And Now I Don't Have To

Years ago (1996: geez, almost 25 years), Jon Krakauer published Into Thin Air, a book about an expedition up Mount Everest in which a lot of people died. I happened to catch the first article in Outside magazine, which was a teaser for the book. I found the reading and reporting to be interesting.

An IMAX movie (remember those?) called Everest was released in 1998. I lived in Colorado at the time and went with a group of people to see it in a theatre. 

As the lights came up at the end, I said, "What an absorbing experience. And now I know I don't want ever to climb Mount Everest." (In contrast, the people I was with were all gung-ho for an Everest climb. I don't live in the same community of people or even in the same country. Those two facts are not unrelated.)

My point is that sometimes I read a book and think, "Whoa, I'm glad to have read that, and I have zero desire to go and do likewise." Basically: they did this thing, and now I don't have to because I got to read their book. 

Here are two fairly recent reads that inspired that same thought: Little Yellow House: Finding Community in a Changing Neighbourhood, by Carissa Halton; and A Place on Earth, by Wendell Berry.

(NOTE: This is NOT the U.S. book called The Yellow House. This is a different book.)

On the surface, these two books pictured above are quite different. Little Yellow House is Halton's first book (though she's an experienced writer), and it's creative nonfiction; Wendell Berry has a long list of highly visible and acclaimed books of fiction, essays, and poetry. A Place on Earth is one of his early works, but it's been recently revised--and it's fiction.

Carissa Halton is, ahem, significantly younger than Berry. She's Canadian. He's not. He's explicitly religious; she is not. Halton's book is set in recent times; Berry's isn't.

Yet the books are similar. Both are about places, and communities within them. Each book shows and examines the roles of individuals within communities, and how individuals (and individual families) make space for themselves and each other in communities. 

Neither paints an idyllic portrait of community life. In these communities, people die. People take advantage of others. People do decent things for misguided reasons. People judge. The community adjusts, survives, and even thrives.

Neither book makes me want to go do what these authors write about. I have zero desire to trade rural northwestern Ontario for an urban neighbourhood in Edmonton, in spite of the evident love with which Halton regards her little yellow house and its environs. I also have little desire to visit Kentucky, much less live there and farm tobacco, even if I could live in the mid-1940s world Berry presents. 

Both have inspired me to think differently about the meaning of various terms: investment, nostalgia, economic systems (and the costs thereof), neighbours, art, and love. 

Both are well worth reading. You can order Little Yellow House from many independent booksellers but also here, at the University of Alberta Press

They weren't "escapist," exactly. But they were horizon-broadening, in the best possible way.