Paul Bowles (YGtCTO Words #45)

Their Heads are Green and Their Hands Are Blue

Book written by Paul Bowles

I can’t imagine what I would have made of Paul Bowles if I had stumbled upon him when I was younger. While it has been a couple decades since I first read this collection of travel writing, I don’t know that I was prepared for The Sheltering Sky or his amazing short stories earlier than that.

Bowles, like Patricia Highsmith, has this amazing ability to clear the opaque and take us across thresholds that we never expected to pass. I’ve always found appealing authors able to do so, but you never crack a book of theirs without some trepidation. Some, like Flannery O’Connor, continue to make me wary. (I sit on her porch, drinking lemonade, still waiting for the right moment.)

The counterweight to the apprehension is that I tend to read books by writers with whom I want to spend my time. That’s probably not unusual. Movie stars exist because they appeal to our desire to hang out with “cool” people for a couple hours and indulge in mutual fantasies. Of course, the shared experience is a fantasy in its own right. I don’t know that any of us would really enjoy sitting with Tom Hanks or Demi Moore in our living room. I envision a lot of awkward pauses.

But authors… the illusion is that more of an author is in the art. We don’t expect our mystery writers to actually be criminals, but we do feel like we know them after peeking inside their brains for ten or twenty hours. So, yes, I’d like to have a drink with Paul Bowles. He’d be quite the raconteur.

Paul Bowles

That’s the thing, though, isn’t it?
He’d have stories to tell and I would expect him to be a part of the stories. In some weird way, I believe that he is present in his words.

People who know me are aware of my fondness for Isaac Asimov, the prolific and brilliant writer of science fiction, mystery, non-fiction,… I’m probably missing something. I can happily spend time with his work. But I don;t necessarily feel like I know him in the same way that I feel like I know Paul Bowles.

I realize that I doubtless know neither, but why do I feel this way?

The nature of Bowles’ fiction feels grounded in personal experience, though I think that is true of Asimov also. Bowles does deal with places that I feel like I can touch through his words, but I can sit with Asimov’s people, too. So, is it the travel memoirs? Bowles’ writing is often entwined with personal experience. His opinions of real people are scattered through his non-fiction and fiction alike.

Then, weirdness enters the picture. As unusual as Asimov’s subjects can be, Bowles is putting his freak flag out on display with every paragraph. I’m not sure that Bowles in person can be much stranger than Bowles on the printed page. Really, it’s those hidden parts of ourselves that we’re talking about when we say that an artist is putting themselves on display.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 166 more to go.

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