Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Three Days at Sea: The Story In Which A Story Swims

by Drew Martin
The question "Where were you when JFK was shot?" or "Where were you on 9/11?" takes a public event from a specific place and turns it into a ubiquitous but personal encounter. This is quite different than an experience with media, especially books. No one ever asked me "Where were you when you read The Diary of Anne Frank?" but it is an interesting question. Your age, place and state of mind when you experience a certain work of literature has quite an influence on how you absorb and remember it.

In my mid-twenties, the relationship that I had reluctantly boarded, shipwrecked and I found myself adrift in a vast, pacific ocean of solitude. I did not try to swim to land or search for other ships on the horizon. Instead, I sat on my flotsam and passed the time reading one book for three days straight: Moby Dick.

I was residing in a city of 150,000 people in Sudetenland and the only other native English speaker was a Canadian who I rarely saw. The feeling that I had when I finished reading Moby Dick was as if I had been washed ashore; spit up on the beach. So I stood up on that sandy stretch between fiction and reality and walked into town. Coincidentally, I met the Canadian on the street and we made our way to the nearest pub. We found a table on the second-floor balcony, which felt like the bow of a ship on that breezy summer day. The Canadian had a Masters in English literature and was a Herman Melville enthusiast. What luck! We sat there for a couple hours, sipping from our golden beers, recounting the tale of Ishmael, like two sailors land-locked from the sea of our language.