Pico Iyer

Having literary idols is generally a bad idea. How many careers have been squandered trying to drink like Hemingway or to mope like Plath? Pico Iyer is aware of such dangers in The Man Within My Head (Knopf, $25.95), which describes his lifelong infatuation with Graham Greene (1904-1991), a man he never met but considers his "adopted parent." Both can be pegged as travel writers (though Greene's CV is longer and more diverse), filing dispatches from lonely distant places, far from half-forgotten homes. It's too late, and certainly unnecessary, Iyer acknowledges, to write another Greene biography. Instead, he interpolates much his own life with that of Greene, a man "often taken to be the patron saint of the foreigner alone, drifting between certainties." The younger writer was clearly inspired to travel by Greene, but he was uprooted even earlier—his ethnically Indian family moved from England to California when Iyer was eight. (He now lives in Santa Barbara and Japan.) They're both Englishmen abroad, with home soils more acutely remembered in print than felt first-hand. The Man Within My Head is partly a head-trip for Iyer, a Proustian excavation of his early influences and family life. When he finally dares to write Greene, and receives a reply, you're jolted out of the book's interiority. (Coyly, Iyer doesn't quote their correspondence.) Following at least partly in Greene's path, Iyer's globetrotting leads back to the bookshelves within his own head. (Presented by Seattle Arts & Lectures.) BRIAN MILLER

Wed., Jan. 25, 7:30 p.m., 2012

 
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