Literary travel has been around for ages, but it needs serious updating. Reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle while wandering around London or Robert Bowles while exploring Fez may be perfectly enjoyable for your grandfather–but you are not your grandfather. You’re young, you’re free, and let’s face it: going abroad could seriously impede the routine you have developed. You’ve got a commitment to the bike co-op, several dateable co-workers, plus a full Netflix queue. Reading Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice in Venice is not a top priority. And so that’s why I’m providing you with literary travel recommendations to fascinating locales well within the boundaries of my four hundred square foot apartment. Prepare yourself accordingly for an adventure encompassing the holy trinity of time, space, and fiction, on a substantially more modern (and moderate) scale. If you can get used to my roommate, I promise it will be an incredible experience.
Pairing #1: Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian with the Bedroom
You will find the first pairing of the Bedroom with McCarthy’s Blood Meridian appealing if you have ever desired to delve deeper into the violent history of the American West. Not unlike that vast lawless frontier, this Bedroom first existed in pioneer minds as a seemingly blank slate. For them, it was simply territory for the taking, albeit mostly for above-garage storage. Over the years it was explored and divided. Settlers claimed portions of land through their strategic placement of Bob Marley posters, black lights, and dirty clothes piles. As you read Blood Meridian in the gap between my well-organized desk, lofted bed, and crisp, clean sheets, and my roommate’s half-inflated air mattress covered in zines, Doritos, and half-empty Kombucha bottles, you will explore the dark realm where civilization breaks down and gives way to total, bloodsoaked anarchy. Reading McCarthy’s masterwork in this No Man’s Land of the shared Bedroom will push you to search for meaning in a world of ceaseless chaos. Why is humanity so irredeemable? Why can’t he ever wash his hideous flannel sheets?
Pairing #2: Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse with the Living Room
In the Living Room, most specifically near the window where you can see the Discovery Zone in the strip mall across the street, you will find Woolf’s To the Lighthouse to be a most fitting read. Like the beacon and symbol in Woolf’s novel, let the bright red and yellow “DZ” shine forth to represent all of your unfulfilled hopes and aspirations, reminding you, even after an enjoyable night with friends, that you are still stuck living where you are. Curl up on the couch and read to the accompaniment of my roommate watching reality TV. While you try to focus on the novel, allow yourself to be enveloped by the din of Kardashian conflict while my roommate’s nasally voice rambles on about how great it would be to go to the Discovery Zone drunk tomorrow. Try to ignore him as he describes in great detail what it would be like to romp in the ball pit and clamber through those endless plastic tubes. Look up briefly to watch as I say, “There will be no going to the Discovery Zone tomorrow.” Notice the desolation in his eyes.
Pairing #3: Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s House of the Dead with the Bathroom
This third pairing of Dostoyevsky’s House of the Dead with the poorly lit Bathroom will allow you to throw yourself into an incarceral atmosphere strikingly true to the author’s own exile in Siberia. Fitting with the novel, the Bathroom is cramped quarters and lacks any windows or access to sunlight. While you struggle to read comfortably on the bathmat, my roommate will enhance the general uninhabitability of the “cell” by leaving beard trimmings on the counter, splattering toothpaste over the sink and mirror, and leaving wet towels and various other injustices strewn across the floor. This will all be capped off by a consistent, if not downright malicious, failure to replace any empty toilet paper rolls. For reasons of decency I shall only allude to the room’s poor ventilation. Just let it be said that there will be peak hours after my roommate’s morning cup of coffee when you will suffer along with Dostoyevsky, wondering what you ever did to deserve such harsh treatment?
Pairing #4: William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and the Kitchen
This final novel fits well with the Kitchen, which happens to be the southernmost room in the apartment. Here I recommend that you sit on the counter beside the increasingly filthy microwave that I’ve finally given up on cleaning to enjoy Faulkner’s renowned As I Lay Dying. You can bask in our only available direct sunlight and explore the varying perspectives of Addie Bundren’s death and burial. If you get too warm, there is a fitting coffin-like quality to the pantry. The fact that it has one of the only functioning doors in the entire apartment offers the chance to escape, however briefly, the presence of my roommate and to feel most in-tune with buried Addie herself. Furthermore, by reading this novel now, you won’t risk having your imagination contaminated by the James Franco movie adaptation which my roommate so earnestly claims will be a product of “pure Franco genius.”
Final Note and Offer!
If you are using an e-reader, I encourage you to download these novels before you arrive since a certain someone doesn’t think it’s necessary to pitch in for internet when our neighbor’s spotty wifi is available. But even more importantly, I want to let you know that if you find these pairings enticing, yet feel you won’t be able to get through them all in one weekend visit, there is the option of subletting the apartment or simply trading apartments with me. Just think how much fun you could have with a new roommate and so many books to read! But seriously. Think about it. I can’t take this much longer.
Image via evan p. cordes/Flickr