Sunday, March 15, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 5 (Albert Camus)

The Stranger
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Camus, Albert
The Stranger

One summer in college I decided I wanted to try my hand at being a writer, so I went home and spent 3 months in my parents basement reading, writing and playing guitar (and smoking like a chimney, natch). I didn't have a great sense of what to read, so I just started reading all the novels I hadn't read in high school -- Steinbeck, Hemingway, Camus, Salinger, Richard Wright. I think I read something like 50 novels that summer, which at least made me feel I had "caught up" on what I had missed in high school. That is also how I came to own my brother's copy of this book. Since he went to the same high school, he had all the same books I was supposed to have read (he had read them, being, as he was, a much more diligent student than I) on his shelf, so I just read what was there.

I've always preferred philosophical literary works, whether poetry or plays or novels, to other kinds, and I think The Stranger was my introduction to this kind of book. It may not be a desert island favorite, but it's certainly been an important book for me. Here's a passage I underlined:

I remembered a story Mother used to tell me about my father. I never set eyes on him. Perhaps the only things I really knew about him were what Mother had told me. One of these was that he’d gone to see a murderer executed. The mere thought of it turned his stomach. But he’d seen it through and, on coming home, was violently sick. At the time, I found my father’s conduct rather disgusting. But now I understood; it was so natural. How had I failed to recognize that nothing was more important than an execution; that, viewed from one angle, it’s the only thing that can genuinely interest a man? And I decided that, if ever I got out of jail, I’d attend every execution that took place. I was unwise, no doubt, even to consider this possibility. For, the moment I’d pictured myself in freedom, standing behind a double rank of policemen—on the right side of the line, so to speak—the mere thought of being an onlooker who comes to see the show, and can go home and vomit afterward, flooded my mind with a wild, absurd exultation. It was a stupid thing to let my imagination run away with me like that; a moment later I had a shivering fit and had to wrap myself closely in my blanket. But my teeth went on chattering; nothing would stop them.

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