Edward Abbey: on activism

One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast… a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.

From a speech to environmentalists in Missoula, Montana, and in Colorado, which was published in High Country News, (September 24, 1976), under the title “Joy, Shipmates, Joy!”, as quoted in Saving Nature’s Legacy: Protecting and Restoring Biodiversity (1994) by Reed F. Noss, Allen Y. Cooperrider, and Rodger Schlickeisen. (see also similar lines quoted here.)

I am heading north to mountain bike, hike, kayak, snowshoe, and otherwise wander and enjoy in this spirit. Thanks, Ed.

Teaser Tuesdays: Offcomer by Jo Baker

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

Sorry, I know I already gave you one teaser from this one, but I just couldn’t help myself.

offcomerI loved a lot of things about this book, but one of them was the striking passages about physicality, the physical effects of noticing others’ physical presences throughout. I thought I’d share this one with you.

As she came towards him, the last grains of his ambivalence crumbled away. He suddenly realised, for the first time, that she was, in fact, beautiful. The idea was startling, even terrifying. Even that evening nearly a year ago, when she had taken off her clothes for him to draw her, when she was utterly new and unknown to him, he hadn’t really thought that she was beautiful.

Oh, the terrifying beauty! It’s not what you think, though… I suppose I’ll be mysterious and leave it at that for now.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

simpatico

Simpatico: not quite the same as synchronicity, although there is overlap. From Merriam-Webster:

Definition of SIMPATICO
1: agreeable, likable
2: being on the same wavelength: congenial, sympathetic

I am thinking of books that read alike (synchronicity) as well as readers who appreciate the same thing (simpatico: being on the same wavelength; sympathetic). Readers who read alike, if you will.

I was considering this concept while reading Doug Peacock’s Grizzly Years the other day. I came across a passage about living and traveling in wilderness, and how Peacock felt it was similar to being in combat: “treading lightly and staying invisible.” How he prefers to bushwhack off established trails, himself. And how he empathizes with a grizzly bear fleeing a bigger grizzly:

The same thing used to happen to me back in Southeast Asia [during the Vietnam War]: whenever the shit really hit the fan, when it looked as if we were about to be overrun and it became a matter of everyone for himself, my first impulse, or perhaps instinct, was to slide off alone into the jungle and keep going until I found vegetation thick enough to hide in, a sanctuary where I could ride out the hunt for Americans. So I thought I knew what it might feel like to be outgunned by bigger bears.

Peacock’s thinking about wilderness got me thinking, and one of the first thoughts I had was, my dad needs to read this. I thought about the books I’ve insisted he read (rather than just recommended). There was Fire Season: I remember saying, look, dad, just go out and buy a hardback copy and read it, and if you don’t love it I’ll buy it off you. (He loved it.) I repeated it with Dirt Work, which also turned out well. I think I’m going to put Grizzly Years into the same category.

Pops and I are often simpatico in our reading. Not perfectly overlapping, of course – far from it – but I often find myself thinking, he needs to read this. And judging from the emails I get with assigned reading from him, I think he reacts similarly, similarly often.

The same day that I had these thoughts about Peacock’s writing, ForeWord Reviews shared the following article via social media: “When You Love A Book Because of Who It’s From”. I found the idea intriguing: that a recommendation from someone I love or respect could actually improve that book in my eyes. (As it turns out, the article is more about romantic love – that special someone and shared reading experiences. Not so personally applicable to me; Husband is not a reader and we have a beautiful and full life anyway; but I’m happy for the article’s author and her partner.) I have not experienced this first-hand. Recommended books sometimes work, and sometimes don’t, but these successes and failures don’t correlate with how much I love the recommender. (See: that one book recommended by my Grammy who I adore, that I could not read.) I do have trouble parting with a (physical) book that was a gift from a loved one. But as far as enjoying the insides? No, I think I’m pretty clinical about that stuff. The one exception is my Shelf Awareness editor, Marilyn, who sends me books to read with varying levels of confidence and is pretty much spot-on – she’s amazing – but then, that’s her profession. It’s less… emotional, on her part and mine.

What about you? Is your reading enjoyment colored by the person who recommended the book? Do you have a reading friend, or romantic partner, who is so simpatico that you can absolutely rely on his or her recommendations?

Stay tuned for my review of Grizzly Years, and hopefully Pops’s as well.

book beginnings on Friday: When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

books went

You can easily understand, of course, what attracts me about this book: history, even books in history, making a difference in the unlikeliest of places. I was very excited to receive this in the mail. It begins:

“Were you ever so upset emotionally that you had to tell someone about it, to sit down and write it out?” a Marine asked in a letter to the author Betty Smith. “That is how I feel now,” he confided.

And so it continues: confiding in nature, filled with primary sources, on the impact of books in war. Stick around!

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

The Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan (audio)

starryI love-love-loved Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank, so I was easily sold on the idea of this, her second novel, on audiobook. Under the Wide and Starry Sky is the story of Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, an American woman who fled a troubled marriage when she took her three children with her to Europe to pursue her studies in the arts. There, Fanny met a young Scotsman, a sickly lawyer with a passion for writing rather than the law. This man, 10 years her junior, is Robert Louis Stevenson. He is attracted to her first; her reciprocation comes a little later; but they end up in a passionate love affair, complicated by her married-with-children status and his family’s disapproval (of his writing, as well as of Fanny as an adulterer and an American). She goes back to California; he follows her; she eventually divorces, and they marry. Fanny and Louis (as he is called) live in a wide variety of locations all over the world, as he battles persistent health problems and writes such classics as Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

As Loving Frank touched on the life of the more-famous Frank Lloyd Wright while focusing on his longtime mistress Mamah Borthwick, so does this story cover Stevenson by covering his wife. Fanny is brave, and strong-willed, and protective of her own, but also strong-tempered. She is creative, and sees herself as an artist in her own right – a painter, a writer – but is overshadowed by Louis. His health is best when at sea, while she gets deathly seasick as soon as she steps aboard. Their romance, their shared life, is deeply felt, ardent, and loving, but also rocky; both are passionate people with strong personalities, and they have their troubles.

This novel was not the overwhelming success for me that Loving Frank was, although I certainly enjoyed it. Both books are novels, works of fiction, but also shed a great deal of light on the real lives of men (and women) I didn’t know much about. As I’ve discussed before, fiction is not the most reliable source of knowledge, but I know more now than I did, and I won’t go writing any nonfiction monographs based off this reading (in other words, good enough). More, I enjoyed getting to know both strong women, Mamah and Fanny. However… Under the Wide and Starry Sky slowed down for me considerably in the middle. This might be partly my fault. Due to my own life’s events, I slowed way down in my listening patterns; maybe I was too far away from regular “reading” to appreciate the rhythm of Horan’s writing. But I think more objectively that the story of Louis and Fanny was faster-paced and more engaging early on, during their courtship and the grand achievement of their marriage, and later on, as they battled some significant late-life challenges, than it was in the middle when they bickered with friends and set up a few different homesteads. Also, I think Mamah got the spotlight of Loving Frank much more decisively, where Louis was a stronger costar in Under the… Sky. This is a loss from the feminist perspective (that I suspect Horan was pursuing, and that is part of her books’ attraction), of giving the women behind these men a little of the focus and attention they deserve. On the other hand, Stevenson himself was a great character to get to know (and I loved the Scottish accent as performed by Kirsten Potter), so that if you were not concerned about the feminist angle, you might be happy to have more Louis and less Fanny. Frankly, she was a little less likeable to me.

Although it lacked the magic sparkle that made Loving Frank a near-perfect achievement in my book, Under the Wide and Starry Sky was enjoyable, and I will miss Fanny and Louis in my life. For historical fiction about the strong women behind their better-known strong men, I continue to recommend Nancy Horan. And Potter’s narration was nuanced, had personality, and improved the experience.


Rating: 7 cacao seeds.

All the Wrong Places by Philip Connors

Two disclosures on this one: I read an advanced reader’s copy; and I consider the author a friend.


wrong placesFrom the author of Fire Season which I loved so much (first-ever 10 out of 10 here at pagesofjulia) comes a newer and even more personal story. Connors’s first book was about life as a fire lookout in the Gila Wilderness; we learned a great deal about the author himself, including some of the demons he’s fought in his life; but we also learned a lot about federal fire management (historical and present), the flora, fauna and atmosphere of the Gila, and what it’s like to balance the isolation involved in a profession I’d never heard of before, a profession “in its twilight.” It was both a deeply personal book, and a book about the world.

By contrast, All the Wrong Places is a singularly personal story. As briefly mentioned in Fire Season, Connors had a younger brother named Dan, who killed himself when they were both in their early twenties. Connors has written about this event and its aftermath in a few articles since; and now, in book-length form. I can only imagine it was difficult, writing a book about long-term pain.

This story follows Connors from the University of Montana, where he was enrolled at the time of the suicide, through his years working in New York for the Wall Street Journal (which considering his politics is a serious conflict in itself); his experience there during the events of September 11; and his path to becoming a fire lookout. The essence of the book, the questions it asks and tries to answer, are why? and how do I deal with this; who am I to become in this aftermath? He tries to investigate his brother’s death, his decision and final moments; but more than that question, All the Wrong Places considers what Connors will be in his own life, how this effects him, how to deal & recover. It would be too pat for Connors to put a full stop to that questioning, but he does come to some place of …if not conclusion, maybe a degree of acceptance. If not redemption, peace.

Connors’s writing has many strengths, but in this case, the greatest may be his ability to be sometimes, astonishingly, funny even while handling this shocking pain and terrible tragedy. He remains lyrical in the oddest, or most difficult, circumstances. In studying the collected notes of a man obsessed with MacDonald’s, who’d visited over 1,000 of them and scrupulously recorded their nuances:

Their banal repetition had a strange poetry to it, a kind of Whitmanesque list-making for the end of the millennium; in almost every instance he’d noted what he’d eaten, and the thought of all those empty calories, millions and millions of them, staggered me.

This poetic description of the absurd and vaguely ghastly, in itself, is oddly satisfying. There’s something intriguing going on there.

In other words, his writing is as fine as ever, humorous and thoughtful and touching, and I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed his voice, which is thoroughly recognizable and comforting.

But less comforting, again, is the subject matter at hand, so painful, and so personal. It’s astounding to think about baring oneself to this extent to anyone willing to buy a book at a bookstore. I consider Phil Connors a friend: after I loved his first book he wrote to me, we corresponded a bit, and then Husband and I got to meet him in person too. I thought I knew him moderately well, but learned so much more in this book. I wonder how that colors my reaction; it’s closer to home this way. The pain of others can be paralyzing; and frankly it’s easier with a degree of remove, as in my former job at a cancer hospital, where my library patrons were held at a professional distance (even though we talked about some pretty personal stuff). I want to compliment Connors’s “bravery” in telling this story, but that feels too simplistic (and I bet he’d brush off the compliment). I’m getting less eloquent here, I know. Thank you, Phil, for sharing your story. I found it riveting, I’m so glad you’re okay, and even though this may not have been your goal, I think it might help some other people.


Rating: 9 faxes.

I read an advanced reader’s copy of this book, which is subject to changes before publication. All the Wrong Places will be published in February 2015.

Teaser Tuesdays: Screenplay by MacDonald Harris

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

screenplay

Allow me to introduce you to a strange and dreamy novel originally published in the year of my birth, which recalls somewhat The Great Gatsby, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and (most pointedly) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. For your teaser today, please enjoy our narrator-protagonist on his mother:

To me she behaved exactly as she did to the rest of her friends; she was affectionate without sentiment, she confided every intimate thought that came to her without hesitating, she often asked my advice on things, and when I came home at the end of the day she embraced me as she did her other friends, male and female, as was the custom in their set – in the French manner, a quick hug and a touch of the lips on both cheeks.

The oddness is only just beginning, I assure you. Stay tuned; I think it’s a good one.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

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