When I was 23, my Norwegian relatives taught me how to sit still. During the long sunlit evenings in the summer of 1992, my cousins would lead me across the farm to the edge of the forest, each of us lugging a folding chair. There, in a scraggly bramble of wild blueberries, we would set them down a few yards apart, each in our own little patch.
For hours, we faced south, bathing our faces in the golden Arctic light, a dreamy brightness that persisted past midnight. Every few minutes, we’d reach down, pluck a berry and pop it into our mouths. You could find us there most every night during July, starting at 10 o’clock.
I spent my adolescence around maps of places that didn’t exist. An older cousin read The Lord of the Rings over the course of a hot summer when I was nine, and I watched in fascination as he traced the Fellowship’s progress across the foldout map that came with the book in those days. This, I decided, had to be what grown-up reading looked like.
Maps were my entrée into geek life, and they remained the medium through which geekdom moved: beat-up paperbacks handed around between school friends, boxed sets at the local game store — we probably spent about as much time poring over maps as we did reading or dreaming up the stories that took place within the worlds they represented. The science fiction we read did without them, but any cover featuring a dragon, a many-turreted castle, or a woman in a leather bra suggested you’d find a map the moment you peeked inside the book.
Sometimes, when language is undone at the root, when the connection between the essential self and the outer layers—of the mind, speech, gesture—is severed, the only way through is through metaphor. We cheat the guards, we trick the sentry. Something, however small, makes it through.
So how can one adequately capture experiences that very often undo language itself, that are often so profoundly isolating precisely because they defy our common speech, our tested vocabularies, and definitions of human experience? How do we find the right words to map that place, to bring some kind of connection with the agreed-upon world of people who can only watch from outside as others go through sometimes horrifying journeys and tortures of consciousness?
My parents were downsizing. My father said the only things he was sad to part with were his books. Kevin and I tried to put him at ease. We explained that book lovers who live in small spaces must be ruthless. Every few months, when we notice our shelves overflowing, we make a trip to Goodwill.
Of course, there are some books we will never discard. When I went to college, I brought along the ones I had loved as a teenager. They stayed with me when I moved to New York, even though I changed addresses three times before I had enough space to unpack them.
“Wild Things” doesn’t have much of an argument to make other than its premise that we should take children’s literature seriously, which I think many people already do, and yet the book succeeds wonderfully, not so much as an argument but as an eccentric essay, and an emanation of spirit.
South-east ASIA is adorned by jungles, islands and gleaming skyscrapers. Home to more than 640m people, the variety of the region’s 11 countries defies most analytical attempts at clustering them together. Sweeping takes often fail to encapsulate the complexity of ancient cultures, languages and people that are to be found from the tip of Timor-Leste to the top of Myanmar. This is precisely what makes “Blood and Silk”, Michael Vatikiotis’s frenetic overview of politics in South-East Asia, so ambitious.