by Rudyard Kipling

So...Classic Bitch just can't win here, folks! Here is a novel with an extensive introduction that I should have read prior to reading this book itself. But, as you know, I've sworn off doing that because I've gotten burned by spoilers in the foreword. Let me tell you, for a book written over 100 years ago...I could've used a few spoilers! Mea culpa 100% here, but the weather has been beautiful and I've been lazing. Given the climate and my disposition, it becomes doubly unfortunate that the culture and time gulfs that exist between me and Kim make the effort to comprehend this book simply too Herculean. CB isn't up to the task, I suppose. So I think I'll come up with a new rule for myself: Only read front matter first in books you anticipate being obtuse; otherwise read it last. In my defense though, nearly as daunting as the comprehension of the plot is the task of reading the introduction itself. It is 45 pages in length. In keeping with this, there are 20 pages of footnotes that correspond to hundreds of superscripted numbers littered throughout Kim. Record is set when I run across 16 on a single page alone. I promptly give up furiously riffling to the back of the book at each footnote, which doesn't do my comprehension of the plot any favors, as you might imagine.

OK so all excuses aside, what can I tell you about Kim? Kim is the story of a teenage Caucasian boy who is orphaned in India and grows up rather "native-style." The book recounts the multifarious parts of fin-de-siecle India by representing them as different aspects of Kim's self. He is at once disciple to a holy man, British private school boy, and spy for the Empire! What can't I tell you about Kim? I can't tell you why every character, bar none, refers to a train as "the te-rain" (italics, definite article, and hyphenation all Kipling's). I can't tell you if the main character even lives or dies at the end of the book (and it's not because I don't want to tell you). I can't tell you why Kipling starts off every chapter with a verse of his own, seemingly from previous compendia of his own poetry (talk about the height of self-reference and ego)! Yeah, I can't tell you why he does this, but—Kipling's ego aside—I can share some of the poetry with you, as it is my favorite part of the entire book.

From: The Two-Sided Man
Something I owe to the soil that grew—
  More to the life that fed—
But most to Allah Who gave me two
  Separate sides to my head.

I would go without shirts or shoes
  Friends, tobacco or bread
Sooner than for an instant lose
  Either side of my head.

From: The Sea and the Hills
Who hath desired the Sea—the sight of salt water unbounded?
The heave and the halt and the hurl and the crash of the comber
The sleek-barrelled swell before storm—grey, foamless, enormous, and
Stark calm on the lap of the Line—or the crazy-eyed hurricane blowing?
His Sea in no showing the same—his Sea and the same 'neath all showing—
    His Sea that his being fulfils?
So and no otherwise—so and no otherwise hill-men desire their Hills!

Who hath desired the Sea—the immense and contemptuous surges?
The shudder, the stumble, the swerve ere the star-stabbing bowsprit emerges—
The orderly clouds of the Trades and the ridges roaring sapphire thereunder—
Unheralded cliff-lurking flaws and the head-sails' low-volleying thunder?
His Sea in no wonder the same—his Sea and the same in each wonder—
              His Sea that his being fulfils?
So and no otherwise—so and no otherwise hill-men desire their hills!

Anyway, two final thoughts. One is: I feel bad about exerting such a paltry effort to read and understand Rudyard Kipling. After all, he's a fellow Vermonter! Second thing is: I fear that my new rule about forewords and introductions will serve me well pretty quickly...judging from the next book on the list. Look out front matter here I come! And for every other book's sake on this list, I hope I do it better justice than Kim. Sorry, Mr. Kipling.