William Lychack Recommends

Bill Lychack writes in to recommend The Lost World of the Kalahri by Laurens Van Der Post. Says he: “Surely, it must be true, everyone has a book that truly changes their lives. There’s always a context to how this book finds you-a context which probably isn’t that interesting or magical to anyone except yourself-so I’ll spare you the story of how a stranger handed me this book, how forlorn and lost I must have seemed, how this strange quest of Van Der Post’s spoke directly to me. But I would, if I could, give you a copy of the book, if I saw you in such a state right now in front of me. And I’d make you wait a moment until I found a brief passage I’ve all but memorized. I’d tell you that you don’t need any context for it, but then I’d probably say that, in the book, Van Der Post, who’d dreamed from boyhood of finding the nearly-exterminated Bushmen, had just committed to organizing his expedition into the Kalahari desert of what is now Botswana: I’d tell you it’s a spiritual quest for him and would read this to you:

In fact all the aspects of the plan that were within reach of my own hand were worked out and determined there and then. What took longer, of course, was the part which depended on the decisions of others and on circumstances beyond my own control. Yet even there I was amazed at the speed with which it was accomplished. I say ‘amazed,’ but it would be more accurate to say I was profoundly moved, for the lesson that seemed to emerge for a person with my history of forgetfulness, doubts and hesitations was, as Hamlet put it so heart-rendingly to himself: “the readiness is all.” If one is truly ready within oneself and prepared to commit one’s readiness without question to the deed that follows naturally on it, one finds life and circumstance surprisingly armed and ready at one’s side.

“Then I’d hand the book to you and simply disappear, just as someone handed the book to me and never appeared again. And maybe you’d read it. And maybe it would speak to you the way it did for me. You never know. ”

William Lychack is the author of The Wasp Eater, a novel.