book review: global soul + imagining canada

Last week I read two Pico Iyer books: Global Soul and Imagining Canada: An Outsider’s Hope for a Global Future (couldn’t find it on Amazon, since it was a CBC produced lecture I guess? Sorry if you wanted to buy it). They were similar, in fact the chapter on Toronto in Global Soul hit most of the same points as Imagining Canada did, but was directed more at non-Canadians. In any case I’m putting them together here.

The important thing I had to keep reminding myself of in these books were that they were almost 10 years old. I still think of time being around the turn of the millennium but things are different now and man is that ever more evident in non-fiction than in a novel. (Yes it’s obvious but I read way more novels than non-fiction so it’s almost a new thought to me.) The book and to a lesser extent the lecture were talking about a world before global terrorism became this huge concern, before regular people gave a shit (or pretended to give a shit or were annoyed at people telling them to give a shit) about climate change. Because of the last ten years it’s hard to take his paeans to the world traveller, at home nowhere but airports as anything more than a romantic daydream. And believe me this kind of romantic daydream hits me where I live. I don’t want to be here owning a condo and paying taxes to store my books; I want to be jet-setting, crashing here and there in anonymous strange places seeing new things with fresh eyes. But, it ain’t happening these days, not if you’ve got a conscience.

In one chapter of the book Iyer “lives” at LAX for a week. It’s hard to say exactly what that means since he doesn’t go into the details of his process, but he waxes poetic about these anonymous spaces being the site for partings and reunitings and all these huge moments in people’s lives. He doesn’t talk about the TSA at all. Or about how planes and the jetsetting lifestyle dumps carbon into the atmosphere. It’s presented as a romantic ideal with no consequences beyond not feeling at home anywhere, but isn’t that better? Isn’t that the way of the future?

I don’t know. I wish it was. I wish that could be my future. But as this millennium moves forward I feel like all of that isn’t going to happen, at least not for the non-superrich. I know he’s talking about people who need to travel for their livelihoods, not people like me who’re doing it on their own dime and should by all accounts be focusing on the local because that’s how the world is really going to change and be sustainable. I feel like I’m supposed to be finding everything I need within a bicycle ride of home, which is the opposite of what this book is saying.

There’s a lot of other good stuff in there too about immigrant communities and how moving beyond nationalism is how the future will look. And in some ways I can see it and I feel bad for being here saving money and having a place for my things. If I want to be a human of the future don’t I need to move past all of this?

And then I think about a tiny house and some land with a view and that’s all I want. That’s the kind of simple life that doesn’t exploit anybody else, right? I could do that with a proper supply of books. Sigh. I just feel like I’ve chosen everything wrongly; like if I’d stayed in China I’d be closer to the life I wanted, the life in this book. It feels really hard to be a Global Soul when you live in the middle of a continent without leaving.

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