Before I begin delving into my experiences with the literature, culture, food, food, and food of Louisiana, I want to take a moment to talk about Bookpacking and what it means to me (and I think...hope...our fearless leader, Andrew, agrees).
I was first struck with the power of setting in literature when I was 13 years old, opening up Wuthering Heights for the first time. The novel intrigued me. It overcame me. It scared the daylights out of me. I have since read Emily Bronte's enduring story of destructive love on the desolate and beautiful moors of northern England a dozen times, and each time I learn something new. However, what never changes in my digestion of Wuthering Heights is the profound effect the moors themselves have on the story and its characters. Wuthering Heights is a study in how the powerful evocation of a particular setting can turn it into another character.
Since first reading that novel, I have been (quite frankly) obsessed with immersing myself in and trying to understand the impact of setting in every work I read. Mid-20th century Southern California in Mildred Pierce, pre-revolution Russia in Anna Karenina, New York during the Roaring '20's in The Great Gatsby, Ireland prior to the War of Independence in Dubliners, and the list goes on. Because I so appreciate how setting informs a story, my own creative writing is, for the most part, heavily steeped in the culture of New England. Being from just outside Boston, I understand the character of this particular region of the country and use this knowledge to create stories I view as time capsules of a place and time – my place and time.
For me, the opportunity to be a "Bookpacker" epitomizes one of the things I love most about literature – to immerse oneself in the culture of a setting with which one might not be familiar. I had never been to southern Louisiana prior to this trip, but I already feel as though I am getting a glimpse into the world of Edna Pontellier, Lestat de Lioncourt, and Ignatius J. Reilly (to name a few) in a way few other people do. Who better to teach me about the uniqueness of New Orleans than these characters and the authors who created them?
So many people nowadays would have us believe that fiction doesn’t matter. It’s frivolous and it won’t cure cancer. Yes, it’s true you won’t find the cure for cancer within the pages of A Confederacy of Dunces. But what you will find is the key to unlocking something we, as human beings, strive and struggle for every day – understanding.
Peoples, cultures, nations impose narratives on other peoples, cultures, nations and, too often, the truth of identity gets lost along the way. But the narratives about ourselves, provided by we, ourselves – that’s where truth lives. Who are we, if not the stories we tell? If everyone travelled with a book in their hand – a true book that speaks with the voice of a place and a people – then I think we’d all be much better at the art of understanding.
So…yeah. That’s what Bookpacking means to me. Hope y’all like my blog!