Monday, August 08, 2016

Reader's Diary #1347- Richard Brautigan: A Short Story about Contemporary Life in California

I'm back from my two week vacation, and may I just say upfront how my travel bug is now very much awake and excited? While working on my masters, travel took a backseat and my wife planned an excellent vacation to get us all back into the swing of things: Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles and then a drive up to San Francisco. We had the fun, eye-candy stuff, typical tourist stuff, and some more out of the way, quiet surprises.

One of those surprises turned out to be the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, California, announced by a modest wooden sign somewhere in the forest and along the twisty-turns of California One. Now, I'm a sucker for visiting libraries on vacation and with one named after an author (even one I've not yet read), we just had to stop.

My first thought was that it wasn't a library at all. It turned out that you cannot actually borrow books, but rather buy them. (This was just as well considering I, and most tourists, would likely not return at least for a very long time.) But then, seeing all they offer and do, I've reconsidered and it is a library, and a good one at that. I believe that libraries should use literacy to help build community, and the Henry Miller Memorial Library has that in spades. First off, it's not just an average bookstore. It sells only materials that tend to fall into the counterculture vein. Most authors tended to fall into the beatnik or hippie categories and I like when a library's collection reflects the community which it serves. Secondly, there was a lot of emphasis on activities. It was an arts space, complete with a makeshift performance space and evidence of past creative projects, mostly of the DIY and/or avant-garde variety (a chair made out of old cassettes, a crucifix of computer monitors and twigs). And while I'd still like to see some reading material being offered for free, the bookstore itself is non-profit.

And perhaps most importantly, we were made to feel welcome. We were the only ones visiting at the time and first greeted by a cat, who quickly got bumped out of the way by a jealous dog who needed our petting more. The young woman inside, originally from Detroit, was the one who, once she found out that I was a librarian, told me about Richard Brautigan's "The Abortion" prompting me to buy a collection of his works. (She was quite lovely, by the way, not pushy at all, in fact apologizing when I bought the book that she wasn't trying to push a sale on me!) Obviously this post isn't about "The Abortion" but impatient to read something by him, started with a short story, "A Short Story about Contemporary Life in California."

This is a very short, very meta story and as such, I think I'll enjoying exploring his works more in depth. However, it also references Jack London's Sea Wolf throughout and, not having read that either, it made it hard to fully appreciate Brautigan's point. It seems to be he's suggesting that the California experience has not changed: people move to California to fulfill their dreams, get knocked around a bit, and the end result may not be their original intent, but they've had an adventure nonetheless. I can live with that.

1 comment:

Sam said...

Traveling always gives me the chance to use one of my favorite words...if I do the traveling correctly, that is..."serendipity." It's those little unexpected events and sites that we stumble upon that make a trip special, and it sounds as if this one went a long way toward making your trip even more special than it would have otherwise been. Glad to hear you enjoyed your dip down into the U.S.