By habit, I always pick up a new book anytime I travel to a new place - even if it is just a couple states over. It's something I started in my teens when I had some access to disposable (or borrowed - still owing some folks) income. Repeated the same thing this time I travelled to the west coast for the first time ever. I think...can't ever say ever since I got in trouble with Canadian customs last year for sneaking across the border in '86. Note, I was barely crawling that year...yeah, a relative "borrowed" my social security number - ah the life and times.
Came to the realization some weeks ago that my paltry book/music collection, save for textbooks and lecture recordings, is crying for some diversity. I have a primarily black library - spanning various corners of the African diaspora - Harlem, Enugu, Kingston, Umtali (Mutare) etc. There's a spattering of brown lit - but again, the same resistance and post-colonial themes. Largely, it's symptomatic of growing up in public high school that zealously guarded the "black is beautiful" mantra and then proceeding to a liberal arts education that offered a buffet-style selection humanities courses for those in the sciences. I grew all too comfortable in books that felt like home.
So this trip, I made the mistake of looking for book that would be representative of this elusive whiteness, you know, like how some would assign Things Fall Apart for a two-week introduction to the African experience. Needless to say, I failed horribly at this assignment.
First, it was an impulse buy at an airport bookshop. Although, I have been lucky, at times, with such on-the-fly purchases, airport shops are largely known for bright, empty magazines and self-help books. Second, I was moved primarily by my pocket and some feigned interest in the environment. You see, there was a shelf dedicated to previously read books - pre-owned novels which were 50% off. Not only was a getting a sweet deal but I was doing my part to save this text from clogging up our landfills. And third mistake - and quite cliched - I judged a book by it's cover. If I was going to read the whitest of white, why not pick up the memoir plastered with with a picture of Julia Roberts on the front?
Yes, I bought the wildly popular Elizabeth Gilbert memoir, Eat, Pray, Love - chick lit made into a chick flick a couple of years ago. Yeah, it was somewhat embarrassing, especially considering that my travel mates had their microbio textbooks in tow (don't know how I forgot mine, but was able to get a hush-hush .pdf copy hookup...whoop whoop!)
While I find Gilbert's story, thus far, refreshingly open and honest, it's a bit too stereotypically white and Western for my liking. And somehow, I empathize. It appeals to that part of my American self that I consciously work to squelch out in the open. Her story represents that part of me that tends to exoticize the other, the one that doggedly personalizes the spiritual to the neglect of the communal, the part of me that in my quiet moments, is fastidiously self-absorbed. Elizabeth Gilbert is my id.
I have yet to finish the book (may hold it off until Christmas vacation, unfortunately - got to memorize those bugs.) I'm praying for a happy ending with this book, though I have yet to put to words what that looks like. But from the reviews I briefly looked through, I doubt it.
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