Eating Up Life in Miller’s Tropic of Cancer

Reading Tropic of Cancer is like taking a big, juicy bite out of someone’s experience of life. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I’ve also never encountered the c-word so many times in one book, but that’s besides the point. Henry Miller’s prose is visceral and it’s pulsing. Miller shirks convention in favor of living according to a code of his own making. There are a lot of people who I think would benefit by reading this book. Thinking of someone in particular, who is eating in front of me, that has a huge stick up her ass. This book was written for her and for all of us, to shock us into living. It’s like a literary defibrillator.


Here are some nuggets of the book, just so you get a sense of what I mean. I think it’s perfectly valid to only take nuggets because that’s how his book is written. A pastiche of life. A mix of emotion. And written in more beautiful prose than anything I’ve ever read. 

“Do anything, but let it produce joy. Do anything, but let it yield ecstasy.”

“Side by side with the human race there runs another race of beings, the inhuman ones, the race of artists who, goaded by unknown impulses, take the lifeless mass of humanity and by the fever and ferment with which they imbue it turn this soggy dough into bread and the bread into wine and the wine into song.”

“To sing you must first open your mouth. You must have a pair of lungs, and a little knowledge of music. It is not necessary to have an accordion, or a guitar. The essential thing is to want to sing. This then is a song. I am singing.”

I’ll be honest. These quotes do nothing to reflect all that is Tropic of Cancer. There’s nothing like the experience of living. It’s like you read the words and you, too, become just a bit more alive. No, more aware of how precious your condition of life is, and that awareness, relishing that you’re alive in the moments that you walk, sing, eat, love, listen, create–that’s where life is.

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