Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pi Day (Or, Having Trouble Getting Over This Book, Part 3)

I've written about Life of Pi twice already on this blog. Once here when I first read the book, and once here. But those were the feverish ramblings of someone who's just fallen in love. In a week and a half, I'll be presenting a paper, "The Trans-Textual Life of Pi" at BYU's English Symposium. I hope it's more…collected. My passion for the book has only deepened, but I think I'm able to discuss it in a more organized, less frenzied way.

I'd like to borrow an image from one of Shakespeare's sonnets to sum up my relationship with Life of Pi. It's about how the poet is aging, but the love between him and the beloved only grows stronger. "In me thou seest the glowing of such fire / that on the ashes of his youth doth lie." When a fire is just starting, it's super bright and there's lots of flames and smoke, and it's a whole deal. But when it gets hotest is after the flames die and only the coals remain. Anyway, I digress. I hope that I'm gradually moving from the flames stage to the coals with Pi.

Once I was having a conversation with my friend Joel about someone not liking Harry Potter, and he said, "But Michael. It's impossible for you to be objective about this."

My jaw dropped. "What do you mean I can't be objective? I don't own any stock in Harry Potter. I'm not on Rowling's pay roll."

"You don't understand how you are. When you like something, you just get so…you about it."

After some quick introspection, I saw that he was right. I get really passionate about the things I like. Once I get behind something, I'm all about it.

Life of Pi holds a special place in my personal canon as my favorite novel. I've never read a novel that has so informed my world view—spoken so dramatically to my most pressing anxieties, articulated so beautifully my dearest convictions, and transported me so completely into its story. The more I study its themes and structures, the more amazed I am at its scope, precision, and craft.

There are passages that are so charming and witty that I could not do anything but love them. Then there are lines of such compressed poignancy that I can barely read them. I'll never forget reading the book for the first time: the relief I felt when Pi finally got to Mexico, and the profound terror I felt as the novel turned the whole experience on its head.

And the events surrounding the book are so very important to me. It was the perfect thing to read as a freshly returned missionary from Toronto. It's led me to many new stories and books and people that have expanded my experience and my joy. And perhaps the kindest, most tender words I've ever received from my parents (or anyone, really) are those written in the copy of Life of Pi they gave me for my birthday, years ago.

The only other books that have had such a lasting effect on me are Shakespeare's plays and the Bible. The philosophy, events, and characters of Life of Pi have become so dear to me that they are essentially a part of my identity. I think that's what Joel meant when he said I couldn't be objective about anything that I like. My passions form such an integral part of me that objectivity becomes a fantasy. They become who I am.


  1. I feel the same way about 'The Brothers Karamazov', though I could not put my feelings so eloquently. Save the Bible, it has done more to shape my emotions and worldview than any other book (and I will grant you that 'Life of Pi' is not far behind). Too bad there is no FMD day where I can proclaim my love… I suppose I could pick Nov. 11--his birthday; but it might be a bit of a lonely holiday.

  2. Dude! You missed 11/11/11! But you should appropriate that day anyway, even if it's already Veterans' Day.

  3. I have just finished the book and i feel as hooked on it as you do( as i type this and have several search tabs on my Google about the book)

    I just want to share that it did break my heart( a little)to have read the ending and to the point that it pushed me to be vegan for a couple of days(ashamed enough, the gore was too much).

    But I cannot deny the book made a lasting impression on me and it will be quite a while before I "get over" it.

  4. This is serendipity at best. I kept browsing your posts and I come here. I am reading The Brothers Karamazov, and it is just so complete. It is hard to describe how books can shape us. I never thought this could be such an interesting title. Now I will read it no doubt.

    This made me think what books, apart from the Bible (and that is not cliche), have shaped me. I'd say The Magic Mountain (since I am not finished with TBK yet).