Saturday, December 22, 2012

How I Discovered Martin Eden

One of my favorites books of all time is Martin Eden written in 1909 by Jack London. It’s considered the closest London came to any sort of autobiography, though that is certainly disputed.

Martin Eden is the story of a former sailor and self-taught man struggling to establish himself as a writer. He achieves success but struggles with self-acceptance and the pursuit of love. In the end Martin Eden commits suicide by jumping from a ship and drowning. 

I happened upon the book through a song, a pop song. More specifically a Tom Waits’ song called “Shiver Me Timbers.” 

The first time I heard the song I was confused by the line “And I know Martin Eden is gonna proud of me...” Who is this Martin Eden I pondered? I asked folks and no one seemed to know. That only fueled my desire to discover the real Martin Eden. 

Through Internet research I discovered that Martin Eden was a character in a Jack London novel. That’s all I needed to know.  With library card tucked in my pocket I hurried west on Los Feliz Blvd and south on Hillhurst Avenue to the Los Feliz library where I checked out Martin Eden

From page one I was immersed in the world of Martin Eden. Its a terrific novel. 

Later versions of “Shiver Me Timbers” say Joe Conrad instead of Martin Eden, and one version inserted Chris Columbus (yes, the same man who “discovered” America).  With each specific reference I think the song changes its meaning. 

Here’s Tom Waits’ beautiful version:

A great song. A great singer/songwriter. 

Without “Shiver Me Timbers” I would never have discovered one of my favorite novels. 

Thank you Mr. Waits.

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