Comfort in re-reading
Kicked out of our comfort zone and trying to make sense of what is happening around us, I find that a few healthy regressions may help make the day less challenging. Along with reflecting on the past routinely, returning to familiar grounds can be added to our toolkit to repair and rejuvenate during these difficult times.
Enter reading. Moreover, re-reading a book once you liked. This installment of our stay-at-home reading recommendation is meant to take you around the world, virtually, without a promise to complete it in eighty days. But that’s fine, we are all in it together for the long haul.
Written by French novelist Jules Verne (1828 – 1905), Around the World in Eighty Days was one of my childhood favorites. No wonder. A foreign author featuring characters with exotic names took me and other kids out of the world of chastushkas behind the rock-solid Iron Curtain in the 1970s. Then, traveling had become much easier (before becoming difficult all over again in the COVID era). The difficulties Phileas Fogg had to go through from London to London might sound dramatic and over-elaborated, but the book is still a delight to read and more than just that. With its rich educational and informative content, it can serve as a talking point related to a variety of topics in disciplines such as geography, world history, American history, science, and more.
Set in Victorian England, this perennial classic relates the fascinating story of a weird English gentleman, Phileas Fogg, who, on a gentlemen’s wager, attempts to travel around the globe in 80 days along with his newly hired French valet called Passepartout. According to the detailed itinerary, their journey starts in London, taking the Orient Express (does that ring the bell, avid readers?) to Cairo, Egypt, where they switch to another method of transport, a steamer heading to India, where their real adventures begin. Mistaken for a bank robber, Phileas Fogg is also followed from this point by Inspector Fix, a detective from Scotland Yard. Traveling through India on an elephant, they rescue a young Indian woman, called Aouda, from ritual sacrifice, taking her along for the rest of the trip. Their numerous adventures through Hong Kong and Japan to San Francisco and then to New York are filled with terrifying and dangerous moments, including Sioux warriors, bisons, kidnapping, and more. Meanwhile, the inspector can’t wait for the moment he reaches British soil and can capture Fogg. After burning a newly purchased ship to reach Liverpool, Fogg meets his fate and gets arrested only to go free, since the real robber had been caught three days before — but he misses the deadline to return to London by just five minutes. Or did he?
The book has several long-lasting moral messages. Although he thinks he has lost everything, Phileas Fogg comes back as a different person with his biggest reward being the love of his life he has found. Two quotes stand out to translate to our times: “A well-used minimum suffices for everything” is a clear, direct message to our TP-snatching, grocery-stockpiling, food-hoarding peers. Shining with hope, the second points further to a brighter future with the promise of nothing lost: “The chance which now seems lost may present itself at the last moment.”
The book also reminds us our own very current around-the-world moments, with sad but unprecedented opportunities to look at famous landmarks in abandoned cities, all clearly visible in the recently shot drone videos from all over the world. The New York Times published one of the first drone recordings about Wuhan, on February 4, 2020. The next images came from Italy on March 17, 2020 from CNN, then from Paris, on March 18, 2020 from Reuters. The Boston Globe followed suit with images about Boston, on March 19, 2020. Images of New York City, on March 24, 2020 from The New York Post. The Guardian presented London on March 26. Nearly empty American cities from The Washington Post on March 23, 2020, and other collections followed presenting individual cities, such as Nashville and Las Vegas, or multiple cities, and more multiple cities. (For those not yet convinced of the efficacy of drones, here is the dog-walking drone.)
Beyond the well-known latest movie adaptation, the book also brought back memories from my kids’ childhood. Opening to the world, one of the cartoons that my children loved was Around the World in 80 days with Willy Fog, a Spanish-Japanese animated series of 26-minute episodes. Adapted later also to English speaking audiences, this cartoon was one of many that laid the foundation of foreign language skills for generations behind the disintegrating Iron Curtain, including Spanish from the original video. With our concerns, fears, or even nightmares, we should learn from kids who are able to listen to the same story every night or watch the same cartoon over and over as they can find comfort in the familiar story, in the familiar characters and voices.
Several versions of Around the World in Eighty Days are available online from Rutgers with your NetID: from Ebook Central, from EBSCOHost Ebooks, or as open access eBook from the Gutenberg Project. However, with eyes tired from the daily telecommute, one can also enjoy listening the various renditions from LibriVox or other audiobook providers in under just seven hours. Downloading it on an old iPhone allows us to immerse in the story offline, which is an admirable practice of not using bandwidth when it is avoidable.
Now off to watch a spin-off called The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze.
See the full list of online resources, such as eBooks, audiobooks, videos, and newspapers.