Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Summer Reading: Life of Pi

Though summer break doesn't officially begin for me until June 29, I began my annual summer reading a little early this year, by completing a book I have been "reading" for nearly two years now. Let me explain: I usually have anywhere from 4-6 different novels that I'm working on between pre- or re-reading works that I teach in my classes. Additionally, I read anywhere from 3-10 comic books weekly, as well as assorted graphic novels, newspapers, and magazines.

Some novels grab me instantly and they're read straight through in a few days (Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry or Che: A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson being the two most recent) while some take a while to catch fire for me. Yann Martel's tremendously successful novel Life of Pi has long been on my bookshelf, begun only in fits and starts. For whatever reason, I picked it up once about a week ago and it clicked. A fictional survivalist-adventure (with a healthy dose of spirituality), Life of Pi recounts the now familiar fictitious story of Piscene "Pi" Molitor Patel's  227 days at sea following a shipwreck with only two survivors, Pi and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Though not often the case with popular (translation: financially successful) novels, Life of Pi's greatest attribute, in addition to the ability to move over 10 million copies, is its multiple layers of potential reading value: for the recreational/book club reader there is much to consider, discuss, and entertain. For those seeking opportunities for deeper literary analysis, Pi's narrative structure and unusual character development and conflict also leave much open to reasonable analysis. Modern in its use of a varying storytelling strategies (Martel plays with a number of points-of-view and typographical approaches), Pi offers the reader the choice as to whether or not they wish to dig deeply. Failing to do so, sometimes one just wants to read a book rather than dissect it along the way, Pi still delivers some surprising twists.

I'm not entirely sure why I failed to connect with Martel's novel until recently, except to say that sometimes books reveal themselves to you when you need them. I was looking for some escapist reading with an engaging structure and approach and--wallah!--there was Life of Pi! In the spirit of one of the novels's key themes, when I needed an entertainment, Pi was the either the story I chose, or that chose me, to kick of a summer of stimulating (fingers crossed!) reading.

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