Heart of Darkness: New Read

I read Heart of Darkness in my early 20’s…geez that was a long time ago. Why did I read it? I’m not sure. It wasn’t for school. I had dropped out of university the year I turned twenty. I remember Barnes & Noble having a series of hardbacked classics at the time. They were relatively cheap, and I had decided to buy a new one each time I went in and then…wait for it…read them. I couldn’t live forever on Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I was trying to broaden my horizons.

I’d heard that the movie Apocalypse Now was based on that book. I still can’t stand that movie. It’s so depressing. I’m not sure what it is about any Vietnam era anything. I can’t discuss it calmly. “Understandable,” you think. Sure, but I swear it’s different for me. I don’t know. The feeling is strange. There’s no other subject that I am this averse to. It’s like a memory of a traumatic experience, and I wasn’t even born until 1972, so maybe it’s past life thing…who knows.

But Heart of Darkness! The first time I read it, I didn’t get it. I had no clue what was going on or what I was supposed to be understanding. And how, in the name of “based on the book,” was this related to Apocalypse Now? I don’t think I was paying close enough attention to either. I moved on.

Fast forward thirty years and I read Lord Jim, also by Joseph Conrad. I loved it, so I thought maybe I’d give his other books a try. That’s when I found this edition. It’s a used Barnes & Noble Classic and includes “selected short stories.”

This morning I read the introduction. Do you read those? I didn’t used to, but I read the one for Frankenstein and boy did it really make the story feel different. It meant so much more to me. I suppose if you’re reading a modern book, one written in your own time, from your own culture and language, it would be easier to see what the author was trying to get at. But the farther from my experience an author is, the harder it is for me to understand. Our vantage points on humanity are different, like someone on the other side of the universe pointing out stars to guide each other. Introductions move us closer together.

The introduction to this book was long, but great to read. Understanding where the author came from and the world he lived in, gives context to his fiction. It went into his life, when he was writing, and the controversy that followed his work then and now. It did get into some of Heart of Darkness and pointed out the similarities to Apocalypse Now, which was very helpful. I thought I might have to watch that movie again (torture) and now I don’t.

I’m looking forward to reading this. It starts with the short story, Youth, then Heart of Darkness, Amy Foster, and The Secret Sharer. I’ll be trying to post some thoughts daily. Have you read this? Was it for a class? Some people have said they had to read it in high school. We never read anything in high school. Literature wasn’t important, only grammar, again and again and again. But that’s another story.

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