There’s a story by Jack London that ends with a man who commits suicide by swimming out and drowning himself in the ocean. I can’t remember what it’s called and google isn’t helping me right now. Wait– it’s called ‘Martin Eden’. Having had asthma since I was a child, I have always been terrified of dying by suffocation. The haunting description of the character’s drowning has always stayed with me, even though I clearly don’t remember much else about the book. I have always remembered the last line, which was, “And at the instant he knew, he ceased to know.”

Man, I used to love Jack London. I remember reading Call of the Wild and White Fang, which were more or less age-appropriate at the time (I was ten or eleven). But then I went on to read The Sea Wolf, which involved murder, attempted rape, horrible wasting diseases and keel-hauling (from what I can recall), and John Barleycorn, which I now know is the story of Jack London’s alcoholism from a very young age; at the time I had absolutely NO idea what it was about. Really. I didn’t even know it involved alcohol. I was a naive kid. In fact I even remember writing a book report on John Barleycorn. It was probably not a very good book report, because I probably thought the book was the story of John Barleycorn’s life, as told to Jack London by John Barleycorn. This is untrue.

I also loved the story “To Build A Fire”, about a man who freezes to death in the fridgid wilderness (of Alaska?) after his matches go out and he can’t make a fire to warm himself. As a desperate last resort, he tries to kill the dog he is traveling with, so he can stick his hands in its insides to warm himself. I remember thinking that was pretty cool. As naive as I was, I was still a ten year old.