Eccentric Islands is a literary expedition across the map to islands both real and imaginary. Part traveler’s journal, part philosophical exploration, the book considers the idea of islands and asks whether they encourage eccentricity and grandeur in human beings, as scientists argue they do in the natural world.
Like a modern-day literary Darwin, Bill Holm travels to Isla Mujeres, an exceptional island east of the Yucatán Peninsula; Moloka‘i, whose history is graced by the example of Father Damien; Iceland, with a human genetic code nearly unmatched in its purity; Madagascar, an island of musical and botanical eccentricities; and Mallard Island, tucked in Rainy Lake, near the Canadian border. He also visits islands of ideas, including the Necessary Island of the Imagination, the Piano Island—located in the man-made lake under the atrium sky of an upscale hotel in the far interior of China—and the acute isolation of the Island of Pain.
Writing with the mind-set of a nineteenth-century traveler, for whom the journey is as important as the destination, Holm introduces beguiling characters and cultures, from the well-read radio man on an Icelandic freighter to the Robert Johnson of Madagascar and his instrument, the valiha. His book appeals to the traveler in all of us, especially those who savor the “mad juxtaposition of contraries, a complete cultural stew pot where the ingredients get to swap flavors and make something new and strange.”
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Praise and Prizes
“At times Bill Holm achieves the exhilarating gusto of his literary hero, Walt Whitman. . . . Two long, funny, ecstatic chapters on Iceland are almost a book unto themselves.”
“Elegant . . . Bill Holm shows how our imaginations are linked to geography in a dozen different ways. . . . Expansive and imaginatively written, Eccentric Islands is a joyfully unordinary book, its spirit irresistible.”
“Peopled with Icelandic poet-farmers and one-handed Malagasy musicians, these joyful essays praise the unquenchable human spirit and suggest that isolation on islands may be positively beatific.”
“An expertly wrought memoir of journeys to islands real, metaphorical, and imaginary . . . Bill Holm mixes keen you-are-there observations with profound bits of homespun philosophizing, and never once does he sound a false note. The result is a pleasure for islomanes, and for anyone who appreciates good writing.”
“Bill Holm knows that while islands are useful as microcosms, they can engender delusions, and he holds this yin-yang vision firmly in mind as he chronicles various island sojourns throughout the world. A true raconteur, Holm is as philosophical as he is descriptive, as funny as he is feisty. . . . Vibrant, adventurous, and empathic.”
“Of all the landscapes in Eccentric Islands, the most multitudinous may be those of the interior—what Holm calls islands of imagination, of ideas. It is here that he evokes the true complexity of island thinking, from the joyous revelation of thought to the brutal isolation of despair. For Holm, both states are equally important, equally authentic.”