Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Finished on: 11 January 2019
Where did I get this book: An amazing birthday present from my family
Writing reviews for the blog and the Sheffield Telegraph means I am now sent books a lot. It is a great privilege, and I find it hard to resist – there are very few I don’t enjoy in some way.
But there’s no doubt this means I am neglecting the books I really want to read – the whole reason for starting this blog in the first place!
I was given the most beautiful complete works of RLS for my 40th birthday. I love reading him so much, but this is only the second volume I have managed to complete in the fifteen months since then. My review of Volume I is here.
So, my resolution for 2019 is to say no more often and, instead, pick up the books that are on my shelves and calling to me. Not least, the remaining 23 books in this beautiful set.
This volume is, again, largely made up of travel writing. The Amateur Emigrant is a fascinating account of the epic journey he made across America to go and join the lady who became his wife, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. Apparently he spent the majority of this journey in state of very poor health indeed, but you wouldn’t know it – he makes only an occasional allusion to his illness. He is such a beautiful observer of his fellow man, as well as himself and his own behaviour, which he examines with no less scrutiny, that travelling with him is a pleasure, no doubt much more of a pleasure than the actual journey was.
The thing I love most about Stevenson – and there are many – is his advocacy for a life of adventure. Adventure in the broadest sense, finding pleasure and meaning in early morning walks and looking at fog on a mountain, revelling in getting to know the varied cast of eccentric people he meets on his travels, genuinely embracing the unknown. He talks about the wisdom of a man who spends his life toiling to be able to buy great art, versus the wisdom of a man who spends his life toiling to be able to appreciate great art, and it’s clear which side of that fence he comes down on.
The Silverado Squatters is the story of how he and Fanny, now married, along with her son, go and find themselves a dilapidated vacant house up in an abandoned mining community in California to live in.
They spend the summer in this draughty old house with no facilities and almost no neighbours. And, apparently, this was their honeymoon. They take every hardship in good humour, the challenges of life under such basic, isolated conditions just adding to the experience because they’re interesting. He is amazing and, to be honest, Fanny must have been pretty amazing too. It’s no wonder he travelled halfway across the world to be reunited with her.
More than any other writer, I wish I could’ve known him. I wish we could’ve been friends. I want to pop into Silverado for a cup of tea and a chat with him and Fanny. That irresistible combination of great enthusiasm for life with a large dollop of healthy sarcasm is just brilliant. At times this book almost feels like it could be a self-help life guide, but one that is not at all annoying. I bet they would’ve given great advice.
This man’s writing is better company than most of the people I’ve met in my life, it’s life-affirming stuff, and I am determined to make more time for it in 2019 and beyond.