the book report
My book report is on a book by Meemi Salfanie called Autobiography of Nobody You’ve Ever Heard Of. It is the story of an old guy who has come to the end of his life and wants to share some of his experiences. I liked it because he is really honest and doesn’t try to make himself look like a hero or anything.
One of my favorite parts is when he tells the reader that the worst advice he ever got was to always be honest with himself. He says that looking back too much honesty just causes paralysis. He never mentions having trouble walking again so I assume this was a temporary condition that he overcame. He doesn’t say how but that goes back to him not trying to make himself out to be better than he really is I guess.
He never got married and only mentions a few relationships he had with girls when he was younger. When he looks back on them he compares them to the white streaks left behind by airplanes against a perfect blue sky. I liked that analogy because when I think about it he could mean that they ruined his unblemished sky and left ugly marks on it or he could mean that they were pretty and the closer you looked at them the more interesting they got what with the swirling exhaust slowly melting away into the sky and the plane moves further away and all. I haven’t had many relationships yet but in my case I think he could mean both.
He mention one girl more than any other. Her name was Beth and he said that she treated her subconscious like an ex-boyfriend. I’m not sure what he meant by that but later in the book he admits that he doesn’t either.
He was always middle class until very late in his life when he is able to amass a small fortune. He doesn’t go into too much detail about how, he almost seems embarrassed by it but it does allow him to try and build this big garden that takes up much of the book. I would say two thirds of the book deals with him building and then stopping, then building and then stopping construction of this enormous garden. To be honest I didn’t understand some of what he said but given that he says earlier in his book that honesty causes paralysis I will take his advice and try not to get stuck in telling you about it.
Basically he wanted to leave behind one thing of beauty before he died. A huge garden. So he bought this big track of land in Alabama and spent years personally planting all these trees and flowers and buying all these Greek sculptures. It became his obsession and soon he had this beautiful park that he took care of personally even though he had tons of cash and could have paid someone else to do it. He knew every shrub by name. Then one day it occurred to him that eventually after he died, might be 10 years or 200 but eventually, someone would come along and buy the land or rezone it and turn it into a strip mall or a bowling alley and that thought drove him crazy so he bulldozed the whole thing in his grief.
He spent a lot of time after that thinking about life and beauty after that until finally one day he realized that the inevitability of the destruction of his garden made the whole thing even more poignant so he rebuilt the whole thing even bigger.
When he was getting up there in years he rarely interacted with anyone young. I think he went a bit crazy because he was convinced that time moved a lot faster for old people than young people and he always felt guilty about spending any length of time with a child because he felt that he was hurrying them into their future. He said he felt that way because when he was younger a summer day seemed to last forever but when he was old the days flew by. If he made a kid lose a day by hanging out with him he would feel terrible. That’s why he never went into a nursing home. He said the entrance to a nursing home was like an event horizon. I don’t know what that means but he said when he visited a friend at one he met the security guard and spoke with him a little while and really liked him. He described him as a nice guy, a little hunched over, slow moving and thinning white hair. On the next page he learns that the guard had only worked there 3 weeks and was 28 years old. He fled the building and vowed never to be that close to a collection of old people again.
The last part of his book is about how he watched a wasp on his window. It was late October and he was surprised when it landed on the window in the first place. It was cold out and he thought all the bugs would be dead or asleep or whatever they do when it gets too cold to fly. The wasp landed there and then just sat there. He came back later in the day and it was still there. Sitting there motionless. Finally he comes back the next day and the wasp isn’t there and he feel relieved until he looks down and sees it dead on the window sill. He had spent a lot of time looking at the details of the wasp on that final day, how pretty it was and how he’d never noticed how cool wasps were until this guy came along. Maybe he was thinking about how pretty the vapor trails in the sky are as well. He says that he went to his garden and worked even harder than usual that day.
I was so interested in this book that I looked up the author afterwards even though it wasn’t part of the assignment. Turns out he died a few years back. When I found out I sort of knew how he felt when he saw the wasp on the little ledge. I couldn’t find anything out about his garden, I hope someone is taking care of it.
Turns out that reading his book was like a temporary cloud created on my sky. RIP Mr. Salfanie.