Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch

ISBN: 0811201074
ISBN 13: 9780811201070
By: Henry Miller

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About this book

Whence Henry Miller's title for this, one of his most appealing books; first published in 1957, it tells the story of Miller's life on the Big Sur, a section of California coast where he lived for fifteen years.Big Sur is the portrait of a place one of the most colorful in the U.S. and of the extraordinary people Miller knew there: writers (and writers who didn't write), mystics seeking truth in meditation (and the not-so-saintly looking for sex-cults or celebrity), sophisticated children and adult innocents; geniuses, cranks and the unclassifiable.Henry Miller writes with a buoyancy and brimming energy that are infectious. He has a fine touch for comedy. But this is also a serious book the testament of a free spirit who has broken through the restraints and cliches of modern life to find within himself his own kind of paradise.

Reader's Thoughts

Harish Venkatesan

I hadn't read any Miller before this, but this was a solid introduction to his writing and philosophy. Miller captures all the beauty of California/Big Sur culture (dedicated to ideals of individuality, self-determination, nonconformity, non-materialism, etc... a pure form of the "Beat" ethos, if you will), while making a case for art in one's life. The story, filled with invective against modern American culture, is still entertaining (the characters that live in Big Sur!), and always with an eye on reminding us of what matters... a book for the soul.on Big Sur- "This is the California that men dreamed of years ago, this is the Pacific that Balboa looked out on from the Peak of Darien, this is the face of the earth as the Creator intended it to look."

Chris Woollet

One of my favorite books. This was my introduction to Henry Miller and so far my favorite. By this point in his life he had figured life out so to speak. He understood what is important and how to live a peaceful enjoyable life. A stark contrast from his early yearly of ramble rousing. Perhaps it took just that in his early life along with the misery of city life to bring him to this understanding and appreciation for the "good life" in Big Sur. And when reading this book, I kept finding myself agreeing with him- "Yes, that is what its all about!" The book takes a somewhat odd turn towards the end with the horrific house guest he takes in. Here, I wanted to grab Millers shoulders and shake him out of his kind stupor- "Get that freak out of your home!" Anyway, it all made for an interesting read. I rarely read books a second time but this is one I will go back to over and over. Miller is a modern day prophet and I appreciate his wisdom.


Solidifies my love of the "old man musings" genre. Among other lovely thoughts..."The great hoax which we are perpetuating every day of our lives is that we are making life easier, more comfortable, more enjoyable, more profitable. We are doing just the contrary. We are making life stale, flat and unprofitable every day in every way. One ugly word covers it all: waste. Our thoughts, our energies, our very lives are being used up to create what is unwise, unnecessary, unhealthy."

c lynn

i have no idea if I would love this book again as much as i did once- it was a book that i tried to read probably 7 times and could never get past the first 30 pages and then ond day- one mood- i read the whole thing and fell in love. it started me on a henry- thon- but this autobiography is still my favorite. He's too nasty and harsh for even me in his other books. Maybe he was the sex tarentino of the 60's-but somehow his style misses me now.

Michael Lipford

Miller covers his term of service in Big Sur, California after his return to America. He's always talking about the good life and this is no exception. Well written and some of the passages in the first 50 pages are among the best I've ever ready from anyone.


This book about good-neighborliness is finally read, by me. I like this quote, "Those who do more than asked of them are never depleted. Only those who fear to give are weakened by giving. The art of giving is entirely a spiritual affair. In this sense, to give one's all is meaningless, for there is no bottom where true giving is concerned." Well, I don't think i have lived up to that yet... This book gives one a lot to chew on, which is why it took me years of stop-starts to get through it. But its good. i like it.

Christian Layow

I thought this was fabulous. It's not your usual memoir reading. It rambles and diverges and surfs the content of his life in that Henry Miller kind of way. It took him awhile to perfect his style starting with the Tropic of Cancer. At least for me. With all its free association prose and occasional wild sexual language, the Tropic of Cancer can be tough to follow. But by the time he wrote Big Sur he'd made writing seem rather effortless. His thoughts and his pen seem to be one and the same. It's an account of an artist getting older, living on the edge of a rugged coast line. And I love when he throws in a name or two to keep you alert. He'll casually say, in his story of raising his two kids in a bungalow on Partington Ridge in Big Sur, how it was always a treat when Buster Keaton would come up from Hollywood and entertain the children, doing slapstick routines all evening in their little, living room. Miller was a pioneer in alternative lifestyle living, even if it was mostly on a shoestring budget. And of course the backdrop to his impressions is Big Sur. The kind of place that can drive anyone into personal, artistic genius and/or mad hattery.


After Colossus of Maroussi this was my second favorite book Miller. If you are looking for a story that begins at point A and ends somewhere around Z (in other words that has a plot), this isn't the book for you. If you love Big Sur, can enjoy the ranting of a man who i believe can weave any experience into a fascinating story then pick up this book.

Joshua Buhs

This is the way The Air-Conditioned should have ended: Miller free, transcendent.Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch is about where Miller went after he settled in California: to Big Sur, which was a wild, and open area at the time, inhabited by only a few hundred hardy souls. Miller, a city boy all his life, surprisingly took to this new mode of existence, and flourished. The book is a paean to his neighbors, a kiss of to his old life, and—as is usually the case with him—a plea.As usual, the book is loosely structured. The orange motif only recurs for the first hundred pages or so, maybe less—although the contrasts of paradise, purgatory, and hell remain throughout. Miller is good at detailing the burdens of paradise-the constant visitors, the unending stream of mail—but also that hardship is baked into paradise: paradise requires work, and the warm acceptance of work. So he strips down to a jock strap, and pulls a cart through the forest to gather wood. So he goes out into a rainstorm and sticks his hand into the septic tank to pull out roots that had clogged it. So he goes on a walk on the days when he wakes early to write—because the place is so beautiful, and calls to him.At times the prose can become . . . well, prosaic. But at other times it is gorgeous. Listen: “Though young, geologically speaking, the land has a hoary look. From the ocean depths there issued strange formations, contours unique and seductive. As if the Titans of the deep had labored for aeons to shape and mold the earth. Even millennia ago the great land birds were startled by the abrupt aspect of these risen shapes.”The first few chapters set the scene—quite literally. He then moves on to discussing his eccentric neighbors. Although this can be digressive—in Miller’s usual manner—it is fairly disciplined. Largely the structure is provided by the sheer abundance of neighbors. Unlike other essays, when he trying to sell the reader on the greatness of one particular person, he never strains for effect, never rarely substitutes cant for description.The book, too, reads quicker because of the abundant use of dialogue—at least compared to his other works—a deadpan humor, and the presence of his children. Listening to him trying to balance work and child-rearing, listening to his thoughts on child-rearing, listening to his attempts to play Mr. Mom after his wife leaves him—these are great comic moments. And it is no wonder he ran off nannies as he did—his children would have been hard to keep up with: they were raised to be completely free, liberated from birth.Eventually, the book, moves on to consider a visit from French acquaintance, Conrad Moricand, who was more Anais Nín’s friend than Miller’s. Moricand pulls a Henry Miller on Miller: he cons Miller into raising funds for him to leave war-ravaged Europe, has Miller put him up in a small shack, and becomes an eternal bum. He fulfills Miller’s prophesy that if you’re patient, everything you need will come to you.But he is not a hero. He comes to represent the decadence of the old world—in such a way one wonders how Miller could have let him anywhere near his own daughter. And he, unlike Miller, cannot be happy with what he has: he cannot give up needing, desiring, demanding. He always wants more and more. (And not the good kind of want: the craving for excellence. Rather what Miller would term the needless desiring.) In other books, given Miller’s expansive acceptance of humanity and its foibles, one can imagine that it was the desiring that marked Moricand as a Satan, rather than the child rape. But here, hates both—which violates his mystical commitments but humanizes him. Indeed, that may be what makes the book so much better than Miller’s late output: he is drawn way from his own narcissism, constant reflections on his own childhood or the love he lost in June, and is forced to be more oriented toward the world, even if rarely politically aware.The book ends with a short, bemused—in the ancient and more contemporary sense of that term—section that returns again to the problem of mail for Miller: how much he gets, how hard it is to cart up the mountain, how little of it he can respond to. This is his narcissism again—poor, poor me—but the piece is more than that, too. He uses the second person perspective brilliantly here to bring the reader into his experiences. And, given what has come before—this is a good use of his spiraling organization—it is again about the burdens of paradise and the difficulty one has in balancing both his or her own needs with the need to connect with the world.

Spencer Scott

I wrote a sort of review that will be easier to link to than to paste here. The full review can be found here: book loaded with wisdom, introspection, hypocrisy, and vivid, personal anecdotes. Henry Miller comes through as an outstandingly honest human with a warm heart, a deep intelligence, and a searching soul. What I take away from this book is that Miller strives for peace and arguably achieves it by being unashamedly honest with himself and with the world.


I love Henry Miller. Not a disciplined writer, but the gusto with which he approached life is transfered onto the page and is always invigorating. This is possibly the most spiritual of his books. It his him reflecting and being as still as he could be, rather than throwing himself at situations and people. But even when he's still, he is still with the same passion as when he is in motion. Tropic of Capricorn is my favorite book of him in motion (young), this is my favorite book of him being still (older).


For the most part, I skimmed this book, the way you might drop in and out of the rambling soliloquy of a long-winded individual who's sufficiently compelling to hold your interest in parts, but sometimes you just need to come up for air. The exception is the third section, Paradise Lost, which I read more or less in its entirety, since it cast the riveting spell of a train wreck. But then, I'm a sucker for dazzling undertows and Moricand sure fits the bill. Really, this is the section that made it all worthwhile for me, and Henry Miller is on fire when he's incensed (har). It turns him into a comic genius. So, yep, not a bad landlocked beach read, and some definite high points.


I would give this book 10 stars if I could. One I come back to again and again and feel lucky to have found it. Much more readable than other Henry Miller.

Paul Galea

What, on the surface, seem to be the rantings and ravings of an old man giving endless lists of things and observations on everything and nothing, is actually a fun and pleasant read.

Leile Brittan

Henry, you old rascal, you finally figured out the whole deal. If this is what it's like to get old, I'm not scared at all. Helluva nice little collection here. Always merry and bright! You've helped me figure it out, time and time again. Right now I'm in my thirties so I'm kinda on that "Tropic" and "Rosy Crucifixion" mode. But the "Big Sur" stage is something I now look forward to, should I be lucky enough to make my way there. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. In my best moments I'm already there now, usually when I'm smoking a cigarette by myself and looking at a sunset, or eating a good meal with my wife. Stand Still Like the Hummingbird...Remember to Remember. Thanks, homie.

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