About 5 years ago, I came home to find a delivery from amazon.com on my doorstep. As I hadn't actually ordered anything and it wasn't my birthday, the box was a bit of a mystery. Until I opened it and found a note on the packing slip from my friend Lauren that said something like, "I just read this book and really want to talk about it with someone. I thought you might like it too..." The book was Life of Pi by Yann Martel.
I've had people suggest books to me, perhaps loan books to me. But I'd never had someone make a recommendation by actually purchasing a copy of a book for me. I suspected it was truly a must read. So I read it. And it was.
The curious illustration of a silhouetted boy in a life boat with a tiger, turned out to represent one of the most profound stories I've ever read in my life. And here I thought it was just going to be a book about a kid and a vicious animal. Never judge a book ...
I have been in constant awe of Life of Pi (and Yann Martel) ever since and have recommended it to everyone I know. (Perhaps I should be buying them all a copy as well). Martel hadn't published anything since that book - until this year when his latest, Beatrice and Virgil, was released. So he's on book tour now, and came to Kansas City this month, (thanks to Rainy Day Books and the KC Public Library) and, as you might imagine, I was there. With bells on.
He was as compelling a speaker as he is a writer. And I was amazed at how broadly instructive and enlightening his talk was - even when he spent a lot of time talking about the new book which I haven't even read yet. He did discuss Life of Pi, sharing (among other things) that the zoo, a significant plot element, seemed to him to represent the parameters that religion provides, versus the vast, wide, and - for some - uncomfortable freedom of secularity.
I am realizing that Life of Pi deserves another read. And, after Martel read for us the stunning section of his new book where the monkey (Virgil) tries to describe to the donkey (Beatrice) precisely what a pear is like, I am anxious to read Beatrice and Virgil too. Well, anxious, but hesitant, due to some contentious reviews of the disturbing nature of the latter 1/3 of the text.
In answer to the queries about the way his new book ends, he explained his goal as a writer is to be both "entertaining and elevating." Though I can't vouch for B & V (yet), L of P certainly hits that mark perfectly.