasure” is that you feel that someone–a friend, a fellow customer or bookseller–is judging you for your selection. I know with certainty that we Booksellers don’t want you to feel guilty about anything you’ve selected. We’re not a staff of literary snobs. Not by far. There are scores of really good books—sci-fi, romance, horror, western—that are of zero interest to me. They’re not my thing. That’s fine. We’ve all got our things.

I’m loathe to speak for others, but as Booksellers we’re not here to shame you into taking your medicine or judging you for eating that third cupcake. We love cupcakes. We really just want to help you get what you want and help you find what you’ll love when you don’t know what you want.

So come into Booksellers and pick out your pleasure. Leave the guilt at home.

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The best day of the week

Yesterday was my favorite day of the week. It was a Monday, though its Mondayness had no bearing on its lofty appellation. It was no holiday. It held no special personal significance. It is a day of the week that is beholden to no accepted calendar. In fact, its frequency varies—it comes around every 3, 5, 8, 14 days…I’m never really sure.

Yesterday I finished a book. It was a fine little allegorical literary mystery set against the backdrop of Hollywood’s Golden Age and WWII, Out There in the Dark, by Wesley Strick. Finishing the book wasn’t what made the day enjoyable. I liked the book.

No. Yesterday, the best day of my week, was the day I spent thinking about what I was going to read next.

It’s my brain’s Christmas Eve. It’s working my finger under the wrapping paper fold of my birthday present. It’s the house lights dimming and the projector throwing that first flicker of light onto the screen of my imagination.  What would I choose to spend the next 3, 5, 8, 14 days immersed in?

Would it be The Invention of Murder, Judith Flanders’ deep-dive history into the Victorian Era’s fascination with death and the birth of forensic investigative techniques? Would it be Acceptance, the third and final volume of Jeff Vandermeer’s eerie, unsettling, strangely affecting and wholly unique Southern Reach Trilogy? Maybe J.G. Ballard’s Running Wild, a cult classic I’ve been meaning to read for years and finally ordered for myself? Or perhaps I would stumble upon some completely unknown (to me) and unexpected used book during my shift at Booksellers? That’s how I came into possession of Out There in the Dark. Working here is hazardous and wonderful in that way. Or maybe a colleague would push something into my hands, something I just had to read.

As a lover of books, I have an always-growing to-read pile. All the books there are ones I really, truly want to read. I have more want than I have time. And while I enjoy, to one degree or another, almost every book I read, sometimes…sometimes. Wow!

Sometimes a book shakes me, moves me, spins me around and re-orients me to the world. While I’m often hopeful the next book will be one of those books, they rarely are. It’s what makes them so special. They mostly educate, edify and/or entertain. Not bad consolation.

But never quite knowing what the next book holds. Call it possibility. Call it expectancy. Call it hope. Call it antici-page-tion.

 

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Edification through escapism

In the midst of another bout of peripatetic online roaming, I came across an interesting, but intuitively true, write-up of a new study. It seems that scientists have found that reading the Harry Potter series “significantly improved young peoples’ perception of stigmatized groups like immigrants, homosexuals or refugees.”

It’s no surprise, really. “Mudbloods”, scorned by the more rigid and provincial wizards of more “pure” family lineage, serve as a fairly obvious analog to any group discriminated against based solely on their genetics. But here’s the interesting thing about the study: they took groups of students from similar background and the ones who read the Harry Potter books had their perceptions of real-life marginalized groups improved in relation to not only their previously held opinions about those groups, but also to those of their peers who did not read the Potter books.

Again, the reason is somewhat intuitive but fairly important: “…researchers credited the books with improving the readers’ ability to assume the perspective of marginalized groups.”

This suggests that reading fiction requires one to assume the perspective of the characters within. Doing so—ostensibly depending on the author’s relative facility in creating identifiable and compelling characters—can change the reader’s orientation to his or her world.

Even as the Harry Potter books moved from being a mere literary success to cultural phenomenon and blockbuster movie franchise, they were widely viewed—dismissively—as kids’ stuff. While about and primarily for children, kids’ stuff has the power to foster empathy. And empathy has no age limit.

This is in keeping with academic and cultural studies that suggest fairy tales and children’s scary stories (e.g., Hans Christian Andersen, Brothers Grimm, etc.) can be beneficial for kids, teaching them, within a fantastical context, safely removed from reality, how to process fear and uncertainty.

Another form regularly dismissed and derided, the comic book, can have hidden educational value. I can attest that history, myth and classic literature were regularly Trojan Horsed into the comics I read as a youth. Some comics, like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, are quite literate, reimagining historical events and classic works of art as actions and/or results of battles between eternal beings.

It’s important to note that the examples used here—Harry Potter, Grimm Bros. and Sandman—are wildly popular, time-tested and/or critically viewed as the apotheosis of their form. The Potter phenomenon spawned a billion sub par knockoffs and there are scores of ponderous, violent, even vile comic books. in any form there is junk. There is also art…art that educates, that moves, that changes how a reader can see her world.

As we escape within the pages of a book, we can do so knowing we may reemerge changed, even slightly, more able to understand and care for our fellow man. I should escape more often.

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Your bookseller and the perfect fit

Yesterday, while recharging my brain through an online walkabout, I stumbled upon a tumblr that kept me rapt in a state of scrolling and “next” clicking. The site, Things Fitting Perfectly Into Other Things, features nothing more than pictures (and a few gifs) of unrelated objects fitting, well, perfectly into each other: a pickle jar lid fit snuggly into a kitchen sink drain; a Ritz cracker perfectly filling the recessed bottom of a paper cup; a venti-sized Starbucks cup sliding slowly down a cylindrical public garbage bin, etc.

I found these images hypnotic and strangely satisfying. I suppose they feed that part that finds synchronic order to be soothing amid a chaotic world. But I also think these images activate the same pleasure centers that my love of books and being a bookseller do.

Like all booksellers (at least all the ones I know), I am a lover-of-books. Outside of people and some abstract ideals, there’s nothing I’m more passionate about. I read for many reasons—stimulation, entertainment, education, comfort, curiosity, connection, etc. In talking with a co-worker last week, I articulated the unifying theme of all the books (all entertainment, really) I’m most passionate about: they all, in some way or another, surprise and delight. This is not just whiplash plot twist *SURPRISE!*, though those can be fun, too. Books that make me see the world (or part of it) in a new way. Books that make me think about things I’ve never considered. Books that make me feel with unexpected acuity or depth. There are many different ways books can surprise and delight. I think—I hope—any book lover can relate.

The greatest satisfaction of a bookseller resides here as well. We truly want share with you the passion we feel for “our” books. If you’ve ever asked, you know what I’m referring to. You feel it when her voice intensifies, eye-widen and cadence accelerates. You see it when he takes off to grab a book, returning to present it to you—two-handed—like a holy text. We’re passionate about books. It’s why we’re here, working at Booksellers.

We’re here to get you the books you want. Sometimes you’ll know what you want. Sometimes you won’t. If you want something—something new, something unexpected, some really good—but don’t know what that something is, ask a bookseller. We’ll be thrilled to help.

We’ve got something that can’t be reduced to a formula nor coded as an algorithm. We’ve got a passion for books and a desire to share it. We want to put the book in your hands that will surprise and delight you.

We want to match the right book with the right person. We want to find the Thing that Fits Perfectly Into the Other Thing, like a Ritz cracker in the bottom of a paper cup.

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In Loving Memory of Steve Corrigan, Forever A Part of Our Bookstore Family

It saddens us to share with you that on June 29th, The Booksellers lost someone very dear to our hearts, Steve Corrigan. I know I speak for all past and present booksellers when I say working at this store is more than being a staff member, it’s about becoming a part of a book-loving family. Having been with us since the beginning, Steve was a vital part of that family and losing him is one of the hardest trail we as a store have faced. Below, we’d like to share some memories and words from our booksellers throughout the years. As our customers of over 29 years, we consider you all our family as well, and we want to include you in our dedication and give you an opportunity to share in our remembrance, as families do.

Steve was a great manager, lover of books, and getting things done right the first time. He taught me to pull the books to the edge of the shelf so there would be less dust, and he “did not suffer fools gladly”. That’s when you would see Steve get his Irish up! He also was very helpful in assisting me with my graduate school application, with a letter of reference he was more than happy to write for me. He thought teaching would be a great fit for me. As I prepare to start my first teaching job, I will always remember Steve Corrigan with fondness, affection, and appreciation. – Patty (Became a part of our bookstore family in 1999)

Steve was the first person I met at The Booksellers. He interviewed me. We sometimes had lunch at the same time. He often ate cereal and I would bug him about poetry, and I mean poetry I had written. He read one of my poems and said “This is pretty,but why should I care?” It was brutal but he was right. “You have to make the reader care,” he added. Steve told me the truth that day. I respected him for it. To this day when I am working on a poem, story, or essay, I pause and ask myself “Why should anyone care?”  And I always think of Steve. – Kat (Became part of our bookstore family in 2011)

Dear Steve,
I am very grateful for your friendship over 12 years. Your compassion and conversation during losses in my family will never be forgotten. My heart is with your family and friends.
Love,
Pat (Became a part of our bookstore family in 2002)

We at the Booksellers have recently lost a dear friend and colleague, Steve Corrigan, to cancer. He was a member of our original staff, beginning his bookselling career in Memphis in January of 1985. Over the years, Steve wore many hats. He was our first inventory manager, our first buyer, and the man who conducted our first interviews.

In other words, he was often the first face many of us saw before joining the Bookseller family. In many ways, he was a living, breathing history of both our store and of independent bookselling itself. We will miss his wit, his passion, his fondness for the underdog, and his kind-hearted discipline. He helped to make us what we are. And then strived to make us even better.

My personal friendship with Steve dates back to those early icy mornings in January, 1985. We probably could not have been more different in temperament but more perfectly aligned in purpose. Perhaps the often quoted words of one of his favorite authors, Albert Camus, sums up our relationship best:

“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” – Eddie Burton (Became a part of our bookstore family in 1985)

There’s not much I can say about Steve that hasn’t been said already, and much more eloquently. So I made a list instead. Things I will always remember about Steve Corrigan: He didn’t believe in wasting time – he was always working, or reading, or eating (always Wheaties!), or taking a walk. When there was a big event at the store, you always wanted him there, because things always ran smoothly when he was around. He would never ask you to do something he wasn’t willing to do himself. I lost count of the number of times he cleaned up unspeakable messes in the restrooms; how many managers do that? For a little while we had a crew of night shelvers, which Steve led, and it was great. You could work in comfortable silence, or you could talk with him about anything. He could be excruciatingly honest. But he was never condescending, malicious, or cruel. He was incredibly kind to me when my father passed away unexpectedly, and it meant more to me than I was ever able to express to him. He was a gentleman and a scholar, devoted to his family, and he will live on in the community of booksellers that he mentored.  – Kori (Became a part of our bookstore family in 1997)

I first met Steve as a 19-year-old kid looking for a job nerding it up in a bookstore. He was quick to inform me, as he informed everyone he ever interviewed, that it is NOT easy work! Boy, was he right! I’m so grateful I passed muster during the strict (and legendary!) Steve Corrigan first interview–he had the most amazing instinct about who would fit well in the bookstore–he could always read people so well!!

Over the past 16 years, Steve became a mentor, a friend, my fellow curmudgeon, and there has never been a time when I didn’t feel smarter for having talked to him. I admired not only his intelligence, but his dedication to supporting what is right and just, his incredible work ethic, and his quick wit and phenomenal sense of humor (heavy on the snark!). A conversation with Steve could ran the gamut from poetic and insightful to heated and intense, to downright hilarious. My only regret is that we didn’t get to have more conversations. I am STILL learning things about this guy!! How did we have endless conversations about obscure jazz artists, but never discuss our mutual fondness for Chopin? How did I not know that he also played piano and guitar?

Simply put, Steve was a treasure. A true bookseller’s bookseller with a huge heart for not only the business, but for his bookstore family. He was was one of the great patriarchs of this store, and he will be forever missed…I’ll do my best to make him proud. – Nicole (Became a part of our bookstore family in 1998)

Steve was such a kind man. If I ever needed anything or had a question he would do it or find out. He was a passionate booskeller. I loved his energy. He did not suffer fools and I respected that as well. –Terribeth (Became a part of our bookstore family in 2003)

When I think of Steve Corrigan, I think of his half smile and particular gait, the way he wafted through the shelves of the bookstore like a jungle cat hunting prey. He knew books, and he knew people, but best of all, he knew book people. We had so many conversations together, about how he ate cereal almost every night for dinner, his love of Richard Price novels, and how Rabbit, Run is OBVIOUSLY a 300 page cautionary tale about following Jack Kerouac’s irresponsible example. No matter what I was reading, what abstraction I was pondering, I always looked forward to an info desk shift with Steve so we could philosophize together, we could dissect literature for all the best pieces, and most of all, so we could laugh together. I left a piece of my heart in the store when I left bookselling, and when I turn my memory back to find it, Steve is always there, along with so many of the special people who touched my life, and touched the lives of others who happened through the store. Steve wasn’t just a special coworker, or a special bookseller, or a special cereal-eater. Steve was just special, and I will miss him. – Marisa (Became a part of our bookstore family in 2005)

I first met Steve Corrigan upon interviewing for my position at the Booksellers. As a budding English Major, a part-time job in a bookstore (with the reputation of Davis-Kidd) was a dream too good to be true; like a child realizing that Candyland was, in fact, real. When he interviewed me, I detected that he viewed my childish enthusiasm with suspicion… well, he plainly tried to talk me out of the job. Amidst my hazy-eyed ravings of the wonderful work atmosphere of the store, he reminded me that book-selling was hard work.

Few people recognize that it takes the intense efforts of an entire staff in order to maintain the bookstore and keep it a safe, communal, and above all tranquil place. I certainly didn’t know, but Steve had a lifetime of book-selling experience under his belt. He worked seriously and proudly. When I got the job, I believe he regarded me with less skepticism, and I was keen to show him (and everyone else) that I had what it takes to be one of this elite team.

To me, Steve appeared very aloof and professional. He was the token elder bookseller (and we have a few), one whose knowledge of the intricacies of the business kept the store running like clockwork; with the dignity of words and reading siphoned in his veins! Although he didn’t suffer foolishness, he did find pleasure is simple things. I will always recall him with great fondness as he constantly teased me about my eclectic lunches that any poor college kid would resort to. As a garner of hats, I will miss the familiar provoking question of “Is your head cold?”

With honor, I worked with Steve for only a few months before he fell ill. In the months that followed Steve taught me a lot more about life than book-selling. First, never underestimate people and how they will surprise you. Upon first glance, I never expected to see the ripe wisdom and extensive kindness under the character of this grumpy bookseller. I’m proud that I could call him a friend (as we all know those come in many shapes and sizes, much alike books). Second, remember that time is not on our side. I regret that before his passing, and he passed far too soon with summoned bravery and endurance that I will never know the depth of, I never got to share with him my thoughts on his favorite book Siddhartha. I had been endeavoring to read it since he left the store. In the week of his passing, I had finished it. As trite as it sounds, my heart has never felt so full and so empty at the same time.

In Memoriam, Steve reminds me that the books that people love, so often teach us more of the lover than any writer or even the very contents itself. The distinct voice and profound essence of the novel, I will always attribute to him. I hope I can grow to be more like him: to expect more from others than they think is possible, to not “judge a book by its cover,” to never neglect the knowledge of time’s erosivity, and to read.

-To read the books of my favorite people-

As a book lover, I repeatedly find the words in books that escape me when I am speaking with people. Steve and I shared few words but alongside Hermann Hesse, I feel like we shared enough. Hermann Hesse wrote, “Not in his speech, not in his thoughts, I see his greatness, only in his actions, in his life.”

Steve was great. He was the best of us. – Corinne (Became a part of our bookstore family in 2012)

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Something Old, Something New

It’s been a while since my last post.  There’s a lot going on at Booksellers; not the least of which is our work on our Used Books section.  If you haven’t had a chance to browse the used titles, you’re missing out: we have long out-of-print gems, recycled editions of recent releases, and an astounding array of classic non-fiction works.  Looking to replace that old Junior League Cookbook?  We might have a copy.  But you have to move quickly and browse often:  our used books range in price from $2.00 to $10.00, so they don’t stay on the shelves too long.  I’ve seen some of these titles come and go in as little as fifteen minutes. If you’re looking to make some space on your shelves, we want to see good-condition, used titles.  Our buying times are Tuesday through Saturday, 8:00 a.m to 12:00 noon.  Please, no more than one box or large bag full of books at a time. There are a few other restrictions, and our needs for stock are always changing, so you might want to give us a call before you visit.

While we’re on the subject of great classics, here’s a review from one of our master booksellers.

The Razor’s Edge- W. Somerset Maugham- Vintage Quality Paperback 15.95

Summer is upon us, and it’s the time of year when I try to read a classic novel that I somehow missed in school. This year I chose W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge.” I recently saw the old forties movies with Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney and was amazed at how much I liked it. I’ve never been a fan of Maugham’s. “Of MaughamHuman Bondage” and “The Painted Veil” were two of my least favorite books. Which is why I was so taken with “The Razor’s Edge,” a complete surprise to me. The main character in the novel is a survivor of WWI, whose colleague had sacrificed his own life for his on the last day of the war, which leads the character to become a searcher. Why would someone do that? Why would God allow that to happen? Why is there so much evil in a world that can be so beautiful? While the rest of the country becomes engrossed in becoming rich, Maugham’s character seeks the spiritual side of life, which means his fiance is no longer interested in marrying him. All of his friends wonder what’s wrong with him or if he’ll ever come back to himself. The questions asked by the book are some of the most basic questions that sooner or later we all ask ourselves. Which direction will we travel? Very few of us have the courage to be true to ourselves. The main character finally decides that it’s not up to him to hide from the world in a religious colony, but to offer his gifts to the world and perhaps have an influence, even if a small one, on making the world a better place for all of us. The writing is superb, and the book makes you think. What a great way to start the summer!

-Steve Corrigan

And now for something new…although I must admit, this first book in a trilogy  has been out for more than a year.  Heartfelt thanks goes to bookseller Jamie Wells for steering me to this master work of fantastic fiction.

Annihilation: Book I of the Southern Reach Trilogy- Jeff Vandemeer- FSG Originals-$13.00 paperback

As a younger reader, I read most (if not all) of the works of Howard Phillip Lovecraft.  Lovecraft was a fearful old maid of a writer with a sense of hyperbole which often stood in the way of intriguing ideas, not the least of which was: there are things beyond the frailties of human understanding that, if experienced by human beings would invariably drive them to a horribly tragic conclusion. These were  not mere tragedies  for individuals, but held the possibilities of dire consequences for the human race.

I was, and still am, a fan of the works of Phillip K. Dick.  His sense of things-not-always-as they-seem blurred the edges between reality and delusion. PKD posessed writing skills that could make the most pedestrian conversation into a paranoia-laden exchange of profound consequence.

I am also a great fan of the works of Jack Finney; particularly his Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.  There is a scene early in the novel where a young woman calls the police to say that her uncle is not her uncle.  The protagonist talks to the young woman; asking her why she thinks this madness is true.  In her list of differences, she says, “You know that mole on the back of his neck?”.  The protagonist says, ” You mean it’s gone?”. The young woman looks significantly at the protagonist and says, ” No. It’s still there.” And with these comparisons as prelude, I give you the genius that is Jeff Vandemeer.

Area X is a pristine wilderness.  Some years earlier, an unspecified Event occurred.  Since that time, the government has been sending in exploratory teams.  The first team came back to report an idyllic refuge.  One of the subsequent teams commits Southernreach1mass suicide, another team destroys itself in a gun battle, and still another team comes back to civilization, one by one, only to die of cancer at a later date.

We join the story with the latest expedition; a team of four women known only as the psychologist, the anthropologist, the surveyor and, the narrator of the journey, the biologist.  They go into Area X with a mission: map the terrain, study the local life, observe their own thoughts and behaviors as well as the thoughts and behaviors of their team mates, and, above all, avoid contamination by Area X. What they find is more than anything they could have imagined.

Mr. Vandemeer’s trilogy evokes the finest of the above-mentioned authors.  There is an evolution of their ideas in the Southern Reach trilogy that begs descriptions of genius.  At every turn, on every page, there is a menace, a claustrophobic turn of word and phrase that evokes a wealth of questions and a sense of great unease from the reader. We are also called upon to ask questions about the nature of life and mind as we know it. If you’re looking for a thought-provoking book club selection,The Southern Reach trilogy is ideal for the fearless readers who wants to ask questions about our understandings of Life and our perceptions of the world around us.

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