Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Catch Up Sunday: Kon-Tiki and More

Among the books notched in my bedpost from the last couple of months (most of them enjoyed in those late night hours before the Sandman strikes) have been three adventure novels by Alistair MacLean (courtesy of the Omaha Public Library); three splendid Golden Age mysteries by Ngaio Marsh; and from the “guilty pleasure” category, another eight or nine from the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald. The novels of the latter two, by the way, were all re-reads but thanks to my decrepit memory, the plots remained as fresh as when I first (or secondly or thirdly) read them!

In addition to these "late night snacks,” however, my recent reading regimen has also included some of the highest quality literature imaginable. And for those I’ll scribble down at least a few comments in the next few Book Den posts. As always, I hope they might be of some help as you decide on your own reading experiments. Therefore, before I make comments about Alexandre Dumas, Anthony Trollope, Nevil Shute, and Charlotte Bronte, let me give a thumbnail review of Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft.

Reading Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki, this true story of an academician risking his life to prove his theory of how the South Pacific islands were originally populated, proved to be as adventurous and inspirational and captivating as when I first read it in my pre-thug youth. It is, quite honestly, one of the best books I’ve ever read -- one that has had a deeper influence on me than I'll ever be able to measure.

Chief among these influences was the realization that in a single person (Heyerdahl) there was combined the intellectual, the romantic, the man of action, and the selfless team player. This certainly elevated in my young mind what constituted a man’s man. For, unlike my celluloid heroes like John Wayne or Randolph Scott, Heyerdahl wasn't playing a role. He was a real guy doing very real things. This made me realize that certain ideals were more attainable than I had previously dared to imagine. Adventure needn’t be the stuff of cinema or daydreams. Nor did it have to be relegated to ancient days. After all, Heyerdahl and his friends had braved the awesome challenge of the Kon-Tiki mission in 1950, just a little over a decade before I read his book.

Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft (then and now) goes way beyond ethnology, way beyond comparative history, way beyond even a marvelous story of survival on the high seas on a balsa wood raft. Certainly Kon-Tiki provides a vast learning experience about all of these things (and a lot more besides) but it also provides, and very dramatically so, a license to think bold, dream big, and do brave things. Over the long course of my life, I have probably recommended Kon-Tiki as much as any single book. I most earnestly do so again this morning.