LIVING LIFE BY THE BOOK


“Islandia” is a a classic novel of utopian fiction by Austin Tappan Wright, a U.C. Berkeley Law School Professor. Written as a hobby throughout his life, it was posthumously published in 1942, after being edited down from a bulky 2300 pages! Wright created a fully realized world much like Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”, but without magic, so it is much more a utopia than a fantasy.

My friends enjoyed this book so much when they first got married and had no money, she told me, that they read it together every evening, and with the length of the book it furnished a lot of entertainment for a struggling young couple dreaming of the future.

Creating Islandia’s civilization became Wright’s lifelong leisure occupation, and included a detailed history, geography, language, geneology, literature, and culture. An amazing feat of imaginative writing.

After borrowing the book twice from my friend in the 70’s, then buying it and reading it a third time, I was thoroughly hooked on this believable civilization which lay “at the tip of the “Karain semi-continent in the Southern Hemisphere,” and which was fully accessible by an adventurous spirit, though one of the interesting factors was their rule of limiting access to Islandia to a bare one hundred visitors at a time. Now that is a brilliant concept!

Islandia’s culture has many “progressive” features. For example, prostitutes are rehabilitated back into respectable society, in this sexually permissive community. Another attractive feature is the citizen’s love of nature, which brings about their rural lives. As a confirmed city dweller, I am fascinated by the thought of living in a society where people know one another, where we grow our food, and where our homes are built and decorated with natural materials. There is handmade pottery, woven fabrics, handmade heavy wood furniture, and the larders are filled with the spoils of their gardens preserved for later use. Throughout my three readings of this book, I have lived with these people, grieved at their mishaps and deaths, and wondered what happened to the rest of us! Why didn’t we get it?

Over the four decades I have known my friends, and enjoyed the beautiful home built by them, with its handwoven wool fabrics, pottery, furniture made by the husband, heavy handhewn gates with their wrought iron hinges, I finally “got it”, they are living life by the book—living an Islandian life.