This past Sunday, September 23, I was in Taichung with my wife, niece, and nephew, and as is our habit, we stopped by Mollie Used Books after dinner. I picked up several books, including Beyond Coincidence by Martin Plimmer and Brian King. After we’d finished at the bookstore, the others wanted to look around Sogo Department Store, a prospect which interested me not at all, so I volunteered to wait outside on a bench and watch everyone’s bags so they could shop unencumbered. Wouldn’t I be bored? “Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ve got a whole bag of books right here.” I sat down on the bench and opened up Beyond Coincidence.
I’ve never spent much time hanging around outside Sogo, so I was unaware that every hour on the hour the big clock over the front door disgorges a bunch of tiny clockwork musicians and plays “It’s a Small World After All.”
It did this at 8:00, while I was sitting there reading Beyond Coincidence — a book which has not one but two chapters called “It’s a Small World,” plus two more called “It’s a Too Small World” and “It’s a Small Multi-dimensional Universe,” respectively. I hadn’t yet reached any of those chapters when the clock did its thing, but I had already glanced at the table of contents and knew that I was reading a book that was positively packed with small worlds — so it was weird when I noticed what song was playing.
The next day I was again reading Beyond Coincidence. One of the coincidences reported in the book had to do with Richard Parker, a cabin boy who survived a shipwreck along with three of his shipmates. The other three survivors ended up killing Parker and eating him. The coincidence is that, nearly 50 years before this, Edgar Allan Poe had written a story about four shipwrecked men, one of whom — a cabin boy named Richard Parker — was killed and eaten by the others.
As I read this, I thought, “Richard Parker — hey, wasn’t that the name of the tiger in Life of Pi? So that’s where the name came from.”
The day after that (today, Tuesday the 25th), I was online and checked the Wikipedia page for Life of Pi just to confirm that I had remembered correctly and that the tiger’s name was in fact Richard Parker. It was, and the article mentioned that Martel had gotten the name from the Poe story. I also glanced at the “Reception” section of the Wikipedia article and read that President Obama had written to the author to praise the novel as “an elegant proof of God.”
This evening I was washing some dishes in the kitchen and letting my mind wander. I thought about how I hadn’t posted anything on my blog for a while, and how I was in the middle of a series of posts about proofs of God. That made me think of the President’s comment, and I thought, jokingly, “Hey, I can add that to my list of proofs.” I started to imagine how I could reduce the novel to a series of numbered points: “A boy survives for months on a lifeboat with a tiger … he meets some meerkats … therefore there is a God!”
In the middle of this train of thought I stepped into the living room to see what my wife was up to, and saw that she was watching TV — something about meerkats. Then a tiger appeared on the screen, then a zebra swimming, then an Indian boy in a boat, and suddenly I realized what I was watching! This was the first I had seen or heard of a Life of Pi film in the works (though I should have noticed the disambiguation notice at the top of the Wikipedia article), and I saw it just as I happened to be thinking about the novel — a novel I hadn’t read or thought about in a good six years.
Update: When I clicked “publish” for this post, I got, as usual, a screen from WordPress telling me I had successfully published the post and giving me a random quote. Here’s a partial screenshot:
That’s right. The quote is: “The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes,” from Agatha Christie. This for a post in which I describe thinking about a book while washing the dishes.
Quoting Agatha Christie is another coincidence, since Beyond Coincidence begins with an epigraph from the same author: