reading: Giovanni's Room

January 3, 2016

When I first read Giovanni's Room as a senior in high school, I rushed through it. Nevertheless, I was challenged by the picture of a character, trapped by his choices, and trying to learn to live with himself. This book opened my eyes to the experience of the queer community, and gave me a small window into what it is like to struggle with one's sexual orientation, and very identity.

The second time I read this book was at the age of twenty-five this fall. (It makes me feel like people should be required to re-read books throughout their lives. Which is overwhelming to think about, because there are so many new books to be read as well.) Anyways, this second read was intoxicating. I found myself falling into Baldwin's character, the foreboding of knowing that his lover Giovanni will die, the Shakespearean fate the characters find themselves in, and the darkness and light of Paris. This second read helped me appreciate the structure of the novel and notice the stage upon which the story is set.

I was also really struck by the idea of home: that David has left his home, his childhood, but also his country and eventually his identity. I think it's hard for young people to understand this idea. Until I left my parents' house, I didn't truly appreciate my home. And now that I have left, no space feels quite as special or as true as my childhood home.

“You don’t have a home until you leave it and then, when you have left it, you never can go back.”
― James Baldwin

“Perhaps, as we say in America, I wanted to find myself. This is an interesting phrase, not current as far as I know in the language of any other people, which certainly does not mean what it says but betrays a nagging suspicion that something has been misplaced. I think now that if I had any intimation that the self I was going to find would turn out to be only the same self from which I had spent so much time in flight, I would have stayed at home.”
― James Baldwin

Re-reading Giovanni's Room also allowed me the pleasure of one of my favorite aspects of reading: interacting with the wisdom of bright minds. In exploring the character of David, Baldwin dwells on so many integral parts of life in painfully beautiful language. Here are some of my favorite quotations that I can leave you with. I highly recommend this book, it is so beautifully written, and universal despite it's specific focus on one man's experience of leaving his home and struggling with his identity.

“People can't, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life.”
― James Baldwin

“Perhaps everybody has a garden of Eden, I don't know; but they have scarcely seen their garden before they see the flaming sword. Then, perhaps, life only offers the choice of remembering the garden or forgetting it. Either, or: it takes strength to remember, it takes another kind of strength to forget, it takes a hero to do both.”
― James Baldwin

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