My heart is pounding as the line of people behind me continues to grow. I imagine they are shifting their weight, sighing, injuring their necks further as they stretch their noses to the center of their devices. None of that matters because the world has fallen away and I feel on-fire mid-conversation with my favorite Trader Joe’s checker, about literature. “What are some of your favorite books?” he asks me, as he scans my groceries. I ramble on about my appetite for memoirs, non-fiction, spirituality and self-help books. I tell him about Augusten Burroughs, he says he’s never heard of him, I tell him that’s okay and then fan-girl out a little about the cliff notes of the best-selling author’s life. I ask him the same question as he pushes a bag of honey crisp apples to his right. He leans back a little and rattles off some titles; I recognize the name of one and repeat it, curious. “It’s fiction,” he says, “but based on different principals.”
I went home that night and searched for the book online. What I found was a curious and smile inducing synopsis, “TEACHER SEEKS PUPIL. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” Days later, per a library pick-up request, I held the book in my hands, and thought of the man who at some point years prior did the exact same thing. I dug into it, excited to learn.
After a chapter, I was hooked. The narrator comes face to face with a gorilla. The language reminded me of the benevolence of Frankenstein’s creature. I read chapter after chapter imagining a twist ending. In certain instances of Ishmael’s comments, I responded with a subtle laugh. My mind felt cracked open at the insight and the metaphors and the world’s problems being placed on the grass in front of me.
Back at Trader Joe’s I stand in front of the blue eyed man as he scanned my items. “I’m reading Ishmael,” I hear myself blurt out. He asks where I am at. I tell him about the leavers and the takers.
The more I read, the more I needed to know. I felt enraptured, connected, and like I was learning something sacred.
The last couple of chapters threw me; unexpectedly the gorilla is becoming more vulnerable, cranky; harder to hold onto. Just as the narrator is learning the most the source of that knowledge is with the wind. I felt my heart pound and as though I too had lost something. On the last page I begin to cry.
I walked out into the cold, grocery bags in hand and run into him in the parking lot. “How’s that book you’re reading he asks.” “Pretty heart breaking,” I reply.
After reading Ishmael, I feel awake. Like I’ve found something. Like I’m enlightened. I’d compare it to your favorite memory of a college lecture or finding Jesus or the Universe or however you equate your spiritual existence. Or the first morning you woke up and felt different. I implore you, read Ishmael, even if you don’t care about religion or mythology or culture or sociology or species, especially if you don’t care, because you’re the taker this book was written for.
Author’s note, I’m reading The Story of B, the sequel to Ishamel and will follow-up with another review upon completion.
It’s amazing to me the things people measure out their lives in. For me it is books. This post is a part of a series of careful reflection in homage to the best books I have ever read.