Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Sense of the World/The Afterlife

"A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler " by Jason Roberts is the amazing story of James Holman (1786–1857) a British Naval officer, since he was 12, and the fantastic journeys he recorded throughout his life. After going completely blind at the age of 25, he became a Naval Knight of Windsor, whose only job was to pray twice a day and dress up for state funerals, and weddings, and most importantly, stay out of public view. He had many health problems, and found doctors that would prescribe travels to healing springs, and better climates, thus arranging for him to travel. Working the system, he managed to spend very little time at his duties, but traveled alone and either on foot, by cart, and later on horseback through countries where even the sighted had not explored. With very little money, and not knowing the languages, as well as being blind, this man traveled alone for the most part, recording his impressions on a special machine for the blind to write (this was before Braille), publishing books about his journeys, inspiring such notables as Charles Darwin, and Sir Richard Burton. It is a fascinating and inspiring story that is wonderfully written.

"The Afterlife" by Donald Antrim is a book I looked forward to reading. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. Written as a memoir about his family, focusing on his alcoholic Mother, the writing, while sad and sometimes amusing, I felt it rambled and hemmed and hawed too much for my comfort. While I was reading, it occurred to me that he was so busy playing it safe (James Frey) and often got into a "maybe it happened this way or maybe I don't remember it correctly" type writing. I'm sure it was difficult to write, and he did an okay job, but I found it frustrating. His search for a bed, however, was very funny. I'm not sure I would recommend this one.

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