My friend Connie couldn’t stop talking about this book.
That was seven years ago. Yet, even now, I remember how Connie’s eyes shined and how my normally articulate book-loving friend stumbled for words when attempting to describe how this story made her feel. Maybe it was this unfamiliar stumbling that caused Connie to pick up the book a second time.
But it was Connie’s third reading that finally garnered my attention. Connie’s action, rather than her words, became an enthusiastic endorsement that led me to plunk down fourteen dollars to possess my own personal copy of Yann Martel’s prize-winning novel, Life of Pi.
Like most of my book purchases, I promptly gave it a home on my bookshelves, to age and gather dust like fine wine. The intent was to read it someday — once I had aged and the words had aged, and once I came into an age of more time and less busyness. My hope was that when someday arrived, once this book and I came to know one another, that my eyes too would shine and my tongue would stumble for lack of words.
Of course, my someday shriveled up and died. There are always other words to read and enough tasks to fill any day. Had it not been for the words of another “Connie,” my someday ship would still be off at sea. It was three weeks ago that, words written by the author of Ripple Effects, stirred me to action: I left my writing desk, walked down the stairs, across my living room to enter my book cellar of a library. I scanned, I found, I pulled, I dusted and carried the book upstairs to place on my nightstand, to live beside other books of more serious intentions.
I had several books in front of it — I was finishing up one novel and had required reading for my Monday night class. So I didn’t begin the story of Pi until a week ago. Until yesterday, I read at the slow rate of a few pages a night. But yesterday’s surprise snowfall offered me the perfect someday to finish the story, which I did in the company of three dogs, a soft reading lamp and a few hours of the clock.
“I have a story that will make you believe in God.” So Martel begins his story — or should I say stories — because two stories grow out of book — and we the readers, get to pick which version we wish to carry with us. Is this a story about God and a young boy, a story about impossible miracles and providence? Or is the story a simple human tragedy with a good ending?
My husband had to come up the stairs to remind me when it was time for us to eat. The dogs had to remind me when it was time for them to eat. I read right through the dog’s dinner bell, which thankfully, my husband answered. And when I finished this story, I didn’t even bother to describe its impact on me.
Like all good stories, I don’t think we really know what seeds are sown from words freshly read. It’s only with time and reflection and space and more time that thoughts of the reader and the writer integrate — likes seeds in soil — and either something grows from the planting or it doesn’t. Perhaps like live seed, it depends upon how much nurture the seeds receive.
Yet there are twinges of thoughts that come as one takes in the words of a great story. Mine was that the Life of Pi could be shorthand for a life of piety, for surely, the young boy Pi is pious in the best sense of the word — as one who has a heart devoted singularly to God, as one who punctuates his daily life with prayer, who has a heart for God that even allows him to love that murderer Richard Parker. And is it not appropriate, that Pi’s nickname represents an infinite number, since piety and matters of the heart should be a never-ending story?
I can’t say whether this is a story that will make one believe in God. But I know it’s a great story, and that it reminds me of other great stories in another great book — stories like the one about Adam, the first zookeeper, and Noah, another zookeeper and his Ark full of animals and Job, who was not a zookeeper, but suffered enough tragedy that led him to question the reasons for life and his feelings about God.
My friend Connie was right seven years ago. The book begs a second reading. Someday.