For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile. Care to join me?
I first read Jack London’s novel when I was eight or nine. My early reading lists consisted almost exclusively of horse and dog novels. What can I say? I loved animals (still do).
I’m not going to lie; Call of the Wild, disturbed me greatly. The idea of a loved family dog being stolen from his own front porch, and by someone he knew just broke my young heart. Just the idea of coming home one day, and finding that my beloved Sooty Cat was gone was enough to make me cry. My cat did run away shortly after reading this book, and, yes, I was nigh on inconsolable. But whenever I saw a young black cat wandering through the trees near the apartment complex where I lived, I couldn’t help but think of Buck’s offspring running through the Yukon.
In much the way Black Beauty did, Call of the Wild informed my ideas of compassion and kindness, particularly towards animals. It showed me the darker aspects of human nature: greed, cruelty, selfishness. I left Call of the Wild without the encouragement, the sense of redemption and hope that Black Beauty had gifted me with, but there was something about the telling of the story that I found compelling.
And yet, having said that, the idea that Buck eventually found his place in a world so vastly different from the life he’d known, that his intelligence, courage, devotion, and instinct could serve him well in a harsh environment – these things I found encouraging.
I grew up in the military, moving from place to place every couple of years or so, and the places my father was stationed couldn’t have been more different from one another. No, I never had to fight for my life, as Buck did, but I did have to rely on my own strength of character and intelligence to adapt to each place I called home, however long that was.
Over time, I grew to respect and even admire Jack London’s style. The way he contrasted the life Buck ledin Southern California with the harsh realities of the Yukon. His use of imagery, his uncluttered narration. It took me longer to appreciate and interpret his use of imagery, but it’s something I still find distinctive, and memorable.
I never read much of London’s work beyond Call of the Wild (although his short story “To Build a Fire” remains a favourite), because I’m not drawn to wilderness stories in quite that way. I don’t have as much of a romantic view of the purity of the wilderness, or of the unforgiving way it tests one’s worthiness to be a part of it. I still find the work memorable, and though I doubt I will read it again, it’s still a work that changed who I am as a reader, and as a writer.